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Why Microsoft Office Costs $200: A Budget Breakdown.

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Microsoft Office is a cup full of scissors, glasses, and a pen. DO NOT DRINK
Microsoft Office is a cup full of scissors, glasses, and a pen. DO NOT DRINK

For over 20 years, Microsoft has sold its Office software suite at a remarkably high price. In fact, Microsoft Office 2010, which was released nearly two years ago, still sells for $199.95.

That's four to five times more expensive than most state-of-the-art computer games, most of which take years to produce and require teams of script writers, visual artists, researchers, virtual architects, and programmers. The differences between a computer game made in 1997 and one made in 2010 are enormous; however, the differences between Word 97 and Word 2010 are largely secondary.

You might ask, "why, given the free alternatives available, is Microsoft Office so expensive?" Well, Microsoft might forgive the layman for asking such a naïve question, but the truth is that a product such as Office requires massive resources to produce. What do your $200 pay for? Here's a fiscal breakdown:

$36 - Copy/paste function

One of the project's leads, Bill Tomlin, wanted to re-purpose the "ctrl+v" function. Rather than pasting what was on the clipboard, it would instead paste a press release for a book Tomlin had just finished writing. His intent was to make his book "go viral."

Tomlin's overtures to the project leads to "do [him] a solid" initially failed, but he was able to advance this function surprisingly far into the development process by bribing them with exorbitant amounts of money that he pilfered from the project's budget.

Upon pressing ctrl+v, the following passage would be pasted into the user's document (errors are Tomlin's):

Are you're can't to get enough of the thrills, chills & spills of baseball? Well then Holy Frickin' Moley! The Story Of The 2006 Seattle Mariners is might be for you! As the old saying goes, "the only good hitting is baseblall bat", and during this topsy-turvy and worldwind season, the Mariners found this too be very true. So what are you waiting for? Buy it today or be a gross idiot forever.

Senior management eventually learned of this function, refused to help Tomlin "get some virals," and promptly fired him, but not before hundreds of thousands of dollars in production costs were lost. Tomlin's book was later self-published after being re-worked to include "a dragon as large as the planet Earth who helps people."

$57 - "Portrait" and "landscape" orientation functions

One of Microsoft's top priorities was to "make switching from ‘portrait view' to ‘landscape view' fun again." Their solution was to implement a handful of "fun-filled features." In the beta version, if the user clicks the "switch to landscape" button:

  • The Word window shrinks and begins to float aimlessly around the screen.
  • A 30-second Brian Eno musical arrangement plays. User controls are overridden so that the arrangement plays at full volume.
  • A poorly-compressed video pops up of a painter (played by Richard Karn), wearing a smock and beret and holding a palette. He turns away from his canvas, looks at the camera and says, "A-landscape-a-mode! Perfecto!" before kissing his fingertips and exclaiming, "mwah!"
  • If the user switches back to portrait mode, the painter exclaims, "Mona Lisa! I like-a very-a much!"

Unfortunately, these animations were so poorly-programmed that they tended to overload system resources, destroying millions of dollars' worth of computer hardware. These expenses were factored into the project, as was Richard Karn's adamant insistence on keeping the beret they had him wear for the video shoot. He was quoted as saying, "I've grown very fond of this hat, and if you attempt to take it from me one more time, I'll fucking bite you." The wardrobe contractor was compensated four dollars for the beret.

$104 - Clippy

Microsoft has long been infamous for its clueless marketing approach. After several comical missteps, which included a campaign to encourage consumers to throw their own Windows 7 launch parties and an odd, tone-deaf commercial that involved a vomiting woman, Microsoft decided to back to the drawing board.

After circulating a YouTube video entitled "Singing Bathtub Babies," one senior manager at Microsoft, Kathy Schwartzel, was lauded by her secretary for being a "hoot and a half" and told that she "should write for a sitcom or something." Emboldened by this vote of confidence, Schwartzel successfully lobbied for $30 million in company funding to produce a sitcom starring Clippy, the in-house name for Office's animated paperclip assistant.

A 13-episode season was commissioned, but production was halted after the first four episodes:

  • Hot Rod Clippy! (Clippy drives an automobile)
  • High-Flyin' Clippy! (Clippy flies around in a helicopter)
  • Clippy's Birthday Bash! (Clippy throws a party for his paperclip friends)
  • High Seas Clippy! (Clippy rides on a boat)

These episodes featured no point of conflict or plot of any sort, and when a co-worker commented that she didn't think 22 minutes of Clippy sitting on a boat deck and singing "Anchors Aweigh" over and over was enough to captivate an audience, Schwartzel burst into tears and resigned her position.

Desperate to turn the project around, Microsoft spent another $22 million to win the services of director David Lynch, who saw the first four episodes and described them as "spectacular." Subsequent episodes largely consisted of Clippy hiding behind furniture and standing still while a gong was drummed at routine intervals.

$1,300 - Cake

Midway through the project, during a developers' meeting, one project lead mentioned that he would like some cake. A fellow project lead confirmed that he, too, "could really go for some cake." Within moments, there was universal consensus in the room that "some cake would really hit the spot."

One executive called a catering service and ordered "as much cake as you have. A fucking shitload of cake, please." Sure enough, upwards of 200 cakes were delivered, and senior management spent the rest of the day eating copious amounts of cake.

The next day, the decision was made to eat more cake, and all employees in the company were asked if they would also like some cake. By afternoon, every Microsoft employee was digging into cakes with their bare hands and stuffing it into their faces.

On Wednesday, many employees reported feeling ill. "Perhaps more cake will help," they said, and upwards of 500,000 artisan cakes were ordered. By this point, everyone at Microsoft shirked his or her duties, and the offices, which were completely littered with crumbs and smeared with frosting, began to attract legions of rats.

Cake consumption spilled into the following week, at which point employees simply rolled around naked in cakes while shrieking things like "cake," "I love cake," and "fucky fuckity cakefuck." All in all, "Cake Month," as it came to be known around the offices, cost nearly $100 million.

Total costs: $1,497 per copy of Microsoft Office
MSRP: $199

Indeed, Microsoft actually sells Office at a loss of nearly $1,300 per copy. They could charge more, of course, but Microsoft owns such a massive amount of capital that they can afford to sell Office at an enormous loss. They do so for the public good.

So next time you're tempted to bash Microsoft, the so-called Evil Empire, take a moment and remember how much dedication and hard work goes into each copy of Office -- and the great folks behind each copy.