"Change is not always progress....A fever of newness has been everywhere confused with the spirit of progress."
-- Henry Ford
Every business yearns to have "raving fans." These are the people who tell the world how great your business is. In the software world, sometimes you hear these folks referred to as "evangelists." Often software evangelists will provide free tech support on bulletin boards or discussion groups online. They'll write blog posts, articles, books and ebooks about how to use the software.
The amount of money a merry band of evangelists can save a software company is staggering. Big Software Company has to hire fewer technical support people and documentation writers. Why? Because evangelists are providing these services for free simply because they love the product.
Evangelists love figuring out all the nuances of the software and how to make it jump through elaborate hoops. Often these raving fans know as much or more about how to use the software than most of the developers. They figure out creative solutions to real-world problems that were never even a gleam in a software programmer's eye.
Here's what baffles me. If you have evangelists like this, why would you ever want to piss them off?
I believe that is what has happened with Office 2007. Microsoft seems mystified that people aren't rushing to upgrade. But I think the reason is obvious. In one cataclysmically bad upgrade, Microsoft managed to throw away virtually all the standards those evangelists and other power users have taken years to learn.
In Microsoft-land, evangelists are known as MVPs, which stands for Most Valuable Professional. I was an MVP in Word in 1996. I freely gave advice and assistance in support forums and was awarded recognition by Microsoft for helping out their customers.
I got my first glimpse of Word 2007 a couple weeks ago. A friend had it loaded on her laptop. She said, "I can't figure out how to create a new file." Here's the pathetic thing: neither could I!
When it takes a former MVP, 10 minutes of clicking around to finally figure out that the dopey logo button at the top of the page is how you access the New dialog, it should indicate a problem. I mean, what on earth was so hard about choosing File|New?
This type of mystery meat navigation drives me nuts. I've been using Windows software pretty much since there has been Windows software to use. If I can't figure out how to do something as simple as creating a new file, there's really something wrong. Apparently, the new interface is the result of many focus groups. I'm guessing the focus groups were made of up people who had never seen Word (or maybe even Windows) before.
Word is a mature product now. Most people using it have been using it for a long time. By catering Word 2007 changes to the needs of new users, Microsoft has completely alienated its existing user base in the process. It's a breathtakingly stupid move.
If Microsoft wants people like me to upgrade, I suggest they add some backward compatibility options to the user interface. After all, they added Word Perfect help when they wanted all those users to convert over.
Otherwise, Office 2007 could be the best thing that could ever happen to Open Office.
Editor, Computor Companion