Office 2007. Revolution in usability? Innovation in interface design? Hell no, not if you’re a screen reader user at least.
I installed Office 2007 at home recently. Fully ready to embrace the next evolution in interface design, I thought I’d take things easy. A little light emailing, perhaps some gentle word processing. I mean, how difficult could it be? I’ve been through several different versions of Office, surely a few changes to the interface can’t be a problem?
Several hours later, an exhausted supply of curse words and a lifetime’s supply of patience behind me, I uninstalled it. Never, I vowed, would it darken my desktop again.
Screen reader users do a great deal by memory. It isn’t efficient to stop and listen to every menu item as it flashes past, so we remember key stroke patterns instead. It’s fast, efficient and it works well. The trouble is that with Office 2007, all the rules have changed. If it wasn’t bad enough that everything has moved, that menus go across instead of down and that all the shortcut keys have changed into something less easy to remember than Swahili, now even cornerstone keystrokes behave differently each time you use them.
The Alt key for example, used to faithfully take you to the File menu. From there, a couple to the right and one down and you knew exactly where you’d be. Now, the Alt key takes you to whichever menu you activated last, meaning you’ve got to stop and listen to what’s being spoken or learn yet another keystroke. Even the motion of moving sideways through menus feels awkward and counter intuitive. Am I the only one?
I’ve heard it said that the intention was to provide a more user friendly interface, to group tasks more logically. It’s a good strategy, but then perhaps someone can explain to me why the task for inserting a table of contents into Word, isn’t listed under the Insert menu?Confused? You will be.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually very at home with Microsoft. It’s the best technological fit for a screen reader and it pretty much did what I needed it to do. Until now. For the first time in 15 years, I can’t send emails without phoning a friend, I can’t update a Word document without asking the audience and my chances of completing a task in a sensible time frame are considerably less than 50/50.
Time and technology wait for no-one however, no matter how closely I clutch Office 2003 to my chest and swear undying attachment. Sooner or later, at home or at work, Office 2007 will catch up with me. There’s nothing much I can do about that, except vent my feelings on a blog, prepare a fresh supply of swear words, gather my patience, grit my teeth and get on with it. Just don’t expect me to like it!