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This week's Network World asks "Has the Office romance cooled?"

Of course it has. What is there in Office 2007 that's really new? I mean, new in a way that will actually help me write a better business letter?. In 1987 I was writing letters. In 1997 I was writing letters. In 2007 I'm still writing letters. You know what the big difference is over twenty years? In 1987 I was writing practice letters in my high school typing class, and for the past fourteen years I've been doing it for real. The format hasn't changed. The language hasn't changed. Not much has changed at all -- except that in '90s we had fax numbers and email addresses on our letterhead and now we have mobile numbers, web URLs and email addresses. Today, the fax is slowly going the way of the electric typewriter and the eight-track tape. But what about the tools? What about Word?

In 1987 I was using the Leading Edge Word Processor (LEWP). Most of the business world was using Word Perfect. There was XYwrite, IBM Writing Assistant and this upstart MS Word (for DOS) along with Lotus AmiPro and a slew of others. We all had pagination, spell checking, soft-tabs, underlining, italics, footnotes ... a laundry list of features. The average user probably only used 25% of them.

By 1993 two genuine revolutions had transpired and our writing tools really did advance -- WYSIWYG and proportionally-spaced fonts. In 1995 Windows users got access to TrueType fonts -- not so much of a revolution as an evolution -- they enabled anyone to create eye-bending typographic effects in Word or to have a 'dingasm' with all of the nifty stuff in Wingdings.

By our next dacadal way-point -- 1997 -- those revolutions were all old news. No one still used dot-matrix printers except offices and POS systems where they were printing multiple copies on NCR paper. My Panasonic KXP-1091i was gathering dust, and even my work-horse HP DeskJet 500 was out to pasture in favor of a LaserJet 6MP. The average user of MS Office 95 or Office 97 was using roughly 10% of the features available to them.

Now it's 2007 and Network World is wondering if the fire has gone out of the relationship. Um, yeah. While there will always be folks who want to get a new car every two to three years, a growing number of us denizens in the reality-based world look at a car with 100,000 miles on it and think now I'm starting to get my money's worth out of this thing. The same holds true for software. Office 4.3 (1993), Office 95, Office 97, Office 2000, Office XP, Office 2003 and now Office 2007. For someone who is just trying to write a letter or run a ledger, there really isn't much new here -- except for the licensing plan (eight flavors of Office 2007 to choose from!) and the bill.

This fall the House of Hum is reluctantly giving up Office 97 and moving to Office 2003 because -- and only because -- Microsoft's translator for the Office 2007 file formats is only available for Office 2003, and people are starting to lob .DOCX files over our virtual transom. We've had ten good years with Office 97 -- and part of that goodness was stability. Stability which meant that the tool receded into the background and we could concentrate on just getting our work done. Like most users, we probably only ever used 10% of the features in Word and Excel (though ashacat may now be pushing 20% with Excel's statistical analysis features), and 5% of PowerPoint and Access. Which, begs the next question.

Is the 5-7% of the Office 2007 feature set that our users are going to use worth the price tag and the disruption? Oh, and a second (rhetorical) question: given that the average corporate user has only basic mastery over things like shared folders and email attachments, do the geeks in Redmond really think that the vision-made-flesh in Office 2007 is something that mere mortals can follow? Maybe I'm showing my age and my mind is ossifying. You tell me. Is there something really compelling about Office 2007, or am I right in thinking that most of us would rather stop 'upgrading' and just get down to business?


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 14th, 2007 01:25 am (UTC)
My initial review read as follows:

Have you seen Vista and Office 2007 yet? When I have more time, I'll write up a comprehensive review, but as a capsule summary, allow me to suggest that the two sensible courses of action I recommend are that first, you should probably stick with XP and Office 2003, and second, it may make a certain amount of sense to find the Office 2007 UI design team and beat them all to death with a crowbar.
Nov. 14th, 2007 02:05 pm (UTC)
I recall one comment from the Redmond design team: they had been interviewing people about what functions they wanted added to the office suite and in nearly all cases the functions were already there, but no one knew they existed or where to find them. I doubt the correct solution was to add new functions, but to make the current functions easier to find if and when you need them.

Of course, this is Microsoft, the people who when they had it pointed out to them that things on other PDA platforms that could be done in 3 steps took MS users 8-10 asked for more input from the complaining party... just not on the navigation issues.
Nov. 17th, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)
...they had been interviewing people about what functions they wanted added to the office suite and in nearly all cases the functions were already there, but no one knew they existed or where to find them.

Which is why Windows 95 introduced the X in the upper right-hand corner: Microsoft's surveying had found that 82% of Windows 3.x users didn't know that they could double-click on the upper left corner to close an application.

This same problem is apparently why MS is introducing the Ribbon into Office. A new model for presenting menues -- the Ribbon is supposed to change to show you what's useful in whatever context you're in ... which is sure to enrage experienced Office users and befuddle the minimally competant masses.

...And it presumes that you have a huge, high-resolution display. Those of us with "standard" XGA (1024x768) displays will be cramped for space, and any poor soul whose stuck at 800x600 would be better off composing their missive in WordPad.

Le Sigh.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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