Microsoft Bitch Session

It's been no secret that I have recently purchased a new computer to replace the old Official Weekend Pundit Main Computer, a 6-year old machine with an Athlon 64 CPU, 1GB of RAM, an ATI video card, and two 100GB hard drives. The old machine runs Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. It also makes use of interesting and useful programs like Firefox and Thunderbird (both from Mozilla), Open Office, Lview (image editing) and Snaggit (image capture and editing), and a host of other utilities and fun stuff.

While the machine was never perfect, it did its job and did it pretty well.

The new machine has a multi-core 64-bit AMD CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1.5TB hard drive, and an ATI video card. It runs Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) and I have plans to add Ubuntu Linux this weekend. I doubt anyone can argue against the fact that in so many ways it is better than the old machine.

It has been an interesting but carefully paced adventure, using Windows 7. So far there's little I find I dislike about it, and those things I have found less than optimal (in my opinion) are minor annoyances. It boots quickly, it runs quickly, as do all of the programs I have run so far. Some of that I have to attribute to the hardware, and some to the software. But I do have a major complaint, and not about the hardware or the operating system.

It's that damnable Microsoft Office 2010. To put it into simple terms, it SUCKS. (Yes, I know I've written about this before, but after struggling with Office 2010 at work, and now at home, I can't say enough bad things about it.)

First, I want to remind you that I am a techno-geek. I live, eat, and breathe electronics and optics. I have a pretty good handle on programming (usually used to test something we've designed to make sure it works the way it's supposed to), but I'm no code wizard. I use computers at work and home every day. I understand user interfaces to the nth degree because the equipment my employer builds and sells lives or dies by the ease of use of the equipment I help design. If the user interface stinks it doesn't matter how good the piece of equipment it goes with performs. (I've seen and used too many of our competitors' equipment that have been well designed and perform well, but are difficult to use because the user interface requires the owner to open the user manual to figure out how to turn the darned thing on.) A poor user interface will cause more dissatisfaction with a product than buggy software or barely adequate hardware.

All of that being said, the user interface on Office 2010, and its predecessor Office 2007, is awful.

I don't care what the folks at Redmond, Washington say, the new interface has failed. It is not intuitive. It requires seasoned users to spend lots of time trying to figure out where Microsoft moved the features they've been using for years (this is a major indication the user interface design has failed).

Functions that used to take one or two clicks now take up to seven. It doesn't matter if the interface is customizable if it takes the user a long time to figure out how to do so. And like earlier versions of Office, it tries to do things for you even when you don't want it to. But with 2010 it's even more annoying, if that's possible. Undoing something it has 'fixed' for you is more difficult (the old Control Z or the Undo button doesn't always undo it whatever it is it did for you).

I get the impression that the folks at Microsoft spent a lot of time and money asking users what they liked and disliked about Office some time after Office 2003 was released. The problem is that I think they asked the wrong people. It seems to me the changes they made were more at the behest of power users, those few folks who will use the 90% of the Office features no one else does, assuming they even know they exist.

Another fail: the 'ribbons' that have replaced the long-used toolbars take up a lot more space on screen. I mean a lot more. I now have less usable working space on my screen than under Office 2003. This is supposed to help productivity?

I've been playing with the crippled version of Office 2010 that came installed on my new machine and it has merely confirmed what I've seen at work. I hate to say it, but whoever thought a redesign of the Office interface was a good idea should be FIRED. Whoever actually designed the new interface should be FIRED. Whoever it was that tried to sell this godawful UI to the public as “the greatest thing since sliced bread” should be FIRED.

I know if I had created a user interface for a piece of our equipment as awful and defective as the one on Microsoft Office 2010, I would have been FIRED, and I wouldn't have blamed the company for doing so. I would have fired me, too.

So until Microsoft fixes the piss poor user interface on Office, I'll stay with Open Office at home (and even if they do I'll still stay with Open Office). Unfortunately I won't have a choice at work.