Of my many talents, art is not on the list. I can't draw a stick figure that looks like a stick figure. Thankfully, the rest of the world is not like me. Yesterday, we launched The Art of Office, which is a website dedicated to, as the site says, 'pushing the boundaries of what can be done in Mac Office'. And you know what? There's some amazing artistic things that can be done in Office. This website showcases it.
The site is not an engineering effort, so it didn't impact our production schedule at all. Website gurus tend to have rather different skill sets than the guys who are working on the innards of Entourage or Word, and all of the artwork up there is community-generated.
I've been noticing several requests for us to add OneNote to our Mac product portfolio. I have some questions for those of you who want OneNote. Tell me how you have used OneNote. Where is it especially useful? How would you compare it to the Notebook Layout View in Word:Mac 2004? Be as explicit and detailed as possible!
I should say that, as a non-Windows user, I've never used it myself and have no personal opinion about it. I've heard good things about it from both Windows and Mac users, though, so I'm curious.
There are some great things about working for Microsoft. Yes, really. One of the great things about working here is dogfood. While dogfood might not sound appetizing, it really is quite nifty. Microsoft has a strong corporate culture of 'eating your own dogfood' -- that is, using the stuff that we're going to unleash onto the masses. We can't expect you to use it if we don't use it ourselves.
The practical upshot of this is, I get to use Microsoft technologies before other people do. I get early access to some cool stuff. One of the things that I've been playing with for a couple of weeks now has just been released out into the wild: Tafiti. It's a Silverlight-based front end for our search engine.
Since they're using Silverlight, they're able to have a pretty interesting user experience. There's a filter on the right side of the page for types of results (books, RSS feeds, news, images, etc). On the left, there's a shelf where you can drag interesting search results to keep them. There's a tree view to visualise your results, and you can grow or shrink the tree to show less or more of the results. It's a really well-done effect. When I first heard about it, I thought that I wouldn't like it because it would be too busy, but it looks nice and proves helpful when looking at some results.
I'm not sure if Tafiti is going to replace my usual searching. But I have been using it relatively frequently for the past couple of weeks, so maybe I'll find that it does fit a need for me. I see that there's a podcast on Channel 9 about platform incubation and Tafiti, so I'll go add that to my listening queue.
Oh, in case you're curious about the name Tafiti, it's Swahili for 'do research'. It's making me want to research a holiday in Tahiti. How much vacation time do I have left this year?
This morning, I found myself in yet another hotel room, staring bleary-eyed at the shower. I'm not a morning person. My brain doesn't begin working until post-shower at the absolute earliest, and often it requires both a shower and a coffee to get anywhere near functional. This means that figuring out the shower in a hotel room is almost beyond my morning mental capacity.
The taps in a shower are a really bad user experience. They're not standardised at all. The taps in this hotel room at the Westin in Bellevue, Washington, are nothing like the taps in a hotel room at the W in San Francisco. Every time I encounter a hotel room, I have to determine how to take a hot (not cold, not burning) shower. The taps don't give me an indication of how to work them. I have to figure out which way to turn them. This is mostly standardised, but not quite, as I discovered in a hotel room a few weeks ago. Then I have to figure out what the range is on the tap. The taps in this particular hotel room have a range of about 25 degrees of rotation, but the Westin in the Boston suburbs that I stayed in a couple of weeks ago on had taps with a range of over 90 degrees of rotation. And then I have to wait for the hot water to appear. Sometimes I think that I've adjusted the shower to the right temperature, hop in, and get scalded a couple of minutes later when the water temperature catches up to where I've unknowingly set it. It's a wonder that I make it out the door of my hotel room alive.
At home, the problem isn't any different, but I'm trained. I know where to set the tap to get a shower of the right temperature for my shower. I've been showering in that particular shower once a day for the past four years, so my pre-shower brain doesn't have to engage to figure out how to set the taps in the morning.
Wouldn't it be nice if there were a button near your shower that you could push and it would automatically give you a shower of the right water temperature? My car remembers where I like the seats, why can't my shower remember how hot I like the water to be?
Today, I noticed an article in Information Week titled Businesspeople Face Steep Learning Curve with iPhone, which discusses a usability test conducted against the iPhone from a company called User Centric, Inc. This is excellent timing. I've had a post banging around the inside of my head about the difference between usability and usage, and here's a great example of the difference.
Jakob Nielsen says that usability is defined by the following five quality components:
These five quality components are measured in most standard usability tests, with a heavy focus on the first three components. You can get a snapshot of the latter two, but this snapshot doesn't necessarily measure them in a meaningful way. Remembering how to do a task ten minutes after I've done it the first time is very different than having to remember how to do a task ten weeks after I've done it the first time. Likewise, my level of satisfaction changes over time. I could have been absolutely over the moon about a feature when I first encountered it, but somehow grew annoyed by it or found that it wasn't as useful a few weeks later.
That is the difference between usability and usage. Usability is measured up-front, and is often a first impression. Usage, on the other hand, is measured over time. Both have their place. If you can't use a feature right out-of-the-box, it's unlikely that you're ever going to get over that initial hurdle.
This iPhone study is a great example of the difference between the two. It specifically compares the usability of an iPhone with the usage of existing phones (both standard 12-button cell phones and smartphones with a QWERTY keyboard). They recruited for users who text frequently on their existing phone, and asked them to do the same tasks on an iPhone and on their own phone. It is entirely unsurprising that users couldn't text on the iPhone as well as they could on their own phones. After all, they know their own phone quite well, and they're frequent texters. Using something entirely new, which has a completely different model of use, will obviously present them with problems. They had expectations based on their current usage of their existing devices, and those expectations don't match up with the iPhone.
These types of studies are pretty common in usability circles. Many competitive usability studies are built around this model: take users of an existing piece of software, and give them tasks against both that software and a competing piece of software that they've never used before. It's a great way to collect feedback about what people like and don't like about both pieces of software. It also helps you to identify places where you might need to overcome the initial usability issues inherent in transferring from one technology to another, and where you'll have to do something to either make the learning curve flatter or to make the learning curve seem like less of an obstacle.
The important thing to remember about this kind of comparison of usage and usability is that it's only a first impression of whatever you're doing the usability test of. In many cases, it is the first stepping stone to doing more work and developing a greater understanding of the differences between two products. User Centric, Inc, says in their iPhone study FAQ that they plan to do further work about iPhone usage. To quote from the FAQ, '[w]e may find that iPhone users with experience may be more efficient, but we need to do the study first'.
I'll be interested to see future studies of iPhone use. I'd love to know if an experienced iPhone user is still slower at texting than a similarly experienced smartphone user, not to mention how satisfied each of them are with their experience. This is the first step towards understanding the difference between iPhone usability and iPhone usage, but it is by no means the last one.
We've just added a new Program Manager to our team. Welcome Gavin Shearer to the MacBU. He used to work on that other Microsoft Office suite, but he's decided to come over to the promised land. He seems to be a smart guy, he's already figured out ten things not to say in the MacBU. We'll see how long it takes for him to figure out items 11 through 20 ...
For the rest of you who want to join us, you can keep an eye on Microsoft Careers. Since we're so heads-down on shipping Office 2008, we don't have much open right now (but we do have a few). You'll see more openings as we get closer to launching Office 2008 and the rest of the team begins to ramp up on the next version of Office.
I hadn't noticed that some of the best pieces of Mac geek humour have made it up onto YouTube. WWDC attendees have all heard of (and hopefully been treated to a performance by) James Dempsey and the Breakpoints. You can check out The MVC Song, I Love View (in beta at the time of its performance), and Release Me (out-of-date now with the new garbage collection in Objective-C 2.0, but it does feature the audience joining in on the chorus).
Sadly, I'm stuck linking to YouTube. Dear Apple: You guys would make at least a couple of bucks if you'd let me buy these on the iTunes Store.
So, fellow Mac geeks, a question for you: what are your favourite pieces of Mac geek humour?
It was bound to happen sooner or later, but, as Fake Steve himself (in his real persona) says: 'I knew it couldn't stay anonymous forever'. The New York Times is the one who broke the story: A Mystery Solved.
Fake Steve: Really, please keep it up. Your blog is one of my favourites. You do a great job. I'm going to pretend that I don't know who you are (and, you'll note, I haven't referred to you by your real name in this post).
We've made the difficult decision to delay Office:Mac 2008. We're targeting Macworld Expo in January for its general release. Craig (who's certainly earning his paycheque this week) posted to our blog at 5:20 this morning: Office 2008 Coming January 2008.
We've been caught in a Catch-22. If we shipped this year as originally planned, we wouldn't've had the quality that we wanted. We would have been stuck in a firestorm of negative feedback that Microsoft (and, more specifically, MacBU) can't get anything right. But delaying the release means that we're still in the same firestorm of negative feedback, and it has remarkably the same content.
This is one of the costs of making software that is highly visible and is used by millions of people. We'll weather this firestorm, and release Office:Mac 2008 when it's ready. Doing anything else would harm our customers.