Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, networking, open source, and cloud computing

Does Innovation Equal Increased Productivity?

Paul Thurrott, a longtime reporter on Microsoft and its products, wrote today in “Windows IT Pro UPDATE” (I couldn’t find a link to the article online) that Microsoft’s innovation in their upcoming products, Windows Vista and Office 2007, will lead to a decrease in productivity, not an increase.

The basis for his argument (a position with which I agree, personally) is that Microsoft’s innovation in both Windows Vista and Office 2007 will cause confusion and disorientation for experienced users in an effort to actually make things easier. Vista’s much-touted Aero UI, while sporting oustanding visual effects, apparently makes it much more difficult to tell which window has the focus. In an attempt to match the visual effects found in Mac OS X, Microsoft has made the UI more difficult and more confusing.

Likewise, the new “Ribbon” that replaces standard menu bars and toolbars in Office 2007 is a radical departure from the user interface that Microsoft introduced years ago in Office 95. That interface has since been the model for the user interfaces in office suites such as WordPerfect Office (from Corel), OpenOffice (from OpenOffice.org), and StarOffice (from Sun). Again, in the name of usability, Microsoft is creating an entirely new interface that will cause experienced users to be unable to perform tasks as easily and as quickly as with prior versions of the Microsoft Office suite. In fact, it may be easier, as Paul suggests, to migrate to an entirely different suite (preserving a familiar UI) than upgrading to Office 2007. Microsoft’s mantra with Office vs. other suites has always been cost of ownership and training; now they’ve created a situation in which their own marketing has convinced users to use their competitors’ products.

This situation highlights the difficulty that Microsoft currently faces—innovate and differentiate itself from the competitors, possibly alienating its own customers, or preserve compatibility and familiarity with previous versions and risk getting left behind. It’s a very delicate balance. In this situation, however, I think that Microsoft tipped the scales a little too far.

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