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If anyone is passionate about Office, it's Steven Sinofsky. Don't know who Steven is? Although now he's president of the Windows division here at Microsoft, he spent years in the Office division as head of product development. But it's as an Office customer that Steven is so excited about many of the changes you saw in Office 2007 and 2010. I interviewed Steven back when Office 2007 first came out and the ribbon was brand new.
Here are some of the things he had to say about it. I chose Steven's comments for today's post because I want you to understand some of the reasoning that went into this major change in how customers use Office.
How could I resist the chance to talk about how I use Office 2007? After spending more than 12 years working on Office, I've had a lot of time to think about using the products and doing my small part to make them better. But I'm just one of many happy Office customers and thought I'd share with you a couple of things that are new in Office 2007 that I am a really big fan of using. Of course I could go on and on and talk about how each program, server, and service makes things easier for me just about every day, but let me stick to the bread and butter Office programs in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
(Note from Crabby: For Office 2007, which Steven is talking about and when this post was written, only Word, Excel, and PowerPoint had the ribbon; for Office 2010 it's expanded to include almost every Office program.)
All three of these programs have the ribbon, which I can't say enough positive things about in terms of how it has made my day-to-day work easier. What I love most about Fluent user interface turns out to be the fact that I didn't need to teach my fingers anything new. After so many years using Office, all those shortcuts and accelerators turn out to be buried in my autonomic nervous system, and the fact that the new user interface just let those work is really great. And at the same time I find myself looking at the new Alt accelerators tooltips and I'm gradually building up a repertoire of those as well. The second most valuable aspect of the ribbon that I just love is the availability of live previews. I can't get enough of seeing the changes to my document before I apply them. So gone are the days of do-undo-redo and endless cycles of modal dialogs to change colors or styles.
Across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, I have really come to value the common style elements that you can use naturally. I do a lot of documents that are combinations of multiple data types (tables from Excel in Word, charts from Excel in PowerPoint) or groups of related documents (a detailed document in Word with a summary in PowerPoint). So having easy access to shared colors and styles is very valuable. I really like how graphics have been extended to have different levels of "snap" as well, since sometimes I am focused on on-screen and other times I need to have documents look good in print. For those times when I am screen-focused or printing in color, I find it super helpful to use the built-in color themes so that I can count on professionally matching colors, and the days of me trying to find a low intensity yellow and a blue that kind-of, sort-of match are over.
Of course there are specifics for each application as well. Word for me is about writing. While it might be a secret within Microsoft, I've been known to write a few memos or a blog post or two every once in a while. On a daily basis I benefit from all of Word's improvements as a writing tool—improved spelling and grammar, especially the improved AutoCorrect, for example. I'm really big into "structure" in the documents I write and use outlines all of the time, and the new ribbon for outlining is something I really like as well, since the outline toolbar used to float around and sort of get in my way. Something that I just finished doing with Word that got much easier for me was the yearly holiday card mailing label mail merge, and even though we've redone this one about four times over the years, I can safely say the ribbon made this one even easier this time around.
I've also been known to be a big fan of analyzing data, whether it is the occasional product schedule, resource allocation, or just trying to figure out who is working on what in Windows. I live in Excel. I get a lot of data that is raw CSV export from various tools inside of Microsoft. What I do automatically now is export the data to Excel, open up the file, and then just hit ^L (CTRL+L) and I get a list. Not just a plain list, but a nicely formatted list with filters on and everything. I usually click "Analyze in PivotTable" on the ribbon and just rock with the new user interface for PivotTables. I really just love it. Whether it is the ability to easily select subsets of data, page fields, or quickly format for pasting into a mail message as a low-bandwidth friendly table, I am saving tons of time with the combination of new features and new user-interface for PivotTables.
And finally, there's PowerPoint. Believe it or not, I am not one of those people that does all their work in PowerPoint: I save using PowerPoint as a way of expressing all the stuff I got together in Word and Excel. But boy, the tools in PowerPoint 2007 make this both easier and infinitely more expressive. It goes without saying, but the new SmartArt is a major improvement for me. I love showing relationships between concepts graphically and find the ability to take a bulleted list and try out different expressions not just fun (and easy with live preview) but also valuable. I find it super helpful that I can take one shape and color it differently or move it around, since I often have the "this layout... almost" experience. My favorite SmartArt diagrams are the ones with images since I do that a lot to show relationships between different people, packages, or concepts. I'm also the kind of person that is never quite happy with the standard templates, and what I love about PowerPoint 2007 is the infinite express-ability of the ribbon Design tab. Wow — by choosing colors, font pairs, backgrounds, and so on (all with preview), I can make every presentation look like I designed it just for that audience. And finally, I can't say enough about the improvements in tables in PowerPoint as those are a major time saver and express ideas super well, especially when the tables are pasted from Excel (finally!).
Thanks, Steven; although you're no longer in the Office division, I keep up with what you're doing over in the Windows and Windows Live division. They're lucky to have you. Thanks again for writing this informational post a few years ago; it still holds true today, doesn't it?
Crabby's Find of the Week: Are you face blind? Test your own facial memory
It's really difficult to understand why Microsoft continues to believe that the FUI (Fluent User Interface) or Ribbon is such a tremendous advantage over previous Office GUI's. I've been using PC and desktop productivity applications since 1982 and Microsoft has made a great deal of progress throughout that time; not always the greatest, but overal it has been notable. Every release of operating system and application has come with advantages and shortcomings, however I don't recall any piece of software development as unbalanced as the Ribbon. It has some slight advantages for the infrequent, unskilled user for making "pretty" stuff; documents, spreadsheets, presentations and the like. However it doesn't seem to do much for the novice to extremely proficient user.
So many blogs and other sources of user feedback indicate an overwhelming voice of opposition to the Ribbon and it doesn't seem to be opposition to "change", but rather opposition to that which inhibits useability. My livelihood depends on great deal on Excel and Project. Outlook is my only mail and personal productivity interface and I use Word, Powerpoint, OneNote, Visio and Publisher on a frequent basis. The Ribbon has severly curbed my ability to operate productively and efficiently inside of the Office Suite.
I'm a firm believer in using training as a tool to increase proficiency and productivity and part of what I do for a living is to train others to use tools that are developed and utilized within the Office Suite. Unfortunately no amount of training or repetition can overcome the gross inefficiencies of the Ribbon. This has presented so much of a dilemna for my colleagues and me, that I have started to teach myself Visual Studio in order to customize the Ribbon into a streamlined interface that will permit us to once again operate efficiently without the limitations of the pre-2007 interface and the extreme limitations of the Ribbon.
Perhaps Microsoft should consider doing the same, instead of trying to convince their highly educated and experienced Office application users that the Ribbon is "good". Intead listen to what they are saying and take them at their word, after all you might design the software, but they know how to use it better than any focus group or developers, besides it doesn't cost much for Microsoft to peruse the Internet to find out what does and doesn't work for us. As an example; see Amy Miller's blog titled "Can’t find the Chart Wizard? No worries", I think there was one positive response out of 23 comments.
Hey - Tim (Tim? TIMJS?) Will you email me? Or give me a number to call you? Because I really would like to talk to you about this incredible comment. email@example.com
I keep reading it over and over again and have passed it on to some people; I'm surprised no other users have commented. And I don't know if you *get* this, but I, Annik, who writes this blog (and who wrote the column for 8 years- office.microsoft.com/.../CH010149515.aspx ) really gives a you-know-what about what our customers think and how they do their work and how it's going. I'm not selling anything. You know what I mean? I'm what you'd call "after market." You have already purchased the product; I'm just trying to help you get some use out of it and if you're NOT if this isn't working for you at the level you work, then yeah, I want to know about it. No, I can't change it and no, the Ribbon won't be going away anytime soon. But I work for the company and I do have people I can send this feedback to.
I'm glad you wrote it HERE but I need your permission (and to elaborate your well-placed and well-written thoughts) to me a bit more.
Will you please email? firstname.lastname@example.org