Last week during Macworld Expo, we formally announced details about Magnesium. The real name will be Office 2008, and we're releasing it in the second half of this year. We shared some screenshots with the press, and ran demos in our booth. Our Office 2008 demos were always standing-room-only, and people seemed pretty excited about it.
I think that the Microsoft blog over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the best collection of screenshots in one place: Friday photo gallery: Office 2008 for Mac preview. There's several other press stories out there, but I'll leave finding those as an exercise for the reader.
Of course, these are just screenshots, so there's a lot of detail that's missing. I'll be talking more about Office 2008 in the next few months as we get closer to its launch. I'll probably talk more about it in Mac Mojo.
The last major thing that I did, before disappearing for most of December, was to attend a seminar given by Edward Tufte. Tufte is a professor at Yale, and author of several books related to information architecture. The New York Times has famously called him the 'Leonardo da Vinci of data'. Geeks tend to know him for his criticism of PowerPoint. He frequently gives one-day seminars around the country. When I saw that he was coming to San José, I decided to see what it was all about.
I walked in reasonably familiar with his work. This turned out to be a negative point for me, since the course almost exclusively consisted of him directing the class to flip to another example in one of his books as he walked us through it. All questions were answered with a pointer to something in one of the books, which did nothing more than shortchange both the person asking the question and Tufte himself. My impression, after watching this happen a few times, was that Tufte only acts as an index to his books when asked a question , but does his real thinking about such things behind-the-scenes. In many respects, the seminar didn’t feel so much like a seminar as it did an extended infomercial for his books. But I like the books and think that they have a lot to offer, so I can’t entirely complain.
One thing that struck me was reading other reviews of his course. It appears that it hasn’t changed significantly in the past few years, other than the latest addition of sparklines (from his book Beautiful Evidence). If I wasn’t paying attention to the dateline on the other reviews, I would have thought that they were all from this same class that I took.
In all, if you’re not already familiar with his books but want to learn more about information architecture and how to present information in a manner that is easily understandable by your audience, this is a good course to take. Given that you get copies of four of his books, the price tag for the course isn’t very high at all. But if you’ve already read one or more of his books, then there’s very little for you to learn here. It’s somewhat useful to have him go through some of his examples in detail, but not really enough to justify the day-long session. Unless you subscribe to the Tufte-is-a-rockstar idea, in which case it’s worth it just to go to watch him be himself and get him to autograph your books.
 I can't take credit for calling him an index to his own books. A friend who attended the same seminar on the following day was the one who said that.
Book title: iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon
Author: Steve Wozniak
I really wanted to like this book. Woz is a geek icon, after all, and the early stories of his life and inventions are the stuff of legend. They had to be better coming straight from the horse's mouth, right?
The stories themselves are interesting: redesigning commercial devices on paper to reduce the number of chips, why colour was so important to him, knocking together Breakout in a few sleepless days, making the Apple I. And there's all of Woz's pranks over the years.
But the problem is, Woz just doesn't have the gift of storytelling. All through the book, I felt like I was simply reading a transcription of stories that he's been telling in person every time he speaks for the past 20 years. (Reading the afterword, I'm pretty sure that I'm right on this regard.) Okay, so they were scrubbed for um and ah, but that's about it. It gives the book a conversational tone that makes me feel like he's skipping over all the really interesting stuff.
With the loving touch of a good editor, this could have been a much better book. As it stands now, it's simply disappointing. It was immensely repetitive, with one particularly egregious case being a story repeated four pages later. There wasn't nearly enough about the early days of Apple, nor about Woz's departure from the company. The tone of the book was entirely too self-congratulatory, with hardly a page going by where Woz didn't say how clever he is. It trails off post-Apple.
If you're interested in the history of computing, and specifically Woz's contribution to it, there are many other places to start that will give you a much better picture. Read this book only after you've read those.
Amazon's page about this book
Last week, Steve Jobs finally gave us the iPhone. In the keynote address, he took 80 minutes to introduce the iPhone, talk about its features, and give a demo. I watched this closely. Not only am I in the market for a smartphone of some sort, but they've done some really interesting UX things. All of my thoughts are from watching the keynote demo. I'm not cool enough to have been able to actually touch the iPhone. (Le sigh.)
First of all, as I've already been anonymously quoted elsewhere, one of the major changes that I noticed in the iPhone is a change in scrolling behaviour. On the iPhone, to access the next page of content (for example, in your address book), you swipe up on the iPhone's screen. I don't disagree with this as a usage metaphor for the phone, but it's definitely something where my gut feeling is to take it into the usability lab to see what happens when people use it. Not to say that Apple hasn't; obviously, I have no idea what kind of research they've done.
An omission from the UI of the apps on the iPhone is scrollbars. This could be related to the swiping -- if you put scrollbars in, would people expect to use them by grabbing them and pulling down? But the omission of scrollbars makes it impossible to judge how much information you have in the application that you're viewing. In your address book, do you have 20 entries or 200? Is it faster for me to swipe a few times to jump to the names starting with D, or should I hit the D button to get there?
For iPhone apps which don't have a desktop brother, this isn't as much of a concern. But for apps which do have a desktop brother, will people expect them to operate the same as the desktop version? The iPhone version of Safari (iSafari?) is another application where you can't tell how much information is 'below the fold', and it obviously has a desktop big brother. Will Safari users be confused by iSafari? Will users of other web browsers be confused?
Speaking of iSafari, the whole-page view of a standard website instead of a mobile one is interesting. During the keynote, Steve Jobs said that you saw the whole page, just like you would in Safari, and then you can zoom in. I think of it as a snapshot. What resolution are they assuming for that snapshot? There's a big difference between 640 and 1280. Maybe for iSafari, they're assuming 800, since many websites are optomised for that width. Or perhaps they've got something algorhythmically going on behind-the-scenes. It raises intersting questions if other apps make iPhone versions: what would the iPhone version of Word look like? (This isn't to say that we're doing an iPhone version of Word, or even that it's possible. Remember, this is one week after the Stevenote and several months before the actual release of the iPhone, so we don't have that kind of information yet, and certainly haven't made product decisions of that magnitude.)
During the keynote, Steve made fun of people using their recent calls history to make phone calls. I admit, I'm one of the people who does that. But much of the reason that I do it is because I have a couple hundred entries in my phone book, and I haven't bothered to set up my speed dial. (I know, I know.) But in his demo, I didn't see why scrolling through the address book was any better. I still have to scroll through my whole address book to find the right person. I really hope that the iPhone team didn't overlook speed dial!
I wonder if I am stuck with all of their apps and widgets. I really don't need yet another stock ticker in my life. (Really, why does everyone give me a stock ticker? I don't watch my stocks minute-by-minute.) I'd like to be able to remove apps like that so that my iPhone isn't cluttered up with apps that I won't ever use. I realise that Apple wants to control the behaviour of the phone, but I'll be at least a little bit annoyed if I have to see that bloody stock ticker every time I hit the 'home' button.
Physically, I like the looks of the iPhone. It's sleek. The lack of a hard keyboard makes that sleekness possible. But I have to admit that I'm not convined by the use of a soft (that is, on-screen only) keyboard. It takes you longer to key in something when you're using a soft keyboard. Diehard BlackBerry users can get some amazing speeds on their devices, and SMS users can key in whole novels (punctuated by LOL and so on) in a few seconds on a standard 12-key phone keypad. Will these users accept the loss of productivity imposed upon them by a soft keyboard? Will new smartphone users be annoyed that it takes them a couple of minutes to finger-tap in a new email message? Will everyone be annoyed that this is a phone that's largely impossible to use one-handedly?
Will I buy one? I haven't decided yet. There are some things that I really like about it. Visual voicemail means that I don't have to listen to that two-minute message from my mom and jump to the one from my manager instead. But some of the limitations of the device (EDGE only, for example) make me think that I should get another smartphone now (the Cingular 8525 is my current top choice), get a one-year contract for it, and wait to see what v2 of the iPhone is like. I'm undecided if that's what I'll do, so I'll just continue to curse my existing flip phone.
Right after yesterday's Stevenote, I was standing in the Moscone Centre with a bunch of my fellow MacBU members (MacBUers? I don't think we've got a good collective noun for ourselves). My manager asked me what I thought of the UX of the new iPhone. I told him that the first thing that I noticed was the scrolling on it. He hadn't noticed it and said that he thought that it was the same as he was used to on standard Mac applications. 'No, no,' I told him, 'he was pushing up to scroll down'.
After I got back from the Macworld Blast party last night (ears still ringing from Cheap Trick), I scrolled through my RSS reader to see what the buzz was like. It turns out that someone from the Cult of Mac blog overheard me talking to my co-workers. Heh. I hope I didn't sound like my wrist was stapled to my forehead! My only despair would be that my manager didn't notice the scrolling during the demo.
I read all sorts of Mac sites, but my hands-down favourite for the past several months has been The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. Aside from being quite entertaining, it's been oddly informative.
Peace out, Fake Steve. You'll be missed.
Maybe you didn't realise this, but going to MWSF is living the rockstar life. Well, okay, maybe that's a bit strong, but you do get to both start the day off and close out the day with live music. My morning (after a couple of small announcements from the folks over at Apple Inc today) started off with seeing John Mayer, and ended up with Cheap Trick. (I have to admit that I knew that it was Cheap Trick as the special musical guest at the Macworld Blast party tonight because the guitarist was behind me in the queue for the keynote this morning.)
So with that as my bookends for today, how did it go? Pretty good. My feet are immensely sore right now, but I'd probably be disappointed if they weren't sore. I got to finally meet some great people in person today, not the least of which are some co-workers from Redmond that I only know from email. (With as much as I travel, it's hard to believe that I've missed meeting Redmonders, but there they were.)
Working at the main booth today was quite a lot of fun. Really, it is. Even though I somehow lost my voice about a half-hour into my booth shift, I kept on talking. Well, I tried to listen more than talk, but that's not always possible when someone says something like, 'so tell me about Project Centre'. Which I can do, in detail, since I use it to keep myself on track. But, losing my voice aside (and I really have no idea why I've lost my voice, I feel fine), spending a day in the booth is a great opportunity for me to meet users and find out what's on their minds. Mostly, what seemed to be on people's minds today is when the next version is coming out, and I'm glad to be able to officially say that Office:Mac 2008 will launch in the second half of 2007.
In case you haven't noticed, there have been a few posts over at Mac Mojo today, including a notice that our latest update is available and fixes an Entourage bug. There will be more during the week, since several of us are here and hanging out in the blogger booth (including me on Wednesday from 3-5pm). We've talked to a lot of the press about Office:Mac 2008, so look for their news reports, and we'll probably be posting more to Mac Mojo to talk more about what didn't make it into their stories.
Just a reminder ... I'm hanging out this afternoon from 3-5pm at the blogger lounge. Come over and say hi. I'll have a few tote bags with me, and I'll give them out to the first people who talk to me. :)
Here's what I'm planning to be doing at MWSF:
Come swing by and say hi!