Does the release of products like Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer 8 represent a massive blunder for Microsoft, or do the new innovations included in these software packages represent the way forward? It might all depend on who you ask. Users who have not spent a great deal of time using previous versions of Microsoft software may well like the new versions. There are surely some new features which can be quite cool such as very nifty formatting effects. Users who have become familiar with previous versions over the years are coming to quite different conclusions. I am in the latter group and Microsoft’s new line is certainly not getting an A from me.
Not to put too fine a point on it; I find many of the new features very annoying. A glaring example of this is the so called ‘ribbon’ menus in Office 2007. I mean, sure, everything is there if you look for it (and look for it) but I’m at a loss to see how the ribbons are an improvement. I am evidently not the only one who feels this way. A number of companies are already offering software which restores the ‘classic’ menus to Office programs. Addintools.com for example http://www.addintools.com/english/menuoffice/ offers a download that does just that, but I’m not sure that I want to spend almost $40 just to have normal menus. Having menus like file edit view insert format help etc. are not of course unique to Microsoft software; they are ubiquitous and users have become very comfortable with them over the years. I for one was dumbfounded when I first tried to use the ribbons.
Internet Explorer 8 doesn’t seem to be a great improvement either. Web designers have spent a great deal of time updating code to validate with WC3 standards and work in a range of browsers. Now IE8 comes along with it’s ‘document compatibility’ mode and sites that work just fine in Firefox, Safari and IE7 are all over the place. These problems can be easily overcome; if a site works in IE7 you can tell IE8 to display it in the same way using a statement like this:
<html> <head> <!-- Mimic Internet Explorer 7 --> <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=EmulateIE7" > <title>My Web Page</title> </head>
Still, it’s difficult to see how a browser that makes a mess of a great many websites is an improvement.
Windows Vista is very pretty to look at and of course some settings, like the start menu can be returned to ‘classic’ layouts. I find the folder navigation problematic. The traditional hierarchical folder navigation (you know; up a level etc.) has been replaced with a more linear navigation method; forward and back buttons reminiscent of a browser and breadcrumb trails in an address field. It’s interesting to not that the file edit view etc. menus remain in folder view. I’m gradually getting used to it, but I doubt I’ll ever feel the removal of the ‘up’ button is an improvement. Of course I could go on about numerous other problems I have with these innovations, and on and on an on…
Surely Microsoft did not commit itself to these changes lightly. Millions were undoubtedly spent on market research. Perhaps Microsoft considers established users to be anachronisms; dinosaurs no longer worthy of consideration. Perhaps the market research people talked to the wrong people; I am yet to meet anyone who is unreservedly in love with the new lines. This might well be a fatal error on Microsoft’s part; there are surely numerous competitors ready to pick up the ball should MS drop it.
Perhaps Steve Balmer and his colleagues should consider the possibility that dumbing things down does not necessarily make things more user friendly. It may well just make things dumb.