Sunday, March 18, 2007

HELP - online only?

So far as I can see, there are two ways to activate HELP in Office 2007 applications: The tiny little question mark in the upper right side, and the old standby F1. Both seem to get you only Microsoft online help. What happens if I lose (or temporarily do not have) an online connection? Am I stuck?

Actually, this de-emphasized HELP suggests to me that Microsoft believes the new ribbon interface is so clear that you won't need help. And secondly, that if you need help, you always have a broadband connection. I'm not sure both assumptions are true.

Anyway, here is the answer to the question I received from Microsoft's rapid response team:
"...the question mark button does, by default, take the user to Microsoft Office Online for Help. But if you click on the “Connected to Microsoft Office Online” button at the bottom of the box, you can choose to “Show Content Only from this computer” and that allows the user to see help content when not connected to the internet.

Super Tooltips, a feature of the Microsoft® Office Fluent™ user interface in the 2007 Microsoft Office system, integrates Help topics into the product in a new way to make the experience easier for new customers. One of the main problems that people have with Help topics today is that they don’t know the terms used to describe features. Super Tooltips are integrated help tips that provide quick access to information about a command directly from the command’s location in the Office Fluent user interface. One of the biggest innovations that began with version 2003 was the opportunity to get feedback on our Help. We use this feedback to drive the development of new content and to update current help topics as needed. We also use the feedback to identify trends that assist us in creating better Help for new features. The 2007 Office system Help was developed with the benefit from having feedback from thousands of Office customers."

So if you think to go to the bottom of the HELP box, you'll figure out how to get information without being online.

The right brain, aesthetic side of Office 2007; the Left Brain view of PowerPoint

I've been so caught up in looking at new features, or where my old Office features now reside, that I've overlooked one important point. Microsoft has clearly expended a lot of effort to achieve two important benefits: truly elegant set of styles (themes) along with some new fonts, and much improved consistency between the various Office programs.

Across all the Office programs, there is a new, softer look that subliminally suggests you can approach the new system comfortably. That new friendliness is true across all the applications, from the Outlook email program through Word, Excel and PowerPoint (the only applications I'm currently evaluating in Office Professional). This right-brain improvement in all the applications isn't something you'll see in feature checklists, or if you do it may sound like marketing hype. But seeing is believing.

On the consistency side, one of my past pet peeves with the Office suite was inconsistency. If I created a table in Word and imported it into PowerPoint, or vice versa, I'd always get something different. And if the direction was from Word to PowerPoint, I'd get a "dumbed down" table because that's all PowerPoint could handle. Now I've found that you can create complex (and beautiful) tables in PowerPoint with all the horizontal and vertical cell merges you want, and export them accurately into Word. Not only the power of the new table model, but this consistency across applications, is a very strong inducement to work with the new Office 2007.

Now it is Sunday evening, and it appears I spoke too soon about how well PowerPoint uses styles and its consistency. It appears that if you have existing objects (e.g., bullets) and change the bullet styles via the master, it doesn't apply those changes to the existing bullets, only to new ones. In fact, PowerPoint Help confirms this: "It is a good idea to create a slide master before you start to build individual slides, rather than after. When you create the slide master first, all of the slides that you add to your presentation are based on that slide master. However, if you create a slide master before you start to build individual slides, some of the items on the slides may not conform to the slide master design."

Thus IMHO, PowerPoint styles miss the point: A truly styles-based system would let you change your mind about the look and feel of a particular kind of object, then apply your change to all the objects of that type.

One last observation: Your editing view of PowerPoint slides, where you can see and edit the objects, is called "Normal." Why not "Draft," since Microsoft changed the name "Normal" to "Draft" for MS Word. Another inconsistency. Naughty naughty.