Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tech: Learning is painful - when there's too much

I loaded up a copy of Office 2007 yesterday*, and got totally, instantly lost.

What a beginning. MS Word and Excel have a new interface that is radically different to anything that came before. I knew to expect something, but that something wasn't... lost.

All previous releases have been particularly incremental. They have steadily bloated Word and Excel with numerous features that most people wouldn't have time to explore, practice and exploit. Well, now some exploration is necessary.

It somewhat begs the question, what do you want from a word processor or spreadsheet? By now, one of the big factors in the profit of Word and Excel is that they are now in most peoples' comfort zone. Changing is painful.

Well, now updating is painful.

There are degrees of comfort, of course. I can think of four paths off the top of my head:
  • stick with the versions you have
  • try OpenOffice - it's closely compatible, open source, and free
  • explore other options for word processors and spreadsheets
  • stick with the new versions

I'm not actually making any recommendations here. I expect there's good reason for the changes - Microsoft probably did extensive consumer and professional usability testing, and they reckon the changes are worth the pain. Further, this was simply my first reaction, and I'll persist - I just think it would have been sensible to provide a simple, free introductory navigation. ...I daresay they do have one hidden somewhere.

I was actually using OpenOffice for a couple of days for a project of mine. But I found there were small areas of functionality in each of Word and Excel that didn't work in OpenOffice the way I needed them to. So, experiencing pain, I switched rather than go through an extensive search for the functionality I wanted.

The major lesson: there is so much technology in our lives that learning curves are a significant pain point.

*Office 2007 is currently scheduled for November release; I have a beta version.

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