Microsoft learns less is more

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I haven’t really had the exposure to the next version of Microsoft Office to make any definitive statements about any features contained in the Universal version of Microsoft’s office productivity suite slated for release in the second half of 2007. A 30-minute demo and a fleeting glance at publicly available materials are hardly enough basis to declare, with any amount of certainty, if Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is going to be a dream or a dud.

I do feel comfortable saying this, however: Based on what I’ve seen thus far, Microsoft clearly understands that the biggest problem with Office is not some sort of missing feature or capability, but rather, the fact that many users are unaware that features and capabilities they’re demanding already exist. By using this Office update to emphasize “discoverability”—this is a polite way of saying, “Your program is so massive, I have no idea how to make it do the things I want it to do”—Microsoft is acknowledging that it doesn’t need to emphasize new features in Office 2008. Rather, it needs to make it easier for us mortals to access the features that already exist.

That is why, when you open the upcoming update to Word, you’ll find a feature like Microsoft’s Elements Gallery, a sort of submenu that gives you quick and easy access to pre-formatted documents, tables, charts, and the like. Or why Office 2008 adds something Microsoft dubs the Publishing Layout View, which is a special workspace in Word for creating content-rich documents through pre-built templates and drag-and-drop graphics. (My notes about this feature contain the phrase “Kinda looks like Pages ” in all caps and underlined several times, just to give you an idea of what Microsoft may be aiming for here.)

I cannot say it any more plainly: the Mac version of Office needs to add more features like Bill Gates needs another federal anti-trust probe. The next version of Office simply needs to run well on Intel-based Macs, and it needs to make it easier to access the tools the suite already offers. Microsoft seems to understand this, and that can only be considered an encouraging development.

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