Impact of New Microsoft Office Interface (circa 1990)

I was reading the content of an article published in April 1990 of Software Magazine.  The article is a software review of the new Microsoft Word for Windows.  In 1990 Word for Windows was quite revolutionary – it used a graphical user interface, and provided What You imageSee Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) formatting.

Up until 1990, Microsoft Word was available for DOS only.  So this was a massive change for the end users.

It struck me that a lot of the potential issues highlighted in this article about the new interface are mirrored again today by some people worried about The Ribbon interface introduced in Office 2007.  Some sample statements from the article are:

  • “WordPerfect and other character-based word processors are a lot faster than Word for Windows. If you aren't concerned with the WYSIWYG interface, you will be happier with a character-based system.”

Here, the argument is that the change of interface will slow people down, and that the existing interface would be faster to work with.  I think it is clear that this argument is flawed.  If Character Based Interfaces were indeed faster and more productive, they would have naturally become the standard.  A graphical interface to applications has proven to be more flexible, and productive.

I know that research shows Office 2007 to be generally much more productive, fun, and users find more features.  But the average person who hasn’t experienced The Ribbon in Office 2007 will feel that they are more productive in Office 2003.  I challenge this position – and happily have users run Office 2007 and survey them about their experience with Office 2003 and Office 2007.  Invariably, my independent research mirrors what the analyst firms are finding.  More than 80% of users prefer Office 2007 to Office 2003 – even without any training or readiness, and create better looking documents faster.

  • “Second, you need at least a healthy 286 machine to run Word for Windows (or any Windows application).”

Indeed – software has been pushing and driving the innovation in hardware for as long as they have existed.

  • “However, by the time that most users are ready for Windows--if they ever are--there will be many other choices, including a version of best-seller WordPerfect.”

I like this fact that in 1990 there was fear that users would never be ready for a graphical interface like Windows.  Similarly – there are people who wonder if the Ribbon in Office 2007 is temporary and will go away.  Will people ever be able to figure it out. 

I know the Ribbon is not going away in Office for the foreseeable future.  Other applications are adopting it heavily such as AutoDesk AutoCAD, as well as award winning Application UI’s.  The Ribbon is proven (by analsyt firms such as Forrester, Answers Research Inc),  to be a more efficient and productive interface for complex applications such as Office.

It will be a matter of time when the decision makers of organisations get over the interface changes and allow their workforce to use a more productive tool set.  Considering that  writing content (emails, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations) accounts for about 25% of an Information Workers time, it is a commonly executed task in a business.  It seems strange to me how little focus is placed on examining and refining this creation process in an effort to improve the content creation.