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25 Jun 09 Microsoft drives nails in its own coffin

NEW YORK - JANUARY 30:  Steve Ballmer, Chief E...
Steve Balmer, Microsoft CEO Image by Getty Images via Daylife

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>

more info on document compatibility here

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.

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Reader's Comments

  1. |

    Liam you hit the nail on the head.

    I am neither developer nor webdesigner however as a normal user, I wonder where is Microsoft going with their products. I saw tried Windows Vista on a friends’s pc and didn’t find anything new that can make me impressed unless being a geek-freak of new graphics and how to deal. I stil find Windows XP more relaiable despite the 3 service pack released. Ironically, they are perparing for Windows 7 right now which will succeed vista!

    Ah! Office 2007! It’s all about extra features that many users are not really using unless they are into networked envrionment which is not the case with many individuals. OpenOffice do the work pefectly for individuals. Or if a user still want microsoft, I see OfficeXP is fine and if so, Office 2003 is ok.

    As for Explorer, it’s catastropphic enough since version 6. It’s funny how I twittered over this IE thing few days ago and you’ll find me linking to my tweet over the post “To Tweet or not to Tweet”.
    .-= Hicham´s last blog ..Nepeta and Felis Catus =-.

  2. |

    the “ribbon” menus of office 2007 are the stupidest “feature” i have ever seen. they make finding almost any feature nearly impossible and because of them i largely ignore the copy of office 2007 i had pre-installed on my laptop after having had good experiences with 2003. it’s a pity too, because 2007 does have some nice abilities, if you can find them. i don’t know what brain-damaged idiot thought replacing an industry standard menuing system on a flagship product with some gui designers research project was a good idea, but i hope they got demoted for it.

  3. |

    oh, and i forgot to say *THANK YOU* for the link to the de-brain-damage product. i’ll be installing it immediately.

  4. |

    It’s also interesting to note: yahoo.com doesn’t display properly in IE8! Even in ‘compatibility view’ text overlaps and the whole site looks messy. It works fine in Firefox of course. Like you, I’m not much of a fan of Vista either. I’m not opposed to change but Microsoft’s new innovations can perhaps best be described as ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’!

  5. |

    I included that particular image of Steve Balmer because he looks a bit like a brain damaged idiot, or at least like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m also tempted to run out and buy a product which restores the menus but I’m going to hold off for a while. I found this in Word 2007 help:

    “No option is currently available to switch the user interface back to the File menu, toolbars, and commands as they appeared in earlier versions of these Microsoft Office programs.”

    This gives me the impression that MS will eventually release an update that will allow a switch back to ‘classic’ menus. Surely with the building outcry against the awful ribbons, they’ll want to do that sooner rather than later.

  6. |

    I noticed that sometimes Yahoo! don’t display properly in IE 8 too. Now Firefox 3.5 is out with the support of HTML 5 and I wonder what will micorosoft do? A new version or what?
    .-= Hicham´s last blog ..Un Homme et Une Femme [part 1] =-.

  7. |

    Великолепный подбор информации, только почаще освежайте ее и уверен прибавится много постоянных посетителей.

  8. |

    Достаточно интересная статья. Думаю стоит добавить в избранное для дальнейшего изучения

  9. |

    Всем привет, смотрю что тут все такие подхалимы, что не коммент , то лесть полная….

  10. |

    По тематике блога информация подобрана совсем не плохо, хорошая работа, интересно почитать.

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