Office 12

In two years of blogging, I think this is the first time I’ve titled a post about a Microsoft product. Despite my heavy Mac advocate history, as a Northwesterner, I’ve always been kind of proud that one of the most successful software companies in the world is located here. Also, in the old Mac days, Microsoft products ruled.

Then Windows came along and featureitis severely bloated their software and Microsoft products lost their cutting edge. Watching a video posted by Scobelizer with Office Group PM Julie Green showing off some of the v.12 features, it looks likes Microsoft has something to feel good about (as opposed to early looks at Windows Vista).

It appears to me that the release is focused on two things: simplification and feedback. Everyone knows that there’s a ridiculous amount of features in Office that you never use (many of which are hidden from view). From the looks of the video, it looks like they did a smarter job of grouping features. They’ve done away with menus and toolbars for a large part and replaced them with task based options. Click on a menu button task, and all the features that are related to that task are grouped under various easy to parse icons that appear across the top of the screen. It looks pretty easy to use.

The feedback piece will probably be the most welcome piece of functionality from the looks of the demo. Today in Office, if you want to do something to your document, you click a menu, bring up a dialog box, click on some options and then hit submit…wait for the page to refresh…”doh, I didn’t want that to happen!” is often the result and you have to start again. For example in the past, to create a table in Word, you go to a dialog box to set up your table (rows, columns, look) and don’t know what you have until you hit the “OK” button. In the new version, you click a table icon that’s exposed after you click on the Page Layout menu item, and the table starts displaying dynamically in your document as you mouse over different table looks. Interaction with the app is modeless. Far more intuitive than click a bunch of check boxes in a dialog and hope it works.

Julie also mentioned Service Quality Monitor data which helped them get statistically significant data for what commands users used and what order they used them in. Basically, the Service Quality Monitor is an opt in app that monitors what you do in Office and send that info. back to Microsoft for processing. This is a great way to see what users are actually doing versus user studies or surveys which I’ve found only marginally helpful over more statistically based methods.

This is great stuff from Microsoft and I’m looking forward to it showing up in Mac Office (some day :-). Also, I think the web is also heading in the direction of offering smarter more immediate feedback to users as they interact with web pages. 37signals does this great with their drag and drop as one example (video link) and Google with dynamic map zoom and dragging in Google Maps as another example. At work we’ve been brainstorming some far more dynamic ways to message site response to user actions. The web is still pretty primitive in comparison to what you can do in operating system based apps.