The Seven-Second Egg

Comedian Jay Leno used to do a bit in which he describes how a device that cooks an egg in 12 seconds is replaced by one that does it in seven. "Honey, I've been home for five seconds, where's my dinner?" he would ask in mock anger.

Microsoft's preparation to move to Office 12--in fact, a lot of software development going on these days--reminds me of trying to trim five seconds from cooking an egg. If you could buy a device that would do that would you?
Microsoft's changing Office seems designed to provide users a reason to leave their current versions and to justify the price of Office, which is really hard to justify in a world in which Microsoft itself often points to declining technology prices as a sign of progress.

Of course, Office is a major source of revenue and Microsoft wants to keep the cash flowing. Simply put, it needs to churn its customer base.

I've always had the suspicion that in user surveys that Microsoft touts as influencing its design, there are only two users who count, Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer, and two others, the company's top line and its bottom line. At least that was my supposition when I discovered that my home computer wouldn't read my office computer's version of PowerPoint, or that periodically different machines in our office won't read someone else's version of Word.

Microsoft's description of the goals of the design of Office 12 sound good. Essentially, it's a work-flow approach in which the focus is on how people do things and making it easier to use all those features that nobody uses because it's too hard to learn. There's also a plan to make the "Help" feature more usable. Or should I say, make it usable?

The problem with all this is that no matter how they change it, what I do is write and I can't say that Word 2003 does much for me that previous versions, WordPefect, or even something as forgotten and basic as Xywrite (little more than text code) could do. I use one font. I don't lay out pages. I don't incorporate graphics or tables often. I don't need 50,000 images in ClipArt. I write. When I use PowerPoint, I use basic features. When I use Excel, it's to make a list.

Now, there are people who are power users in each application and people who need all of them together. But many of us, I suspect, do a lot of the same things that we have always done, and our jobs or hobbies are not suddenly going to make us desktop publishers, do-it-yourself art designers, or Excel power junkies.

All those changes to the Office components are nice. They do help some people. But for me, it's a lot like the difference between the seven-second and a 12-second egg.

Is it really worth it?


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