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Waiting for Productivity from “Productivity Tools”

By Craig Roth | January 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

Microsoft OfficeInformation workContent creation

While our fonts and templates may look nicer than they did ten or twenty years ago, do we really feel more productive in business terms?  Microsoft certainly hopes so, as they released Office 365 Home Premium on Tuesday (the consumer version), but I’m not so sure.

My group here in Gartner for Technical Professionals covers “productivity tools”, which is a category that includes word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and slide presentation software.  You cynical types already have one eyebrow raised at the idea of lumping PowerPoint and e-mail under “productivity.” 

You may feel you’re actually less productive with whatever fancy software you have than you were in the past.  So much for the vaunted ability of mankind to make tools!  Think about it: the older tools we use, from hammers to plungers, are generally well-liked.  Newer tools, such as e-mail, social networking, and slide presentation software, are the subject of derision.  What happened?

One definition of tool is “a device that aids in accomplishing a task.”  I know what that plunger is supposed to do and it does it well.  But when someone dumps SharePoint on you, you may be left wondering exactly what task it’s supposed to address. 

Past versions of Office packed in more features, which often seemed like trying to redefine your task into a fancier version of what it was before.  Videos in PowerPoint anyone?  Cinematic transitions? 

The new version of Office adds cloud storage centricity and a touch-enabled interface that can work on mobile devices (few people have touch desktop screens).  To the extent that it adds mobile productivity to your desktop productivity that has to be a step forward.  But as long as the complexity of my tasks increases to match the improvements in my toolset, I’m just treading water.  “Work smarter, not harder” has become “work smarter and harder.”

Maybe that’s why we still like our older tools.  As plungers get cheaper and gain water repellent coatings the complexity of their task stays the same, so you can actually get ahead.  Well, as long as vendors don’t tell anyone that I can now be productive while mobile maybe I can finally look more productive.

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