The story starts more than a year ago, with a fairly well-equipped home office and a small, for-profit venture I run in addition to my work at SBN.
Making money, I've learned, requires aggressive, nonstop selling. And that means being able to perform some specific tasks, such as maintaining a database and producing mass mailings to communicate consistently with a targeted group of people.
Which is why, after struggling on my own for months, I put down good money - and plenty of it - to buy Microsoft's market-leading office suite. I figured to put the contacts in the spreadsheet, organize them through the database, write letters to them in the word processor and send them letters and e-mails by passing it all through the information management application.
Complex, yes. But that's why you buy the bundle, right? It's all compatible; it all follows the same logic; it's backed by the largest software developer. How far wrong could I go?
After nearly a year and more than a hundred hours trying to configure the software to my needs, none of it is doing what I'd hoped.
The computer crashes when the database tries to reach into the spreadsheet. The information manager won't send e-mail. The word processor wants to take over all the simple tasks that I already know how to do while turning my work into hotlinks and preformatted letters.
The 600-page user's guide offers only the most cursory answers to questions. Same with Microsoft's technical support. And try to get a computer consultant to help after telling him it's just a single workstation.
Look, I'm not a dumb guy, and while I don't profess to be a computer wizard, I'm not exactly new at using this stuff, either. So why do I feel so lost and alone while my fledgling business slowly chokes on broken promises of productivity from the world's largest software company?
Last week, I'd had enough. I put in a call to a local company - I found their ad in SBN - that sells and installs software.
Instead of telling them what program I wanted, I told them what business functions I needed for it to perform. They set up a time to come to my home office, install and configure the right software to do everything I need, and then provide a hands-on tutorial. Suggested retail: Not much more than I spent on Microsoft Office.
It's too soon to know how happy I'll be with the results. But based on the fact that one phone call has provided more constructive human contact than a year of Microsoft, I'm optimistic.
I'm also sitting here feeling a little bit humbled and stupid. As editor of Northeast Ohio's leading management magazine, I've heard hundreds of executives say, "Pay people what they're worth to do what they know how to do best."
Yet for the last year, I wasted precious resources by listening to Microsoft's implied message that everyone can and should become a computer technician.
So is Microsoft a monopoly? Fortunately for all of us, not when it comes to office productivity.
Bob Rosenbaum, who might be willing to sell a licensed version of Microsoft Office 97, can be reached at (216) 529-8584, or by e-mail at email@example.com.