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Joel on Software

Even the Office 2007 box has a learning curve

by Joel Spolsky
Monday, August 20, 2007

I bought a retail copy of Office 2007 today (I'm loading up the new laptop I got for the world tour, which is a Thinkpad X61s), and I must be a complete spaz, but I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.

It's a hard plastic case, sealed in two different places by plastic stickies. It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things. To be technical about it, it has no true affordances and actually has some false affordances: visual clues as to how to open it that turn out to be wrong.

This is the same box that Vista comes in. Nick White over at Microsoft seems proud of the novel design, but from the comments on the web it seems I'm not the only one who couldn't figure out how to open it. It seems like even rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box that many people can't figure out how to open without a Google search is an unusually pathetic failure of design. As the line goes from Billy Madison: "I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Wasting five minutes trying to get the goddamned box open is just the first of many ways that Office 2007 and Vista's gratuitous redesign of things that worked perfectly well shows utter disregard for all the time you spent learning the previous versions.

I've tested Office 2007 extensively, and find it a tolerable replacement for the previous version, although it's extremely frustrating every time I have to spend several minutes finding something that I knew exactly how to find in the previous version. Even though there's no reason to upgrade to Office 2007, if you're setting up a new system, it's just as good as the previous version, even a little better in some places. But Vista is another story.

I've been using Vista on my home laptop since it shipped, and can say with some conviction that nobody should be using it as their primary operating system -- it simply has no redeeming merits to overcome the compatibility headaches it causes. Whenever anyone asks, my advice is to stay with Windows XP (and to purchase new systems with XP preinstalled).

PS The FogBugz 6.0 World Tour is filling up fast. Austin is already full. Vancouver, Seattle, Kitchener, and Irvine have just a few seats left. Sign up now!


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