Learning any new product always takes time and effort and, as someone who teaches Windows desktop and Office, I am, of course, very interested in what it might be like to eventually teach Vista and Office 2007. As the Office suite has evolved over the years, and steadily increased in features and complexity, most people, myself included, have said to ourselves, “why have they done that or where have they moved that to?”, as new versions have arrived. On the one hand, it has frustrated the users and me on occasions. On the other hand, it all “made work for the working man to do” and kept me in business. Also, witness the fact that from a certification standpoint the MOS exams are version specific, which represents a challenge and an ongoing cost for those needing those qualifications to continue working.
So where will Vista and Office 2007 take us from a learning standpoint? After some frustration with getting Vista to “behave” long enough to really study things and to get Office 2007 to install at all, I have now had the opportunity to spend some quality time. Incidentally a change of hardware seems to have made the difference. The performance rating is the same but I suspect a change of mother board was the trick. That is good news for me but still begs the question whether Vista will continue to present some hardware compatibility issues.
It is always interesting to read the wildly diverse opinions on anything which is totally new. It is understandable that the corporate world might say, “oh no, yet more re-training cost when they see Vista and Office 2007”. The Office 2007 GUI is such a radical departure from previous versions with the switch to a contextual icon based environment from the traditional menus and toolbars. Another issue is backward compatibility wrt file formats; XML is now the thing! With the legacy investment in existing documents that looks like a huge cost and daunting task. I remember well when a company I worked for switched from Wordperfect to Word what a nightmare that was!! It is etched in my brain because I had to manage it. However, at some point we all have to try and take the 10,000′ view. For example, countries have faced changing over to the decimal system or changing from driving on the left to driving on the right. There had to be good reasons to do it. I seriously doubt that they remember the cost or the pain any more. Hopefully, they just see the ongoing benefits.
If we are to take Microsoft at their word, then the GUI change in Office had to come because each new version of Office further painted them into a corner, which became harder and harder to extend and maintain. As someone with some software development background, I know that there comes a point where every application has to be totally re-thought and probably totally re-written in order to move forward, and remain competitive. I have seen this first hand with software of my own and with major commercial software. The cost and prospect of doing it are generally quite frightening but putting it off only usually results in loss of credibility as a minimum and serious loss of business at worst. Will your customers welcome it with open arms? Not often! You have to count on them eventually seeing the potential for their business, ie. ROI. In other words you have a major selling job on your hands.
Having had some limited time with Office 2007, largely Word 2007 where much of the initial interest probably lies, I like it, I like it! It took me no time to put together a fairly sophisticated document with a whole variety of nice visual features, many of which are new to Office 2007. But will the average user like and readily adapt to it? I have the benefit of knowing the existing Office products quite well. So I can readily adapt. My feeling is that at first it will feel a little strange but the new GUI in the major Office products is definitely a lot more intuitive, and therefore potentially easy to learn. Once I got over my own initial personal enthusiasm about it, I suddenly had a slightly panicky feeling. When people had a hard time remembering how to do things, it gave me scope to teach them. Although hopefully I am not out of a job, I believe the teaching process is potentially a lot simpler and easier. In fact once they get the hang of it, I believe that people will be more in a position to be self teaching than in the past.
Vista presents different challenges. Many things are the same as XP but a lot is different, particularly navigating the file system. The focus is very much on “search”, which has its merits but I must admit I still like the good old Windows Explorer as per XP and before. I strongly suspect that the average user will too. However, all things can be re-learned and I have been playing with a new tool called, “Guided Help”. In fact I joined a Livemeeting presentation on this recently. For those of you don’t know what “Guided Help” is, it is basically a live animated tutorial on how to do something. You are shown step by step on the screen, either for demo purposes or it will actual carry it out for you. A simple example might be how to personalize the desktop. At the moment there are only a limited number of “scripts” but it is planned to have an online script source, which can be extended at will to meet the most demanded help features. I understand that there is the possibility of extending the same technology to the Office suite. So let’s just imagine the new intuitive GUI plus scripts to show you how to do things, or do it for you, that you can readily find by searching help. Now I am beginning to worry if eventually I will have a job!!!!!!
The people who are understandably concerned about the cost and disruption regarding change need to take a holistic view and see how this might eventually change the entire complexion of training and user help. Right now there are tools to take over the desktop to show users how to do something but if the support people could simply tell the users where to find a help script, it would be much simpler. Plus they can play it over and over again to learn themselves. One could argue that in time the “Help Desk” is potentially a thing of the past. I understand that there will also be a tool kit to permit companies to write and compile their own help scripts. Security is an important issue here since these scripts are capable of working live, ie. making actual changes that cannot be reversed in Vista. Office has the oops command but not in many cases in Vista! The “Guided Help” approach is still in its infancy but the potential looks very exciting. Just think, a better help system; how long have we been wanting that?
As I get more time with Vista and Office 2007 I will add more of my personal take on it. I have been deliberately a little controversial in the hope that it will instigate some useful debate. On a purely personal level, I believe that I am already gone :).