I understand the disdain many people have for Microsoft, but I like the company. I have owned their stock since the mid 80’s (full disclosure), my company uses many of their software products, and I count on their longevity and success to assure continued improvement and support of their products.
Building software used by tens of millions has just got to be incredibly difficult. I am certain of this because I see how users respond to changes in our own software. Even the smallest change in seemingly immaterial elements such as color and font size can trigger user concerns, questions and commentary.
Thus, overhauling the Windows operating system and Office product line must be a daunting task. Moreover, providing support to the hundreds of thousands of software and hardware developers (e.g., Adobe, HP, Dell, IBM, WebEx, etc.) adds even more complexity to Microsoft’s efforts. The permutations of Microsoft and all other “Windows” software developers and hardware manufacturers is mindboggling.
However, my comments above are not intended to spur on dialogue for or against Microsoft. They are merely written to frame my position on Microsoft, so that my comments about installing Microsoft’s Vista and Office 2007 can be read in its intended context.
I have a very functional Sony laptop (SZ260P). It’s extremely light, and powerful enough for the most demanding business and home video editing tasks. Often it is the envy of other ‘Starbuckers’ sipping coffee and keyboarding. The system came with XP Professional and I installed a litany of applications to support my world. In short, it’s quite the setup to work from home, the road and in the office.
About a month ago, for some inexplicable reason, the SZ bonked. I messed around with it and tried to revive it, but to no avail. I turned it over to the IT department, and a week later the SZ was still flat lined. So, as the weekend approached, I mustered up the mindset to rebuild the SZ with Vista and Office 2007.
Granted, taking on a brand new OS upgrade should be steeped in Google searches and hardware manufacture support site readings. However, like many “guys,” I wasn’t too interested in reading instructions. So, I loaded Vista, choose “Upgrade,” and waited 3 hours (several people told me it could take many hours to upgrade). The result was a system that wouldn’t boot and took 6 more tries before I resorted to performing a clean install. Fortunately, I had copied all programs, downloads, and data to a USB Firelite drive prior to beginning the install.
Since this blog is not intended to recount each step because that is for more technical writers than myself (nor would it even be possible for me to retell the tale without drinking… green tea to sooth my nerves), my intention is to provide some non-techie insight about Vista and Office 2007.
Let’s begin with Vista. Most users don’t knowingly deal with their OS unless they are going to the Control Panel for a relatively controlled system change such as adding or removing software, printers, etc. However, as many of you know, the OS is vitally important. Vista Ultimate is elegant and when I’m using it I feel the same way as when I get my car washed and detailed. There is a renewed freshness and the system, like the car, seems to run better and faster. Other improvements Vista offers include better wireless and printer setup. Suffice it to say that Vista seems to make a positive, recognizable difference over XP.
There has been mention in the media that Microsoft has copied a great deal from Apple. Though I don’t have a lot of experience with Apple computers (even though I own a MacBook Pro and IMac), there does seem to be several similarities with Apple functionality. Frankly, this doesn’t bother me because I am used to practically every product I have seen has copied/similar features from their competitors. For example, the new Lexus 460 exterior looks just like the BMW 7 Series except for the grill and the relatively new Jeep seems to model itself after the ‘square-ish’ Hummer – Hmm.
The difficulties with Vista have centered on incompatible software. For starters, Sony has not published complete software upgrades for Vista on my notebook model. This means that many of the notebook’s features don’t work such as all of the ‘F#’ keys and the built in camera (I used another model’s software and got the camera working). This makes using the notebook quite awkward, for instance, to control volume and toggling between an attached monitor and the notebook’s screen I have to resort to mouse clicking rather than the ‘F#’ keys.
I have also had disappointing experiences with important software programs such as those from Adobe like Photoshop and – unbelievably – Adobe Acrobat. Can you imagine that there isn’t a Vista compatible Acrobat version? Other problems persist with Cisco’s VPN software. My disappointment continues as I use various software programs only to find out that the vendors have not yet issued Vista upgrades. These include Card Scan, Articulate and HP (actually, I just picked up some HP upgrades while in the midst of writing this blog).
I am also finding some quirky operations with Vista. Often, I find shutting down takes quite a bit of time – longer than seems necessary. In fact, the time has been so long in some instances that I have just powered off.
Like Vista Ultimate, Office 2007 is great (albeit with certain caveats)! I installed the “Ultimate” version and really liked the new menu systems, which present tool bars instead of nested drop downs is sensational. Though the menus take a bit of getting used to, particularly to know where all of the regularly used functions are, the learning curve is 95% complete after writing a few documents.
Though I haven’t thoroughly explored Office 2007, I quickly discovered that it stores documents in new formats with new extensions (i.e., docx and xlsx instead of doc and xls). Therefore, I have found it necessary to set my Preferences to save documents in pre-Office 2007 formats, so recipients of my documents/spreadsheets who don’t have Office 2007 (which is 99% of my staff and clients) can open the documents.
One of the useful programs provided in Office 2007 is One Note. Though I bought One Note long before Office 2007 arrived, it is not as ubiquitous among business users as Word. Though I like One Note, it really doesn’t work well in collaborative efforts.
One disappointment I found is with Publisher. I never used it before installing 2007, but since it came with the package, I’ve been giving it a whirl to write one of my monthly newsletters. Publisher is quite easy to use, but it does not incorporate the updates found in Word and Excel 2007. Thus, its menu systems are the XP-type. This doesn’t cause me any problem, but I can imagine the techies’ disappointment that the Office 2007 style changes are not consistent across the entire suite of products.
The new Office Outlook 2007 is very nice and makes managing email, calendars and tasks more fluid and intuitive than prior versions. The various views associated with Outlook functionality are cleaner and offer many color coding options (perhaps a bit unnecessary).
I have not used Access, Groove or PowerPoint to offer any opinion on these programs. However, a quick glance at PowerPoint seems that it has improved usability, based on the same improvements found in Word and Excel.
Overall, Vista is promising once the software and hardware manufacturers update their programs and drivers. Office 2007 seems to offer more immediate satisfaction since it works with XP and Vista without any noticeable/significant issues.