Microsoft Branding Is All About 2010

Microsoft is looking to have a busy year next year, rolling out new revs of SharePoint, Exchange, Office and Office Web tools. Even Project and Visio will get facelifts.

Microsoft product names can be confusing, and when you get used to one, Microsoft is liable to change it on you. It also has names like Word, Project and Windows Server that actually describe function. Then it has names that don't mean a thing but are just meant to sound cool, like Zune and Vista.

Next year a tiny bit of this confusion will go away as key products all get the 2010 tag. And as part of its new naming scheme, Microsoft is renaming Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) as just Microsoft SharePoint Server. Be still, my heart!

2010: An Exchange Odyssey
The next rev of Exchange, Exchange 2010, is now in beta and is due later this year. This version can run in your datacenter or in a cloud. The software also has a raft of unified communications features such as built-in voicemail and instant messaging.

IE haters will love the fact that the Web client is now fully compatible with Safari and Firefox. I use Firefox and never had a problem with the Web client.

For archiving, PST files -- which confused even the smartest end users -- have been replaced by an "integrated archive." I'd upgrade for just this one feature alone!

Bots Won't Stop
Botnets, those little beasts that smuggle themselves into our computers and use our machines to attack others, aren't just a nuisance. They're criminal. Anything that harms property or steals personal information is against the law, and legal eagles have been going against botnet authors using whatever limited resources they can find. But like the corner crack dealer, once you shut down one avenue, they just move to another.

This is why botnets are on the rise, at least according to Symantec, with attacks increasing almost a third last year.

Symantec also argues that botnet authors are getting sneakier and more obnoxious, and their attacks "are much more silent but much more deadly." And we all know how nauseating that can be.

Mailbag: Ribbon Yeas/Nays, More
This week, Doug asked readers to speak up about their Office ribbon experiences. So far, reviews are still mixed:

You said, "The new Office 2007 interface is more confusing than a conversation with Paula Abdul." At first. But I'm starting to like the changing icons based on context of the tabs. It makes more sense, but it is way different than in the past.

I'll give Microsoft credit. They are trying to come out with a better approach, rather than wait for someone else to come up with it. Many companies would just let the product turn into a cash cow and eventually die.

Regarding the Office 2007 ribbon -- OMG, I can never find anything on the thing. The few users that I have tried installing it for begged me to switch them back, and these were the users that normally like change and trying new things. As long as you don't actually want to do anything requiring actually finding anything buried in the ribbon, it is fine.

I have used Office 2007 for quite some time now. I use Access, Word, Excel and Outlook on a regular basis. At first, I didn't like the ribbon menus at all but it was probably because I was so familiar with the old toolbars and menu style that when I started using the new ribbon, I couldn't find where everything was.

With time and learning, I now like the ribbon style and know where to find things. I don't think it is better but different and requires some relearning so people don't want to leave their comfort zone.

I have worked with Office 2007 since the beta and now have become so used to it that when I am faced with Office 2003, I really have to think. It was hard at first before Microsoft introduced the interactive command reference guides. Now if you need to know where something lives, just download the guides. You'll soon get used to it and remember. Hell, I was even tempted to try OpenOffice, but that was going to be just the same sort of learning curve, and if you used Excel to any degree of sophistication, forget it.

OK, so learning the new menu system wasn't easy. We always look for the negative: Oh, but where do I find this? And where do I find that? Oh, poor me. Go to a country which drives on the other side of the road; you'll hate it just as much, but in the end you learn to accept the change. Move on, get over it, forget the past. Accept change and you learn something new. If you resist, you'll just get left behind or run over by the truck coming the other way.

The Office 2007 UI is only usable if you know where things were under the old 2003 menus, because you can then find them under similar menus -- but you have to have memorised the menu commands (sad that I am). The command groupings don't make sense and don't provide the features our users want grouped together. It wouldn't be so bad if it were totally customisable, but even then rolling out customisations to all our users will be difficult.

Bottom line this is not new and improved, and the old is not old and inferior. The old UI is comfortable, clear, well-understood and already trained and supported. Change for changes sake is of no use to us. And if Microsoft thinks we can be forced to change, it's wrong.

I believe the ribbon is an interesting user interface trip. Might not be perfect, but I prefer it to the other more confusing old interface, which I am not able to work with again. The logic put into the interface is suitable for most of the people I know and can be easily explained in 15 minutes to users via phone. Users seem to be more independent and need little to be explained.

Now, of course this is not entirely true with people who know the older interfaces and do not want to migrate, because they might know some shortcuts, and use Office more on a gesture-driven manner. But once you explain to them the logic (sometimes it's quite difficult to break old paradigms), they are able to move freely.

I don't like the ribbon and I resent software that requires me to waste time relearning an interface. The ribbon is very ironic. Microsoft worked hard to standardize application menus -- File on the left with open, save, save as, Help on the right. And they're the ones ruining the consistent Windows application interface.

I had a hard enough time as it was teaching my mother how to use a computer. The one thing I had going for me was saying, "Once you learn one application, you've learned 25 percent of all of them due to consistent menus, icon usage..."

As for the ribbon, it takes quite a while to overcome the years of training and usage of the old-style menu, but I'm finally there. To be honest, it is only marginally better overall than the previous iterations, and as such will take many years of use to make up for the productivity lost in the transition. Why they didn't make the old UI available as a user installation or configuration option is beyond me.

Change for the sake of significant improvement is good. Change for the sake of change -- to provide a slick, new UI, or as a marketing gimmick -- is yet another form of the asinine in practice.

I don't like the ribbon.

But most readers agree that free XP and Office 2003 support shouldn't have ended this week:

Free support should not end until at least five years after the product is pulled from the market. Ending support and sales at the same time is so counter to good customer service as to qualify as asinine. In fact, since both products can still be purchased -- from Microsoft, no less -- and in the case of XP, still being produced and sold on current and future systems, even asinine doesn't describe the massive stupidity behind the move.

XP Home is still selling, and apparently selling well, on many different netbook models. To (the generally clueless) home consumers, Microsoft not supporting XP makes no sense and will annoy a lot of new netbook buyers as soon as they need to call support. (Corporate users should be OK, because they aren't so clueless. And in their case, if something doesn't work, it's often just cheaper and easier to just replace or rebuild the system.)

My take: XP should be generally supported at least until six to nine months after Windows 7 ships and is in general availability. Which means probably around July or so next year. Microsoft has relented on these dates before and should do so again. Microsoft should grin and bear it to keep its customers happy.

I'm not sure what the answer to ending mainstream support is, but I don't think it is time yet. We have three machines running Vista out of 100-plus running XP, and I still have more issues with the three than with the other 100-plus combined.

As for when to end free support, I don't know. MS might be getting too greedy with its monopoly. I've switched to OpenOffice at home and the "community" does pretty good at support. OpenOffice isn't there yet, but it's close.

A manufacturer I used to work for had a policy that the product was supported for seven years after the last date that product was sold by the manufacturer. That always sounded fair to me. I think Microsoft is dropping support for Office 2003 and Windows XP way too soon. I like you thoughts that the new product be a reasonable replacement for the old, but that is not always possible.

Once again Microsoft is doing what it must to force consumers to buy their products. Microsoft does not care about inconveniences to the average computer user; Microsoft cares about Microsoft's bottom line. Who wants to have to totally relearn everything? Windows Vista and Office 2007 may be 'better' (whatever that means), but many of us may never know.

And John, who above shared his thoughts about XP/Office support ending and the Office ribbon (both asinine, in his opinion), leaves us with one more gripe:

And while I'm bending your ear regarding the asinine, let's whittle on the wooden-headed morons that decided it would be a good idea to continue taking full-year subscriptions on OneCare when the product is going to cease to exist in a matter of months.

I renewed a business license for the product last month and was charged the full-year subscription rate, even though they'll be killing it off in a couple more months. Charging a full year's subscription fees for a product that's going away in a quarter of that time is, you got it, asinine.

More reader letters to come on Monday, including a few on XP-to-Windows 7 upgrade paths, security and more. Meanwhile, leave your comments below or send an e-mail to [email protected].

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.


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