22 April 2009

Why MS Office 2007?

I've used Microsoft Office 2007 quite a few times since it came out, and every time that I do, I am left with one basic question.

"What the F- were you guys thinking?"

MS Office is (or was) a category killer. Compatability issues made it, like Windows and pre-Firefox versions of Internet Explorer, the dominant product in its market. Once upon a time, competitors like Word Perfect and its companion spreadsheet were viable alternatives. Now, almost every office in the country uses it.

All prior versions of Microsoft Office (as well as competitors like Word Perfect; Open Office, version 3.0 is quite good compared to its predecessors; and Google Docs) are sometimes a little clunky, but can be easily navigated with simple, reasonably intuitive, drop down menus. But, MS Office 2007 is software that no sane human would try to navigate without a lengthy tutorial to relearn everything you've ever known about using a word processor or spreadsheet, or a lot of quality time with the user's manual (the print version of which is no longer standard issue).

Simple, every day, everyone needs features like opening and saving files, and undoing recent actions, are horribly obscured. The basic subject matter organized drop down menu bar found in every other application on the planet is missing. The icons are as baffling as Chinese ideograms. Lots of features I don't care about clutter the screen.

I'm sure that all the old features are in there somewhere. I am also sure that somebody must see something beneficial about the new version. It is probably even possible to customize it to the point where it would be more user friendly. But, I just can't figure it out, and I am not excited about the prospect of relearning basic concepts about how to use a program that have remained more or less unchanged since I started using word processors and spreadsheets back in middle school.

The inconveniences involved in MS Office 2007 are particularly puzzling because this is software, unlike the abomination that is Windows Vista, which customers are expected to pay separately for after the purchase their computers. I also have to assume that a total overhaul of the program can't have been cheap to undertake.

The whole "not broken, don't fix it" concept has apparently been soundly rejected by Microsoft management.

I have been told, although I'm not sure that I believe it, that the idea behind MS Office 2007 was to address the fact that MS Office has lots of features that nobody realizes are there and therefore don't use. But, there are better ways to serve that purpose than creating an awkward user interface. For example, I've seen a couple of very good customizations of the previous version of MS Office with styles, macros, and revised menus and toolbar buttons. It would be easy enough, for example, to have a couple dozen built in customization schemes to choose from, a bit like the different layout themes in the Blogger system. Usually, the problem, as the folks at Apple understand philosophically, and the folks at Microsoft do not, is not too few features, but too many that you don't need or use. At the very least, they could have kept an old style interface as the default and made the new one an optional alternative. After all, how much more memory would that add to this already bloated software. If it took too much, they could eliminate one of the programs in the suite that nobody ever uses (I don't even have any idea what several of the newer ones do).

Still, I continue to be baffled by the entire Microsoft business plan across its entire line of leading products. Has it been a few good years for special mushroom production in Washington State or something? Has the Microsoft campus grown too removed from the rest of the world? Are they using skewed focus groups?

I'm curious to know, but I won't be putting down any money to buy MS Office 2007 any time soon, no matter what I learn. Personally, I'm seriously considering moving to one of the multiple free cloud computing application systems anyway.

Wikipedia explores some of the main criticisms of the MS Office 2007:

Even though the ribbon can be hidden, PC World wrote that the new "ribbon" interface crowds the Office work area, especially for notebook users. Others have called its large icons distracting. PC World has stated that upgrading to Office 2007 presents dangers to certain data, such as templates, macros, and mail messages.

Some users have complained about the loss of floating toolbars with customizable icons and text buttons.

The new XML-based .docx file format for Word is incompatible with previous versions unless an addon is installed for the older version.

The Word 2007 equation editor is incompatible with that of Word 2003 and previous versions, and when converting DOCX files to DOC files, equations are rendered as graphics. Consequently, Word 2007 cannot be used for any publishing, file-sharing and collaborative endeavour in any mathematics-based fields, including science and technology, in which users may have earlier versions of Word. For reasons unknown, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 retain the old equation format, meaning that users cannot move equations between Word and the other programs even though they are the same version. Many publishers do not accept submissions in Word 2007; for example, academic publishers have informed Microsoft that this severely impairs Word 2007's usability for scholarly publishing.

Some users with experience using previous versions of Microsoft Office have complained about having to find features in the Ribbon. Others state that having learnt to use the new interface, it has improved the speed with which "professional-looking" documents can be created. . . .

The new Word 2007 features for bibliographies only support a small number of fixed citation styles. Using XSLT, new styles can be added. Some extra styles, such as the standard ACM publication format are made freely available by third parties.


Dave Barnes said...


Move to MS Office 2008.
No ribbon.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Cool. Didn't know it existed. Is it worth the coin?

Anonymous said...

Office 2007 = Windows
Office 2008 = Mac

So you can't simply move...

Also, you might want to get used to the ribbon as Windows 7 will introduce it in many applications (Paint, WordPad, ...)

Michael Malak said...

If you want Microsoft to get back on track, talk to Martha Stewart. Tell her to tell her husband to get back to work.

Michael Ditto said...

Office 2007 is a great change for people who have never used a computer before. But it's a radical departure and a royal pain in the rear for those of us with 20 years of experience with the old UI.

Adobe had a similar nightmare when they overhauled their applications in 1999. They were forced to offer downgrades for large clients who were balking at the cost of retraining, but customers eventually adapted and I think it's made the software more accessible in the end.