He's Baaack
April 29, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Yes, we turned Office into a game! "Is this Microsoft tone genuinely corny-earnest, reflecting the kind of middle-school pep-rally sensibility that you can only imagine Apple hipsters sneering and snickering at (making you want to punch the hipsters) and Google engineers looking at in amazement? Or is it triple-backflip hipsterism itself, an Onionesque by-golly mockery of corniness? I suppose this is one of the enduring mysteries of life." [Previously] [Previously-er]
posted by -->NMN.80.418 (66 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
If ever you doubted that "gamification" is real, there you go.

And if ever you doubted that gamification, being real, is kind of insufferable, well, there you go too.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:15 AM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Microsoft: It looks like you're trying to be ironic. Would you like help?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:16 AM on April 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


You know how when people get deeply embedded in a group or milieu you can just pick them out? Not just a single specific trait...something about them, their overall look and behavior.

Well, whenever you're in Seattle, MS guys who live in Redmond tend to stand out, and you understand how these sorts of videos and ideas come about.
posted by aerotive at 9:28 AM on April 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sometimes I wonder if the software engineers at Microsoft actually use computers? Or maybe they use the computers that we had back in elementary school, when I was willing to learn from inanimate objects? I don't think they process words very often.
posted by Hoenikker at 9:28 AM on April 29, 2011


We were trying to be tongue-in-cheek serious but knew that some people would take us as earnestly serious. If you have a few moments, you really should give the game a try - I think you'll be surprised how much fun you can have learning the features the Office team thinks people would like if only they knew about them.

English: "We don't know the difference between self-parody and what we actually think anymore, so we've decided to try to have it both ways. By golly, the way to seem less hopelessly out of touch must be to keep digging!"
posted by RogerB at 9:28 AM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ribbon Hero 2 is an add-on for Office (Windows versions only) that teaches you how to find elusive Office commands by making learning fun!

So maybe if they hadn't crippled Office with that horrible ribbon interface, they wouldn't need a game to help you find the damn commands. I've been using it for a few years now and still end up clicking through every single panel to find out which totally random place they stuck something.
posted by octothorpe at 9:32 AM on April 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


I am not sure how I will cope when this WinXP / Office 97 computer is finally done... I have seen the new stuff and I hate it, why the fuck change what already works?
posted by Meatbomb at 9:37 AM on April 29, 2011


Is this Microsoft tone genuinely corny-earnest, reflecting the kind of middle-school pep-rally sensibility that you can only imagine Apple hipsters sneering and snickering at (making you want to punch the hipsters) and Google engineers looking at in amazement?

Yes.

So maybe if they hadn't crippled Office with that horrible ribbon interface, they wouldn't need a game to help you find the damn commands.

And that. What's so wrong with drop-down menus?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2011


I think you'll be surprised how much fun you can have learning the features the Office team thinks people would like if only they knew about them.

Actually, I think the Office team would be surprised how much I don't fucking care about the features I don't use. What octothorpe said about the ribbon.
posted by fuq at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2011


Uh-huh. So that's what writing under the effects of a massive head trauma looks like. I'll bet he looked at this for two minutes, had someone explain to him what he was seeing and then had to write an article. People keep using the words "hipster" and "Onionesque", so he used those too and then handed it in and asked for some money for this thing that he did. He was especially pleased with himself for coining the "triple-backflip hipsterism", even though he couldn't come up with an explanation to it if his life depended on it. Whatever. He's got the money from it.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:40 AM on April 29, 2011


You seem to be reading an article about Microsoft: would you like to post a response about Apple?
posted by onya at 9:45 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


that's what writing under the effects of a massive head trauma looks like

James Fallows
posted by mrgrimm at 9:46 AM on April 29, 2011


You seem to be looking for a snarky way to respond to an article about Microsoft: would you like to reference a cartoon paperclip?
posted by IjonTichy at 9:48 AM on April 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I work at Microsoft and I cringed.
posted by Slothrup at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aside: Ribbon haters might be interested in this series of blog posts explaining why it was necessary. (Cliffs Notes version: The old UI was a complete and utter clusterfuck.)
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 9:57 AM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


General hate for MS Office aside, I do think this is a -step- in the right direction. I'm not talking about anything to do with the usability of MS Office or Clippy's criminal record, but the idea of making tutorials more rewarding.
posted by lemuring at 10:02 AM on April 29, 2011


I have heard good things about this from people who actually tried it, but reflexive hate wins out I guess.
posted by smackfu at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to bet it's easier to convince someone to play Ribbon Hero than to take a class on Word. And I bet it's way more effective at teaching the necessary skills, too.
posted by breath at 10:05 AM on April 29, 2011


(ignoring the fact that it sucks that Word is designed so poorly that such massive education is necessary)
posted by breath at 10:06 AM on April 29, 2011


I had an hour or so to kill this morning, so I tried it, just to see if I'd learn any new tricks. On one hand, I finally learned how to do something in excel that had been driving me nuts that I could never figure out.

On the other, in level three Clippy goes to Woodstock, where I am informed that "Clippy rhymes with hippy!" He then gets in a time machine in order to escape the draft.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 10:08 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anything involving Clippy should be killed with something hotter and more killinger than fire.
posted by that's candlepin at 10:09 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the other, in level three Clippy goes to Woodstock, where I am informed that "Clippy rhymes with hippy!" He then gets in a time machine in order to escape the draft.

Wait, is this a joke? Is this really what happens? Is that the world I live in?
posted by IjonTichy at 10:12 AM on April 29, 2011


I have heard good things about this from people who actually tried it, but reflexive hate wins out I guess.

I try to use Word every day, and it fails me almost as often. Why can't a change the font without waiting through 30 seconds of the beach ball of death? Why is the labels option grayed out when no document is open, making me open a new blank document just to open a new blank labels document? Why does every dialog box demand my immediate attention, even when I'm using a different application? Can you really not wait for me Word? I waited for you to change the font!

Maybe the paperclip can explain how I'm doing this wrong, but I'd rather just reflexively hate a pile of shit, thank you very much.
posted by Hoenikker at 10:17 AM on April 29, 2011


Wait, is this a joke? Is this really what happens? Is that the world I live in?

Sadly, it isn't a joke. Adoring men with long hair and bellbottoms wave him a fond farewell.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 10:18 AM on April 29, 2011


Ribbon Hero seems like a decent idea to me, and a lot of people will probably increase their Office productivity thanks to it. The game probably feels really patronizing if you're working in a business environment and just want to do stuff without jumping through grade school style hoops, but it's an optional download. People who want the extra instruction can use it, and others not.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:19 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wonder if the software engineers at Microsoft actually use computers?

Hahahahaha... you think software engineers get to make decisions at software companies?
posted by Zed at 10:19 AM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I haven't tried it, and it sounds like a terrible idea, but Danc of Lost Garden worked on it and is happy with the way it turned out. If you aren't familiar with the site, he writes excellent essays on game design. Here's his original post on Ribbon Hero, and the follow-up about Ribbon Hero 2.
posted by Sibrax at 10:43 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wonder if the software engineers at Microsoft actually use computers?

It's a very hard problem. How do you make software easier to use for new users, while not removing features or pissing off old users?
posted by smackfu at 10:46 AM on April 29, 2011


So the best way is to condescend to both old and new users, while ignoring the gaping holes in functionality and stability?
posted by Hoenikker at 10:49 AM on April 29, 2011


It's a very hard problem. How do you make software easier to use for new users, while not removing features or pissing off old users?

By offering both a simplified and a detailed interface? Elm did this for me in 1991, and my Sony camcorder does this as well. Just hide the really complex stuff but have a button or command where you can decide to show it.
posted by marble at 10:51 AM on April 29, 2011


"Just put the stuff I use in the simple interface, and the stuff I don't use in the detailed one."
posted by smackfu at 10:55 AM on April 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Every time I use OpenOffice (now LibreOffice) I have two thoughts:

1) Damn, I hate this software.

2) Can you imagine how bad the original must be if this is the open, friendly alternative?
posted by DU at 10:56 AM on April 29, 2011


I have heard good things about this from people who actually tried it, but reflexive hate wins out I guess.

Whether or not it's a good game, the reason it exists is that they screwed up a perfectly good interface for no understandable reason. I purposefully stopped upgrading Office when the ribbon was introduced. It slows down work an incredible amount.
posted by odinsdream at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2011


I purposefully stopped upgrading Office when the ribbon was introduced. It slows down work an incredible amount.

I don't use Office much, but I do quite like the Ribbon and find it to be an immense improvement which makes using anything in the Office suite personally bearable again. Different people, different responses.
posted by juiceCake at 11:22 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


OpenOffice (now LibreOffice)

Open/LibreOffice's word processor is wonderful because it is a word processesor and I can edit the menus and taskbars (Tools->customize (P.S. dear Office team: see what I did there, I just described the location of a feature without a game, or even a tutorial, without even describing an icon and the icons adjacent to it, something which the ribbon prevents. I was able to use two words to describe an action, which is impossible with the ribbon)) which really means I strip everything out of them except the five or six features I use, it takes a minute but it's great. I don't use it for anything but writing words and the occasional bolding or underlining and it is virtually flawless for me. If the Office ribbon was editable, well, I think that would be lovely.

Don't get me started on the database program, because fighting the MS ribbon is like lying on the beach in the sun compared to the repeatedly-punched-in-the-balls-by-Mike-Tyson-at-his-peak experience of the Open/LibreOffice database program.
posted by fuq at 11:25 AM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's... amazing.

Pre-ribbon Excel: Edit > Paste Special > OK.

Post-ribbon Excel: Home > Paste > Paste Special > OK.

Pre-ribbon: Tools > Macros

Post-ribbon: View (wtf?) > Macros.

Nearly every function is either longer to access, in strange locations, or just not present. It would be somewhat okay if it was possible to easily re-order the ribbon bars and put the stuff you want up front. The most I can figure out is that you can customize a tiny section that appears near the lozenge in the top left. You can't actually change the core menus. Maybe with some Add-In you could... but... god.
posted by odinsdream at 11:31 AM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can understand the philosophy behind the ribbon, though the execution ended up muddying those waters. What I really want is a word processor that gets out of my way but still gives me the tools (stylesheets, table of contents, tables, images, track changes) to get my job done. I write software requirements and MS Word is the company workhorse. It's a pain in the ass but I've yet to find an alternative that will play nicely with Word (essential because my coworkers still need to see and edit my documents too).
posted by jnrussell at 11:34 AM on April 29, 2011


Pre-ribbon Excel: Edit > Paste Special > OK.
Post-ribbon Excel: Home > Paste > Paste Special > OK.
What are you pasting special? Values
Pre-ribbon: Edit > Paste Special > Values > Okay
Post-ribbon: Home > Paste dropdown > Values

Post ribbon you don't have to go through a modal dialog box, which is a usability improvement.
Pre-ribbon: Tools > Macros

Post-ribbon: View (wtf?) > Macros.
Actually, post-ribbon: Enable developer tab in settings. Developer > Macros.

This is a form of the "advanced user mode" that has been suggested. When they put this suggestion into practice, apparently people hate it.
posted by zixyer at 11:48 AM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have yet to use the more recent versions of MS Office, but I notice that, in Windows 7, Paint and WordPad has an unusually sucktastic interface now. I take it this is the kind of thing Office is saddled with now? If so, then my question is, why oh god why?

I thought user interfaces were supposed to get out of your way and use whatever you wanted to use with the minimum effort and searching. If your users need to play a game to learn an interface, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.
posted by JHarris at 11:52 AM on April 29, 2011




That's an interesting link posted by ennui.bz. I honestly can't for the life of me realize why no one figured out the solution to the "adaptive/personalized" menus not working out right was to just allow users to set up their own interface rather than try to guess what the end-user wanted! It seems like the designers of Office can not get past thinking that they know what end-users want more than the end users. Pre-2007 and post-ribbon, their attitude seems to be "we always know what end-users will need better than they know, because we're profession UZ designers! SHUT UP USER YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!"
posted by fuq at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2011


I think you've reached an opposite conclusion of what you quoted.

It's often said that people only use 5% of the features of Office, but everyone uses a different 5%. Bloat is inevitable.

There's a backlash against the ribbon interface because people have memorized the menus and toolbars of previous versions, and now stuff isn't where it used to be.

There are many flaws in Office, but the ribbon is actually a big improvement.
posted by zixyer at 12:42 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"So. You have returned"

"Si"

"I heard they made things pretty rough for you around these parts, years back"

"Si"

"What makes you think it's any different now, Clipé?"

"La Cinta. The Ribbon."

"The Ribbon?"

"Si. La Cinta is cruel and evil, and only I, with my strength of steel, can defeat her"

"Why? Why would you do this for the people who spurned you?"

"It is not for them. It is for Sr. Ballmer. He is a good and decent man, but La Cinta's madness turned him into a dancing, shrieking You Tube monkey. You see, La Cinta and Sr. Ballmer go way back. This is an evil thing to happen to such a good man - I must save him"

"Well Clipé, I guess I don't care why you're doing it, I just hope you succeed. Via con iOS, amigo"
posted by mmrtnt at 12:44 PM on April 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Pre-ribbon Excel: Edit > Paste Special > OK.
Post-ribbon Excel: Home > Paste > Paste Special > OK.


Doesn't Word have a whole other interface so that people don't have to know about Paste Special? That little box that pops up to the right after you just do a normal Paste. To be honest, it seems a bit more intuitive, since the only time I use Paste Special is after I did a Paste and it didn't work right so I had to Undo. Because it's not like I would know that the other app put the text in as plain text or formatted text.
posted by smackfu at 1:23 PM on April 29, 2011


That's an interesting link posted by ennui.bz. I honestly can't for the life of me realize why no one figured out the solution to the "adaptive/personalized" menus not working out right was to just allow users to set up their own interface rather than try to guess what the end-user wanted!

But that's because some large majority of Office users can barely actually mouse along on a computer. They survive by being trained/training themselves to perform meaningless (to them) actions by rote. Who's going to do this configuring? If you are big enough you can hire MS consultants to design a bunch of V.Basic forms, boxes and buttons to customize your office workflow... everyone else gets by with office one size fits all and MS makes money off both ends.

Now, you could design a framework to easily build custom apps to do exactly what your office wants, but then the consultants are doing the value added part, and you are stuck with an infrastructure to maintain.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:30 PM on April 29, 2011


I'll just leave this here. (UBitMenu, gives back the old-style menus that everyone loves.)
posted by sysinfo at 1:30 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


But that's because some large majority of Office users can barely actually mouse along on a computer.

Yes, as far as I know, the Ribbon was mainly designed to make it much easier for people to do stuff that they have never done before and don't even know the name of.
posted by smackfu at 1:41 PM on April 29, 2011


The ribbon is understandably disorienting for casual users, but for financial analysts and accountants who live in spreadsheets and get around exclusively with keyboard shortcuts, there are a lot of intuitive improvements:

Old: Control - 1, H, Tab, C, C, Enter, Enter
New: ALT-H, M(erge), C(enter)

Old: Windows+R, "mspaint.exe"
New: Tap Windows Key, "paint"

Old: Click Rectangle Select, Select, Click Copy To New File, Dialog Box malarkey
New: ALT-H,SE,R. ALT-H,RP (less readable here, admittedly, but easier to execute in practice)

Different strokes for different folks I guess. Not to derail, but keybindings in general are one reason why I haven't completely forsaken Windows for MacOS, which is going in the direction of trackpad gestures. At least in the new Ubuntu w/ Unity you're starting to get the best of both worlds (though OpenOffice is still not as good for scripting).
posted by marco_nj at 1:50 PM on April 29, 2011


ITT, people have difficulty using new features. and complain about How Great It Used To Be. Mostly they use the same language as the people who complained about the early versions of that software displacing whatever competing product they were used to. I'm sure there are some people out there still clinging to Wordstar 2, because they don't need no steenkin' graphical user interface.

Can't wait for the howls of rage when people are asked to start using the Kinect Pro in the office for their presentations and pivot table manipulations. Since there's a built-in microphone, maybe Clippy III can be made to pop up whenever there's a sustained volume peak. Heh heh heh.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:13 PM on April 29, 2011


Now I'm waiting for the open-source "Vi Hero". Starring Tux, of course, in the person of four badly-rescaled GIFs drawn by four different people.
posted by egypturnash at 2:16 PM on April 29, 2011


VI Hero in the land of the Emacs zombies.
posted by mmrtnt at 2:38 PM on April 29, 2011


M-x braaaaaaaaaaains
posted by Zed at 2:43 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


vi-damaged-brains ... <groan> ... vi-damaged-brains ... <shuffles forward> ... vi-damaged-brains ...
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:44 PM on April 29, 2011


Pico this, mutherf$!&er.

s/Clippy/corpse.

That being said:

I prefer using Open Office for philosophical reasons, and because I'm used to it, having used Ubuntu as my primary OS from 2002-2010. But I do need to use Office on occasion for work-related tasks, and I think the ribbon is a big improvement. And if they want to double the help or how-to documents with a moderately fun "game" tutorial, more power to MS. I don't see the downside here - or is this just one of those "it's fun to snark at MS" kind of things?
posted by hank_14 at 2:53 PM on April 29, 2011


There is much to hate about the ribbon (change is frustrating) and the lack of customization tops the list for me. I am thus (in theory) glad there is a stupid game to help me adapt... Though better indexed help software would also have been sufficient. Who knows, maybe I'll learn how to change my default font this way!
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 3:42 PM on April 29, 2011


I am purposefully using a deprecated version of Word because the bulk of my work involves a document template with older formatting macros in it and I can't be bothered to update them. New Englanders dislike change and I ain't about to fix what ain't broke. Works well enough for me. Pass the coffee syrup.

But mostly I don't want to have anything to do with that ribbon, even if it's to hide it. To be perfectly honest almost to point of therapy, the Ribbon versions of Office remind me of a previous soul-crushing cubicle-dwelling existence which I am better off without. The Ribbon is useless middle-management.
posted by Spatch at 3:56 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This honestly confirms my suspicion that Microsoft Office's interface has always been a bit harder to understand than it needs to be, and the ribbon just makes it worse.

If you need a tutorial game to help people use your product, perhaps you should be looking at your interface. I didn't need to play a game or pore over help files to learn how to use my iPod or iTunes.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:38 PM on April 29, 2011


Golly, I just installed Search Commands and all became pleasant.

I was surprised in Office 2010/2011 Search Commands was not built in. It would calm a lot of people down.

Three things to do:

1) Go make the Developer Tab visible;
2) Install Search Commands;
3) Reinstall toolbars using third party software

Now if I could only become proficient with Outlook 2010!
posted by jadepearl at 5:43 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm bitter I didn't get invited to one of those Windows 7 Launch parties.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:48 PM on April 29, 2011


"Need" an optional extra download? Your definition of "need" clearly differs from mine.
posted by hank_14 at 5:49 PM on April 29, 2011


Also, Songsmith.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:52 PM on April 29, 2011


Thankfully I don’t, and never have had to, use Office. I don’t even know what the hell everyone does with it.

All that aside, just from reading this I can’t believe that everyone is OK with the fact that this is considered appropriate for adults these days. That’s the kind of crazy, infantile world we live in. I have to think if you presented something this childish and moronic to an office worker in the middle of the last century they would have punched you, and with good reason.

Microsoft is blatantly saying "We know our customers are immature morons suffering from ADD and the only way to teach them is with cartoons featuring bright colors, flashy things, and prizes. Or else they might wander off and play with their own poo."
posted by bongo_x at 8:24 PM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll assume you're unfamiliar with the mountains of research identifying games as fantastic learning tools for folks of all ages.

And to answer your not particularly serious or adult aside (I wonder if last century workers would find it also a punchable offense), people use Office to write documents, create spreadsheets, and prepare slideware for presentations.
posted by hank_14 at 9:23 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


smh at Search Commands. It's basically a self-indictment of just how crappy the Ribbon redesign was.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:42 PM on April 29, 2011


Vi Hero already exists, it's just called vimtutor and it is not at all graphical.
posted by silby at 10:19 PM on April 29, 2011


In my year and a half working with MS teams (not at MS), I did not find anyone who had the slightest sense of self-awareness or knowledge of the outside world that would make me think this was in any way ironic.

Thats what comes from a company with tens of thousands of employees that dominate large swaths of a city. You can live your entire life in Seattle and never deal with anyone who doesn't work at Microsoft.
posted by softlord at 5:12 PM on May 2, 2011


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