September 21st, 2005
This one‘s good. Despite its humongous size [618MB] it’s an interview with Julie Larson-Green at Microsoft, who’s the boss of the MS Office User Experience. She explains how come Microsoft is leaving the old menu-system in Office, so check out some pictures of it already.
Larson-Green explains how much Microsoft have monitored the way users (who’ve been enlisted by MS) work with MS Office, which shortcuts they use to get things done, and – maybe the most important part – what they don’t use, so that can get shaved off the big picture. Mind you, the video is about the user experience, and not as much about the new, tweaked or deleted features, but I will run through most of the new features and user interface-related bits that hit me during Larson-Green’s presentation of this pre-release-version of Office 12. When you’ve checked pictures, or the video above, you notice that when you click a certain menu, the content of that menu doesn’t pull down like it does in the current versions of Office, but the ribbon (which is what MS has code-named it) which is situated just below the menus, displays only the relevant functions for you. So, if you click the Insert-menu, the ribbon displays, for instance, the options “IGX Graphic”, “Chart”, “Hyperlink” and a variety of symbols, and these are all categorised. For instance, when clicking the Insert-menu, you find a part of the ribbon marked “Links”. In this part, you find “Bookmark”, “Hyperlink” and “Cross-reference”.
Microsoft are re-thinking the user experience in a big way, and they’re not offering a way to a “classic mode”, meaning that you will not be able to switch to a previous way that Office used to look, i.e. with the menus pulling down, et.c. I’ve got a wager on this with a journalist from Computer Sweden. He says they’ll incorporate a “classic mode”, and I say not. He’s already a loser (for implying he had very new pictures of Office 12 when they were a week old – which is like, duh, aeons of billions of years in the computer world – and for writing very muddled stuff on how the ribbon actually works).
From what I’ve seen of said video, I think people are going to like Office 12 once they get past the initial shock. If you think Microsoft are destroying Office with the ribbon-experience, remember what Blixa Bargeld from Einstà¼rzende Neubauten has said: destruction is not negative – one has to destroy in order to build. That’s reassuring, correct?
I like the concept of what Larson-Green refers to (in the video) as “the floaty”. Imagine you’re in Word, you select text and up pops a mini-menu. It’s not like a regular floating toolbar that we see in the current production versions of Word, that you can close, this one’s quite different. First, it notices what you’re doing; OK, you’re selecting text, so the floaty pops up displaying only buttons that are relevant when you’ve selected text. Now, the more you move your mouse-pointer away from the floaty, it becomes less visible. If you move the pointer enough away from the floaty, it goes away and doesn’t reappear when you let the pointer hover over the text. That’s cool and very useful. Observe that the floaty doesn’t replace the right-click; when you do, you are presented with all options that are valid in said document; this is not context-dependent, which the floaty most definitely is. The larger the monitor, the more efficient the floaty proves to be. It’s shown appx. 34 minutes into the video.
I worked as Support Specialist in MS Office at Ericsson and Compaq for nearly two years before I moved on. After that, I’ve been the MS Office-support specialist in every place I’ve worked, and am now educating people in how to use Excel. So, I can say I represent two parties: the techy nerds who desire new programs and the functions in them to the max (to a certain extent though, nerds usually try every function in a program once, to then leave it at that, which kind of sums up the essence of the nerd), and the everyday user who actually uses said programs and functions, and only those required in daily work. Hence, here are a few things in said video that I’ve seen, and that I like.
Imagine this: you’re in Word, you’ve got a page of text in front of you, and you want to change the font in the entire document. No big deal – if you know what your document will look like after you’ve changed it. In Office 12, you mark everything in the document, click the Write-menu and click the arrow that displays your fonts, you just have to mouse-over the different fonts and the font you mouse-over is previewed in your actual document text. That’s good. Wow, I feel like the boss in “Office Space“, expressing joy at a new Word-command, but there you go – it’s the nerd in me, but also the user, think about it: this behaviour means you and others will click less and hence spend less time on a Word-document.
In Word, you’re now given the option to include a cover page, by Insert: Cover page. For me, not interesting. I don’t see Swedes using it, either. Maybe sales-people. Anyway, if one is able to create a template cover page, it might be useful! Headers and footers are also available in a few themes.
Insert: Table. This is very interesting, because you drag how many rows and columns you want your table to look like, and Word previews it for you. Nice one, I’ve missed that like crazy. There are also Table Templates included, which is a sort of Autoformat (which is a term from Office 2003 and previous versions) of a new table you insert. Now, if you opt to insert a table, the ribbon changes to display table options only. Now you’re seeing the vision. Imagine what happened otherwise: you’d get a table toolbar popping up in the work-area of the document, irritating you. Well, irritating a lot of people, so MS has shaved that off with using the ribbon instead. You’re also endowed with “Table QuickFormats”, enabling you to quickly format your tables by picking a template from a gallery.
PowerPoint includes new, very interesting ways to convert text into graphics. What the video displays as “IGX Graphics”, is the MS code-name for a new diagram-tool. If you, in PowerPoint, type a few lines (that turn out “bulleted”), mark that text and click the arrow next to the IGX Graphics-icon, you are presented with a gallery of graphics. You really should see the video to catch the full glimpse of this, but let’s just say it’s a lot easier to create a flow-chart this way than using the old one. After you’ve converted your text to an IGX graphic, you can give it a special style, e.g. you can give buttons a beveled look, add more 3D-looks, shadows, et.c. Again, the previews are very much alive, which is something I’ve pined for, especially using Office 97.
Themes! This is interesting, and I think this will hit through all the Office-applications. Not to be confused with Templates – I assume! Again, this is a little preview of the first test-build of Office 12, which means Microsoft may change the names of all of this stuff, although I imagine they won’t, most of the time. Anyway, themes. Say you’re in PowerPoint, and you create a new presentation. That presentation is now endowed with a theme, which you can switch. A theme means that this presentation is now equipped with a pre-selected number of colours, QuickFormats, galleries, shadows, et.c. It means a theme’s there to keep a document consistent throughout its days. Techy aspect to this: as I’m a technician, I often face people who’re experiencing corrupt Word-documents. Yeah, Word. Sometimes Excel, but nowhere near as often as Word, and the other applications produce less corrupt files – but this may be because I’ve worked in organisations where MS Word is, without a doubt, the most used Office application. Anyway, the errors: you may have come across them yourself, and they’re more common in Office 97 than in the later editions, although they do turn up there as well. I’m sort of wondering…how corrupt Word 12-documents can get, if they inherit themes, galleries, and as developers are now given the chance to actively change the content of Office; developers are going to be able to create content in Office, e.g. galleries, QuickFormats and other deep content that allows developer tools to become “first-class citizens”, as Larson-Green calls them. I wonder if this, in the end, means that introducing the new Office API’s to developers will force the customers to really enforce quality control on the suppliers. Imagine a poorly written gallery that can propagate corruption to every Word-document you open/create and save, even though you don’t use it? Hell city, kitty. But these are just my worst-case-scenario thoughts.
Office 12 will be much more useful to people with hearing and seeing disabilities. For example, for the first time you’re able to type text and let it turn into graphics. Just imagine what this allows 3rd party-developers to do for people with accessibility issues. Sweet!
Back to PowerPoint, though. Animations! Of course, these are previewable as well. Mouse-over on an animation (selected through the Animation-menu) and you’ll see the preview on your presentation, live, without entering Slideshow Mode. The same thing with Themes. This is all enabled through the new graphics engine, which is something that actually strikes through in Windows Vista, the coming operating system from MS; I’ve heard rumours that some functions in Office 12 will not work unless you’re running your Office 12 on Windows Vista, and I think that’s probably true. By the way, if you want to see how Windows Vista looks, check out this page where you can grab an interview with the lead program manager of Aero (which is the name for the new look in Windows Vista) who besides showing the new interface says that fresh research shows that the regular Windows-user has four (4) windows (i.e. applications, shells, Windows Explorer-windows, et.c.) open as a max. Anyway, check that film out if that rings your bell. Also, check this page where you’ll find a film that shows Windows Vista from a user-and-developer-perspective. Very good one! For you Office-freaks, a very interesting bit in Windows Vista is the search functions: you can opt to search for Office-files created by a specific author; believe it or not, Windows Vista gives you a drop-down menu where you can pick an author – and this data is picked from the properties of the Office-files! The nerd in me is now very happy. And this is why people should always care about the meta-data in Office. Open a document previously saved, click the File-menu and pick Properties. That’s what Windows Vista – and a buck-load of applications and systems – will pick the info from.
Excel! The first little thing to note is at the end of the tabs. In the video the interviewer says “What’s the new tab?”. Well, if you click it, it creates a new tab. Time-saving. The second thing that hit me, in the video – but it might be the first thing that hits me whenever I get the first beta-version of Office 12 and try this out myself – is that one can click the top part of the spread-sheet that reads “Click to add header”. In older versions of Excel, you have to click through File: Page Setup: Header/Footer. That’s a pretty different path to take than in Word, where you venture through View: Header and Footer. Another good thing in Excel is the zoom-bar, which is a little lever placed in the bottom right corner of Excel; pull the lever and you’re presented with a layout view of the pages, like a cross between Page Break Preview in Excel, with Print Layout View in Word. This zoom-feature is also available in Word and PowerPoint. Great!
Insert: PivotTable. Now, in ye older Office than version 12, PivotTables are accessible through Data: PivotTable and PivotChart Report. I think the new name with the little icon will actually get more people using it, because today, merely a few percent of all Excel-users even know what a PivotTable does. For more info on that, check this link.
The great thing about Excel in Office 12 is how functions are accessible. Now, you click the Formulas-menu, and you get a number of book-icons in the ribbon. These represent different categories of formulas, and if you click one, a pull-down menu appears and displays the available formulas. Mouse-over one of them, and their functionality is displayed in tool-tips. Easy! It’s better-looking than in older versions of Excel, and Larson-Green states the tool-tips will hold enough info for the user to not want to press F1 to enter Help-mode and get more info on the function in question.
You can high-light cells based on requirements, e.g. select a bunch of cells that contain values and click Highlight; now click “Top 10%” and the cells containing the top 10% are high-lighted. Now you’re presented with a little windows where you can change the 10% to whatever number you like. Using conditional formatting you can even easily let Excel divide the selected cells into three different number ranges and colour-mark the cells accordingly. Evidently, the Office User Experience-team have been studying users. Another proof of this: usually, the top row in a spread-sheet displays the headers. If you navigate in a big-enough Excel-sheet you want the headers to stay with you as you scroll, and you use the Window: Freeze Panes-function. Now, Excel automatically senses that you’re using headers, that you’re scrolling downwards enough that the headers should be lost, but here’s the money-shot: without using any former Freeze Panes-function, Excel renames the column-names (i.e. A, B, C, D, et.c.) to the header-names. Whassup!
Styling charts is much more simple and intuitive thanks to the ribbon. You can pick where the legend, titles and your chart goes from a gallery, if you’d like, or you can pick the layout of the individual parts that make a chart, e.g. the legend, how it should be displayed, how the chart itself should display visually, e.g. with drop-shadows, bevelled, et.c.
So hey, where’s my copy of Office 12?