Thu Apr 16 16:17:56 PDT 2015

Microsoft Office 2007 - Should You Upgrade?

Thinking about a move to Microsoft Office 2007? Here is one writer's perspective. Or it was back in 2008...and as originally posted on the now defunct Associated Content site. Actually it turns out that my view has not changed. Microsoft forgot their user interface design ideas and they have not really recovered...

Is it just me? Am I the only person to be frustrated by Microsoft Office 2007? I have a pretty, new, work machine and on that machine I found Microsoft Office 2007. What did I find in the Word interface? A completely new way of carrying out actions. Gone are the familiar File, Edit, View, Help (etc.) menus. In their place are some new button bars called Ribbons, of all things.

Wow, I thought, when I first saw the buttons. Progress - this will be great. Then I found that I could not bring up the 'Drawing' tools when I needed them. Ugh, I thought - I will just turn it back to the classic view and everything will be great. After 20 minutes trying to find things like 'options' in the new layout and another 20 minutes Googling, I determined that there was no 'classic view' - I was stuck with 'progress'. Anyway, I thought, the concepts will probably grow on me with time.

That was 6 weeks ago! Yesterday I installed an older version of Word on the machine. That produced the normal bizarre inability to side-by-side install products that one comes to expect with Microsoft. I hacked around a bit and came up with what I thought were workable compromises. Unfortunately, I found today that I have a colleague, who wants us to use one of the very few new features in Word 2007, and so I have to remove the older version. What is that new feature - well it has to do with making inserted images use the 'square' layout attribute so that they can be grouped with caption text in a 'text box'. That might sound like quite a reasonable thing to want to do; but basically it is just an exercise in working around problems in Word to do with the way that text and images relate to one another. So, I am not impressed by this new feature.

What else is wrong with Word 2007? Well, here is a list:

Performance. This is really noticeable if you install an older version of word on your machine. Files open instantly with the older Word. With the new version there is a terrible delay. What can be going on behind the scenes? (I am not sure I want to know).

Confused user interface. With the new button bar (sorry, Ribbon) scheme, sometimes you get context sensitivity sometimes not. After weeks of working with the new Word I am still struggling to develop a conceptual model of what to expect and when to expect it.

Poor help system. I am not sure how Microsoft managed to turn the rather efficient html help viewer into the current confused thing which never gives you what you would expect, but can take a long time in doing it. Naturally the first thing this help system does is communicate with the mothership about your search query. This takes time - and gives you about as much help as random poking around on the menus (sorry, Ribbons) yourself. For example, I wanted to place a 'bar' over a number in my text. I gave up with the help system and found the answer by Googling. (And eventually determined that none of the three solutions supplied looked particularly good because the number with the bar was either shrunken, or the line spacing messed up by the exercise). So my recommendation to the Microsoft team would be, create a simple searching interface and work on a search engine. Make it as fast as possible. Cut down on the extraneous buttons and graphics. Bringing up the help viewer today gives me a party graphic and the headline 'Ring out the old, ring in the new'. I would prefer to wring the neck of the new and bring back the old. A good tip for investing in improving the interface of Word would be - involve some users not just a pile of software marketing gurus intent on inventing the next great thing and a set of software engineers experimenting with Aspect Orient Design (or whatever fad led to this terrible product).

File formats. Naturally the new file formats are not compatible with older versions of Word. So as soon as you email out a document you can expect a colleague or two to be asking for the older formats. You cannot as far as I can see adjust the default to only give you compatible formats.

Odd throw backs. Perhaps owing to the performance problems, you regularly see messages about hitting 'Esc' to interrupt operations. Operations like saving or opening files! Of course you don't want to interrupt saving a file, you'll probably corrupt it. I was shocked when I saw these boxes. Another tedious throw back are messages boxes when saving in old formats, telling you that you are missing some new feature. Well, of course that will be the case - don't give me a yes/no message box in the middle of some operation that you have made unnecessarily slow. More that likely I will have left the machine when I started saving and Word will just be wasting my time when I return with these silly dialog boxes.

Advice to the Microsoft Word team: Quickly let everyone who is currently suffering with Word 2007 get a version which has the performance and compatibility issues fixed, has a classic view, and does not require the expenditure of further dollars, and can coexist with other versions of Word on the same machine. I guarantee that every current Word 2007 customer would have a better experience with OpenOffice and I also guarantee that they are all installing it in the near future and then marvelling at its performance, logical user interface (stolen from earlier versions of Word, of course), and some may even notice that its installation does not collide with any other programs on their systems.

There are some upsides to Word 2007. It appears to be quite stable, for example. I do not think I have seen it crash so far. Of course, I have had the mysterious everything has gone extremely slowly and I decided to exit all the running programs and restart Windows problem. I have seen that one old bug related to updating a table of contents has been fixed. Although I do not use PowerPoint very often it seems to have all the same features in the 2007 variant. Saving a file in .ppt format instead of the new .pptx format, for example, produces two dialogs in a row advising me that if I want to cancel I can hit 'Esc'. Then I get a long message box asking whether I want to save in the new format instead, because the encryption is stronger, then another dialog about hitting 'Esc' if I want to stop the saving operation. As a software user experience it is scarily awful. It even makes Lotus Notes look somewhat elegant.

If I had the choice I would not use it. Microsoft need to focus on making a functional, elegant office programs again!

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