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the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Word is a four letter word

in General Rants , Friday, March 24, 2006

l found an interesting and well written post today about the GUI for Microsoft Office 2007 (scheduled for release around 2010 I expect). The post is hosted on an MSDN (= sanitised) blog maintained by Jensen Harris, a Lead Program Manager on the Microsoft Office user experience team (when he has time out from meetings about meeting about meetings, that is). This is all well and good. Sadly, though, it is likely to end up as the all time classic case of lipstick on a pig. Word is an abysmal piece of crap, designed by morons, developed by morons, and used by sheep. It is the mother of all bloatware. The basic text editing and formatting functionality works fine, as long as you don't try to extend it beyond a handfull of pages. but this functionality is obscured by countless badly designed bolted on features to support some nightmare vision of desktop publishing. And guess what? THEY DON'T BLOODY WORK, THEY NEVER HAVE, AND THEY NEVER WILL. Over the past few weeks I have been trying to write a technical document using Word. Technical documents usually need illustrations, and this one is no exception. No problem! Word supports embedded, fully editable Visio documents. Ok, so Visio is not exactly inspiring, but I can live with it. Only....after embedding a few illustrations, my Word file has balooned to 50Mb (hardly big in this day and age, but whatever) and it takes at least two coffees to save. Until it appears to choke when I add another table, and irretrievably corrupts the file. Fortunatly I have zero confidence in Word, so I keep backups. Anyway, no problem! Word allows you to link sub-documents to a master, just like real applications like InDesign - in a mind twistingly clumsy and obscure way, naturally, but at least it works. Sort of. Formatting gets screwed up repeatedly. Sudden wipe out crashes happen at least once a day, apparently associated with the styles & formatting pane. The piece de resistance so far, especially from a usability point of view, is the "remove subdocument" command, which actually inserts the subdocument content into the master. This application is out of control, and it has been for the best part of a decade. About 90% of the functionality is unused by 95% of users, and most of that is fundamentally broken. Is this addressed by Jensen Harris ? No. He honestly seems to think that it can all be fixed with lipstick. The ironic thing is that User Centered Design is largely pointless so far as Office is concerned. Almost nobody chooses to use the thing - it is imposed on them, in one way or another. The only point of this UI excercise on Office 2007 is that they've finally run out of pointless, broken features to justify the so lucrative corporate upgrade cycle, so they've hit on lipstick as an alternative. If these usability people at Microsoft had any integrity, they would insist on getting things to actually work first, and then, maybe, if they were really brave, they'd float the idea of a totally new suite of software designed for users, rather than corporate IT managers and beancounters. There is hope - after all, most of the R&D has already been done. In the meantime, I can only resort to childish reactions: