Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Word don't come easy

There's no reason you should know this, but I used to be an expert on word processors. Every writer thinks they are, after all this is the machine they spend the best part of their day not using to write on. But I was paid for it: it was part of my patch when I worked on computer magazines.

And you know how it is, there are some jobs you can never quite shake so last year I had a really, really anorakful time following all of Microsoft's blogs about the new Word 2007. It was groundshaking, I thought, the work they were doing, the effort they were putting into the work. The way they were risking everything to get a better word processor / changing everything pointlessly to get everyone to upgrade when they didn't need to* (*delete as applicable), it was impressive.

As a writer, I particularly applauded how the core aim was to get out of your way. Having to go through five menus and a dialogue box to print something out crunches at me the same way heavy exposition does.

But in Word 2007, if you wanted something, it was to be there. No messing, no searching, absolutely and resolutely no confusion. Just writing? Off you go. Adding a chart? Wallop, every chart option is brought to your fingertips. Bit of the old page layout? Kaboom, Word 2007 is a page layout program. Sort of. Enough.

This went on for a year: inch by inch, detail by detail. I'm a Mac user, but I was still following all the Windows threads on this topic.


One day came the ta-daa, the final reveal when all this work came together in a finalised appearance. Microsoft put up screenshots for all us warmly-dressed people to admire. No messing, no searching, absolutely and resolutely no confusion.

But I stared and stared at that screenshot, utterly unable to see how to open a document.

Or start a new one.

Or save anything I did manage to open.

The reason is because all that kind of nonsense is now hidden behind a large and ugly Microsoft Office logo in the top corner. It looks like a tedious logo, it is actually a button.

That ended it for me. All that great work, totally wiped out because of last one per cent.

And I'm reminded of this today in part because I'm polishing a script but also because I'm working in an office where the staff have just had training to move over to Word 2007. And the first sentence I heard when I walked in came from a woman halfway down a hall, begging f'ing Microsoft Word to let her open a s'ing document.

And then a chorus of voices saying "It's under the c'ing Office logo".

The last one per cent is stopping people seeing the 99 per cent excellence underneath.


PS. While I'm geeking out, Word 2007 is for PCs, Macs now have Word 2008. It lacks a lot of the new whizzy features of the PC side, it adds a tonne of utterly worthless pretty pictures, but it flies far faster than the last version. So now I've no excuse at all for writing slowly.


E said...

Come on William, get with the time and go Open Source! Look up Open Office for one, or try others out like AbiWord.

Does the same stuff as Word and is FREE! And they don't keep changing the interface to make it 'easier to use'!

I'm sure they use it on the Galactica so can you think of a higher recommendation? ;)

Piers said...

I'm really liking Word 2007. Haven't tried 2008 on my Mac yet.

William Gallagher said...

Word 2008 is so much faster I can forgive it. Wouldn't swap now, it's that responsive. Some macros I had to convert to AppleScript now run that fast I'm not always sure I've run them.

And spurious claims of the Galactica operating system fall on deaf ears here as that's the one where they're frakked if they use their network.

I have to use Outlook if I want that to happen.


Jason Arnopp said...

I had exactly the same bafflement with Word 2007 - it beggared belief that I couldn't find how to save/open/do anything. But once you know it's there, behind that all-purpose half-inch ball, it's fine, isn't it?

Well, still a bit weird. But basically fine...

William Gallagher said...

Absolutely - except that it's like having a truly, truly incomprehensible first page of a script. Who'd read on? If they hadn't already bought it and had a choice?

Remember I came to this after a year of Microsoft's blogging about defining just what the customer needed: they got a thousand things right but they locked the front door so you couldn't see them.

This is why I wrote about this here; I think the last one percent can wreck a project.

I know it's easy to miss colossal errors because you're too close to your work, but hundreds of people saw that in Word 2007's builds - and didn't miss it. I didn't, I said it to 'em at the time. But still they did it which is rather a second strike against their claims of listening to customers.

What's the line? "If you must do this damn silly thing, don't do it in this damn silly way." It's a quote and I can't remember where from.