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The joy of Office™

September 22, 2005

Kinda says it all…

“Office has become a case study for feature creep—the phenomenon in which a simple technology becomes complicated and unmanageable through the addition of new features. Office, which once had 100 commands neatly organized into menus, ballooned to contain some 1,500 commands located in scores of menus, toolbars and dialog boxes.” (emphasis mine)
-Tech Republic: Office 12 makeover takes on “Feature Creep”

To understand the problem, compare your computer to your car.  Driving is an extremely complicated task with a simple goal: arrival.  Yet your car has few controls.  Imagine if your car had 1,500 controls on the dashboard.  Some are hidden, some are mislabeled, and some will just crash the car or cause it to go off course with no apparent way to correct. Your car maker, trying to “help” you, removes English labels from the controls and substitutes a tiny picture on each one that is intended to suggest its function… and the controls move around on the dashboard so the most recently used ones are near the steering wheel (or on it) and the rest all hide themselves.

That’s what it is like to use Microsoft Office.  It is a case-study in bad interface design.  Like some corporate “Bill Clinton”, Microsoft feels your pain: they are redesigning Office with more contextual menus called “ribbons”. 

Much to my surprise, it looks like they’re doing a pretty good job. (click link for series of screen shots)

But I have another suggestion: how about removing unwanted features?  I hope they’re doing that.  I just don’t hear people saying; “How can I get more cute animated characters onscreen?”  or “I want all the pages to display four to a screen, but print full page.” 

People want straightforward page formatting, not an exercise in jargon and abstraction.  We do NOT want text to “auto-format” when pasted in from another source.

Remember the Stanley Tools maxim: “People don’t want drills, they want holes”.  Note to Microsoft: people don’t want to “use software”;  they want to communicate.  The most effective communicators understand the expression, “less is more”.

Categories: Geeky, Software
  1. WeeDram
    September 22, 2005 at 11:48 | #1

    I use Word as little as possible.  Even with the makeover, I will still use it as little as possible.  At work it’s a requirement, but at home I use Open Office.

    The other day at work I was given the task of developing some ideas for a revised process.  My task really only involved listing some bullet points in a simple outline form.

    So, I did it in Notepad, using asterisks for the bullets.  I sent it on to the next person, who converted it to Word because he “hates” Notepad.  I don’t know why he hates it.  But as long as there are enough people like that to buy it, it won’t matter how Microsoft designs or redesigns the Word interface.  A lot of people think the computer is “right”, and they are the ones who are “wrong” and just need to learn how to use the tool.  After all, the people who wrote the software are smarter than they are…

  2. cubic rooms
    September 22, 2005 at 14:42 | #2

    Very nice article.  I’ve often wondered who uses all that crap in MSWord.

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