Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Office 2007: New does not always mean improved

Note: I know that Office 2007 has been around for about 3 years now, and so this post is outdated even before its written. But the point of this is to show how even huge companies with mega $ budgets for Research and Development can turn a decent product into an awful one!!

Recently my office "forced" me to upgrade to Office 2007 from Office 2003 - a new laptop was allocated to me, and the default image has Office 2007. So I had no choice but to accept that.

Pretty soon, I started hating it.

I am basically a Windows user, and really liked Office 2003. I had kept off upgrading to Office 2007 because my previous experience with Microsoft products is that the "improved" version is always significantly worse to use than the one you currently use.

Office 2007 seems to have been redesigned from the ground up in terms of usability. What I fail to see is which users would be happy with the new design because
  • Things that were simple to do previously are now extremely complicated
  • You can't do certain things (at least I couldn't find out - see below)
  • You have to Google often to seek solutions for ridiculously simple operations.
I will give 5 examples from Outlook (OL) itself. The rest of Office 2007 has more gems like these.

Example 1: Where is the BCC field?

In Outlook 2007, the BCC field is turned off by default. I use this field while sending non-official emails to a lot of people - I have had bad experiences in the past with people doing a "Reply All" to a thread (even if that thread has folks they don't even know). So BCC is the only option.

I hunted, hunted some more, and finally Googled.
The answer is: Open a new message, go to the Options field (in the message itself), and in "Fields" chose "Show BCC". Wow!!

Example 2: Justify text in an email? What for?

In OL 2007, you can't "justify" the text. There is left align, right align, and center align. You can't justify the text. You can do it in Word, thankfully! So if you want to send a "justified" mail, then you compose it in Word, and then paste it into Outlook. Very productive.

Example 3: I will go back to the default option every time

In OL 2007, suppose you want to insert 3 images into an email (inline embedded). OK, so then you select "Insert --> Picture". That does the job.
Then what would you do?
Click on "Picture" again, of course!
Wrong! Can't do that!
Because now the "Format" sub-tab is selected that allows you to format a picture. So you have to select "Insert" again. That is loads of fun if you have to insert many images.

There is a workaround for the above, but it is well hidden. When you select "Insert --> Picture", you can actually select multiple images. But then, why not name it "Picture(s)" or "Pictures"? Oh, and BTW, the order in which the images are inserted is "last image first" (LIFO). So if you select 1, 2, and 3 then the order in which they get inserted into the mail is 3, 2, 1. Go figure.

Example 4: I got tired of the "File" Menu

In OL 2007, open a new message. Look for the "File" menu, which has been the default for ages and ages. It's not there!! Instead you have to click on the new Office icon, and then only can you access the normal "File" menu. Why this new design? Does it give the user any advantages? Or is being "cool" the only criterion? "Cool" should always be accompanied by "useful". And in case of doubt, always choose the latter over the former.

Example 5: I will render HTML in a manner that is worse than the previous version!

This is the most incredible part of OL 2007. HTML rendering has been taken back - way, way back from what it was in OL 2003. The reason is that some people in the team, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they would take a winning HTML rendering engine from Internet Explorer and replace it with a crappy one from Word. Word is extremely bad at rendering HTML. And to actually switch the engine from IE to Word is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot!
There is a good thread on this already here.

Summary: New does not always mean improved. To improve something one has to think of what the customer wants, and single-mindedly execute on that plan. Just putting in features for the heck of it is not good. And replacing what was good in a previous version of the software with something that is just plain bad is worse. I hope the Office team at MS pays attention to all the feedback on the net while designing the next version. Else history will repeat itself ...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Aman Ki Asha, an Indo-Pak Peace Project

A new peace initiative between India and Pakistan by the Times Of India and Jang Group (Pakistan).

Beautiful video...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My Newfound Spirituality from Asami Asami by Pu La Deshpande

A very good translation of part of the Marathi novel "Asami Asami" by Pu La Deshpande. A translation can't match the original language's punch, but still this is a very good effort.

Link: Vantage point: My Newfound Spirituality from Asami Asami by Pu La Deshpande

Friday, January 01, 2010

Quotes from Agatha Christie novels

Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. I can read her mystery books over and over again, and each time they are as delicious as they were the first time.

There are some famous gems - pearls of wisdom actually, hidden in her novels. I have picked a few of my favorites. I am sure there are many, many more. But this is a good start.


"I do not approve of murder."
- Hercule Poirot, recurring quote, 1st seen in "Poirot's Early Cases"

"The worst is so often true."
- Miss Jane Marple, They Do It with Mirrors

"You can only really get under anybody’s skin if you are married to them."
- Miss Jane Marple, The Body in the Library

"She has made her bed and she must lie on it."
- Emily Arundell, Dumb Witness OR Poirot Loses a Client

"Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth.
The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it."
- Hercule Poirot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

"Crime is terribly revealing.
Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions."
- Hercule Poirot, The ABC Murders

"Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend."
- Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.
- Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express

"You know that in all tombs there is always a false door?"
Renisenb stared. "Yes, of course."
"Well, people are like that too. They create a false door - to deceive. If they are conscious of weakness, of inefficiency, they make an imposing door of self-assertion, of bluster, of overwhelming authority - and, after a time, they get to believe in it themselves. They think, and everybody thinks, that they are like that. But behind that door, Renisenb, is a bare rock ... And so when reality comes and touches them with the feather of truth - their true self reasserts itself."
- Death Comes as the End

Captain Hastings: [referring to marriage] You ever thought about it?
Hercule Poirot: In my experience, I know of five cases of wives being murdered by their devoted husbands.
Captain Hastings: Oh?
Hercule Poirot: And twenty-two husbands being murdered by their devoted wives. So thank you, no. Marriage, it is not for me.
- The Double Clue

Her voice broke suddenly.
Miss Marple said gently:
" I am only a stranger, but I am so very very sorry."
And suddenly, uncontrollably, Letitia Blacklock wept.

It was a piteous overmastering grief, with a kind of hopelessness about it. Miss Marple sat quite still.
Miss Blacklock sat up at last. Her face was swollen and blotched with tears.
" I'm sorry," she said. " It - it just came over me. What I've lost. She - she was the only link with the past,
you see. The only one who - who remembered. Now that she's gone I'm quite alone."
" I know what you mean," said Miss Marple.
"One is alone when the last one who remembers is gone.
I have nephews and nieces and kind friends - but there's no one who knew me as a
young girl - no one who belongs to the old days.
I've been alone for quite a long time now."

- A Murder is Announced