Joe Lavin

March 6, 2007

Don't Mess with the Spreadsheet

Unlike many, I am greeting the release of Office 2007 with some trepidation. Microsoft's newest version of its dominant office suite looks radically different than earlier versions. While many are excited about this, I am seriously worried. It's not that I have anything against progress. I have something against unnecessary progress. Sorry, I just have better things to do than change when there's no need to change.

I don't mind so much the adjustments to Microsoft Word. I figure I'll still be able to type out text and find the dictionary, but I'm not at all interested in relearning Excel. I've been using Excel in offices for almost fifteen years now, and I would rather that it not change. At all. Microsoft, this is my livelihood here. If Excel's not broken, please don't fix it.

By no means would I call myself an Excel expert, but at least I know where things are. I know how to make a pivot table. I know how to prevent rounding errors. I even know how to concatenate, even if I had never heard of the word when I first tried out the function. Try using concatenate in a non-Excel related sentence. On second thought, it means to merge the contents of two cells into one. So maybe don't.

I'm told that there's something called a ribbon that has replaced all the menus. Great, my years of Excel experience are going to become useless thanks to something that sounds like a bastardized version of Clippy, the animated paper clip. "It looks like you're trying to do something you used to know how to do." (Apparently, the only good thing about Office 2007 is that Clippy has been retired.)

I always like to be on the cutting edge of math, so you would think I would be excited to use a new version of Excel, but I'm also a little old-fashioned. The first thing I did when I got Windows 98 was to make it look like Windows 95. The first thing I did when I got Windows XP was to make it look like Windows 98. And, as you can imagine, I haven't exactly jumped onto the Vista bandwagon just yet. But my reasons are more than just fear of change. I don't want to become obsolete at work just because Microsoft feels like creating some buzz. Okay, my reasons are entirely about fear of change, but, hey, don't knock fear of change. It has served me well over the years.

I would argue that Microsoft Office has been successful, mainly because it hasn't really changed all that much. Thankfully, they've never bothered to mess it up before. Sure, they've added features, but it's not like most people use these features. For example, I'm pretty sure that it's now possible to add video to a Microsoft Word document, although I haven't yet figured out how to print the video. As for Excel, if you took an office worker from the 1980s and gave him or her Excel 2003, it wouldn't look all that different. (Just make sure you turn off web hyperlinks, because that could really be frightening.)

As far as I can tell, about the only difference between Office 97 and Office 2003 is the exciting new "feature" whereby menu items will disappear if you don't use them very often. This, of course, was an awful innovation. You know, I may not have sorted any columns for a month, but I would still like the Sort feature to be the first one listed under the Data menu, you know, as God intended.

Luckily, there is an "Always Show Full Menus" command, which can be found intuitively just by selecting tools, then customize, and then options. Of course, by the time I had found the feature, I had probably already spent 15 minutes of my life, trying to use a command, noticing that it's not where it's supposed to be, moving the pointer down to the very bottom of the menu in order to click on the arrow that expands menus, and then moving my pointer back to the spot where the command should have been in the first place. Dear Microsoft, I would like those 15 minutes back.

There is one other key difference between Office 97 and Office 2003. Once I got a new computer with Windows XP, my version of Office 97 started to crash whenever I happened to be in the middle of an important document. And so I eventually made the "choice" to "upgrade" to Office 2003. With that precedent, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I'm stuck using Office 2007. As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, you might as well break it, and charge for an upgrade.

©2007 Joe Lavin

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