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Learning Vista and Office 2007

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Learning any new product always takes time and effort and, as someone who teaches Windows desktop and Office, I am, of course, very interested in what it might be like to eventually teach Vista and Office 2007. As the Office suite has evolved over the years, and steadily increased in features and complexity, most people, myself included, have said to ourselves, "why have they done that or where have they moved that to?", as new versions have arrived. On the one hand, it has frustrated the users and me on occasions. On the other hand, it all "made work for the working man to do" and kept me in business. Also, witness the fact that from a certification standpoint the MOS exams are version specific, which represents a challenge and an ongoing cost for those needing those qualifications to continue working.

So where will Vista and Office 2007 take us from a learning standpoint? After some frustration with getting Vista to "behave" long enough to really study things and to get Office 2007 to install at all, I have now had the opportunity to spend some quality time. Incidentally a change of hardware seems to have made the difference. The performance rating is the same but I suspect a change of mother board was the trick. That is good news for me but still begs the question whether Vista will continue to present some hardware compatibility issues.

It is always interesting to read the wildly diverse opinions on anything which is totally new. It is understandable that the corporate world might say, "oh no, yet more re-training cost when they see Vista and Office 2007". The Office 2007 GUI is such a radical departure from previous versions with the switch to a contextual icon based environment from the traditional menus and toolbars. Another issue is backward compatibility wrt file formats; XML is now the thing! With the legacy investment in existing documents that looks like a huge cost and daunting task. I remember well when a company I worked for switched from Wordperfect to Word what a nightmare that was!! It is etched in my brain because I had to manage it. However, at some point we all have to try and take the 10,000' view. For example, countries have faced changing over to the decimal system or changing from driving on the left to driving on the right. There had to be good reasons to do it. I seriously doubt that they remember the cost or the pain any more. Hopefully, they just see the ongoing benefits.

If we are to take Microsoft at their word, then the GUI change in Office had to come because each new version of Office further painted them into a corner, which became harder and harder to extend and maintain. As someone with some software development background, I know that there comes a point where every application has to be totally re-thought and probably totally re-written in order to move forward, and remain competitive. I have seen this first hand with software of my own and with major commercial software. The cost and prospect of doing it are generally quite frightening but putting it off only usually results in loss of credibility as a minimum and serious loss of business at worst. Will your customers welcome it with open arms? Not often! You have to count on them eventually seeing the potential for their business, ie. ROI. In other words you have a major selling job on your hands.

Having had some limited time with Office 2007, largely Word 2007 where much of the initial interest probably lies, I like it, I like it! It took me no time to put together a fairly sophisticated document with a whole variety of nice visual features, many of which are new to Office 2007. But will the average user like and readily adapt to it? I have the benefit of knowing the existing Office products quite well. So I can readily adapt. My feeling is that at first it will feel a little strange but the new GUI in the major Office products is definitely a lot more intuitive, and therefore potentially easy to learn. Once I got over my own initial personal enthusiasm about it, I suddenly had a slightly panicky feeling. When people had a hard time remembering how to do things, it gave me scope to teach them. Although hopefully I am not out of a job, I believe the teaching process is potentially a lot simpler and easier. In fact once they get the hang of it, I believe that people will be more in a position to be self teaching than in the past.

Vista presents different challenges. Many things are the same as XP but a lot is different, particularly navigating the file system. The focus is very much on "search", which has its merits but I must admit I still like the good old Windows Explorer as per XP and before. I strongly suspect that the average user will too. However, all things can be re-learned and I have been playing with a new tool called, "Guided Help". In fact I joined a Livemeeting presentation on this recently. For those of you don't know what "Guided Help" is, it is basically a live animated tutorial on how to do something. You are shown step by step on the screen, either for demo purposes or it will actual carry it out for you. A simple example might be how to personalize the desktop. At the moment there are only a limited number of "scripts" but it is planned to have an online script source, which can be extended at will to meet the most demanded help features. I understand that there is the possibility of extending the same technology to the Office suite. So let's just imagine the new intuitive GUI plus scripts to show you how to do things, or do it for you, that you can readily find by searching help. Now I am beginning to worry if eventually I will have a job!!!!!!

The people who are understandably concerned about the cost and disruption regarding change need to take a holistic view and see how this might eventually change the entire complexion of training and user help. Right now there are tools to take over the desktop to show users how to do something but if the support people could simply tell the users where to find a help script, it would be much simpler. Plus they can play it over and over again to learn themselves. One could argue that in time the "Help Desk" is potentially a thing of the past. I understand that there will also be a tool kit to permit companies to write and compile their own help scripts. Security is an important issue here since these scripts are capable of working live, ie. making actual changes that cannot be reversed in Vista. Office has the oops command but not in many cases in Vista! The "Guided Help" approach is still in its infancy but the potential looks very exciting. Just think, a better help system; how long have we been wanting that?

As I get more time with Vista and Office 2007 I will add more of my personal take on it. I have been deliberately a little controversial in the hope that it will instigate some useful debate. On a purely personal level, I believe that I am already gone :).

Cheers
Graham Jones

Comments
  • I like your discussion--captures the new reality and opportunities too. Are you willing to create a CIM-based help center--I have a few questions I'm trying to iron out?

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Graham:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and insight. As a usability engineer, I would like to add one more observation:

    If my experience with users is still valid, the majority of users could not care less about technology. They don't know and they don't want to know. The whole experience of using Office is kind of like a necessary evil so they can get their job done. They will be more than happy to close this application as soon as they possibly can, so they can move on to something they do care about, like issuing a check or going to a coffee break. :)

    So I seriously doubt they will actually bother to learn a script if they have a problem. Generally, users will mess around and try different things to make something work. If everything fails, they are more likely to call their computer expert in the next cube than to learn a script. I know that, because I never read a help file until I exhaust all possibly means. :)

    I know this is hard to understand for IT people, because we love technology and we deeply care about it. So I came up with a good analogy. Think about grocery shopping. Do you actually enjoy going to the corner grocery store to get your cabbage and carrots? For many of us, we don't enjoy that. But it is a necessary evil for cooking a healthy and nutritious home meal. For many users, technology is a similar necessary evil to get their real job done, and they care about technology the same way we care about corner grocery stores.

    So I am sure Help Desk will be here to stay. It is simply easier and more fun to call Help Desk than to learn about exciting grocery stores.

    Thanks!

    Jing

  • Jing,

    You make a compelling case. It is about the user experience. It something that Soma brought up in the four part interview series that appeared here:
    http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/archive/2006/04/04/424126.aspx

    Increasingly, you see a movement towards role-based computing than technology centric. This is the right move and at the right time. There is also a movement towards being business-facing for IT pros too. We talk about this in the Versatilists blogs that have appeared here:
    http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/archive/2006/03/31/423788.aspx
    http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/archive/2006/03/27/423181.aspx

    Great comments and a fine analogy Jing.

    Thank you,
    Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, ISP

  • Jing,

    Many thanks for taking the time to offer your input. I was rather hoping that my “prod” about the "Help Desk" would evoke some response. It is only through open debate that we will eventually "harden" the best approach to training and assisting users, something which has huge potential productivity improvements.

    I should point out that I am something of a "hybrid" in the sense that I work in the IT industry now but that is not my original background. I am only too familiar with the problem of getting people to consult "help", for example design procedures in the engineering world. There the consequences can be quite serious.

    I can even identify myself with the "only as a last resort consult help" syndrome. So I don't realistically expect the average user to be any different. In my own experience one of the major reasons that users avoid the "help system" is because they need a "help system" to teach them how to use the "help system". That doesn't tend to faze the typical IT person because we know the right terminology to use.

    You are absolutely correct regarding the "hunt and peck" approach of the average user, usually in a high state of frustration. It is interesting to note that when I am teaching if I show people how to use the existing help system somewhat effectively, it as if somebody "turned the lights on". Not only do they suddenly realize that very often the answer to their problem is right there in their own hands but that help provides an opportunity to learn a different, and possibly easier, way to do things. I assume that people are not inherently lazy but lack for someone to show them how they can achieve a measure of self reliance.

    I have taught at a number of different places, and in practically all, little or no time is allocated to teaching people how to use help effectively. I take that upon myself because I consider it to be essential. Too much emphasis is often placed on trying to teach people almost every conceivable way to use a product, most of which they don’t need and instantly forget, or don’t practice if they do need it. Regardless of the “required” class material, I teach people at the most only “two” ways (often only one way) to do something, admittedly the ones that I consider to be the easiest to both do and remember. If there is a problem with Office there are too many different ways to do things, which is good for the sophisticated user but confusing as all hell for the average person.

    Realistically I don't expect people to leave my class and suddenly use help on a regular basis. However, the next time that I see them I ask if they have used help since the last class. In about 15% of the cases they have, and feel much more confident about solving their own problems. Often their overall interest level goes up as well. It is no longer so much of a “mystery”. They may be there because their company says they have to be there but it is now not so much of a chore. They are beginning to feel “empowered” and now see their new found competence as a career advantage. It is catching. Others in the class notice this and don’t want to be left behind!

    When I ask them about using their Help Desk, very often they are frustrated by being "queued" or trying to follow instructions over the phone. Even if the Help Desk uses some remote control system they still complain about the difficulty of following what they are being shown. There is still a “disconnection”. If the Help Desk people end up physically going to the user (assuming that they can), that is hardly very efficient.

    Self reliance is the only true solution to pretty much anything that we do. Then we feel in control. That is a basic human instinct. I beleive that the Help Desk is a symptom of a problem; not the solution to a problem. For example, when I was an IT Director printing problems were a constant Help Desk request, and probably still are. This is usually a technology problem and not a “which button do I press” question. Typically, you get the “keep clicking the button” syndrome in the hope that it works. Since it is usually a technology problem, we need a technology solution with feedback to the user, ie. “please don’t keep clicking the button – you are having a problem because……..”.

    Let’s face it current help systems are definitely not user friendly, and that is not confined to Microsoft products by any means. They rely too much on knowing what you are looking for. Perhaps that’s what’s also wrong with going to the grocery store for some of us as well, especially if we want a quick in and out with no frustrating lineup. That’s a problem looking for a technology solution; not necessarily an “I hate grocery stores problem”.

    For example, many stores are now experimenting with RFID technology. Who needs the checkout person if I can checkout and pay quickly myself? In time we won’t even need to ask where things are because we can easily find them ourselves because of technology, even if they get moved! We will even be able to find out more about the product if we wish without asking.

    As you rightly pointed out people recognize the necessary evil of going to the grocery store in order to feed themselves. The stores are trying to accommodate that, and probably save themselves some money at the same time. Have you been to Home Depot lately? They don’t use RFID yet but now have some self-checkout facilities with visual and voice guided help, and many people love it! They feel in control!

    Being self-reliant at the computer is no different than going to the grocery store. For some people, it will always be a necessary evil; now a totally pervasive evil. It isn’t going away, just like the need to feed ourselves, and users need to recognize that in order to feed themselves at the grocery store :)! To date help systems have suffered for 2 main reasons:

    1. Insufficient time/effort/money is put in. It is usually the poor orphan in a software development project along with user documentation. By the time it gets additional attention the users are disillusioned.
    2. A technology breakthrough is needed to permit the user to be largely self-reliant without major effort or training.

    I do not wish to suggest that we are even remotely there yet but I sense a greater urgency and commitment to try and move in the right direction. It has the potential to be a very important market differentiator combined with improvements in the user interface. Will the Help Desk totally disappear? Likely not in the foreseeable future but it might be substantially reduced in both complement and cost.

    There are of course social implications behind technology change which will eventually affect us all; witness even the changes in job requirements and demographics over the past 20 years. Regardless, it will still “march on” probably at an increasing pace likely bringing some very difficult social issues. Unfortunately, commerce and “social conscience” rarely meet. I hope that in time they will get closer together. Although we perhaps don’t think about it on a daily basis, right now we are going through a major restructuring of the workplace and hence society. To make that as palatable as possible we need to try and think “outside the box”.

    Cheers
    Graham Jones

  • Stephen,

    I would be happy to look into the possibilty of creating a CIM based help centre. If I cannot answer the question immediately myself (the ultimate 'oracle' I don't claim to be), I am willing to try and find an answer, hopefully with assistance from Microsoft where necessary :).

    Cheers
    Graham Jones

  • Graham,

    Here's two items:
    1) Having Outlook 2007 recognize the mail store in Vista Windows Mail.
    2) Remote Desktop Connection: unlocking the facility to enter a "domain" such as with XP. It looks like a policy item that needs adjusting.

    Cheers,
    Stephen

  • Stephen,

    Item 1) My research suggests that although this is not possible right now, it is expected by RTM that as a minimum you will be able to import from the Vista Windows Mail store, and possibly even update it. Perhaps someone could confirm, or deny, my findings.

    Item 2) You are correct the dialogue box for RDC is different in Vista than it is in XP. However, I believe that the answer to your question is that in Vista you have to enter a FQDN, eg. computer.domain.com, in the single box where it says 'Computer'. In XP the computer name (computer) and domain name (domain.com) are separate. Again, perhaps someone could confirm that my analysis is correct.

    Cheers
    Graham

  • Good information Graham. This is still a Beta afterall so my testing is inconclusive. I'm looking forward to enabling more the capabilities.

    Cheers,
    Stephen

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