Lem Bingley asks if the SmartTags feature has been quietly removed from Office. It’s an interesting point, especially as the Smart Tags feature was sold to us journos as a major new feature of Office when it was introduced in Office XP – in fact, it was said to be the biggest feature of that release.
The short answer is that Smart Tags are still there, just turned off by default. To get them back, just click the Office button, then Word Options (button at the bottom of the flyout), then Proofing, then AutoCorrect options, then Smart Tags, and check the options you want. But I doubt you miss them.
Come to that, the Adaptive Menus introduced in Office 2000 and touted as a major usability benefit have gone in the new release – see this fascinating blog post by Jensen Harris for why. And even the Task Pane, another Office XP breakthrough, has reduced prominence in 2007. Open up Excel 2003 and what’s the first thing you see? The Getting Started Task Pane, with numerous other Task Panes available from a drop-down list. Some of those Task Panes still exist (Research, for example), but they are now more discreet.
Is there a pattern here? Features introduced with fanfare in one release, developed a little in the next, and then silently dropped two or three versions later? It does look like it, though let’s not forget that Office has still seen off all comers when it comes to market share, so the team must be doing something right.
The obvious question is whether the new ribbon UI will be a buried option and off by default in Office 2010 or thereabouts. If the past is any guide to the future, it might well. On the other hand, I respect the amount of effort Microsoft has put into this one. It is a more convincing effort at UI innovation than Smart Tags or adaptive menus. Personally I’m not having much trouble with it, having discovered the Quick Access Toolbar and how to customize it, though why this is hidden by default mystifies me*. Further, I do see how it exposes features that could easily have been missed before. I am watching with interest to see what how the non-technical world out there reacts.
*Correction: It is not hidden – it appears by default in the top left title bar. I prefer to move it below the ribbon. In my experience, customizing the Quick Access Toolbar is the key to being productive with the new Office.