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Tips for Avoiding Microsoft Products

When you are surrounded by Microsoft products it can be hard to avoid using their stuff yourself. Here are a few survival techniques you can use in a Microsoft dominated world.

Get a Mac

If you want a good general purpose computer, you can't beat a Mac. Using Apple's Mac OS X operating system instead of Windows not only means you avoid making Microsoft's monopoly position even stronger and their profits even greater, but you also get to use what I believe is the finest general purpose operating system available.

Don't Use Explorer

Internet Explorer isn't a bad program but there are a lot better web browsers around. Assuming you have followed rule number 1 and got a Mac you probably should use Safari as your browser. Its faster, more reliable and easier to use than Explorer; and its written by Apple, not Microsoft. Other good Mac browsers are OmniWeb and iCab. In fact of the eight browsers I have on my machine, I would rate Explorer near the bottom. There may be situations where you need Explorer to view a particular site. In this case try activating Safari's hidden function which allows it to pretend to be another browser (such as Explorer). Its surprising how often you can view the site, as long as the server thinks you're using Explorer!

Avoid Office

I must admit, its very hard to completely avoid Microsoft Office (this should change in the future). A major reason for this is that the file formats for the Microsoft programs are so disorganised that its very hard to write a reliable translator top open Microsoft Office files in another program; so without Office its hard to use all those Word, Excel and PowerPoint files people send as attachments.

For a large portion of these types of tasks Apple's iWork is a great alternative. I think Keynote is a much better program than PowerPoint, Pages does many tasks better than Word and Numbers is good for everything except the most complex tasks. For older Macs AppleWorks is perfectly adequate - it is fast, reliable and easy to use, and the functions which are missing are generally not used by many users anyway. AppleWorks was also bundled with many earlier Macs and has a reasonable translation system to open Office documents. OpenOffice is a reasonable alternative too, although the current versions have a fairly ugly user interface so I prefer not to use them.

Don't Serve Microsoft

Even if your organisation uses a lot of PCs there's no reason to use Microsoft software for your servers. Linux offers an excellent alternative through products like Samba and Apache. Of course, I prefer Mac OS X Server, which offers an unbeatable combination of speed, reliability, flexibility, and ease of use. The problem with Mac OS X Server is that it isn't free like Linux (although its much cheaper than the Microsoft equivalents), and it requires a Mac to run (it can be hard to get Macs into an existing PC or Unix machine room, mostly due to the ignorance of the admins).

Establish Standards

Its hard to avoid Microsoft if everyone else assumes its the only way to go. A good strategy is to establish new standards for document exchange, such as PDF and RTF. These are platform and software independent and can be used just as well on Macs and Linux as on PCs. Also create new projects using open standards such as HTML and XML. Using free software like MySQL to create databases is a good way to avoid Microsoft alternatives like Access; and at the same time getting much cheaper, faster and more reliable database services.

Other Thoughts

Allow users who think they need Microsoft programs to use BootCamp, Parallels, or Fusion on a Mac. After a while they often find they aren't using the Windows part of their machine at all and they have successfully transitioned! Forcing people to abandon Microsoft completely is often unsuccessful.

Summary

Its not possible for most computer users to completely dispense with Microsoft products just yet, but it is possible to start moving along that road. Try some of the suggestions above and see how much easier life is. One of my favourite things is to laugh at my PC colleagues as they deal with the latest Microsoft bug, virus or worm as I calmly continue working on my Mac!


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