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Doug's Mailbag: Supporting Service Packs, Outsourcing Dissected, Ribbon Hate Continues

We start Friday's mailbag with a comment on the shelf life of Windows' Service Pack support:

Service Packs are FREE and operating systems which are not at the latest patch-level -- including service packs (which are mostly bundled security patches) -- pose a threat not just to the users of those systems but to all systems on the same network.

Despite the naysayers, Microsoft has always been reasonable about troubleshooting support, has (unlike Applicationle) always provided free patches and service packs. Aside from emergency troubleshooting, Microsoft is right to tell mean to install the latest service pack. There is no reason not to.
- C. Mark

One reader gives insight on why a huge company like Microsoft would start outsourcing its IT help desk:

My company has started to outsource a few internal IT application locations. A couple being Blackberry Support and Spam filtering. I am sure there will be more to come.

As far as Microsoft outsourcing their IT, I am not surprised at all. Look at Microsoft PSS support; it has been so poor for the past couple of years, what's the point of calling when you can get most issues resolved by using Google or other third-party sites like Experts Exchange?

And finally, here are a couple more responses to the Office ribbon hot-topic Doug wrote about in April's Redmond magazine:

I thought, way back when, part of the sales pitch for Windows was that all applications were going to have the same interface and look, making training easier. You know in general what's under file, edit, view, etc. so you were going to be more productive. Now they throw that away. Count me in for "classic" Office, not "new" Office. I do think they make these changes just to have something else to sell. How much grief and costs are involved with forced upgrades? Win 7 on your new machine? Now you need to buy a new printer, new version of that application you've been using for years, etc. Oh, and now that file you mail to someone else won't open because they have an older version of that same application.

Sometimes I am embarrassed being in this industry. Like new tax laws, accountants and lawyers -- job security is for the friends of legislators. 

I've used Office 2007 for over a year now, so I feel comfortable that I have "given it a fair shake." I like a few things, but despise most of it. And this is after reading extensive blogs and interviews by Jensen Harris and other Microsoft employees who foisted this upon us, to try to understand their rationale and vision.

Here's what I like:

  • The size of the buttons change as the window size changes -- no more "buttons off the window" problem for any reasonably sized window. This was the one really good idea.
  • The previous worst idea ever: the Office 2003 menus that were different every time you open them, defeating muscle memory quite handily, has at least been killed off.

Here's what I hate:

  • The organization is illogical. For example, to insert a slide into a PowerPoint deck, do NOT go to Insert; instead, go to Home and select New Slide. Add-ins go onto a special "Add-Ins" tab, instead of where the functionality they represent would logically be found as with the old menu system. (For example, SnagIt should be under Insert, since it "inserts" a screenshot -- get it?)
  • The ribbon is memory-deficient. For example, if I resize the object palette in the Drawing section of the Home tab in PowerPoint, the next time I open it, it's back to Microsoft's favorite size and shape. Why am I permitted to resize it if it just snaps back to the way it was when I let go?
  • The implementation is inconsistent. The ribbon eliminated menus -- except that the round orb with the Office logo is now used for the File menu, it's just a lot harder to find now. Using Office 2007 means using the ribbon when editing an e-mail instead of using the tried-and-true buttons when managing e-mails.
  • Critical features are now hard to reach. For example, aligning objects is now three clicks down. And if I want to align the top and the left, it's a total of six clicks. This is not more efficient than having buttons right there when I need them.
  • It's almost customization-free. I can't move the object alignment buttons to somewhere sane. I can't create a new tab with all of my key macros on it -- only what I can fit on the little bulb thingy next to the secret File menu. I can't move New Slide to the Insert tab. Every brain-dead decision Microsoft made is chiseled into ribbon granite.
  • It infantilizes the user. With the menu system invented by Xerox, keyboard shortcuts are clearly spelled out on the menu itself. Thus over time, for example, a user learns to hit Control-B for bold, or Control-V to paste. People are allowed to learn. The ribbon ensures that the user must rely on his mouse for the rest of his life -- unless, I suppose, he pays Microsoft for a class in how to become more computer-literate.
  • The menus are just too freaking big. Just as Microsoft is intent to more than consume increasingly fast processor power and memory with bigger software, they seem determined to fill up my larger monitors with even more of their stuff. So I get a faster computer with more memory and a huge display, and it runs slower, exhausts memory sooner, and displays less of the stuff I bought the computer to actually develop. Isn't this backwards?

Whenever I complain about the many problems with the ribbon design, I'm told "in time you'll get used to it." No I won't. The ribbon is illogical, not configurable, inconsistent, inefficient, insulting to learning-capable adults and just too darned big. It was a bad idea that Microsoft should abandon.

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Posted by Doug Barney on April 23, 2010