As someone who is paid to update processes, design new applications to support those processes and implement the data structures to store the necessary information I am frequently proposing that a company implement a new system. In many of these situations I am called upon to perform the sales pitch to the existing users to convince them that the new system will be better and their lives will improve. And most times I believe that I what I am saying is the truth; because as anyone who has played with me will tell you, I am a rotten poker player and it is almost impossible for me to convince someone else of something I don’t believe in.
A natural consequence of this is that I am normally close to the front of the queue to try out some new application or another. Most of the time I can work out what to do pretty quickly and if I can’t then it is probably either indicative of a poorly designed application or that I am trying to learn something completely new and I have no clue what I am doing. Yeah, you got me; most times it is the latter of these cases. Furthermore, if I am trying an upgrade to an existing application then I expect there to be little or no learning curve and only the occasional frustration when I can’t find something. I have even grown to live with Vista, though I can’t actually say I like it, I find that if you switch off enough of the new toys then it becomes a perfetly adequate OS. Of course if you leave them all on then it truly is the nightmare that so many others have written about.
So with this background and experience it was quite the shock today when I found myself so frustrated with an application that I was literally banging my head against my desk. Not only can I still feel the bruise on my forehead but it scared the crap out of a co-worker who was sat behind me. What caused this outburst? Microsoft Office 2007 and in particular Excel. I had already gone through the process of turning off the Ribbon and creating my own toolbar when I realised that I needed to control the zoom of the window. Since I started using Excel in 1992 it has been possible to do this by placing a little widget in the toolbar; but no longer. Despite there being 3 (count ’em) different Zoom options it is not possible (as far as I can see) to put the zoom level in the toolbar. No, now you have to look down in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Sure, you can turn off the standard location, but you can’t put it where you want it to be. It was somewhere during the 5 minutes it took me to work this all out that my head and the desk came into close proximity and my colleague jumped out of his skin.
And this is just one of the myriad of changes that has been forced on me by Microsoft. I have read that people like myself make up less than 2% of the users of Microsoft Word, by which I mean that I believe I use it correctly with styles, customisation of the toolbars and personalised templates. So Microsoft, by all means create a UI that is better for the 98% of people who are not using your tools correctly but please Please PLEASE let the 2% who do like to control the look of the application so that it truly meets our needs make the customisations necessary.
All of which is a rant aimed squarely at the designers of Office. I generally like change but in this case I will be sticking with the old versions of your software. So keep making your changes, when they work for me, then I’ll join the party. Until then I’ll keep on being productive in my own way.