The UX of Office 2010b2

It took me a looooong time to get Office 2010 beta 2 installed.  Uninstalling 2010b1 was a disaster.  I had to manually remove hundreds of registry keys to kill the thing.  Finally, I got the new version installed.  This is a very interesting release.  Microsoft has spent quite a bit of time working on the subtlties of the interaction design.   Here is my overall review based on the first week of using it:

Icons.  Look at these.  What do they remind you of?  Adobe Icons?  To me, they look like Scrabble tiles.

officeIcons

Someone else here looked at them and thought they look like a bunch of Laffy Taffy.  I think they are not inspired.  They look amateurish.  Sorry guys.

The Ribbon.  The notorious ribbon has been debated countless times.  At first (2006), I was not happy.  However, I have gotten used to it and I don’t hate it so much.  The latest beta fixed a long standing issue I had with it.  You can now minimize it easily.  Additionally, they finally added in the ability to customize the ribbon to your needs.  It could be easier, but at least it’s possible.  You can even make your own tabs, finally.  Overall, nice improvements to the ribbon.  Outlook now has the ribbon, one of the last holdouts from Office 2007.

Outlook.  I have been using Outlook 201 exclusively for quite some time.  However, when I started at Adchemy, I had to go back to Outlook 2007.  I had forgotten all of the improvements they put into the new Outlook.  The threaded discussion model is much more intuitive and generally works alot better than it’s predecessor.

SkyDrive.  This is something I had not seen previously.  It’s pretty incredible.  You save your file (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc) to the web.  Basically to your Hotmail account.  Then you can edit it locally or edit it with a modern browser.  The functionality is strong, with a pleasant UI.  I think they all looked better than Google Docs, but the functionality was about the same.  The spreadsheet app lacked Array Formulas, which actually are a critical feature for any serious Excel jockey, which Google Docs does have.  Additionally, the performance seemed a bit slow, although I was looking at it on my underpowered Netbook.  I hope they take performance seriously on these, as it could kill the usability and experience.  Lastly, I noticed especially that these were regular HTML/JS apps, not Silverlight applications.

skyExcel

Question:  If you were Microsoft, and you had to build a web version of an Office application; would you choose Silverlight or HTML/JS?  I don’t know if I would’ve made the same choice.

By the way, SkyDrive gives you 25G for free.  That is alot of space per person.  Pretty awesome.  Overall, SkyDrive is a cool name with fantastic functionality.  I am not sure yet, how the sharing model works within an organization.  But this is clearly a major step forward for Microsoft considering how anti-office-on-the-web they have been.

PowerPoint Transitions. They added alot of functionality to PowerPoint transitions and animations.  The usability of 2007 was a huge improvement, but 2010 seems more incremental.

Summary:  Since Office 95 (my god, it’s been a long time), I have enjoyed each release of Office significantly more than the previous.  This is no exception.  They have clearly worked on the finer points of usability and improved the suite accross the board.  Office 2010 is definitely better than 2007 and I would recommend the upgrade.

The future.  The world is moving online.  More and more applications are in the cloud.  How long will it take to make Excel on the Web just as powerful as the desktop?  When can I chuck my desktop?  It seems like it still will be a long time measured in decades, although this progress is very encouraging.

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