Linked by Kroc Camen on Thu 31st Dec 2009 14:13 UTC
Microsoft BetaNews writes: "Microsoft executives and product managers -- Chairman Bill Gates, above all of them -- showed great technology vision for the new millennium. The company was right about so many trends to come but, sadly, executed poorly in bringing too many of them to market. Microsoft's stiffness, perhaps a sign of its aging leadership, consistently proved its foible. Then there is arcane organizational structure, which has swelled with needless middle managers, and the system of group competition".
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RE: Good ideas, bad implementations
by Bryan on Fri 1st Jan 2010 03:45 UTC in reply to "Good ideas, bad implementations"
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Honestly, I think you're just pulling out canned criticisms and hurling them without any attempt at cogent thought.

Microsoft's done a lot of work to reduce the impact of background processes in Windows 7. In some cases, this means multiple background tasks have been merged into a single processes. More extensively, they leveraged Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) to implement services triggers, so that background processes can be started and stopped dynamically in response to system events rather than have to load on startup and poll continuously. The processes that remain are there for a reason--it's not just "bloat". Keeping a system trim on resource usage is important, but you have to make sure you don't lose sight of the difference between fat and muscle.

As for Office, the old binary formats open just fine in the public Office 2010 beta, and Microsoft released a compatibility pack years ago that will allow any version of Office all the way back to Office 2000 to open up the new XML formats. While it's not completely seamless--older versions can edit all the features of the newer formats--it's been pretty smooth considering the logistical and engineering challenges involved.

I'd also take a moment to rant againt the idea that the ribbon interface is inferior to the combination of menus and toolbars it replaced. Far from it: the ribbon is a more effective interface. And I don't mean that in a subjective way, but rather an objective way backed by usability studies and hard data. To understand the thought that went into the evolution of the ribbon, I would recommend you spend some time browsing Jesen Harris's blog (

Briefly, the previous interface had become to cumbersome and complicated to support the number of commands available in applications as such as Word and Excel. To find a command, you'd have to search through menus and submenus, toggle toolbars on and off, and make sure all of their commands weren't getting trimmed. With the ribbon, in contrast, you can scan through each tab and quickly get a pretty good idea on what an application is capable of. That doesn't mean you'll know about everything (some commands, such as image tools, only show up in contextual tabs), or even that you'll instantly know how to use each one effectively, but you won't get lost like you would in previous versions. In effect, the ribbon takes a superset of the commands that were previously available and makes them more accessible than ever by minimizing what you might call the "cognitive surface area" of the user interface.

Add to that other enhancements that came at the same time--better tooltips, live preview, contextual help, and far better keyboard navigability for all commands--and the experience presented in Office 2007 and onwards is emphatically better than its predecessors--or its competitors, for that matter. If you want to suggest that these enhancements aren't worth the premium Office costs over its free competitors, you can certainly make a legitimate argument there, but there's no question Office's interface is better at this time. What's more, the team at OpenOffice is understands this, and has taken early steps to evolve their interface in a similar direction--as can be seen in a prototype screenshot here: "Intuitive" is an ambiguous term at best when applied to user interfaces. Actually, Microsoft has shared data points showing that customers using Office 2007 use the Undo command far less often than those using older versions, which indicates they're having an easier time gaining mastery of the new UI and getting the results they want.

The only real disadvantage the ribbon has is lack of familiarity. If this has been developed at Xerox PARC along with so many other interface elements we take for granted today, no one would bat an eye. When you take a step back, the ribbon really isn't that big of a departure from what we're used to--it's basically an amalgam of a menubar and toolbars--but still a clear break from an interface people had grown accustomed to over the decades of Office's history. People are frustrated because it's disorienting, but that doesn't mean the new interface isn't effective once you take the time to learn it. It's similar to the problem you often see in OS debates: "When I want to do Task A in Windows, I do X, but in Ubuntu I have to do Y; therefore, Ubuntu is inferior." Familiarity doesn't not equal usability! You have to take the time to understand the tradeoffs between different design choices. Mindless zealotry get you no where.

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