Offices Makeover to Continue

The ribbon-based UI will likely be expanded to other Office applications.

Although Windows Vista and Office 2007 officially hit the streets Jan. 30 after years of development, Microsoft is far from done with innovating and changing the new user interface in the Office System family of products.

Going forward, the new ribbon-based UI is likely to be applied to other applications that did not receive it in Office 2007, said Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Business Division Product Management Group, in an interview.

"People have generally been very positive about the ribbon, so I would say that, in the 2007 release, we focused on the rich authoring experience and trying to make that far simpler in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. That focus was really helpful," said Capossela, who manages the Microsoft Office System of products. "So we will look at bringing the ribbon to those other Office applications, such as OneNote, Project and Visio, going forward and based on user feedback."

Some of the lessons that Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., has learned from the authoring experience also can be applied to other aspects of Office and how it is used by customers, Capossela said.

"So I dont think our user interface innovation is done. It is not just about spreading it to other applications. If anything, I think the work we have done in Office 2007 and the reception we have gotten so far have made us all the more excited about the users ability to advance and has opened up the possibility of a whole lot more innovation rather than limiting it," he said.

Capossela also confirmed to eWeek that there is no current plan to productize the much-speculated-about Office 2007 search add-in, code-named Scout, which he said is a "cool internal project from Microsoft Research to show off some search technology."

But Scout is just an internal prototype and not a real product. The Office team said it feels good about the ability of users to find what they are looking for inside Office 2007, with the interactive guides on Office Online getting plenty of use, Capossela said. These guides use short videos to show customers where commands or tool bar buttons found in Office 2003 now live in the new Office 2007 UI and how to make the transition, he said.

Capossela also said Microsoft has worked through issues with its volume-license customers on a case-by-case basis around the impact of the delayed release of Vista and Office 2007.

"We have had a great track record of shipping a new release of Office every two to three years," he said. "This release took us about two months longer than three years, and so there [was] a set of customers we worked with on an individual basis to talk through how they felt about the relationship, what they saw coming from Microsoft and the value they were seeing from those annuity agreements."

Asked if there will be a more formal linkage of the development and release cycles of Office and Vista going forward, given that they are being released simultaneously this time around, Capossela said it was serendipitous having the products come to market together.

"I cant say it was the plan we had at the beginning. I dont think it is a critical thing for us to do every time," he said. "We certainly need to be aware of what the product road maps are across the company so that we understand what kinds of technical dependencies we should take, but it isnt something where we sit down and say that every new version of Office should happen at the same time as Windows."

Regarding claims by competitors that Vista will perpetuate practices found illegal in the European Union, including the charge that the Open XML platform file format is designed to run seamlessly only on the Microsoft Office platform, Capossela said that no other company puts anywhere near the resources that Microsoft does behind open standards.

"With regard to the Open XML standard, there are a couple of things I would say. This is now an Ecma standard, and we are working hard to make it an ISO standard as well. We have also worked very closely with a number of other companies on this standard, and so it is an industry effort," he said.

It is also a fully documented, completely open file format, so "anyone who writes a Java-based application that runs only on Linux can create Open XML files that Word or Excel running on Windows—and soon the Apple Macintosh—will be able to open," Capossela said.