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Note: I know that Office 2007 has been around for about 3 years now, and so this post is outdated even before its written.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 ...

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