Office value debate: I only use 5% of features. Why should I pay for the remaining 95%? (Part 1 of 2)

This is a different type of article. It addresses the fundamental question about what value does Microsoft Office bring to the table – from the point of view of efficiency improvement.

Let me start with a disclaimer: everything written here are my own views and conclusions. This is not in anyway an official response from Microsoft or any other company or individual.

Common questions / concerns

This is a concern almost everyone who has purchased Office has in their mind. It is manifested in various ways…

  1. Why can’t Microsoft create a version with only few commonly used features and charge some very low amount for it (or preferably give it free)? There is actually a starter edition which displays advertisements which does this – available only in few countries. I don’t know if it is still available.
  2. Why does Microsoft keep on adding so many features when I don’t need those
  3. When I upgrade I am not going to use those new features – so why should I pay for upgrade?
  4. The current version I am using is Good Enough for me. I don’t want the new version.
  5. Often people also question the ROI of these investments… It is natural for a CFO to think / ask … “I have spent x amount of money in buying and upgrading Microsoft Office. But I have not seen a significant improvement in the efficiency .. at individual, departmental or organizational level. So why should I spend more money on the next upgrade?”
  6. Some people convince themselves by saying that “Newer versions of Office do not add any value or increase efficiency in a tangible way. Therefore, the conclusion is that the so called new features are practically useless”
  7. Yet another set of people just take the easy way out saying “Office is great… new features are great… but I / my organization does not need all these features.”

Where is the value?

In spite of having these concerns, there does not seem to be a clear answer available. There are some people who blindly upgrade to new versions, some who resist it, some who go to apparently equivalent products like LibreOffice, Google Office and so on.

As the value question remains largely unanswered, there could be two possible answers to it >>>

  1. There is no value in the new features and upgrades to Office or
  2. There is value in there, but in practice the value is not being accrued

How many features do we actually use?

If you count every button, option, function and so on… there are about 8000 features available across Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote. (8000 is an approximate number. But the real number is very near this value … probably higher but not lower.)

Most of us think that we use 5% of these features… that is about 400 of them. Unfortunately that is not true. In my experience, based upon interaction with over 195,000 users most of us use around 120 features. The so called power users use 200 on an average.

I have not done a formal survey for this. But you can think of the number yourself (don’t think of percentage. Think of the number) … and I am sure you will come up with a similar answer.

Why don’t we use the other features?

All of know that we use a very small fraction of available features. But we are not worried about it..

Why? Because we think something like this…

  1. What I know is enough… whatever else is there I don’t need it
  2. My field is <whatever> (finance, marketing, sales, etc…) … Therefore, my focus on my chosen field. I will study it deeper. I do use MS Office as a part of my job… but I already know how to get my work done using it. So whatever else is there is irrelevant to me. Why should I spend time in exploring / learning a subject which is not my core area?
  3. I only need to know the basics (which I already do). Everything else is too advanced for me. I don’t care what it is.
  4. There is another thought – may be everyone uses a small percentage of features… but the exact set of features everyone uses is different.
    Although this may be true to some extent, it does not explain the gross underutilization. But when it comes to MS Office who has given it a serious thought anyway? Nobody!

In short… the thought is

What I know is enough and what I don’t know is implicitly considered irrelevant and useless from my point of view.


Why does Microsoft keep adding so many features?

Most people ask this question out of irritation rather than adulation!

Hardly anyone is impressed with the incessant addition of new or improved features version after version for last 25 years.

Doesn’t Microsoft realize that there is gross underutilization of the product? I am sure that they know about it. Why am I so sure?

Because, like all software vendors, Microsoft also has a Customer Improvement Program. Periodically, statistics about feature usage are sent to Microsoft and analyzed by them.

I obviously don’t know the exact statistics. But it is fair to assume that they are aware of the underutilization.

The question is … why do they keep adding more and more features?

The answer is simpler than you think. Any technology or software never created as an academic exercise. It is created to cater to some need or to solve a problem someone is facing.

Therefore, by definition, any feature which you see in any software originates from a need or a problem. The solution may be available without the software – by doing some manual work – but the software feature is designed to take away that drudgery from the human side and simplify / eliminate or automate it.

In the same spirit, it is safe to assume that all these 8000 features must have originated with some user need, feature request, inefficiency which was noticed by someone and escalated to the product team … something like that.

Obviously, if I requested a feature from Microsoft and they added it, I would be very happy and use it actively. That is a no-brainer.

What about other people who did NOT ask for that feature? May be they have the same problem… but

How will they know about it?
How will they discover it?
Will they ever use it?

The answer – based upon my experience is – they will never know it existed and they will never use it!

In my opinion – this is the real problem.

Let me restate the problem.

As a typical user, I may have some problems… I have found out my own solution to it based upon a feature set I was aware of – at the point of time when I faced the issue… however, Microsoft may have provided a more effective, faster, more elegant solution to my problem – which I simply failed to notice – and therefore, I am going to use my self-discovered, not-so-efficient, solution – life long!

I feel very sad to say this… but that is the pitiable state of Microsoft Office.

Just try to imbibe the implications of what I just said. Keep the thought in mind. We will come back to it later…

Quick Exercise: Basic or Advanced

Most of us think that features which we are not using are ADVANCED.

Try to go through few of the last 10 articles I have written and ask yourself – were these topics basic or advanced…

For your convenience I am listing the last 10 articles here…

  1. Introducing PowerPivot – do you need it? : 9 Jan 14
  2. Using PowerPivot instead of VLOOKUP : 10 Jan 14
  3. Simple solution to an irritating problem: Copy pasting slides : 11 Jan 14
  4. Create complex tables in seconds : 12 Jan 14
  5. How to read a document containing highlights? : 13 Jan 14
  6. Writing articles? Get word count with CTRL ALT G : 14 Jan 14
  7. Try it now: International Phonetic Converter : 15 Jan 14
  8. Applied Art – Ripple effect in PowerPoint : 16 Jan 14
  9. Video Tutorial: How to show collaboration in PowerPoint (4 min) : 17 Jan 14
  10. Names and tech words shown as spelling mistakes! Here is the solution. : 18 Jan 14
  11. Learn a new language while you work using Word Mini Translator : 19 Jan 14

Go through these and think.. whether it is basic or advanced?

Post your comments here – article – basic or advanced.

I could have made a survey for this but it is cumbersome. Let us make it simple.

You can also add your comments on my Facebook group (Instant Efficiency) where this blog will be posted…

What next?

I will wait for the response from readers and then write the second part of this article in a few days…

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