New Excel for Old Guys

Ribbon X book

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve finally installed Excel 2007 (Office Ultimate, actually) on my home computer. I had it on a virtual machine back when it was in beta, but now it lives as a first-class citizen on my hard drive right next to Office 2000, Office XP, and Office 2003.

I’m still using Office 2003 at work, so I’ll be relearning the UI every morning. When I was working with 2007 pretty intensively, it took about two weeks for me to be proficient with the ribbon. From my standpoint as a user, I actually preferred the ribbon because it offered keyboard shortcuts for all its commands. As I commented in one of Simon’s latest rants discussions, applying a style or border via the keyboard was not easy in previous versions.

I don’t mean to imply that style and border access is some sort of panacea of Excel UI evolution. It’s just something in the plus column. In the minus column, there’s the two weeks it took me to figure out where everything is. Two weeks isn’t a lot of time, but the question remains whether the ribbon provides enough benefit to overcome that cost. Also, I was a motivated user. I wasn’t being dragged begrudgingly into 2007, I was a willing participant.

Another minus, I’ve heard, is programmability. I have not attempted to program the ribbon, but at a minimum there will be a learning curve. Whether it proves worth it remains to be seen. I’ve recently purchased RibbonX: Customizing the Office 2007 Ribbon, so I should be on my way.

Screen real estate seems to be a hot ribbon topic. During the beta, I kept my ribbon minimized and it would magically appear when I began using the keyboard shortcuts. Mouse-centric people would probably prefer to have the button in plain view. I can’t speak for them, but for me the ribbon took up less space. I do agree that the button size is ridiculous. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts I haven’t clicked a paste button in at least five years. Even my grandma knows Control+V. But someone must have been clicking those paste buttons and sending that data to Microsoft.

I don’t use tear-off menus very often, being the keyboard guy that I am. But I do see the value in them for others. It was a big miss not having them in 2007. I predict that if nothing else changes on the ribbon, it will have tear-offs at some point.

Finally, a word from the field. A fellow accountant and friend emailed me today about Excel 2007. I repeat his email in its entirety:

This new Excel is driving me crazy. Trying to find where everything is a pain in the A$$

I asked if I could quote him on that, and he responded, in part:

Back in November, I took a laptop home that had new Excel and I was trying to finalize a worksheet for Budget meetings the next day. I was trying to do a save as so I could save the file under a new name, and I swear it took 10 minutes before I accidentally hit that windows button and saw the save as command. I was about ready to chuck the laptop out my bedroom window.

The difference between this guy and me? I was trying to learn Excel 2007 and he was trying to actually do something with it. Fortunately, I have the luxury to ease into it. Others won’t be so lucky and they have my sincere sympathy.

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12 thoughts on “New Excel for Old Guys

  1. I can accept that the ribbon is just a new menu. I survived the Excel 4 to Excel 5 transition too. But using the Office button as a menu was/is/will remain REALLY STUPID.

    There’s a File menu in nearly all applications running under Windows (heretofore), Mac OS, Unix/Linux/BSD, BeOS, etc. Eliminating it is like replacing the brake pedal with a button in a car’s ash tray. There’s no way this design decision came from user experience data, and the usual blather about the ribbon making things easier to find is clearly inapplicable. Blame for this rests exclusively on Microsoft’s UI designers.

    Can Microsoft admit mistakes?

  2. fzz – great analogy. Yes MS can, and do admit mistakes (eg SP3), although no one is doing that for the effluent UI.

    Dick – I thought that was a milder rant. Interesting point on the keyboarding improvements. Most reports also suggest inexperienced users cope ok with the ribbon too. I guess that leaves a middle ground of folks that kinda knew where most stuff was in 2003 but didn’t know the kb shortcut, these probably feel the most pain.

    I’m not convinced that a UI that is OK because it is easy to make it go away could be classed as a triumph of user experience engineering.

    Ditto on the paste button and button size, I can’t see any sense in them being bigger than normal cell size.

    I think needing to ‘ease into’ the latest version of a program I have been working in for years and years represents a massive user experience Fail. You are right though, and I think that is where I went wrong, I thought I would ‘just make sure’ all my free add-ins worked fine with a beta of 2007. None of them did, and I couldn’t find any useful commands to work out why. That was a rant believe me!

  3. The relevant point was made

    it is but the question remains whether the ribbon provides enough benefit to overcome that cost.

    Any new command process requires relearning and is therefore a cost.
    Presumably there is an offsetting benefit.

    In several cases I have not found that to be true and there fore noted that the emperor had no clothes and stayed with the older version I do not have time to play for no benefit.

  4. I had to use the new interface when a user using some of my spreadsheets was asking me to do certain things and he had the new office. Man, was that a frustrating experience (and humbling too). Being one of the fastest key board users around – I was prevented from getting even the simplest of tasks done and felt like a fool. I finally just threw up my hands and got the user to do the work under my direction. I have just taken the plunge and installed it on my laptop and will be forced to have to come to grips with the Microsoft “vision” of how the UI should be. I imagine it will be similar to the migration from pre-VBA macro code to VBA – which, at that time, was a personally very frustrating experience. But I think a concerted two days of “drilling” in the new approaches will be mainly what it takes. I have not touched the programmability as yet. In general, it’s a real dud. Who on earth at Microsoft could possibly think that this was the way users would want to work. Someone’s got their head in the clouds (or perhaps I mean in a hole in the ground or some other more nefarious and smelly location).

  5. I rember when people used to come up to me, back in 2006, and say hey Ross, I hate this standard looking IU, I just cant use it!
    (what I really need is some sort of UI where I can only get at the things which are grouped togther and might migrate well to a web app.)

    Not anymore! :-)

  6. I just had a look at John Walkenbach’s Excel 2007 Bible.
    It’s a good introduction, probably better for people starting new with Excel 2007 than converting from earlier versions.
    I noticed that his dialog screenshots were in a colourful 2007 style whereas my Excel 2007 dialogs look just like the grey old ones.
    It’s because for speed I have the Personalization option in Vista set to “Windows Standard” rather than Vista or Aero.

    And btw on the last page he offers PUP for only $9.95 to readers! A giveaway.

  7. There is a quick-and-dirty way to let users control Excel 2007 through a menu: add to the menu that appears when you right-click a sheet tab. The menu itself is CommandBar(42), also known as the Ply menu, at least in English. In my current project I simply test the version, and the project’s menu goes to the Ply menu under Excel 12 of the Worksheet menu under Excel 11.

    This is not an ideal solution, but I am working on an Excel 2003 machine at work with limited opportunities to test on 2007.

  8. http://www.builderau.com.au/news/print.htm?TYPE=story&AT=339288481-339028227t-320000982c

    Microsoft lets users bypass Office Ribbon
    Ina Fried – 2008/04/29 08:03:01

    http://www.builderau.com.au/news/soa/Microsoft-lets-users-bypass-Office-Ribbon/0,339028227,339288481,00.htm

    For users still unhappy using the Ribbon interface in the Office productivity suite, Microsoft has a new option: search.

    On Monday, the company released an Office add-on called Search Commands that lets users type the function they are looking to do. After months of testing it internally, Microsoft is ready to give the public a chance to try it out. But the new tool won’t be found on Microsoft’s main Web site.

    Rather, it will be available via a new effort, dubbed Office Labs. Spearheaded by Microsoft veteran Chris Pratley, Office Labs is Microsoft’s attempt to test out productivity ideas that may — or may not — be ready for prime time.

  9. Re Office Labs’s Search Commands –

    It doesn’t play well with some of my other Excel AddIns – a fact that’s reported in the blog on Search Commands – but apparently works fine with Word and PowerPoint. The symptoms are that once installed, Search Commands disappears when Excel is closed and re-opened.

    However, if you add some Workbook_Open code to set the appropriate COMAddin.Connect first to False and then to True, it’s available (at least for workbooks that have that code).

    It’s claimed that Search Commands can work with voice recognition – to wit:

    Rob gave me a cool demo – he was using Word said “Search Commands Background” and magically Search Commands found all background related commands and then he said “2? to launch the add shading option. Nifty! How did he do it? Rob has created a speech macro (aka speech magic) to enable voice with Search Commands.

    But that’s probably out of my zone of interest. See http://www.officelabs.com/projects/searchcommands/Pages/default.aspx for more, if you already haven’t gotten at least reasonably familiar with the Excel Ribbon


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