I’ve been an avid Microsoft Office fan since Office 97 first hit the shelves. There’s a good reason Microsoft’s flagship office suite has commanded the number one position for well over a decade: it’s the best tool to get things done easily and quickly. Office leads, the others follow and this was even more true with the release of Office 2007 and its groundbreaking Ribbon UI.
Well that was then. I’ve just spent two weeks playing with the new Office 2013 preview release and I have to be brutally honest: I hate it. And that’s really disappointing because there are some really exciting and useful new features provided here that would be a lot of fun if only Microsoft could get off the Metro UI kick it’s on right now.
The Good Bits
Office 2013 introduces a number of new features. Singling out a few at random:
- Comment tracking in Office allows comments from multiple authors to be tracked like a message board conversation.
- Log in to Microsoft’s Online Services to take advantage of file storage, collaboration and editing documents anywhere via the browser
- The File tab is simple while allowing you to open documents from almost any conceivable location easily (see image below)
- Sometimes it’s the little bits of polish that make a nice impression. Changing the cell selection in Excel results in a subtle animation as the selected cell highlight shifts to your selection
- You can import a PDF directly into Word, edit it as a Word document and then save it as either a Word doc or a PDF
- Alignment guides for images and content, “resume reading” feature for picking up where you left off in a previously-closed document, share documents directly with your Facebook friends (for example), and so on and so on…
So this is by no means just some routine update because it’s been a couple of years and hey – we should probably do one. There’s a lot of really good stuff in there.
The Bad Bits
First and foremost I just can’t get past the UI. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Microsoft are pushing hard to compete with Apple and make sure that their Windows operating system translates well to not only desktop environments but tablets and phones too. This has brought an “authentically digital” UI / UX design approach which I’m largely supportive of – especially for touch devices. Where this falls down however is in areas of complex UI where there are a lot of buttons or commands. There was a huge outcry when Visual Studio 11 was released as a public beta utilising the new Metro UI and the Visual Studio team were forced to back-track and introduce more colour.
Office doesn’t suffer from the same monochromatic malady but in trying to accommodate more space for touch devices and leaning the iconography toward the Metro “simplicity” of design, my personal feeling is that this simplification has left the user with icons that are less meaningful and an overall UI that is devoid of almost any contrast, creating a uniformly bland experience that significantly reduces the intuitiveness and intent behind the homogeneous display.
Compare the two images below for Word; Word 2013 being the upper image.
The other bug I’ve struck is trying to edit charts in Excel. Currently I’m unable to update any of the text components of any chart (e.g. titles, legend labels, etc). This is likely to be a bug that would be resolved before release to market in any case but it’s certainly an odd one.
Overall Office 2013 is a good release with enough compelling new features that I’d almost consider the upgrade but at the end of the day, I find the usability to have suffered such that using this new version just wouldn’t feel comfortable or natural the way Office 2010 or 2007 do.
I’d love to know if I’m on my own here or if your experience matches mine.