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At this week’s NZ Tech Podcast host Paul Spain threw me a hospital pass: Is it time to stop hating Microsoft?

Younger readers may not remember, but at one time Microsoft was unpopular in many circles. Yes, there were even people who hated the company.

There were reasons for this. Pedants might argue Microsoft Windows was not a monopoly. Yet its 95 percent plus share of desktop operating systems sure felt like one.

Abusive monopoly

In effect Microsoft called all the shots. At times it abused its monopoly. It wasn’t always ethical1.

There are too many examples to mention. People have written books and doctrinal theses on the subject.

Microsoft attempted to parlay its desktop OS monopoly into other areas.

At one point it set out to win the desktop applications software market. Microsoft Word and Excel were up and coming challengers at the time.

The Lotus position

There are reports an internal message went to developers: “Dos ain’t done until Lotus won’t run”. In other words, bosses told them to build the operating system so a rival spreadsheet was useless.

That story may be a myth. Yet it explains why there was so much ill-will towards Microsoft. The accusations didn’t have to be true. They only had to feel true.

There are actual examples of bad behaviour. Some ended up in court.

The Internet Explorer antitrust action was a low point.

In those days critics suspected Microsoft’s motives even when it did good things.

In 1997 Apple was struggling and needed cash in a hurry. Microsoft came to the rescue. It agreed it would support a Mac version of Office for five years. It is still going today. Apple agreed to drop a law suit over Microsoft copying Apple’s OS look and feel.

Microsoft personalities

Microsoft’s key personalities did not help. Bill Gates’ rubbed people up the wrong way. Steve Ballmer took that to new levels.

Ballmer left Microsoft in 2014. While he was boss the company’s share price stagnated. So did its technology. And the company’s hardball attitude. Often Ballmer would sink innovative projects to protect the Windows and Office monopoly.

Some of that was baffling. Like the excellent iOS versions of Office apps which was held back from the market.

Nadella takes over

Early in 2014 Satya Nadella took over the reins. He moved the company into cloud computing. More to the point, Nadella stopped the aggressive defence posturing.

Today’s Microsoft is a different beast. It is still big, some of the time it is the world’s largest company by market capitalisation. It can still upset people. Every large corporation has its critics.

No doubt there will be those who continue to hate Microsoft. You don’t get to be number one without creating a few waves. Yet there is less to hate, less to object to.

Even, gasp, Microsoft Open Source

Today Microsoft has embraced open source. It is possibly the world’s largest provider of open source products. By some measures the company’s Azure cloud services uses more open source than proprietary software.

Windows is no longer a monopoly. It still runs on more computers than any other OS. But it now has to compete with ChromeOS, MacOS, iOS and Android. It doesn’t dominate.

Likewise while Office remains popular, it is not the only game in town.

You don’t have to love Microsoft. Actually that would be weird. There are still plenty of things to criticise. But if you carry a grudge from 20 years or so ago against a company that is now different in many ways, that seems like a waste of energy. Go and do something creative with it instead.

  1. What’s the point of building a monopoly if you don’t abuse it? ↩︎

iPad Pro 10
iPad Pro

Apple’s latest iPad Pro packs the internals of the 12.7-inch model in the same space as the 9.7-inch iPad Air.

Prices start at NZ$1050. The 9.7-inch iPad Air is more expensive than many laptops, but then Apple says it’s more powerful.

After a week of using it as my main, but not only, computer, it’s clear some people will find it more useful than a laptop.

iPad Pro in an iPad Air skin

At first sight there’s not much difference between the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2.

They are the same size. Both are 6mm thick. They weigh the same: about 445g for the cellular model.

The most obvious external difference is the bump on the back for the camera lens. On paper that sounds like an awful, backward step. In practice you never notice it.

While both iPads have the same 2048‑by‑1536 pixel resolution, the iPad Pro displays a wider colour range. Its screen is also brighter than the iPad Air 2.

Screen difference

Put the two side-by-side and you can see the displays are not the same. Unless both models show the same photograph, it is hard to describe what separates them.

If you do show the same image, you’ll notice it looks better on the iPad Pro with the wider color range. The display is brighter and more vibrant.

A wider colour range also means better colour accuracy. This is important if you use your iPad for work photography or video. In the past iPads weren’t powerful enough for serious editing work. Both iPad Pro models handle these tasks with ease.

The second new screen feature of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is more subtle.

Colour temperature [1]

True Tone detects the colour temperature of your surroundings using two four-channel light sensors. The iPad’s software then adjusts the display colour temperature to match.

This is noticeable if you fire up the iPad at night when the room lights are low. In the past bright blue-tinged iPad screen lights could spoil your relaxed night-time mood. There’s some evidence it can stop you from sleeping.

True Tone is clever and nice, but it is not going to excite anyone and won’t set the world on fire. On its own, True Tone is not a good enough reason to upgrade from an earlier iPad.

Like the 12.7-inch iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch model has beefed-up audio with louder, clearer speakers. It doesn’t match the sound quality of the bigger Pro, there’s not enough speaker room for that, but the sound is crisp. Music sounds better than you’d expect and FaceTime calls can be as clear as a bell.


Apple has woken up to the idea that people use the iPad to take photographs. In the past iPad cameras were a long way behind iPhone cameras in terms of specification and performance.

That’s changed. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the same camera as the iPhone 6. On the back is a 12 megapixel with flash. You can use it to shoot 4K video, although you’d need steady hands to hold an iPad still.

The front camera is also the same as on the iPhone 6S. It has five megapixels. The higher quality is immediately obvious if you use, say, Facetime for video conferencing.

iPad Pro Performance

Technical-minded reviewers often wax lyrical about the processors, graphics chips and Ram inside phones and tablets. Most of the time discussions about these components are meaningless, either the device runs fast and smoothly or it doesn’t. What matters is can the device do all the work a user is likely to throw at it.

If anything the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is overpowered. It uses the same A9X processor with M9 motion coprocessor that you’ll find on the larger iPad Prod. Apple says it’s almost twice as fast as the iPad Air 2 and more powerful than most laptops.

In practice, you’ll notice the processor is more than fast enough for everyday tablet applications. If you come from an earlier iPad you’ll notice everything happens faster. Media plays more smoothly.

More tablet than laptop

Although it is an iOS device, the 12.7-inch iPad Pro has a laptop feel. Since I’ve had it, the keyboard has stayed attached for most of the time. I use it as I would use my 13-inch MacBook Air. It travelled to Europe with me as my main computer on a reporting trip.

In comparison, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has more of a tablet. While I have used it with my Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, it mainly gets used without a keyboard.

The Logitech Ultrathin keyboard works well with the iPad Pro. I used it to type part of this review. Apple Smart Keyboard wasn’t available in New Zealand at the time this review was written.


The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s small size gives it an extra level of portability when compare to the larger iPad Pro. You can work with either iPad on an airplane tray-table, but the smaller one is even less of a problem in tight space like economy class seats.

Apple’s Pencil works with the smaller iPad Pro. The Pencil is a great input tool for artists and others who draw. You can use it to annotate images or even write notes, but the files are stored as images.

If you could combine the Pencil with system-wide handwriting-recognition software — something the Microsoft Surface Pro manages — you’d have a powerful tool for taking notes while standing. As a journalist who sometimes finds himself in media scrums, I would find this useful. It would be even more useful if it could read Teeline shorthand.

Microsoft Office bonus

Microsoft did a fine job with the iOS version of Office. The software run on iPhones, but it shines more with the increased room on an iPad display. If anything I find Microsoft Word performs smoother, better and is easier to use on a 12.7-inch iPad Pro than on my MacBook Air.

I used Word on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro to write a couple of features. The Logitech Ultrathin keyboard is cramped compared with a full-size keyboard, but the experience was far better than writing on an iPhone or even on the iPad’s screen keyboard.

You need a full Office 365 subscription to use the full version of the software on a laptop or 12.7-inch iPad Pro. However, Microsoft gives a free Office licence to anyone using the software on a device with a screen smaller than 10 inches. So, a bonus of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is that, in effect, it comes with free Microsoft Office.

Office works great on iPads. Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint all come in well-maintained iOS versions with frequent updates. It’s not the full software you’ll find on laptops or desktops, but everything most people need is there. If you don’t like Office, Apple’s iWorks software is included as standard on all iPad models.

Is the 9.7-inch iPad Pro worth buying?

If you only use an iPad to browse material, view photos, read PDFs and so on, then you may not need to upgrade to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It isn’t worth the expense to move from, say, the iPad Air 2 to a 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

On the other hand, if you already do, or intend to do most or all of your work on your iPad, an iPad Pro is a logical choice. While it won’t do everything a laptop can do, the things that are missing may or may not be important to you.

By the time you’ve added a keyboard, the 9.7-inch model still costs less than a MacBook Air or an equivalent Windows 10 Ultrabook. The 12.7-inch model is a more direct laptop replacement, the giant screen is worth the extra $350.

If you have an older iPad that’s getting a little tired, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro would be a good next step. You’ll notice the extra power and improved screen.


  1. There’s a lot of confusion about the term colour temperature. It is sometimes used as a way of talking about white balance. And it can mean something quite subjective. When Apple uses the term it relates to making the screen bluer or more orange depending on the colour of the light shining on and around the iPad. This makes for a less jarring screen viewing experience.  ↩

Google Docs had the online collaboration game to itself for years. Then Apple added collaboration to the cloud versions of its iWorks apps. A few days later Microsoft pulled similar features into the Office Web Apps.

All three competing software suites now allow co-workers to co-operate on the same documents, making real-time changes.

Although I’ve investigated the iCloud version of iWork’s – or more accurately Pages – and the Word web app, I’ve not needed to use either yet for serious production work. I have worked extensively in the past on collaborative Google Docs documents.


The collaborative approach is well suited to modern publishing where colleagues often work from home or remote offices. I’ve filed stories from overseas hotel rooms, then worked with editors to tidy them up for publication.

Significantly all three online suites are free – which means publishers get full access to advanced tools for no more than the cost of a computer, phone or tablet and a data connection.

It’s partly a matter of taste and partly to do with practical matters, but I’ve always found, collaboration aside, Google Docs is a second-rate tool for serious writing. It is fine for short snippets of writing. 

In comparison, Both the iCloud version of Pages and the Word Web App are powerful, elegant writing tools. I know of friends and colleagues who are perfectly happy with Google Docs.

Either way, publishers, editors, journalists and bloggers now have real choice when it comes to online collaboration.

A real cloud

Much of the talk about business moving to the cloud is hype says Gartner.

However, the shift has begun and most will be working there in a decade.

Gartner says only 50 million big-company cloud office users work with services like Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 now. That sounds a lot, but it is just eight percent of the worldwide market.

The research company said the big shift will start in early 2015 and that by 2017 a third of those workers will be cloud-based. In 2022 that will reach 60 percent.

You’ve got to ask yourself how Gartner reached these numbers. It’s easy enough to measure what people are doing today – just look at software licence sales. Getting numbers for the next couple of years isn’t hard, ask people about their intentions.

But predicting numbers for almost a decade out? Surely that depends on software company plans as much as anything.

Recently Adobe decided to shift all its creative software to the cloud, if Microsoft makes a similar decision with Office, then everyone will head to the cloud whether they want to or not.

Microsoft Office 365When Office 2013 launches everyone can renting the software. This is something large companies have done for years.

Should you subscribe and pay an annual fee to use Microsoft Office or pay once for an old-style licence?

While we don’t have official New Zealand prices for either option yet, the US prices on Microsoft’s Office News blog gives a clue. For many, renting will make sense.

Office 2013 subscription

A low-end Office 365 Home Premium subscription costs US$100 a year – although strictly speaking the price is US$99.99, no-one here is fooled by psychological pricing.

A single subscription covers an entire household. At Chez Bennett that means three people. Microsoft allows a total of five devices at any time including PCs or Macs. If you buy a new machine, the subscription can move. I’m guessing here, the deal also includes Windows tablets – can anyone confirm this?

But wait, there’s more

To sweeten the pot, Microsoft will throw in extra SkyDrive cloud storage and 60 minutes of Skype calls each month. Microsoft promises the software will be kept up to date and “new capabilities will be added multiple times per year”.

For a family, or someone with a lot of devices, Office 365 Home Premium could make sense.

The small business version of Office 365 costs US$150, covers the same five devices and includes more cloud storage, a hosted public website and online video conferencing. Again, it could make sense.

Doing it the old way

A conventional version of Office Home and Student 2013 will cost US$140, Office Professional is US$400. The traditional software licences are for a single device and only allow 7GB of SkyDrive storage – which, experience says, is plenty for everyday Office documents.

So, if you have multiple devices, a wired family or a small business, renting makes sense. If you’re a single user with just one machine, a traditional licence works out cheaper in the long run but even then it depends on how long you plan to wait before upgrading.