Microsoft Office, in its various incarnations, has enjoyed two decades of being the go-to software suite for businesses large and small. It faced little competition until recently, with other products like IBM’s Lotus suite performing very badly in terms of uptake (largely because they weren’t very good).
At this moment in time, Microsoft is facing competition for the office sphere like never before, with Google’s various offerings having a couple of key advantages. Google was offering cloud-based, online office tools long before Microsoft released their online Office 365 suite, but more crucially to many enterprises, Google’s software is free, while MS Office has always come with a hefty license fee.
Another rival to Microsoft Office when it comes to thrifty businesses is Open Office. Effectively an equivalent to an older version of MS Office that is developed and maintained as an open source project, Open Office offers the vast majority of Office’s key functionality (though perhaps not some of the more specialist stuff which only a small percentage of users want), and is free to use.
So, with no guarantee that MS Office will retain its monopoly over the work software sphere, and Google discussing bold plans to steal 80% of their market share with an interesting strategy involving allowing enterprises to run the two side by side (hoping that when their MS Office licenses come up for renewal, companies will simply decide it isn’t worth it and move to using Google only), are good MS Office skills going to remain the CV essential they have been for the past 20 years for anyone involved in any kind of office work?
MS Office Is Too Big To Fail Anytime Soon
Louis Hernandez Jr states that the first reason why young people entering the working world are still going to need proficiency with MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint (as well as potentially some of the less well known Office products like MS Project and MS Visio), is that even if Google does end up with 80% of Microsoft’s market share in this sector, it will not happen overnight. MS Office is so ingrained into the way people work that using products like PowerPoint are staples of the office world – whether there are better presentation tools out there or not, it is the word PowerPoint that is short hand for giving a presentation with slides. Google may be shorthand for search engines, but Word, Excel and PowerPoint dominate our idea of what office workers use in the same way.
As well as the cultural strengths of Office, there is also the supporting infrastructure around it. Many software packages offer the ability to save or export into Office formats like .docx and .xlsx, even if they have no affiliation with Microsoft whatsoever, because they know their users use these products. There are also products that exist simply to make tasks in Office easier, like Cogniview’s powerful PDF to Excel converter. PDF is another very commonly used format, but is notoriously hard to work with in terms of editing files and data. Cogniview understood that people would much rather work in Excel, and so they created an automatic means of pulling out the PDF file into a format everyone is familiar with working with, cutting down the time taken to manually paste all the stuff in your PDF into a new Excel file and saving businesses time and money.
At present, there just isn’t the supporting cast of tools and products for any other office suite.
MS Office Skills Are Seen As Shorthand for Basic IT Literacy on Resumes
MS Office has been with us for so long that it is often regarded as the benchmark of whether or not a person is IT literate as to whether they are comfortable using Excel and Word. While there are very few people left who aren’t internet users these days, at least of working age, being able to do the kind of things that come up more often in an office job like dealing with spreadsheets and documents is seen as the minimum level of IT skill you will need. As MS Office is something most people have been exposed to, because even when they go for their first jobs they have probably used something like Word at school or college, asking for MS Office skills is an easy way to establish if somebody is going to be able to handle professional admin work on a computer.
MS Office Skills Are Always Transferable
Google, and other office suite developers, understand that in order to steal any of Microsoft’s market share at all, they are going to need to make their products as easy as possible for users to switch to. This means that while they try and offer new and in some ways better ways of doing things, they also try and make everything intuitive for people who are experienced with tools like Excel, Word and PowerPoint.
This makes any skills you have in MS Office remain useful if you find yourself at a company that uses a toolset you’ve never tried before – the developers expect a lot of people like that to be using their tools, and so they make them make sense to seasoned Office users.
Additionally, a lot of the things you learn using more advanced features or the lesser used MS Office tools like Project are not so much about using the software but about doing the job itself. Excel can teach you a lot about math, economics and statistics, and Project takes you through the actual work involved in project management, such as managing dependencies and time constrained things.
MS Office may or may not lose its monopoly in the working world, but for the foreseeable future, being competent with the Office suite is still going to be a major asset to anybody who wants to start out in a career in an office based profession.