Microsoft software? Bad? Never!

I just read an article on The Register which is simultaneously humorous, relevant and worrying. For those of you too lazy to read it, the basic gist is that Excel is taking text used to describe genes (I don’t really know any of the theory, but the example given is “SEPT2”, which Google informs me “modulates the activity of GLAST, a glutamate transporter in astrocytes”) and “helpfully” reformatting it (in this case to “2-Sep-2004”.

I’m guessing that the humour in this is pretty obvious, so moving on to why it’s relevant – I had a similar problem when trying to get my contact information over from Outlook to Thunderbird via a tab-separated text file. In order to cut out some of Outlook’s insane gamut of irrelevant fields (including an astounding 18 possible entries for phone and fax numbers), I imported this file into Excel (fool that I am). Excel promptly changed all the phone numbers present into the singularly unhelpful form “7.73E+09”. How useful.

And finally, the reason why this is worrying – surely genetic researchers have better and more specialised tools available to them than Excel? This appears to be happening everywhere, from scientific papers being written as Word documents instead of LaTeX files to bank ATMs running Windows. I have, myself, seen a Halifax ATM with a popup informing me to “Please run VirusScan from the command line” – what the hell is going on there?

I’m not saying Microsoft software is universally awful (not in this post, anyway) – in fact Windows is my primary OS at the moment, partially due to lack of Linux drivers for most wireless cards, partly because of these “game” things. What I am saying, however, is that these things have their place. And for genetic research and banking software, there are better things out there guys. Please use them…

5 Responses to “Microsoft software? Bad? Never!”

  1. […] d under: General ramblings — FatBusinessman @ 21:46

            I have commented in <a href="http://blog.fatbusinessman.com/archives/2004/07/17/excel-formatting" title="Microsoft software? Bad? Never!">the dim and distant past</a> about Window [...]
    •  Gravatar for dr_jo
    • From dr_jo
    • Wednesday 21 July 2004 at 15:45

    I’m not sure there is a better/more specialised piece of software out there for formatting/working with data. When I worked at SmithKline, and also at Uni, any data manipulation was done in Excel, because it’s readily available, most machines have it, and it does everything you need it to. Surely the only thing needed is a check box, which says “leave everything exactly as I type it in”?

    •  Gravatar for Meri
    • From Meri
    • Thursday 22 July 2004 at 16:21

    There is such a checkbox — you just need to import the data (rather than just opening it) and then not use the evil “General” option that let’s Excel decide what it thinks your data is. And Jo’s right — most people just use Excel because it’s easy, available and pretty damn good for the purpose. There’s more functionality hidden in Excel that in the rest of Windows put together (and since Microsoft is a functionality whore, that’s saying something) — you just have to use it lots to be good at it.

    •  Gravatar for Nina
    • From Nina
    • Thursday 5 August 2004 at 14:01

    best oxymoron ever… Microsoft Works Thank you.

    •  Gravatar for Fatty
    • From Fatty
    • Thursday 5 August 2004 at 15:00

    I always preferred “Military Intelligence” myself… 😉