If the boss can write a retrospective, so can I. :)
2009 has been an Entourage-filled year for me. At Macworld 2009 in January, we announced Entourage for Web Services. While EWS didn't get a lot of UI touches, I still got to make some UX improvements, especially with regards to perceived performance. The public beta gave us a lot of awesome feedback (as well as feedback that we shared with our friends on the Exchange team), and we released the final version in August. It was also included in the spiffy new Office 2008 Business Edition.
Aside from all of this goodness, we made a big announcement in August: Outlook is coming soon to a Mac near you. The next version of Office:Mac, which will be released in time for your holiday shopping pleasure in 2010, will include Outlook. The UI is Cocoa, it will work with Time Machine, and it will support Information Rights Management. I've been doing mountains of research on Outlook (and that will continue into 2010, so don't forget to sign up to participate in my usability studies) in 2009, and I can't wait to be able to tell you more about what's coming in that release.
I did manage some non-Entourage/EWS/Outlook work in 2009, too. We announced the Document Companion at Macworld, too, which I'd been working on for some time and was happy to get it out into the light of day. Office 2008 SP2 came out this summer, which included the new feature of path animations in PowerPoint.
Dennis Liu showed us how he is pretending to work with Office 2008. It's a scientific fact that no-one can be accused of not working if there's an Excel spreadsheet open. Heh. He also made Office 2010: The Movie for my friends on the WinOffice team. This is somewhat less flashy, but one of my co-workers put the new path animations in PowerPoint 2008 SP2 to work when he made a short film in PowerPoint.
Outside of MacBU, Exchange 2010 came into public beta, which includes some great news for Mac users: Safari and Firefox both support the full Outlook Web Access now.
What's in store for 2010? Well, the single biggest thing is that we're going to release the next version of Office:Mac. I'll be speaking at Macworld in February about administering Macs in Exchange environments. And there's more: this is just the tip of the iceberg. Watch this space ...
Another one from the open question thread:
What are the main challenges with working on a new version of Office? Rewriting legacy code? Integrating changes made by the Win Office team? Having a limited number of engineers to implement changes?
Those are all certainly on the list of challenges that my team faces, although it's definitely not a complete list.
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all 20 years old, so there's plenty of old code in there. Some of the Word code is so old that we discovered a child living in there. Rewriting and refactoring legacy code is something that we do in every release, and we love it when we end up with a net reduction in the number of lines of code.
Compatibility with Office for Windows is, of course, important to us. There are places where we share code with them, such as the code for the file formats. Integrating changes from Windows Office impacts us. For example, in Office 2008, a lot of our shared code changed with the introduction of the new XML-based file formats. We've got a great relationship with our counterparts in WinOffice, and they have some development practices which were implemented with the sole intent of making sharing code with us easier. Cross-platform development isn't trivial, but we're able to work with our counterparts to make it better.
Currently, MacBU is somewhere on the order of 220 employees. (That's all-inclusive: developers, testers, program managers, technical writers, user experience, marketing, etc.) For the number of apps that we produce, and the complexity of those apps, we do a lot with our 220 people. I've often heard the suggestion that we're Microsoft so we could just throw more people (read: more money) at the solution -- I wrote a blog post about this a few years ago called the Microsoft fallacy about this. The numbers are no longer accurate (both MacBU and Microsoft have grown in the intervening years), but the basic idea still holds: money doesn't buy everything.
We've got a big codebase. There's some highly specialised stuff going on in there -- spreadsheet development isn't for the faint-of-heart. And, of course, Mac developers don't grow on trees. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a blog post from the guys over at Rogue Amoeba that mentions that they've had a senior Cocoa UI developer position open for awhile 'cause they haven't found someone "quite right just yet". I knew exactly what they meant. Getting in the right people is hard. We do hire fresh college grads and train them in our codebase and how to be a good Mac developer, but you can't take one of those fresh grads and throw them deep into highly-complex code and expect any good to come of it.
Aside from finding great Mac developers, you missed out on several other of the challenges in developing Office:Mac. One of the biggest ones is changes to the platform, the operating system, and the development environment that impact our work. After all, the switch from PowerPC to Intel and the switch from the very mature CodeWarrior to the less mature Xcode was also a huge engineering challenge, and it came in the middle of our development cycle. A change on that scale doesn't happen every release, of course, but managing the changes from one version of the OS to the next is also a challenge.
Another challenge lies in our goal of being the best productivity software available on the platform. Such a goal is a moving target, and there are many directions that we could take as we try to attain and retain that goal. Many of the directions are mutually exclusive. Setting that strategy is a challenge, and it's an ongoing one that can change on little notice based on external factors.
Life in MacBU isn't easy. There's plenty of easier jobs out there. If I haven't frightened you off, we've currently got a couple of open developer positions. As we wrap up the next version of Office:Mac (which will come out in time for your holiday shopping pleasure in 2010) and start the work on the next version, I'm sure that you'll see some more open positions here. You can search on Microsoft Careers for "Mac Office" in the product listing to see what we've got.
I got this one via email:
My company is about to give Exchange accounts to everyone. I have heard that I need a special version of Entourage. What do I do?
Since the questioner didn't use a valid email address, I can't respond to ask for more details. Remember, folks: if you email me, don't put "firstname.lastname@example.org" as your email address.
If you are using Exchange 2003 or earlier, then you can use Entourage 2008 or earlier. You should not use Entourage for Web Services; it won't work with Exchange 2003.
If you are using Exchange 2007, I highly recommend using Entourage for Web Services. You can use Entourage 2008 or earlier if you like, but Entourage for Web Services has many performance improvements and gives you additional Exchange features like tasks, notes, and category sync.
If your Exchange server is cutting-edge and is using Exchange 2010, then you must use Entourage for Web Services. Entourage 2008 or earlier won't work with it.
Entourage for Web Services is available as a free download for users of Office 2008 Standard Edition and Office 2008 Special Media Edition. If you have Office 2008 Business Edition, EWS is included on the second disc. Office 2008 Home and Student Edition doesn't include support for Exchange, so EWS isn't available as a free download for that edition.
Eric Wilfrid, the general manager of MacBU, has posted over at Mac Mojo his year-end round-up: 2009 in review. For those of you who were looking for an update about Messenger:Mac, his post includes that.
My colleagues over on the Bing team released an iPhone app on Monday. This brings the total number of Microsoft apps currently available for the iPhone to three: there's also the tag reader and Seadragon.
I got to see the new Bing app in action before its official release, and the single word that I would use to describe it is slick. It looks great. It's got the same photo-of-the-day that the website has (albeit in a smaller version that looks gorgeous on your iPhone screen), and the same little boxes for trivia related to the photo. It does a great job of using the features of the iPhone, like location awareness. Search for pizza and you'll get a list of the pizza places around you, along with links to reviews.
One thing that I really like about the Bing app is how they pulled together technology from other corners of the company. The map app uses Seadragon for its pans and zooms, and some technology from another team for its voice recognition.
For more information about it, you can check out the blog post from the Bing team: Bing for mobile comes to the iPhone. You can also download the free app.
I got this question via the open question thread:
Would you say that the MacBU is focused on delivering a "Mac-like" Office experience?
I would say that we're focused on delivering the best productivity applications for the Mac.
There's no great definition for "Mac-like". Apple's Human Interface Guidelines go some way towards defining that, but they certainly don't go all the way. It's possible to follow the HIG and create an application that doesn't feel like it's a Mac app at all. Additionally, the HIG is usually slow to be updated and the look defined by the HIG can be pretty dated -- look how long it took them to remove the Panther UI or brushed metal.
As a result, Mac-like is often "I know it when I see it", but definitions of Mac-like change from person to person. Some people consider iTunes to be the canonical Mac-like app, but iTunes often strays far from the HIG when it suits their purposes. That's not a criticism: that shows that the HIG is a set of guidelines, and straying from them doesn't result in a bad, unusable, or non-Mac-like experience.
Aside from the question of what it means to be Mac-like, there are plenty of people who don't want a Mac-like experience. We get many requests from people who just want us to deliver Office for Windows, except running natively on their Mac. They don't want the user experience to differ in any way at all: all commands the same, all keyboard shortcuts the same, every single pixel the same. Now, we don't think that it's the right thing to do, but there is absolutely a pull from some segment of our user audience to not bother with Mac-like.
I also think that it's easy to have a UI that's viewed as more Mac-like when there's no history behind the product. Take PowerPoint: it's more than 20 years old. With 20+ years of organic growth, managing the user experience is complex. Starting from scratch, and being able to learn from everything that has happened in the past 20 years, means that you have opportunities that aren't available to an application with an existing user base of millions who have strong expectations.
I'm giving a talk at Macworld 2010: Administrating Macs in Exchange 2007/2003. This session will cover best practices for Entourage in an Exchange environment, and include tips and how-tos for Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007. This will include troubleshooting, and tips for how to best set up Outlook Web Access (OWA) for Mac users.
Since Macworld is still a couple of months off (but getting closer! eep!), I'm still working on content for the presentation. If you think that there's something that I absolutely must cover in this session, say so!
I got this question via email:
I am writing you because I have been unable to find a suitable channel into Microsoft for reporting bugs in Microsoft Office mac.
Should you experience a crash and the Microsoft crash reporter comes up, please click the "send to Microsoft" button. We analyse the crash reports that come in. Doing so helps us to find new issues of which we were previously unaware, validate issues of which we were previously aware, and prioritise how we fix those issues.
If you experience a crash but you get Apple's crash reporter instead of ours, please send the crash report to Apple. They also analyse crash reports, and share with us as needed.
For issues other than crashes, you can submit them to our public forums. The public forums are monitored by our MVPs (third parties who are deep users of our applications who help out others, and who have a relationship
with us to ensure that bug reports get into our hands), and our test team keeps an eye on those groups as well. The public forums are a great resource to chat with other users and learn more about the apps, and the MVPs do a fantastic job of helping out and, where appropriate, directing reports into our hands.
If you have a suggestion to make, such as a feature you'd like to see in an application, you can submit feedback to us.
If you're reading the help and want to make a suggestion, then you can do so directly in the help. At the bottom of each help topic, there's a question asking whether this information was helpful. When you select your answer, you're given the chance to enter in additional information. Our writing team analyses this feedback frequently and updates the help.