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Upgrade? Downgrade? Sidegrade?

In fact, after working with the 2007 versions for more than two years and writing a book about them early on, I must say that I still can't remember where many features are—I constantly click the wrong tab. And if I can't find the feature with a right-click, I get frustrated, because the tabs still don't make much sense.

In Word, the margin settings are in Page Layout, while spacing is in the Home tab. That seems like an arbitrary choice to me. It may have come as a result of lots of research and many arguments among programmers, but I came to the product with 10 years of having been "programmed" to use toolbars and menus, so to me the new interface is still a nightmare.

To my way of thinking, when you "upgrade" your product, you owe it to your users to leverage their past experience and build upon it in a clear way, so that they don't have to survive anything—they can use what they already know and continue working with the new improvements.

Let's talk about performance. That's the sort of tangible improvement any end user would expect from an upgrade. With Office 2007, however, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint sometimes stop working, close down, and restart for no reason that's ever explained. I can send a message to Microsoft about it, and the information I supply will be used to improve the next version (of the Service Pack), but no explanation or fix is ever provided to me.

And in terms of performance downgrades, let's talk about Outlook 2007. From the web, I know that I'm not the only user who has seen a significant slowdown in email sending and receiving; I recently sent two text-only messages and the program took more than two minutes just to send them. There can be excuses about my network or router, but I don't buy it. In exchange for gaining a few new features, the program provides no improvement in its main feature: email. And its performance there is arguably quite a bit worse.

With the new user interface and whatever other new features are provided, you might expect that Microsoft would at least include documentation that would be useful in mastering ("surviving") the new programs. But here's an example of why a user who upgrades needs to get ready for survival: One of Excel's new features is turning a spreadsheet into a table quickly, applying some nice formatting and doing some sorting and filtering at the same time. With this feature, the table in Figure 2 quickly turns into the one in Figure 3.

Cool, right? Notice the neat new galleries for formatting in this version. Excel has even taken it upon itself to apply a format here—though I never asked it to do this. I guess that's "intuitive."

But here's the real problem. Notice the sort handles in the header row? What if I don't want them, or I want to turn them off after I've used them?

Good luck.

Microsoft's online tutorials promise that it's easy to turn table headers off. When I try it, though, I also lose the row with the column labels. If I uncheck Header Row in the Design tab of the "contextual" Table Tools, I get rid of the sort handles, but I also get rid of the labels, as shown in Figure 4. And if I try F1 for Help, I get a bunch of information that's pretty much irrelevant. Figure 5 shows the results of a search for "turn off table headers."

My only solution is to Undo the procedure to get back to square one, or waste half an hour trying to find a solution to this brand-new problem. So much for the intuitive Ribbon.

Some readers (or perhaps Microsoft) will possibly try to show me how to turn off just the sort handles—that's not the point. The real issue here is that it shouldn't be so complicated if you're truly presenting a "results-oriented" interface.

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