go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

September, 2007

  • go ahead, mac my day

    10 years of being the crazy ones

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    Today is the tenth anniversary of Apple's famous 'Think Different' ad campaign. We've got dozens of those posters on our hallways. When I interviewed here (which reminds me, my second anniversary is next week), I remember being pleasantly surprised at how many of them were decorating the walls. Those posters and a few 'I don't do Windows' trinkets were part of what made my decision to accept the job offer easier.

    To honour the tenth anniversary of thinking differently, I helped Blair (one of our PowerPoint program managers) with a survey of MacBU about the posters to learn what makes them resonate with us. Blair pulled some quotes from that survey and posted the results in Mac Mojo in a post titled Here's to the Crazy Ones.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    hope springs eternal for Newton lovers

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    One of my favourite recurring Apple rumours is that the Newton is just about to be resurrected. It's a favourite of mine because I've been a long-time PDA user (only retiring my Palm T3 when it crashed horribly and lost all of my data), so I've long held on to the idea that Apple could do something interesting here again. Of course, now that I'm a proud iPhone user, I think that a couple of good software updates could completely meet my needs. Start with notes sync, add a to-do app, and I'm most of the way there.

    The latest hopeful entry in the Newton saga comes to us courtesy of AppleInsider: Up next for Apple: the return of the Newton. Reading the story felt familiar, like wearing my favourite sweater. I sometimes wonder if the rumour sites have set up scripts to post some of their top chestnuts again on slow news days.

    Is there a longer-lasting rumour than the Newton resurrection one?

  • go ahead, mac my day

    a delicate balancing act

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    If you ever want to get an idea of the complexity of determining what should go into Office, you can read the blog comments in Mac Mojo. The comments there are a pretty interesting snapshot of the multitude of directions that we're pulled in.

    As of this writing, my most recent post there has 30 comments. One person asks, 'Seriously, does anybody really care about anything but Exchange support?' Someone responded, 'Well, I don't care at all about Exchange support, since there isn't an Exchange server anywhere around.' In another line of commentary, someone says, 'I use office daily, and having it be more usable and mac-like is fantastic.' But then someone else says, 'Honestly, I'd love to have the identical program available on both platforms with absolutely no difference between the two.'

    Those are just four blog comments plucked out of the comments to one post. I could spend hours finding examples of comments just in the team blog that identify places where we receive directly conflicting feedback. That's just the blog comments. Now add in the research that I do, the research we get from other places in the organisation (product planning, for example), other sources of feedback.

    When I interview candidates for program management or user experience positions, I usually throw a question about handling conflicting feedback at them: some users say [this], other users say [that], how do you make a decision? (So now you know something you might hear from me if you were to interview with me!) Answering this question is an important part of what we do here.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    sneaky peeking for Office:Mac 2008

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    Over in Mac Mojo, I have just posted about the evolution of software, specifically focusing on how the user experience of Office 2008 has evolved. Yes, there's a screenshot. :)

    If you pay close attention to the links in that post, you'll notice one for the Office 2008 sneak peek website. That site has videos about some of the new features that are coming in Office 2008. We'll be posting more details about these features to Mac Mojo in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    for the love of my Mac

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    I sometimes get questions from users, asking why we have Mac-only features in Office:Mac. Mac-only features are important to us. We're Mac users ourselves, so plugging into some of the technologies that make the Mac platform great is something that we want to do both for ourselves and for our users. They don't impact our file format at all. We want to be a great office suite and a great Mac citizen.

    We have a lot in common with our Windows Office counterparts. We're trying to solve many of the same problems. But our users are different. Mac users have different expectations for interacting with software. To be a good Mac citizen, we honour those differences. Windows applications don't use Preferences, for example. (This always trips me up when I have to use a Windows computer!) We do a lot of research to ensure that what we provide is relevant to our Mac users, which means that there is some divergence between Windows Office and Mac Office.

    Creating applications that are cross-platform poses some interesting challenges, most of which aren't obvious to the end-user. We take advantage of the technologies that are part of the Mac platform. Some of these are deeply integrated into OS X, such as Core Graphics. Not supporting these technologies would make for a pretty horrible user experience -- performance would suffer, and the pixels that we paint on your screen wouldn't look as good.

    Spotlight and AppleScript are two more great examples of OS X technologies that we support. You can search all of your Office documents via the system Spotlight search. We had to do a lot of work to enable Spotlight searching in Entourage 2004, but this feature is one that is much appreciated by our Tiger users. We provide lots of AppleScript support across the suite, and have done so for several releases. The breadth and depth of third-party AppleScript solutions is almost beyond belief. I'm beginning to think that there isn't anything that a great AppleScripter can't do. It's just amazing.

    We have new Mac-only features coming in Office 2008. We've improved our AppleScript support. As those of you who came by our booth at Macworld Expo earlier this year know, we're building on this AppleScript support to provide Automator actions. You'll be able to automate tasks that use all Office apps, as well as any other application that has Automator actions. We're going to build in some Automator workflows so that you can get an idea of what's possible. As with AppleScript, though, there's plenty of room for you to build all sorts of new workflows. I can't wait to see what they come up with using Automator.

    Tomorrow, I'll post something over in Mac Mojo about the divergence of the Office:Mac user interface and the Windows Office user interface. I hope you enjoy it!

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the user experience of airports

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    I usually fly a lot. I'm grateful that the summer is over, because it means that the tourists have left the airports. I get cranky in the airport, standing behind the tourist who doesn't know how to travel. But now that summer's over (and now that I haven't flown in a couple of weeks), I have enough distance from all of that annoyance to realise that it's not the fault of the tourist. Figuring out the rules about travel beforehand is somewhere between really difficult and absolutely impossible.

    First of all, the travel experience now starts on the web instead of with a travel agent. This means that it's difficult to get advice about your travels if you don't know someone who travels frequently. If your dates are flexbile and you're shopping by price, it's hard to figure out which dates give you the best price -- it's just a matter of trial and error. If you really don't want a redeye, it's hard to exclude that option from your search. If you're travelling in a group, it's hard to get everyone seated together. If you're travelling to a major metropolitan area, it's hard to figure out which airport is which (San Francisco? Oakland? San José?) and which one best meets your needs. And you don't have a good way to answer these questions.

    Then you have to pack. Most people don't know that there are questions that they should ask here. But there are. What can I take on board the plane? What is the right size for my carry-on? How much luggage am I allowed to check? What is the weight limit on luggage? Over the summer, I lost count of the number of people that I watched check some massive suitcase and have to pay extra. They always (unsuccessfully) argue with the gate agent that if they can have 2 bags at 50 pounds each, then they should be able to take one bag that weighs 75 pounds. And what are the rules about what can go into carry-ons?

    Then it's time to go to the airport. How early am I supposed to get there? Where am I allowed to park? Can I get there via public transit (which turns out to be surprisingly difficult in many major American cities)? Which terminal is my airline in? Why are there domestic flights at the international terminal? Do flights to Canada count as domestic or international?

    Next up is actually entering the airport. Can I curb-check my bags? Why is there a fee for doing so? How do I operate this miserable automated check-in machine? Why does the miserable automated check-in machine want me to enter stuff I don't remember (flight reservation number, frequent flier number, flight number) instead of stuff that I do know (like my last name or the city that I'm going to)? Why does the airline expect my 80-year-old grandmother (or some harried woman who's travelling with 3 kids) to use this miserable automated check-in machine? Why am I just learning now that I have to pay extra for my 55-pound bag? Why are the seats for my whole family spread out all over the plane, even though I know that I got seats all together when I booked the tickets?

    The worst part about the user experience of the airport is, hands down, security. It's so bad that I have to wonder if it isn't planned that way. It's so bad, and feels so arbitrary, that there's a hysterical online game satirising the whole thing. Why do I have to take my shoes off? Why do I have to take my laptop out of its bag? Why did I just get pulled aside for an extra pat-down? Why do you expect my 80-year-old grandmother to take off her shoes? How was I supposed to know about the liquid rules in advance? Why can't I take more than a single one-quart plastic bag's worth of stuff on board? I just bought this coffee at the Starbucks that is less than 30 feet from security, why can't I take it past security? Why is it that the random TSA guy gets to decide whether my item is prohibited, and I can't do anything about it? I had one particular TSA guy take away my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Since when was PB&J a liquid?

    All of this is difficult for the casual traveller to figure out. I know all of this stuff (well, most of it, I was caught by surprise when the TSA guy took away my PB&J) because I travel enough that it's all second nature to me.

    This Sunday afternoon post brought to you by today's Opus comic strip. 'We have no record of your existence', indeed.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    workaholic Wednesdays

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    Wednesdays around here are known as Workaholic Wednesdays. Management brings in dinner. People stay late, there's no meetings, and everyone just bangs away at work. I try to stay off of IM and email, close my office door, and use the time to really focus.

    It's become one of my regular Workaholic Wednesday habits to fresh dogfood. Dogfood refers to our daily builds of our software. Since my job doesn't directly involve testing the software on a daily basis, I sometimes forget to download the latest-and-greatest. So I make sure that I update my builds on Wednesdays, and submit whatever bugs I come across.

    Right. Dinner's here. After that, I'll get back to work on the personas for Office 2008+1.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    can we stop with the unboxing photos already?

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    Apple released new iPods on Tuesday. Thankfully, none of them have forced me to drop everything and head to my local Apple Store with my credit card in hand. I've already got an orange Shuffle and an iPhone. The newly-renamed iPod Classic is almost attractive in its 160GB model, but that's not big enough to hold my complete music collection and I'm not sure if I want to carry all of my music collection anyway.

    As has become the tradition with new Apple products, there are unboxing pictures on the web. Maybe it's just that I'm getting crankier in my old age, but I don't get the point of them any more. Apple does a fantastic job with its out-of-box experience, and I think that more hardware manufacturers should learn from Apple's example here. A picture or two is great, show me everything that comes in the box, show me the differences between this iPod and the previous model. But seriously, do I need to see a picture of the box in the plastic wrap, a picture of the box without the plastic wrap, a picture of the box after it's just been opened, a picture of the iPod sitting oh-so-artistically leaning against the box, the same thing at a different angle, etc etc etc?

    Unboxing pictures are so overdone that it's just a cliché now. Yes, Apple does packaging right. Let's save the unboxing pictures for when they've done something really new.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    get your OOFage on

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    I'm OOF right now. (Can't you tell?) OOF is an important concept here in Microsoft, and in other Exchange-using companies around the world. OOF stands for 'out of facilities'. (If you're curious why it's OOF instead of an acronym that doesn't always need to be translated to the uninitiated, there's an explanation of sorts on the Exchange team blog). OOF is pronounced just like you think it is. Think of Batman punching a bad guy in the stomach. The resulting 'oooof' is the correct pronunciation.

    Whenever I'm OOF, most people that I work with expect me to set an OOF message. This is a message that's automatically sent to people who email me to tell them that I'm out of the office. In Exchange, you can set some options: whether everyone who emails you gets it or just a select few, the dates that you'll be OOF, and the text of the message to be sent. My OOF message usually includes the dates that I'll be gone, whether I'll be checking email/voicemail, my mobile number (if I'm on a business trip, not when I'm on vacation!), and contact details for other people who might be able to assist them in my absence.

    I know that some people (yes, I'm looking at you, John) despise OOF messages. I honestly find them useful. When I'm going to be OOF, I'm not going to email everyone that I work with to let them know that I'm out. I do email a select few (my manager, of course, gets advanced notice of my OOFage), but not everyone (I'm pretty sure that the big boss doesn't want me cluttering up his inbox). I travel frequently, and OOF means that I don't have to email everyone saying that I'll be slow on email whilst travelling. I generally set my OOF to respond only to people from within my company. I know that it's bad form to send OOF messages to mailing lists, so I don't (not to say that I haven't messed up a couple of times ... ). When I email someone and get an OOF message, it's nice to have that response so that I can figure out what to do next (wait for their response, ping someone else, etc).

    OOF has long been a request on our to-do list. And it's now here in Entourage 2008. It's immensely useful. Mine is set up right now, and will be turned off when I get back to the office in a couple of weeks.

    We'll be talking more about Office 2008 over in Mac Mojo. The big kick-off is 18 September.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    a personal plea to Apple

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    Dear Steve Jobs,

    Please stop your assault on my wallet. I'm already desperately wanting a new 24-inch iMac. I'm afraid that tomorrow will bring sexy new iPods -- or something new and even cooler than sexy iPod updates. If they're too sexy, I'm afraid that I'm going to be powerless to resist. And then if I'm already in the store, an iMac will magically come home with me even without me saying anything. You already get enough of my disposable income as it is. Can't you be a little more gentle on me? Please?

    All my love,
    Nadyne.

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