Office 12 User Interface Tweaks and an XML Based Open File Format
After looking at some of the screen shots of Microsoft Office 12, one of the things that strikes me is how clean the UI looks. It turns out that the UI is probably the most important thing to change in the new version of Office. It happens to be one of the most controversial since there is apparently no way to show a toolbar with all of the application's options.
This brings up an important question. What sells better, UI or features? If Apple is any indicator, then it is clear that the UI sells more units and gains you more press. When they changed the UI in their operating system to perform adequately, they had probably the best selling upgrade in their history. It was certainly, from a percentage of users upgraded standpoint, the most successful upgrade campaign of any computer software manufacturer. Granted, that has a lot to do with the strength of the OS X operating system, but if you try to explain the grit and grime of OS X and BSD / Darwin to the average Mac user, their eyes will glaze over and they may begin to drool.
No, UI is important. It is excellent to see that Microsoft is figuring this out. Apparently the XBOX UI has undergone a major overhaul, I've heard several times recently that the UI is fantastic. From what I've seen of the Office 12 UI, it too is very good looking and is Vista friendly. I'm glad to see Microsoft challenging staid interface opinons. It is dangerous though, because most of what holds back UI advancement is the user base. Most users are reluctant to learn a new way of doing things. That is why the keyboard and mouse are still with us. What should have happened, is like Mac OS X, Microsoft should have included some killer feature that everyone wants, like an integrated web office suite and free file storage repository, making your office available wherever you are. Then included the UI changes. That way, people would have a reason to use the new system. While it looks good, I will probably not upgrade. I am using Open Office 2.0 anyway, and I am happy with that feature set. While the UI is nice, and it will probably drive some sales. Most of the business users will be looking for more I'm afraid, and probably most of Microsoft's sales for Office will come from new computer purchases, not upgrades. Still, sales are sales and I have to say that Office is a good looking, if overpriced, upgrade. If I could afford the upgrade I'd definately do it.
Microsoft has said that they will also be moving to a more open XML file format in Office 12. This is a step in the right direction, however they are still lagging a little since they are going to use a proprietary format instead of using the Open Document format. Why, I don't really know, I'm sure they could extend the existing format for any new features they need, and any open source participant would be glad to have Microsoft contributing to their project. Microsoft has almost come around, if they continue just a little more, they may pull off the hat trick they need to remain a viable cultural force in everyone's digital lifestyle. Remaining a cultural force isn't strictly necessary from a business standpoint, but it sure helps to move units in the consumer space.