Office 2010 is clunky -- that's the first word that comes to mind as I meander around the recently leaked official beta release (build 14.0.4514.1007, for those keeping score). The default color scheme is a ghastly gradient gray blur, while the new Outlook Scenic Ribbon toolbar is a disorganized mess.
But most important, Office 2010 is slow. The individual applications load like molasses on my Windows 7-based netbook, and common tasks -- like checking for new mail across several hosted POP3 accounts -- chew up way too many CPU cycles. I find myself closing Outlook 2010 in between e-mail checking sessions because it's simply too demanding to leave open all the time.
[ Read the InfoWorld Test Center's in-depth first look of Office 2010. ]
I never had this sort of problem with Outlook 2007. In fact, much of my frustration with the new suite revolves around Microsoft's stodgy old messaging client. Once again, Microsoft developers have moved stuff around, shifting the locations of common menu items and generally making me hunt around for what should be easily accessible tasks.
For example, the location of the Empty Folder item on the Junk Email folder's context menu: In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft's engineers saw fit to relocate it to a position lower on the menu surface, forcing me to throw out years of muscle-memory training and to relearn how to expediently expel Outlook's collected spam filter bile. Likewise, the Send/Receive All Folders button -- which used to be the dominant feature of the toolbars in Office 2007 and earlier -- has been reorganized into its own ribbon tab group, along with a bunch of other options (dial-up?!) that few people ever use.
All of the above translates into more hunting and clicking to accomplish the same tasks I've been doing for years under every previous version of Outlook. And don't get me started on that abomination called Quick Steps, which is anything but quick to figure out or use effectively. Why Microsoft devoted the lion's share of the Outlook ribbon toolbar to this kludge is beyond me, but its collaboration-heavy default button set has me thinking this was another bright idea from the SharePoint group.
The fun doesn't end with Outlook. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all infected with what I've dubbed the Back Stage Virus. I'm referring, of course, to the new Back Stage view that pops up whenever you click the File tab in any of these applications. Instead of the drop-down menu that appears on all previous ribbonized applications (including the Windows 7 Paint and WordPad accessories), Office 2010 presents you with a dedicated, full-window pane containing a schizophrenic array of buttons, button menus, and hyperlink-like text labels.
Worse still, each of these UI conventions works in a different way. Some (Open, Save, Save As) trigger a dialog box. Others change the view inside of the Back Stage pane. And still others hide nested menus that lead to yet more buried options. Add to this the fact that your actual document is hidden from view as you hunt around for the right button or link, and it's easy to see how confusing this will be to new users. Help desk calls beginning with the phrase "where did my document go?" will no doubt become commonplace when the product ships next year.
Which brings me to my burning question of the week: Is Microsoft running out of ideas? Is it so desperate to keep the cash cow's udders full that it's resorted to simply reshuffling the Office bits every few years and calling it a new release? Based on my experiences with this and earlier builds of version 2010, I'm inclined to answer yes.
The idea well has finally run dry in Redmond. Maybe they can borrow a cup or two from their contemporaries down in Cupertino.