Tag Archives: software

Don’t Learn Software Packages, Learn How Software Works

There is an issue that causes users more grief than it should, and I think it comes from not thinking about office software properly.

There are lots of options out there. The links at the right only give a few of the most popular. When I got my first x86 computer, it was a PC-XT Clone, in a beige box, from a local assembler. It came with MS DOS on a 5.25″ floppy, and I added WordPerfect for DOS to the order, since the whole point was to do word processing. When I became an Assistant Professor, we originally had WordPerfect at the U., but at some point there was a detour into Ami (which I think is not around any longer). Then another change to Microsoft Office, which meant Microsoft Word. I remember helping a friend who was responsible for IT at a small parochial school with no budget, and got her into Star Office, which came from Germany. A few years later, Sun Microsystems bought Star Office, and unleashed the free open source program OpenOffice.org on the world, which is what I use exclusively at home, though I use Microsoft Office at work.

Now, these are just a few of the programs that I personally have had experience with. Anyone reading this may have others to add to the list. Is this a problem? I don’t think so, but what it does mean is that you need to think about office software the correct way. Some years ago I was asked to do a workshop on using the presentation software built into the WordPerfect Office suite, which oddly enough is called Presentations. I asked them to get me a copy of the software they used, since I did not have a copy. In fact, I had never looked at WordPerfect Office at all prior to this. But I had no problem putting together a workshop, in little more than a day.

The reason is that I had never learned Microsoft PowerPoint. I had learned presentation software in general, with PowerPoint being a specific case. With that mindset, I could approach any other presentation software with the idea that I already knew what it was supposed to do. All I had to do to adapt to a different program was figure out where the options were listed in each menu, etc. The same applies to any other office program. Every spreadsheet program traces itself back to VisiCalc (no, Lotus 1-2-3 was not the first ), and they all do pretty much the same things in the same ways. Every presentation program does pretty much the same thing. All word processing programs end up doing pretty much the same thing. If you start out by learning Microsoft Word, you will be helpless if presented with anything else. But if you learn word processing, you can take any particular program and get it do your will pretty easily.

This has some pretty major benefits, including financial. At home, I use OpenOffice.org exclusively, and it never costs me a penny. I also have a portable version of OpenOffice.org on a USB thumb drive, so I can work anywhere. I have even used it to open Microsoft Word documents that crashed Word on every computer at work. And I can do this because I learned word processing in general, not Microsoft Word in particular.