Sunday, April 02, 2006

MS Office Irritants

Microsoft Office has been with us for a long time. In particular, Microsoft Word's DOS version was available at least in the early 90s. I will give the latest version of Office 2007 (aka "Office 12") a fair and impartial review when there is a stable version to review. In the meantime though, Microsoft, listen up. Although I'm writing this blog, believe me there are many other folks in the "silent majority" of users who feel as I do but just suffer in silence.

I like MS Access and Excel, but there are lots of things I hate about Word and PowerPoint. I hope you'll endeavor to fix these in Office 12 and not simply tart up the old products with a new interface. First, here are some particularly annoying things about Word. Let's start with stability. This product has been around for 15 or so years, and it still is buggy -- as in "Word has experienced a problem" and then the whole thing hangs. Maybe you'll be able to save what you've done, maybe not. But shouldn't this product be bullet proof?

Then there's the infamous "Do you want to merge changes" message when you open a document attached to an email. Everyone's first (second, third) reaction is "huh?" Yes, I understand how to get around that, but I shouldn't have to.

Here's another bogus feature: Whenever you print a Word document --nothing else but print, mind you-- and exit the document, you get the message "Do you want to save the changes?" Again, a big "huh?" First, second, third reactions are "I don't think I made any changes, but I guess I'd better save it anyway." The message comes because you've inadvertantly associated a printer to the document. If this warning is such a great idea, then why don't you apply it consistently with PowerPoint and Excel too?

Here's another: Unhelpful HELP. If you want to know how to prit to fit a paper width or a certain number of pages, Word's help says "If your work doesn't fit exactly on the number of printed pages you want, you can adjust, or scale, your printed work to fit on more or fewer pages than it would at normal size. You can also specify that you want to print your work on a certain number of pages." Great. And how do we do that? Your HELP system, like Word itself, has grown lazy and bloated.

And don't even get me started with security and "leaking" of personal information inadvertently.

These are just a few examples of simple things Microsoft could have done long ago to improve this product. I've got hundreds more but I'm getting carpal tunnel just from resaving my Word documents after printing them...

Getting more value from Office Documents -- XQuery

Since documents by definition are created by and for the world-wide masses, there is a wide variation in the value of these documents. By value I mean both the quality of what they contain (are they true? accurate? interesting?) but also in their value as assets that can be transformed or reused. Microsoft Office 2007 will be XML-based; OpenOffice and StarOffice 8 are XML-based. You can argue whose XML is richer and more useful (so far I give that award to OO and SO8 for a variety of reasons that I'll explain later). But it is still hard to do much with that XML unless you use the right tools. I've used Altova's "Spy" for some time as a suite for some XML management like schema development and analysis and been generally happy with that suite. Increasingly, however, styling and transforming the content is becoming the best way to derive value from investments in XML content. That means using XSLT and XQuery, and I'm increasingly believing that for serious use of those standards, you need a different tool: Stylus Studio. To learn more about this alternative suite, check out Larry Kim's Stylus Studio blog.

Watch this space... StarOffice 8 Review in earnest

Well I've gotten the green light to review StarOffice 8 in eContent magazine, with a very short timeframe. So watch this space for details that will be unavailable in the review, or even too "edgy" for a printed publication. In this blog I can be as candid and opinionated as I wish... after all, I am a curmudgeon.