Last week, Microsoft hosted the MVP Global Summit here on campus in Redmond.  After a summer of beautiful weather, it turned nasty and rained on the MVPs most of the time they were here.  Luckily, we don't normally do technical sessions outdoors!

Attending the Summit were several hundred Office specialists, either affiliated with a specific product or technology (e.g. an Outlook MVP or a Word MVP) or the whole Office System (an Office MVP.)  I had the opportunity to brief all of the Office-related MVPs as part of their opening technical keynote along with Steven Sinofsky and Brian Jones.  I was supposed to talk for 90 minutes, but with questions, I ended up being on stage almost 2.5 hours.

The topic, of course, was the new Office 12 UI.  I had a little bit of worry going into the talk--the MVPs are a passionate bunch and they know more about our products than anyone in the world.  They are the most elite of power users and the "word on the street" coming into that first day was that they had seen the screenshots up on and weren't sold on the idea.  Concerns and doubts were raised in the private MVP newsgroups about our direction based on the screenshots they'd seen.

But I also knew that the MVPs were fair and that they'd give us a reasonable chance to demonstrate the new UI and talk about the reasons behind our bet to go forward with it.  Most of them hadn't actually played with the product yet, and so were going pretty much on a few screen captures.  So, I felt a lot of pressure to show the depth of Office 12, to show the capabilities of the new UI and the richness of what you can do with it.  I knew I had to explain in detail why we were undertaking the redesign, and all of the detailed thinking that has gone into it.

The last day of the Summit, Saturday, concluded with an open microphone Q&A session with Steven Sinofsky.  To my delight, nicer, more positive things couldn't have been said about the new user interface.  There are, of course, a few areas which the MVPs made abundantly clear they want us to continue refining--but overall it was a total 360 reversal.  These were our most grizzled Office veterans, who know every nook and cranny of the current products--and they were totally on board for the change we're making and totally jazzed about the product in a way they weren't at all before the Summit.  Several said that they're more excited about Office 12 than anything Microsoft's done in the last decade.

Steven asked the MVPs what caused them to have such a big turnaround on the UI, and they had two great pieces of feedback that we need to take to heart.

  1. You have to explain why you're changing the UI, not just how you're changing it.

    The Monday series I've started posting here is the "blog version" of the first 30 minutes of the talk I gave for the MVPs, but they've convinced us we need to do even more education.  So look for more materials around this available in the near future.  We're going to do everything we can to help you understand our thought process and how the new UI paves the way for another decade of innovation on the Office platform.  Most people who learn about why we're making the change come away understanding the benefits and excited about the product direction.
  2. Still shots of the UI don't do it justice--make everyone see it in action.

    One MVP went so far to say that we should actually take down all our screenshots and make everyone watch a video of how it works.  It's clear that people who see the UI live are way more jazzed than people who just see screenshots and so, while Julie's video is a good start, we need to do a lot more in this area.  I started by making a little video which you'll see on this site Thursday.  (Don't get too excited, it's only 24 seconds long.)

As always, a big thank you to the MVPs for their passion about our products and their always candid and often prescient feedback.  And it was a special treat to get to end the Summit with Steven letting out another of the cats we've had in the bag for some time now: that the Office 12 apps can natively save as PDF.