Software

Office 2010 annoyances that I can no longer ignore

Even when you like a software package, certain aspects of it may bug you. Deb Shinder shares her list of the most vexing Office 2010 features.

In some ways, it might seem that I'm the wrong person to write this article. I've been working with Office 2010 every day since the early betas, and I like it a lot. In fact, way back before it was available to the public, I wrote about 10 cool features to look forward to in Office 2010. But every software package has its annoying aspects, and Office 2010 is no exception. Although many of the changes make it easier to perform common tasks, there are times when you just shake your head and wonder, "Why did they do that?" In this piece, I'll look at the dark side of Office 2010 and those little things that annoy me (and other Office users).

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: There are too many editions (but not enough choices)

It's good to have choices, but when it comes to software, many users wish vendors would subscribe to the KISS ("keep it simple, sweetheart") philosophy. One of the biggest complaints about Windows Vista and then Windows 7 was the number of editions you have to choose from. Office has developed the same problem: How do you figure out which edition has what you need? You can have Home and Student edition (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote), Office Home and Business (which adds Outlook), Office Professional (which adds Access and Publisher), or Office Professional Plus (which adds SharePoint Workspace and InfoPath and is available only through volume licensing).

On the other hand, some might say there aren't enough choices (or the choices aren't configured correctly). What if you want Word, Excel, OneNote, and Outlook but don't need PowerPoint? What if you want Publisher but have no need for Access or Excel? What if you want SharePoint Workspace but your company isn't big enough for volume licensing? Sure, you could buy the individual applications, but that ends up costing more. How about a "cafeteria plan," where you pay X dollars for X number of applications and you get to pick the applications? Just an idea.

When it comes to putting together a suite of software programs, you can please some of the people some of the time — and the rest of the people are likely to be annoyed.

2: The cost is steep, with no upgrade price

At $499 for the full boxed edition of Office Professional, the software is considered to be just too expensive by many users — especially when Open Office, which has some of the same functionality, is available free. But it's not just that the prices are high — it's that they're confusing, too. For instance, the Professional Academic edition has the same programs as the regular Pro edition but costs $400 less. Teaching might not pay so well, but sometimes it carries nice perks.

For any particular package, you have the options of full price (boxed retail, which allows you to install Office on two computers) and the "key card" price, which is the cost for a single-license card with a key that lets you unlock the software that's preloaded on machines by the OEMs. What you don't have is an "upgrade" (discounted) price for those who already have a previous version of Office installed. And that has many users very annoyed.

3: Color schemes are limited (and ugly)

The color scheme might seem like a little thing, but to me — and a number of other Office 2010 users I've heard from — the new and definitely not improved offering of color schemes is a major annoyance, especially in Outlook. I used the black color scheme in Office 2007 and it worked well for me. The borders were a crisp black but the backgrounds were all white, including that of the left folder pane. Now the true black option is gone. There is an option called Black, but it's really a muddy gray, and it turns both the left folder pane and the right Today pane dark with white text. This makes them harder to read and, frankly, a lot less attractive. If some people like that, it's fine to make it an option. But why not leave the old color schemes as options, too? There's no reason we should be limited to just three choices here, anyway. That's just plain annoying.

4: Recent docs are buried Backstage

In Office 2007 Word, Excel, and PowerPoint applications, clicking the big Office button invoked a relatively compact menu with items such as New, Open, Save, and Print in the left pane. Recent Documents were handily displayed in the right pane.

In the final release of Office 2010, the Office button is gone. Instead, we have the File tab. It looks just like the rest of the Ribbon tabs but instead of taking you to a Ribbon bar, clicking it opens up Backstage view — which has three panes and takes up much more space.

By default, to see your recent documents, you have to go to Backstage view and click Recent in the left pane. There is a way to change this: At the bottom of the list of recent documents, you'll see the Quickly Access This Number Of Recent Documents check box, with a drop-down box to set the number. After you enable this option, your recent docs will show up in the left pane of the Backstage view. But it's annoying that this option is not more obvious.

5: Outlook gets the blue (or silver or "black") Ribbon

In Office 2007, Microsoft introduced the Ribbon to most Office programs — and received a lot of negative user backlash for it — but Outlook retained the traditional menus and toolbars. With Office 2010, the Ribbon comes to Outlook, too, and that's sure to annoy all those anti-Ribbon activists out there. Personally, I like the Ribbon interface most of the time, but I am annoyed that it has resulted in problems like the next one in this list.

6: Add-ins: Go to the back of the line

With Outlook 2007, when I installed an add-in such as Twinbox (which lets you compose and send Twitter updates from Outlook), the Twinbox toolbar was added to the interface along with the regular Outlook toolbars. It was right there, whenever I wanted it. In Outlook 2010, at first I thought it didn't install properly because the toolbar didn't appear. Finally, I found it. You have to click the Add-Ins tab every time you want to use it. Again, this brings an extra step and a little bit of extra annoyance to the user experience.

7: Newest is on top — still

My biggest overall annoyance with Office 2010 would have to be those previous annoyances that Micrsoft had the opportunity to fix... and didn't. The "newest on top" phenomenon has been a pet peeve of mine with various versions of Outlook. Blogs, with their newest posts at the top of the page, may have started this trend of putting the newest of everything at the top of the page. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I like to go from top to bottom, with the oldest messages at the top and the newest at the bottom. By default, Outlook (still) does it the other way around.

It's easy to click the column header and reverse that, within a folder. But why is there no way to change this setting on a global basis? When you have dozens of folders, it's really annoying to have to go through and reset every one of them to the "right" display. Invariably, there is some folder I rarely access and haven't changed, and then I open it and am at first confused because things are not in the right order. So then I'm annoyed that I have to change it yet again.

8: Upload Center takes center stage

Office 2010 is integrated with the free Office Web Apps, which can be very handy if you need to work at a public computer that doesn't have Office installed. However, if you don't use Web Apps, you might be annoyed by the Upload Center icon that Office 2010 puts in the notification area (system tray) of your taskbar. Upload Center auto-starts by default when you boot the OS, so even if you uncheck the option to display it, it will run and take up valuable system resources. If you want to disable it completely, open the system configuration tool (msconfig.exe) and uncheck Microsoft Office 2010 on the Startup tab.

9: 64-bit can be a hindrance

Office 2010 is the first version of Microsoft Office to come in a 64-bit version. The 64-bit version can take advantage of the larger virtual and physical memory capacity of today's 64-bit processors and operating systems. This is especially useful if you need to use large Excel spreadsheets (more than 2GB in size).

Although the 32-bit version is the default, due to compatibility issues, it's a good bet that many power users will install the 64-bit version. However, you may find that your favorite add-ins don't work with the 64-bit version. ActiveX Controls and add-ins written for 32-bit Office don't work in the 64-bit process. And although we expect 64-bit to equal better performance, you may find graphics rendering is actually slower with 64-bit Office because of the lack of support for Intel's MMX technology on 64-bit. In addition, the Windows Mobile Device Center doesn't synchronize with the 64-bit version of Outlook 2010.

Another problem is that you can't install 64-bit Office if you have any 32-bit Office programs installed. This means you have to uninstall your 32-bit Visio, for instance. And you can't install 32-bit PowerPoint 2010 (to get Flash support) alongside 64-bit Excel (for large file support).

64-bit is the future, but you might not be ready just yet for the annoyances that come along with the more "futuristic" version of Office 2010.

10: Social networking integration falls short

Sometimes, the biggest annoyance in a new version of software is the disconnect between what the new features could be and what they actually deliver. A good example in Office 2010 is the social networking integration in Outlook. It's a lovely idea: Check out your friends' updates in the People Pane at the bottom of their email messages. The problem is that it's really designed to work with SharePoint 2010, so if your company doesn't use SharePoint, some of those great features don't work.

Yes, there are social connectors for other social networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Windows Live. And after you jump through some hoops — install an updated version of the Social Connector and then download and install the connector for each social network — you can see your friends' status updates in the People Pane. What you can't do is do anything with that information. This would have been so much better if they had provided a way to comment on or "like" updates or post your own updates from within Outlook.

Summary

I like Office 2010 and I use it every day. In most ways, it's a big improvement over its predecessors — but as with anything new, there are still some annoying aspects. Let's hope Microsoft addresses them in the next version.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

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