Published Now and Again for Business Users of Microsoft Excel.
Office 12: A Radical Departure
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
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"[M]uch to our surprise, it's a radical
departure, not just from Office 2003 and all previous versions, but from the
basic look and feel that most Windows applications have had for as long as
there's been a Windows."
That's how PC World's Harry McCracken described Office 12 in his blog, Microsoft
Office 12's Radical New Look.
His article provides the most comprehensive public description I've seen about
Office 12. It describes:
Ribbon. "[T]his all-encompassing UI conceit mostly
replaces drop-down menus, toolbars, dialog boxes, and task panes as we know
Previews. "When you select an item for formatting
and run through options in the Ribbon (say, various fonts), your document will
change to show how it would be affected by that formatting."
Customization. "[T]he new UI will
be less customizable than the Office interface we know today. (The Ribbon will
have a "Quick Launch" section that lets you store favorite features, but you
apparently won't have much ability to rearrange the Ribbon's elements.)"
Courtesy of Microsoft, here's a
close-up view of the
Excel 12 user interface.
Why did Microsoft make such a radical change in the user interface? The
company offers an answer in
Q&A: Microsoft Showcases New User Interface for Office “12” Core Applications.
"[O]ver time, as we’ve added more and more features, it’s gotten harder
for users to find the things they want to do with the product. Word 1.0 only had
about 100 commands, and you could go through the menus and see everything you
could do. But Word 2003 has over 1,500 commands, many of which are harder to
find. That’s one of the key issues the new UI addresses."
According to the article, the new user interface is designed to satisfy these design goals:
- Make it easier for people to find and use the product features needed to get
the results they want.
- Streamline the UI to maximize the user’s workspace.
- Make it easier for people to discover the capabilities that achieve a
desired result by "contextualizing the workspace."
- Designing for the full document life cycle. This includes improved
support for collaboration, work flow, and document management.
Jensen Harris, in An Office User
Interface Blog, describes Microsoft's reasons from an insider's point of
The Why of the New UI (Part 1) and
Museum Of Office Past (Why the UI, Part 2) Harris describes the history of
computer graphical user interfaces -- beginning with Xerox PARC -- and explains
what lead Microsoft to its new design.
What should you make of these changes? Gartner Research offers several
Office 12 Interface May Up Productivity, Migration Complexity "While
the new UI will excite many users, those who have trouble accepting change — and advanced
users who know where to find all the commands they need — will likely have the most
difficulty adapting to the new UI."
Consider Microsoft's Office 12 Plans, but With Caution
"Despite many potentially powerful enhancements, most enterprises will find it
hard to justify upgrading during 2007 and 2008."
Office 12 File Format Will Bring XML Benefits, Migration Pain
"Microsoft announced that Office 12 will have an XML format as the new default
for saving files in the Office 12 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint...The
new file formats allow Office to be more open and may meet the demands of some
customers that require XML to meet regulatory requirements."
In short, Gartner describes good news and bad news about Office 12. The good
news is that Office 12 offers "powerful enhancements" and improved ease-of-use
for new users of Office. The bad news is that advanced users likely will have
difficulty adapting to the new user interface.
So which way should the scales tip? Should you plan to move to Office 12
sooner? Later? Or not at all?
Suppose that Gartner is correct. Suppose that Office 12 offers many new
features along with a steep learning curve for experienced users. In this case,
two conclusions are obvious.
First, experienced users will flock to Office 12. They might not like the new
interface, but they'll be attracted by the new features.
Second, book stores and the Web will overflow with books and other advice
designed to help current users adapt to Office 12. Keep in mind that none of
that material is available today. This causes beta testers to work very hard to
learn the product. But when Office 12 ships, a large and growing support
structure already will exist.
You don't have to decide now. Beta 2, the public beta, probably will be
available during the first quarter of 2006. I'll let you know how to get a copy when the time
comes. When you can do so, get a copy of the beta and then decide for yourself.
Using MS Query With Excel Data
About six weeks ago I received a message from a reader, Marty Ryerson. He
said he'd like to write an article about MS Query, a somewhat obscure and
seldom-updated feature of Excel. I asked what he wanted to say.
Marty responded that he's been using Crystal Reports for quite some time
against an Oracle database. But more and more, he's been using MS Query instead.
Because only a small percentage of Excel users work with Oracle on a regular
basis, I suggested that his article use some other source of data. Excel,
perhaps. Or text files.
Within weeks, Marty sent me an article that describes how to use MS Query
with Excel databases. About a week after that, he sent me an article about using
the program with text files.
His first article is
Use MS Query to Treat Excel As a Relational Data Source.
I'm editing the second one now, and will post it within several weeks.
Both articles rely heavily on a new book, Excel Advanced Report Development, by Timothy Zapawa.
Tim offered several excellent suggestions for Marty's article. And I hope to
convince him to submit an article of his own.
The Wide World of Excel
Perhaps I just have a one-track mind, but I'm fascinated by the many
ways that people use Excel. Here are some examples posted recently...
that Orbimatic, a UK manufacturer of welding
equipment, has introduced weld data-logging software. Weld logs can be opened in
Excel, of course.
tells us about a "nifty utility for cataloguing one’s movie collection."
As one would expect, the catalog can be exported to Excel.
BuildingOnline.com reports that Esti-Mate, Inc., offers "worksheets for
complete residential job costing using your subcontractors labor and your local
lumber and building material dealer supplier costs."
The FortWayne News Sentinel posts a column that begins, "Rats. I screwed up
my redistricting map.
"After spending the better part of a day recently slaving over an Excel file,
moving precincts here and there, tallying and re-tallying populations – my first
Techspot.com describes an MSN Sniffer Monitor that logs MSN chat
conversations for IT managers. Of course, all those intercepted messages can be read in Excel.
One of the reasons I find items like this so interesting is that Excel
probably is saving each group of users a significant amount of money. Often,
Excel can do about 80% of the work of special-purpose software for about zero
percent of the incremental cost.
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