Jan 27, 2021 • 36M

[LISTEN] 077. What Is Software Bloat, Really?

File, Edit, View, Insert, Tools, Window, Help — the common top-level menu of Office applications after a decade of organization and design battles

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Appears in this episode

Steven Sinofsky
Personal stories and lessons from inside the rise and fall of the PC revolution as narrated by the author.

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In this and the next five sections, the story of Office12 (Office 2007) unfolds. This is really the story of the development of the new user interface for Office, which became known as the Ribbon. To many readers, this will seem much smaller today than it was at the time, and that is understandable. I hope to put this work in the context of the day so readers can see just how big a deal this was. The graphical interface was the paradigm of computing. The menu bar was the manifestation of that. The addition of graphical buttons or toolbars was a significant advance and clearly the biggest addition to the WIMP paradigm.

One of the realities about a common toolset is that over time all applications get commoditized or at least appear the same. Everything looked like a big collection of buttons. That means two tools in the same category (two spreadsheets) will converge in how they look, and to the market they will be perceived as interchangeable. This perceived commoditization is one half of the story of Office12. The other half is figuring out how to make our extremely sophisticated products usable to hundreds of millions of people, something without precedent. A car typically as a dozen controls one needs to know to use it. Microwaves, televisions, thermostats, and so on are usually less than that.

Regardless of the reason, Office has thousands of commands. Making sense of those is an impossible customer task. So, what did we do? This section is an overview of the specifics of bloat. The next section presents some history, and then the design over the remaining sections.