I was asked after the Deep Fried Bytes podcast why I said on the podcast that I pretty much like Office 2007’s user experience and hate OOo. I could go on at length, but here is a short version of the most important part of it.
Three full years ago Microsoft shipped a beta build of Office that announced “the office suite’s menus have become so cluttered and badly structured that users find it impossible to locate certain functions.”1 Their solution, the Ribbon, does a really good job of grouping important functionality together in a discoverable manner, and made it very easy for me to go from zero (prior to this year, I had not really used Office since 1998, and was far from a power user at that time) to relative power user (which I’ve had to be for various school tasks this year) in a matter of weeks.
Contrast with OOo, which has suffered from the same menu and functionality problem for nearly as long as Office has. OOo has finally started thinking about the problem, three years after Microsoft had already thought about it long enough to propose a pretty darn good solution. In the meantime, accessing OOo’s basic functionality is usually clunky at best, painful in many cases, and impossible for mere mortals at worst.
OOo 3.0 takes significant steps in the right direction in terms of speed and feature quality2, and I’m very excited to hear that the OOo folks are going to take the important step of doing automated collection of menu and feature usage data- an important step that many free software projects should consider taking. I certainly wish them the best of luck in coming up with a solution and implementing it; I will always use it when I have the choice. But in the meantime, for those who haven’t used it- rest assured that unlike Win98->Vista, Office98->Office07 is a huge jump in usability and quality- one that OOo has only begun preparing to follow.