Sunday, November 26, 2006


The Best Version of Microsoft Office

I needed to create an Excel spreadsheet while sitting at my desktop machine, and was surprised to discover that I didn't have Microsoft Office installed on it. I installed a new hard drive and reinstalled all my software on this machine some time last year, but I overlooked Office. I usually run Office on my Mac, or on laptops I get from work, so I never noticed that it was missing here.

I dug out my box of old CD-ROMs and found my Office 97 disc. That's right: Office 97. It's ten years old, but I prefer it to any of the "upgrades" that Microsoft has provided in the past decade. It does everything I need, and doesn't confuse me with a lot of options I don't need or with Microsoft's nonsensical user-interface improvements.

Microsoft's UI gurus are always bragging about the zillions of dollars they spend on research to improve their interfaces and make them easier to use. However, every description of the process I've read seems to come down to this:

  1. Put non-expert users in front of a computer.
  2. Ask the users to perform some task.
  3. Watch what the users do to try to figure out how to do the task.
  4. Re-design the software so that the untrained users' random mouse clicks and menu selections would have done what was desired.

Maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy, but I remember the good old days when user interface designers would design an interface that made sense, and then explain the principles in a manual. I like things that have an underlying logic to them. But Microsoft's approach is to just watch users stumble around in the dark, and arrange things to minimize the amount of tripping.

Office 97 fits on one CD. That's right: one CD! No need for a modern stack of CDs or a DVD-ROM to hold it all. The entire installation process takes less than a minute.

Of course, I also downloaded the service packs for Office 97. I was worried that they may not be available any more, but MS still provides them. The last update was in 1999, but that's okay with me.

Now I just need to figure out how to kill Clippy.

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