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Microsoft Office and the lowest common denominator
on November 30, 2012
My home and business experience with Microsoft Office goes back to Office 97. For fifteen years I've used Word and Excel on a daily basis, and PowerPoint several times a month. I've been using Office 2003 as my primary version since its release nearly ten years ago.
Office has always had a bit of a learning curve, so I empathize with Microsoft's desire to make the program easier for new users. From that perspective, the Ribbon interface makes sense: Put the most commonly-used features on large buttons clustered in groups.
But for long-time power users like me, the switch to Office 2010 is confusing and frustrating. The familiar menu bar (File | Edit | View | etc.) is gone, and is not even available as an option. Familiar Alt+letter keyboard shortcuts have been changed to match the Ribbon interface (although Excel, mercifully, has retained the old ones; why not the other programs?). Features that used to be accessible with a quick tap on the keyboard are now four, or five, or seven mouse-clicks away.
Despite this, there are some things to really like about Office 2010. Most especially are the new file formats (.docx, .xlsx, etc.), which result in smaller file sizes, as much as half the size of the old (.doc, .xls, etc.) files. And PowerPoint has better transitions and animations that give it a new professional edge.
But these new features could have been rolled out without removing familiar and powerful features that long-time users have come to rely on. Would it have been so hard for Microsoft to throw their existing customer base a bone? Apparently so.