Losing users with Office 2007

Microsoft Office 2007 arrived in our action pack a few months back. Always eager to have the latest and greatest, all of our workstations were expeditiously upgraded from Office 2003. Everyone in our office was fairly proficient at day to day tasks in the various Office products like Excel and Word. Suddenly, we were forced to use the program help to search for even the most routine of tasks – like how to run a macro. It so happens that the “ribbon”, as the newly redesigned tabbed toolbars are called, in which the macro capabilities are on isn’t visible by default. After jumping through a few hoops, we know how to run macros again. On the bright side, I can add shortcuts to the “Quick Access Toolbar” so I can find things that aren’t where they used to be. These customizations can then be easily imported to installations on other machines, so I only have to spend a half hour as opposed to several hours, to make sure people aren’t in the help browser all day.

While the latest version of Office does have some nice features, the slick looks don’t make up for the time spent re-learning software that many of us have know how to use for nearly a decade. I’m not sure what Microsoft was thinking when they decided to radically change the UI in such an established product. I can get around just fine in the latest version of Open Office, in fact it’s usability improves regularly. I want to be productive now, not once I’ve figured out a new interface. My final gripe is about backward compatibility to anything older than the current version. By default, documents, et al., are saved in a new format – it’s the old file extension with an x appended to it. I can only open these with Office 2007. The default format can be changed, after jumping through a few more hoops, or I can just “save as…” and pick my file format.

At this point, we do not recommend Office 2007 to our customers. It is, in fact, discouraged because of the learning curve and compatibility issues. When experienced users become lost in your flagship product, you will end up loosing them to legacy applications or alternative products.