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Tales In Tech History: Microsoft Office

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Microsoft Office is now 26 and its impact on the IT and business worlds has been immeasurable

Microsoft Office has officially reached the grand old age of 26, after its first iteration (called Office for Windows or Office 1.0) was released on 19 November 1990.

Released into the world of 286 and 386-based PCs running Windows 2.0, it rapidly became the de-facto piece of software that everyone ended up installing on their computer.

Indeed, in 2012 it was reported that Office was used by more than a billion people worldwide, a staggering achievement for piece of commercial software.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office OnlineIt should be noted that Microsoft co founder Bill Gates had initially announced the software back in August 1988, and it is true that very early versions of the software first appeared as separate programs for MS-DOS-based computers.

Another point to note is these DOS-based PCs did not have a mouse (remember, there was no GUI), and input was entirely keyboard driven.

Office originally compromised three core programs, namely Word, Excel and PowerPoint. To this day, these three applications are the pillars of Microsoft’s Office stable, but the suite has grown considerably.

In 1992, Microsoft Office could for the first time be acquired on CD-ROM (bye bye floppy disc) and every year a new version would appear.
Perhaps the most controversial Office development was the inclusion of the talking paperclip or Clippy (officially called the Office Assistant).

This annoying icon appeared when a user pressed F1 (for help), but could also pop up and frustrate users at inopportune times (when writing a letter for example).

Indeed, it is fair to say that Clippy was detested by many computer users, and Microsoft quietly retired it with Office 2000.

The most widely used version seems to be Office 2003, which arrived into a worldclippy Microsoft assistant Word that was consuming Windows XP-based PCs by the bucketload.

Other notable developments in the Office world were in 2007 when the Ribbon interface arrived, and in 2010, when Office Web apps were introduced.

Until that time Microsoft Office was traditionally installed on the local hard drive of PCs, despite unsuccessful attempts by Oracle’s Larry Ellison to promote the diskless network computer (NC).

But 2013 proved to be another large step forward for Microsoft Office when Office 2013 came with cloud integration. It should be noted here that Office 365 (the cloud version of Microsoft Office) had actually been introduced in June 2011.

Office 365 was intended as a way to extend Microsoft’s long-running Office franchise beyond the desktop and into the online realm, where it faced a determined competitor in the fo
rm of Google (Google Docs).

Competition also comes from open source rivals such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice.

It can be argued that Microsoft Office has been one of the most successful, and persistent forms of software in the world of computing. Office is still prominently geared towards desktops and laptops, but versions are available for Apple Macs and even iOS-based devices.

Some may feel that the future may now be cloud-based software, but for the past 26 years computer users all around the world have relied on the local installations of Microsoft Office software. It remains a very widely used productivity suite and it hard to imagine a world without it.

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