Petreley's column: Muddling on without best-selling applications

I've been doing some spring cleaning, and I've recovered a lot of disk space in the process. The first thing to go was Microsoft Office 97 and Outlook 98. Don't get me wrong, there are some things about Microsoft Office that I really like. PowerPoint still has the best multimedia features I've seen. Excel is a fine spreadsheet. And although I personally prefer WordPerfect, there's certainly nothing wrong with Word. On the other hand, I wasn't impressed with Outlook 98 at first, but it grew on me.

The point is that I didn't wipe off Office because I hated the applications. I wiped these applications off my disk because I don't use them anymore. And I don't use them because I don't trust them to keep quiet about what is on my computer. Yes, I know that Microsoft supplied a utility to remove the GUID from documents, and a patch to prevent Office from branding documents in the future. (A GUID is the Globally Unique Identifier, which is based on the current machine address of your Ethernet card. Microsoft Office brands every document with the GUID, which makes it possible to track down the original author of any document. Authorities were able to find the author of the Microsoft Word-based Melissa virus by using the GUID.)Nonetheless, I trust Microsoft about as far as I can throw the state of Washington. I just don't want to pick up next week's issue of InfoWorld and read that my copy of Office has also been branding my documents with my DNA genetic sequence, or that Outlook has been sending blind carbon copies of all my of e-mail to Bill Gates. No thankee.

The only potential problem with giving up Microsoft Office is the fact that people still send me Word documents and Excel files. Star Division's StarOffice 5.0 reads these files quite nicely, though. That's one of the reasons that StarOffice has earned a permanent place on my hard drive. The other reason is that StarOffice runs on Linux as well as on Windows, and I've been spending nearly all of my time in Linux of late.

Lotus Notes Release 5 was next to get the axe. I have a great deal of ambivalence toward Notes. I recognise that it has some outstanding features if you want to use it as a groupware application development platform. And as long as you're using Notes at the server end, Notes makes a great e-mail client and group scheduler. Even if you're not using Notes at the server, the encryption and full-text indexing make Notes worth using for POP3 e-mail.

Here's the problem: I no longer need to get mail from any Notes servers, and I don't do POP3. It's IMAP4 all the way for me. IMAP4 is server-centric. That means I can walk up to almost any computer anywhere and (as long as it has an IMAP4-capable mail program installed) I can get at my inbox messages and all of my folders. In contrast, POP3 allows you to access only your inbox. If you are filing away mail into folders using a POP3 client, you're probably storing that mail locally in such a way that you can't get at it except by using that same computer.

The one last hope Notes had for staying on my system is the fact that I can use Notes as an IMAP4 client. But there are two reasons I won't. First, Lotus Notes has become the Baron of Bloat. If the client gets any fatter, the next revision should be called Bloatus Notes. And what do you get in the way of an e-mail client for your 130MB of disk space? A very lousy IMAP4 client.

Here's reason No. 2: Notes is incredibly slow as an IMAP4 client. It is painful to watch it download all of the messages for your inbox. Worse, when you use Notes as an IMAP4 client, it can't remember the contents of the inbox or mail folder from one moment to the next. If you move out of the inbox by clicking on a sub-folder and then go back to the inbox, it has to download the entire inbox all over again.

And when it is done, you'll notice Notes also forgot some of the adjustments you made when viewing your inbox the last time, such as the width of the column for the author, subject line, or date.

Now, I'm in a fortunate position because my employer doesn't require that I use Microsoft Office or Lotus Notes. You may not be in such a position. Nevertheless, if you could wipe off any two suites or applications from your system today, what would they be?

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