Office 2007: Good or Evil?

Office 2007 seems to be a split offer – half good half bad. On the good side, they seem to be keeping pace with the innovation that competition has seen for several years now, and they are making a lot of changes that I have been wanting to see. On the other hand, I don’t see these changes justifying a new release, and I don’t agree with everything, most notably the deviation from the file format standard. Internet Explorer anyone?

From what I can see (in screenshots only), it seems to be a more intuitive application. I have never understood why “File, Edit, View” is still around, as this is a software design imposed by hardware limitations of yesterday that still lingers. People just don’t think in ahierarchical menu fashion. Why then, does every application follow suite? Simply because Microsoft had the market and dictated that this is how applications should be designed. Well, this is no longer the case. The leader in the industry is changing the rules in interface design. I believe that this will benefit the computer industry in the long run, the same way that Apple’s interfaces have made it easier for its customers for years.

Other beneficial features include exporting to a PDF document (finally), RSS feed support in Outlook, and exporting to common blogging applications such as Blogger, TypePad or WordPress. I am happy to see that they are embracing third party products instead of making their own.

The downsides are plenty though. I think the following quote sums up the state of the suite: “We had some options in there that literally did nothing,” said Paul Coleman, a product manager. If the feature did nothing, why was it in there? It was artificially bloated to make it look like a more powerful application. In the end, it is the user that suffers this war as the most common features used became buried in sub-menus four, sometimes five clicks deep in a place that logically doesn’t fit. It has been my experience that many applications peak in functionality vs. usability early on, and later versions get more bloated, and harder to use. Use Microsoft Office 97 for a week, and find three things that are harder to do than in Office 2003.

I don’t see the spelling and grammar overhaul being any different, and I think that the translation tool will be so wrong it will be discarded immediately. The only improvement Outlook 2007 has received is improved search capabilities, and I believe this is the wrong direction to go. System wide searching via Spotlight, Google Desktop, and Beagle have the ability to search EVERYTHING, not just the application you are in. This also seems to speak will for what Microsoft promised with its indexing abilities in Windows Vista.

Its price tag is still high ($150 – $680) for what it offers – little more than a handful of improvements over the existing Microsoft Office 2003. The free availability of its conversion tool for Microsoft Office < 2007 to read the new XML formats can be seen in either light as well. On one hand, they are not forcing an upgrade by locking older versions out as in previous versions, but on the other, this is encouraging a gradual adoption – one more likely to succeed. This plays well with the strategy of allowing Microsoft Office 2007 the ability to run on Windows XP. Businesses will always upgrade because it is what they always have done, regardless of the benefits / disadvantages to their users. In the end, it will be ubiquitous, regardless of whether it is good or evil – this is just food for thought.


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