17 years after, Office can still annoy the hell out of the user

The first Windows version of Microsoft Office was launched in 1990.   17 years later, this product can still disappoint with basic mistakes of GUI and bugs.  Don’t get me wrong.  Office 2007 is the best Office to date, and I would definitely recommend upgrading to this version from the 2005/XP versions.  I would not post my “Why Upgrade” because you can read this on Microsoft’s site.   But if you thought you will finally stop cursing your Office, I have some bad news for you.

I have been using MS Word and Excel since 1992/3, when the Hebrew version of Word 2.0 and then Word 6.0 was out.  Many of things that I’m annoyed with fall under the long tail of features that only a handful of users use.  But some of them, especially in Outlook, will annoy you right from the beginning. 

Disclaimer: some of the comments below will sound like I’m picking up on minor details.   Don’t comment yet – install Outlook 2007 and check it for yourselves.  I’m sure you’d be just as annoyed after you actually try it out. 

Outlook 2007

  • Look at this picture.  In Outlook 2007 this looks like an easy workday with no meetings, right? Well, think again. Do you see the tiny triangle in the top right corner? It implies there just might be something else there. Scroll up to see what meetings you probably missed due to this UI catastrophe.
    Pre Outlook 2007, the user had a well-visible mark that there are some meeting that day, not visible on the page.   The location of the triangle is wrong too.   When users check appointment, they look at the left side of the screen, at the hours bar.   Now every time I scroll my calendar, I have to shift my gaze to the right to look for this tiny icon.
  • Canceling auto-reminders: pre Outlook 2007, the reminder option had a checkbox (w/ and w/o reminder) and a dropdown for the reminder options. With one mouse click, you could cancel the reminder. In Outlook 2007 the checkbox is gone. Result? Now you need to click on the dropdown, move the mouse cursor to the None option and click again to choose None. Sounds simple? Try it for a few days and discover how annoying this change could be.
  • Reminder icon: the PMs really decided to torture the reminder feature. Remember the reminder icon that appeared on your appointments in Day view, for instance? Well, it’s gone. Now you need to open the appointment to see if there’s a reminder set.
  • Weird cursor bug: happens every now and then, hard to reproduce: the mouse cursor in Outlook stop working.  You can move it but not select, move the flashing cursor.  Only remedy is shutoff.

Word 2007

  • The Ribbon Bar:  A lot has been written, so I’ll be brief.  The most annoying is the lack of drawing toolbar and inadequate support for Pre-2007 keyboard shortcuts.  Get used to lots and lots of mouse clicking.   I’d long Logitech – mouse sales in FY08 will double once 2007 spread out.
  • UI/Refresh Glitches: By Word 2005 I already got used to UI glitches in Word, like table borders that look funny until you minimize-maximize, and the like. I actually blamed it on the video card and what not. In Word 2007, which is enjoying a huge improvement in graphic rendering, the problem is even more prominent, happens a lot with complex tables and Smartart.
  • Auto-numbering: Still not working easily.  One of my favorite bugs: Enter a numbered list say from “1)” to “4”)”, write a few sentences in a regular paragraph, then type “1)” to enter another list.  Voilà: the “1)” would magically change into “5)” since Word thinks that when you type “1)” you actually meant “5)”.
  • And some right-tail issues like heading numbering indentation bugs are still with us.

Excel 2007

  • The Excel team deserves a medal.  The only thing I’ve found extremely annoying is the change to the Ribbon, since I was heavy keyboard shortcuts user.  But other than that, Excel 2007 is a huge upgrade to Excel 2005, with tons of useful features.  My favorite are the new graphic engine, the conditional formatting nifty databars, and the 100X improvement in charts formatting.

 

Something just does not work right in Office’s development/PM process.  There’s just no way that the product was beta-tested properly and released with such easy-to-spot issues.

So why do I stick with Office?  Because with all the pain, it’s still the best suite for heavy users (Open Office not even close; Google Calendar/Gmail don’t give me offline and PDA sync).   So please don’t bother with the “move to OpenOffice” comments.   When this pseudo-disruptive apps could replace Word/Excel for DCF evaluations and 100+ page theses, I promise to be the first one to try them out.  (The only application I don’t have excuse for is PowerPoint, which was never best in class.)

If you’re concerned about the migration, I would recommend installing Excel 2007 along with your old Office.  After you get use to it, migrating to Word, PowerPoint and Outlook would be easy.

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Personal blog of Oded Ran