A lot of reviews have been done on Office 2007 – this is not going to be one of them.
I just had the questionable opportunity of working with Microsoft Office 2007. It can be a very frustrating experience to anyone used to previous Office versions. Office 2007 can serve as a great lesson on how to plan new versions – especially when the customers are engineers.
Our company has just migrated to Office 2007 this week. It has been a week of lost productivity. Everyone worked 20% less – mainly in search of functions tucked under layers of the new Ribbon technology.
Microsoft did two things in Office 2007 that can teach us a lot about backward compatibility. On one hand, they improved the previous Office product (Office 2003) and on the other hand, they abandoned their existing customer base in search of a larger one.
Improved on the previous version
There are several things I really like in this new version.
- The resulting files are smaller – the new file formats (lately approved as ISO standards) used tend to take about 50% less space. Even while using the Office 2003 file format (backward compatibility mode) it still shrinks files by 20-30%.
Storage is not an issue these days, but my mailbox size and email size limit are. This is definitely the best thing they have done – and it works with the old file formats as well.
- Most features work better (once you find them) – selecting a color? Office now provides themes with a bunch of colors that actually match each other. To the esthetically challenged (like myself), this is great.
Abandoned their customer base
Microsoft is definitely trying to appeal to the masses. This can be seen in their move to ditch the dropdown menu and instead go for a new paradigm.
- Ribbon – The added a new Ribbon, which provides features under a tabbed “browser” of sorts and makes life a lot harder for those who worked with Office in the past. The Ribbon is definitely less accessible for me than the dropdown menu ever was – it requires a lot of re-learning of features I was used to for the better part of the last decade. Oh, and I haven’t found a way to bring back my beloved drop down menus.
Half baked – Office 2007 is meant to be shiny. It has a new interface with more colors, but once you start using it, you find out that it seems like some areas were left untouched. For me, it seems like the Product Manager gave a list of features and a deadline – the developers started working and one day were told to stop and release what they had at that point in time.
- Visio 2007 – Visio 2007 is a joy to use. Why? No Ribbon. Either Microsoft hasn’t gotten there (Half baked?) or they understood that Visio users are power users and not the mass market they set to capture with their Ribbon. This makes Visio 2007 a vast improvement over its predecessor with no learning curve.
What can we learn from Office 2007?
Developing communication products and releasing new versions for them is all about new features and backwards compatibility – two almost opposite concepts. If you are developing such products, there are some insights to take from the changes in Office 2007:
- Improve existing features – increase performance, reduce resource usage (something Microsoft was never good at), add a new twist to it, make it a bit easier, etc. Make sure when you do that to maintain backward compatibility.
- Offload work from your customers – if something can be done in your product instead of letting the customer do that manually – make sure you add it in.
- New interfaces – when adding a new interface instead of an old one, make sure the old one is available and accessible.
- Be consistent – either add a new paradigm everywhere or nowhere. Don’t do a partial job if you can help it. Half baked doesn’t seem professional.
- Think of your customers – you should have a clear vision of your customers and how they use your product. You should make your product the best for your customers. Give your customers what they want.
(This post was written using Microsoft Office 2007)