Microsoft: Office 2007 Addresses Bloat Issue

The company acknowledges that there are user concerns about the new Office user interface, but it says the majority of real-world Beta 1 study participants were eager to use it.

BOSTON—Microsoft Office developers have long been aware of user concerns about bloat in the product, and they have been conducting extensive research and usability testing to address it, said Mark Alexieff, a senior product manager in the companys Information Worker Product Management group, at the annual TechEd developer conference here June 12.

"We heard a lot about bloat from the press and users with Office 2003, the last release of the product. As such, we focused the design goals for the client applications in Office 2007 System on making the software easier to use, on saving people time, and making it easier for users to discover more of its functionality," he said.

Microsoft has been studying the problem of bloat for the past eight years and has done extensive usability testing over this time, with 1.2 billion data sessions collected. "Over the last 90 days alone, we have tracked 352 million command-bar clicks in Microsoft Office Word, and we also track nearly 6,000 individual data points," he said.

This yielded information on the commands most people use the most and how those commands are commonly sequenced together, Alexieff said.

The Office 2007 System forms the cornerstone of an evolved platform for building business application extensions.

It also brings a new user interface, new application capabilities, Office Open XML file formats, integration with Office SharePoint Server 2007, and advances in deployment and management.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs review of Office 2007 Beta 2.

Alexieff also gave a comprehensive demonstration of the new user interface, which includes a ribbon that has a combination of tool bars that change depending on the task a user is working on. He added that the team has also done a lot of work fixing things that confounded users before, like how to insert footers in a document.

For developers, all of their existing code still works, and the new user interface design creates a more consistent developer model across Office and its various programs, Alexieff said. It has also been optimized for common developer scenarios, he said.

"The new RibbonX extensibility model allowed developers to add their own tabs, add to the built-in tabs, and also add to the Office menu.

"This customization can live inside a COM add-in, inside a new XML file format document, and there is no housekeeping code requiring adjustments [to be made], like [when the program is closed]," he said.

Alexieff also acknowledged that there were a lot of concerns about the new user interface, such as whether it actually worked, how much and what type of training was required, and how the help desk would be impacted during the transition.

/zimages/2/28571.gifUsers have expressed concern about the changes in Office 2007. Click here to read more.

But, in research based on Beta 1, Microsoft found that the majority of real-world study participants were eager to use the new user interface without all the bugs that accompanied early beta software, he quipped.

A majority of survey participants also predicted increased productivity once they became accustomed to the new user interface, with the majority of those in the study saying they expected to be back up to speed within one to four weeks.

With regard to the effects of the rollout of Office 2007 System on IT, Alexieff said that Microsoft did not anticipate a "tremendous training burden" for them.

The innovation in office 2007 System at the application level surpasses that of any previous release, with core re-engineering taking place, including the OfficeArt graphics engine and the new functionality enabled by the deeper utilization of XML, he said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifThe first draft of the Office Open XML file format specification was published in May. Click here to read more.

The new Office Open XML file format for Word, Excel and PowerPoint are also 100 percent compatible with the existing file formats, Alexieff said, adding that the development team is working on a compatibility pack to let users of previous versions of Office open, edit and save in the new Office 2007 file formats.

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.