08 June 2007

Dumbing Down MS Word

My current computer project is to dumb down Microsoft Word, and more generally, to strip out useless features and programs from my computer.

I want to banish fonts that I never use. I want to remove from my menus and toolbars all commands that I have no intention of ever using and didn't even ever think to want. I want to remove buttons when I don't know what they do. If I have a button for it, I don't want it in my drop down menus. I want to run the program on a WYSIWYG basis as much as possible.

I want to be ruthless about it. For example, I never, ever print from my laptop. So, why should my laptop version of Microsoft Word have the print option in the file menu?

In short, I want to simplify my life in front of the computer.

It is possible. But, it takes considerable effort, attention and persistance to prevent it from creating bugs. This shouldn't be the case. You should be able to remove 90% of the junk with a single drop down menu, or a wizard, in the customize command. You could choose to select from interface such as "legal," "academic," "business," "full feature," "basic," "technical writing," "internet platform," "publishing," and perhaps a couple other overall choices that could then be modified from there.

4 comments:

Shane Church said...

You can do all of this today. Right-click on any empty area of the menu bar and select "Customize." You can add and remove commands from and menu or toolbar this way. The interfaces in Office (and most other Microsoft programs) are highly customizable. If you don't want it, take it out.

Shane Church said...

I also have one more quick addition to my previous comment. In your comment about being able to select "academic," "business," etc. options, you need to realize that all of this functionality and customization has been developed for a reason. Millions of people around the world use these products. There is no such thing as a "legal" interface or an "academic" interface because I guarantee you that if I talked to 10 lawyers or 10 academics, I would get 10 different answers as to what functionality they used the most. Microsoft is in the business of providing software that can be used by the largest amount of people possible. Even if you don't use a feature, there will be millions of people who do. This is why you get the options to customize the interface, but Microsoft would have a hard time coming up with just a handful of configurations for the types that you mention. You do a great job of mentioning all of these different types that you would want, but take a stab at defining what features would be in each one. I guarantee there would be large amounts of overlap and that you would have a much harder time than you think in coming up with well defined lists.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I have indeed done the customize thing. But, it isn't easy. For example, fonts are managed at the Windows level and there is nothing in all of the help instructions on removing fonts, only on adding them; you have to figure out how to remove them by trial and error and its a bit tricky as some fonts can't be removed without screwing up other problems.

Similarly, in addition to being hard to use, when I used the customize feature one of the features I removed screwed up a script that I didn't know I have and now creates an error message every time I sign in.

As far as the "if I talked to 10 lawyers or 10 academics, I would get 10 different answers as to what functionality they used the most" goes, the reality is that I have yet to meet a lawyer or academic who has done any meaningful customization at all. Most of them, like me, are simply fed up with all sorts of features but are clueless about what to do about it and afraid that they'll screw something up to solve a mere annoyance, even if it is a big one.

Indeed, probably only one in five lawyers even know how to use such basic functions as the "rule" function in outlook that automatically sorts most of your mail into file folders.

Shane Church said...

I will definitely concede that a lot more education needs to be done on how to use a lot of these features. I am a software engineer and one area that I think the industry does a horrible job with is user education. They send people home with a new, complicated tool and expect them to know how to use everything. I understand your frustration, but I do want you to see what goes into design decisions such as the features you mentioned.

On a related note, have you tried Office 2007 yet? Microsoft has completely overhauled the user interface, and while it does take some time to learn, I have found it to be noticably more intuitive, and noticably simpler to use than the previous versions.