Find the Help You Need!


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Unthinkable

Okay, so I gave in. I violated my #1 rule about software: don't buy it if you don't have to (especially if it's from Microsoft). I've had the luxury of not buying Office, Windows, Visual Studio, etc., because they were either free through an educational agreement, or something that I received from work. I was happy as a clam, until I decided that I "needed" Office 2007. What changed my mind? Why did I put out money for software that I didn't really need (I already had Office 2003 - for that matter, I could use OpenOffice for free!). In short: it cost me $20.00 through an agreement with my employer.

So here's a quick review from a reluctant die-hard user with a lot of experience using the (now) "older" Office products. Hopefully, I don't just rehash what's been said already.

The Ribbon

Now, I love user interfaces, and enjoy making them. Something satisfying about seeing your work come to life. Anyway, the ribbon took a little while to get used to. I didn't hunt and pick every feature down to find out where it had moved, like most people who have decided to hate the ribbon. Instead, I went through each tab (basically, that's all they are) and looked at each of the feature sets. Most made sense, some didn't. But I didn't have any heartburn over anything specific.

Overall, I give the ribbon a thumbs up - but maybe not for the reasons it was intended. First off, I don't miss seeing all of the available features like I thought I would. Really, we had that already: toolbar icons were made available/unavailable based on where your insertion point was in the document. I still had to hunt-and-pick through menus for what I needed, so the ribbon really isn't all that different in that regard.

But, I give it a thumbs down only because I feel like I'm missing something. That's an intangible that you just don't get over with a UI. In the classic interface, you could get to where you wanted to go by a standard 3 ways: 1) Keyboard; 2) Menu; 3) Short-cut ('right-click') menu or seemingly misplaced button on a dialog. Now, it seems like there is one preferred way to get to options and features, and that's through the menus. Many of the dialogs no longer exist or have been simplified (which I think is a good thing), and ribbon items have replaced obscure nested menus.

I'm also glad to see the task pane on its way out. Although, there was a lot I liked about it (such as the quick-change feature for switching which task pane you were looking at), which no longer exists in the UI (although there are a couple of task panes still).

So, for the UI, I give it a thumbs up. I really don't see any changes to the UI that keep me up at night. Although, it is hard to switch between the ribbon and classic menus in other programs. I suppose Microsoft is trying to set a(nother) new standard.

The File Format

Simply put, I'm avoiding the new file format. Why? Because not everyone is using 2007! Those using Office 2003 and previous find a nice large patch to download so they can open the files. Even on broadband (like me), it's a pain. I can't imagine what it's like for users on dialup. So, I'm sticking with the 2003 file format as my default until further notice.

Performance vs. Reliability vs. Features

ance is a big deal for me. I like my applications snappy, but I also like them full-featured. Office 2007 has some lag. But, clearly Windows is keeping some of the .dll's resident in memory because on second launch, it's pretty zippy. But, Office 2003 and previous did that too. I'd imagine that the new UI and detailed program analysis features are a big part of the slowdown. Like the UI changes, it's nothing I can't live without.

As far as reliability, Office 2007 hasn't crashed on my yet. Of course, that doesn't really mean anything. Office 2003 very rarely crashed on me and I used it for years. So time will tell. One of the biggest reasons for document instability is the pile-on of styles and formatting in a document. I'd really really really prefer to work application errors than formatting issues <> Paragraph styles on top of direct character formatting on top of direct paragraph formatting on top of a linked style, all mixed in with a pinch of the "automatically update styles" feature and you've got: GAAAHHH! Honestly, I haven't delved too deeply into this arena at home, because most of my documents at home are simple.

Once we make the transition at work, I'm sure I'll dig down more and find some problems and solutions to post (if you have any in particular, email me and we'll work them out). Reliability analysis: undetermined.

But there a couple of things that worried me about Office 2007 in terms of features. I was afraid to lose my smart tags (I live and breath by those little guys - one of the things that kept me from an OpenOffice switchover, just in case any of those guys are reading). But, they're there and then some. The formating smart tags are annoying, no doubt about it. But, I can see how that'd be helpful. Most everything else (like the shortcut keys, right-click menus, etc.) are the same or pretty similar. I can live with that. So, features: thumbs up.

Final Word

So, what say me? Well, I'd say if you can get Office 2007 for $20.00, go for it. I don't know that there's anything there to write home about that would justify dropping a bunch of money for it. If it comes bundled at no extra cost, huzzah! If you have a bunch of money lying around that you don't want to send to me, huzzah! If you think you're missing out, but would have to sell a month of plasma just to get the Student and Teacher upgrade, save your plasma and keep using what you have, or get OpenOffice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting point of view. I've found Office 2007 hard to get used to (maybe 3-4 weeks?). But I only used Word for basic stuff, so maybe that made it harder to learn. Now I like it a lot.