Gone Microsoft

My first machine was some IBM 286, which a neighbour gave to my father when I was a kid. At work they were upgrading to, probably, 386’s so he could take it home. Since he already had one, we were the lucky ones. I think I was six, so this was probably 1990.

The machine ran DOS and some years passed by before we got got something that could run a GUI. But when the GUI finally came, it was a revolution for us. We began with Windows 95. As the years passed, Windows would get better and better; however of those years, I vividly remember one thing: all the time lost trying to troubleshoot and fix that crap. When, probably in 2003, I got an iPod I was surprised that this, small, highly technological music player would just… work. A friend at my university had a Powermac at home and he told me that Macs were all like that: they just worked. So I got a part time job and by next spring (the new Intel Macbook Pro’s were already out), I bought an iBook G4. It was a fantastic machine and I loved every inch of it (12, in diagonal). From the battery life to the trackpad to the integration between hardware and software. That day I said to myself that I would never go back to Microsoft products and PC’s in my life. At the Physics institute we were using LaTeX and all kind of scientific software anyway, so Office was never an issue.

In the years that ensued, I never looked back to that decision. Fed up with “Thanksgiving customer support”, or whatever it’s called here in Europe, I had all my relatives switch to Macs: my parents, my brother, my uncle, my in-laws (parents and brothers) and all the friends that ever asked me to help them with their Microsoft products. I lost count with the years, but up to before getting married I convinced some 25 persons to switch.

Fast forward 10 years later. I found myself using:1

  • Google Apps for this domain;
  • Google Apps at work, with Google Drive to sync work’s files;
  • Dropbox to sync my personal files, used as a back-end of a handful of (iOS) apps;
  • iWork for my Office needs (yeah, I’m not in academia anymore).

Something in these setup began to crack though. Google “coolness” began to fade. First they retired the mobile Exchange support for Gmail and then they sun setted their Google Apps free tier.2 I was grandfathered in their new plan, but I felt like an unwanted guest.3 At the same time, or around that time, Google initiated a Google plus-ification of their product line to push everybody onto their Google Plus wagon. They also initiated a Gmail redesign that resulted in worse UI and UX.4 The list doesn’t end here. Google sun setted one of my favorite service, Google Reader, effectively reducing the usefulness of a Google account.

At the same time Microsoft completely revamped their web mail offering, Outlook.com. They offer custom domain (up to 50 users), unlimited space, mobile Exchange and IMAP access, and redesigned their website in what I would consider a good way (although I still don’t use it).

So one weekend I switched my email from Google to Microsoft. It felt strange at the beginning, but I really enjoyed having mobile Exchange back and unlimited space.

Some months passed and Microsoft kept cooking what were, hear hear, actually really cool products. They announced a new, free to use, version of OneNote. They touted how awesome that was, its cross platform availability (I use a Mac an iPhone and an iPad, so being able to access all my notes from all my devices was kind of a big deal), and the ability to sync, for free, up to 7GB of notes through OneDrive.

I decided to give it a spin because, as a geek, I’m always searching for the ultimate productivity tool and even in academia OneNote was known to be a great piece of software. What I found is a well behaving and native Mac application, self-contained (in fact downloadable from the App Store) and overall nice to use. The iPad version is equally nice and the syncing and collaboration5 capabilities are also impressive.

Next in line, can you guess? One of the hottest startup in the Valley that welcomed Dr. Rice on the board? Up to a few months ago, it would have been impossible for me to abandon Dropbox, because so many apps I use rely on it as their sync/storage back end. This included 1Password, ScannerPro and Nebulous Notes, notably. But, recently, my 1Password apps freed themselves from Dropbox because I want to sync my Agile Keychain with my wife’s Macbook (through iCloud now). As for Nebulous Notes: I used it only to jot down quick notes, so OneNote was the ideal replacement for that.

That left ScannerPro: for those of you not familiar with it, ScannerPro is an amazing app that can upload scanned documents to Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive and WebDav. I could have connected it to my company’s Google Drive but if you ever used Google Drive on the Mac, you know how much it sucks. I don’t know if it is specific to my setup, but once a day I would get the dreaded Google Drive needs to quit window that forced me to, well, quit it. As a result, I only use Google Drive through the web interface thus the GDrive route for ScannerPro was not completely satisfactory.

But some days ago the fine folks at doo just published Scanbot, an app similar to ScannerPro with the notable difference that it syncs to, among others OneDrive! Here’s my Dropbox replacement! And by using OneDrive for my files, every Office file on my OneDrive folder, can be opened, for free, by the Office web apps!

And with that Dropbox went to the Trash and another Microsoft app found its home on my Application folder.

After all of this happened, I asked myself why I gave “up” so easily on my existing setup. I don’t know the answer, but a couple of ideas comes to mind:

  • the first reason can be probably ascribed to Justin Williams, of Second Gear fame; I don’t know exactly how it went, but probably after his acquisition of Glassboard, whose back end runs on Azure, he started tweeting and blogging about Microsoft. And he painted quite a different picture from the Microsoft I knew, in a positive way. He let me take a peak from a new angle;
  • the second reason is that Microsoft has radically changed from the Microsoft I knew. At their latest developer conference, Build, they announced things which were imaginable 10 years ago: not only they open sourced a bunch of .NET components and related technologies, but they also showed on stage iPhones, iPads, were the host of The Talk Show by John Gruber6 and stopped with the notion that everything and everybody should run Windows for Microsoft to be happy.

That said: not everything is perfect in Microsoft land. Here’s a short list of what I don’t like:

  • Outlook.com filters7 and keyboard shortcuts sucks!
  • Adding email aliases to Outlook.com has to be done via an obscure command line app that only works on Windows (I had to download a Windows VM to make it work) and you’re limited to 5. Here Gmail is years ahead;
  • OneDrive does not sync back files very easily; when I modify a file via an Office web app, it takes a while to get it back to my Mac;
  • OneNote for Mac still lags severely behind its Windows counterpart and the iPhone apps is behind the iPad app.

Considered that I cannot deny that the new Microsoft is a welcome change for me; they have incredibly talented people and benefiting from their talent without having to use Windows PCs (or tablets) is a huge win for Apple users.


  1. This is not an exhaustive list of course. [return]
  2. This is not completely accurate: there still is some web page through which you can get a plan that supports only one account. [return]
  3. You may argue that paying could have solved it, but that’s another story. I certainly would if I’d make money off this site. [return]
  4. Although I don’t use the web interface for my mail. There’s an app for that. [return]
  5. I had a colleague download it and we immediately created a Knowledge Base of tips & tricks and tutorials for some of the software/technologies that we use. [return]
  6. If you don’t know who John Gruber is, let me tell you: it’s a big deal! [return]
  7. Only one condition per filter? Really? [return]