Hour Zero with Office 2008

I’m 30 minutes past my late-adopting install of Office 2008 and its three updates, and already there are problems. I’ll skip the major issues that have already been covered, and commence griping about the user experience:

  1. Office applications don’t respect my heretofore system-wide preferences for how fast the cursor blinks, and mine is way faster than theirs. This seems like an easy fix for how aggravating it is, and a terrible oversight (or decision?) up front.
  2. They haven’t fixed any of the interface problems that emerged with the last release (at the latest). For example, in Excel, to edit cell data, I have either to use my trackpad/mouse or use bogus keyboard shortcut Ctrl-U. That this is a problem is not news. I should be able to click either Enter or Return to toggle the edit state of the cell.
  3. Again, after downloading and running three software updates, and after a restart and a rebuild of my Mac’s LaunchServices database, I still can’t open Word documents by double-clicking them, a bug that has apparently plagued Word since the day of its release. Instead, I have to launch the application and then choose File > Open….

(I’ve set this last one apart as it requires more explanation, and is absolutely emblematic of Microsoft’s inattention to the details of the user experience.)

Instead of going with the time-tested tab interface for their preferences box, Microsoft chose to adopt Apple’s “Preference Panes” approach. On the one hand, you want to applaud their attempt to be more OS-integrated on the Mac side, but here’s the problem: Their implementation is problematically incomplete.

The Panes approach works relatively well for the Mac OS’s System Preferences because those groups of preferences are largely unrelated to one another, falling into largely disparate categories and affecting tasks and behaviors no less varied. So, anecdotally, there seems not to be rampant need to jump from one pane to another before leaving the interface, which is where tabs might help. And just in case, Apple has provided not only “Back” and “Show All” buttons, but also a keyboard shortcut, Command-L, to return to the list of panes.

But, I would argue, an Office Apps’s preference groups are much more closely tied together, as they all affect a similar group of behaviors, namely, those affecting the way one works in the application. This is a broad category overall, but in Word, for example, there’s significantly more overlap between the View, Edit, Spelling & Grammar, and AutoCorrect panes than between any four at the OS level.

In my experience with Word 2004, this means more switching between preference groups in the same visit to the Preferences dialogue. Again, this wouldn’t be much of a problem with a tabbed interface, in which you can always see the other options available. But instead, switching from one pane to another requires two clicks. And, perhaps more to the point, there’s no keyboard shortcut for viewing all panes. For a keyboard-centric users like me, this greatly reduces the effectiveness of the Panes model.

But honestly, I’m a lot more grumpy about the slow-blinking cursor.

2 thoughts on “Hour Zero with Office 2008

  1. Jamie August 21, 2008 / 6:17 pm

    I, too, have been holding off on upgrading. After this, I think I’ll hold off a bit longer or just stick with Pages.



    • devan August 21, 2008 / 10:09 pm

      Waiting, I’d say, is a good call. (You’ll also note that with the removal of VBA, there’s no more Zotero integration—for now.)

      I just find that legally free (as in beer) copies of licensed software are like free food: It doesn’t matter if I’ve eaten, I’ve still got room for one more plate of crackers and lousy cheese.


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