Google Buys DocVerse: Maybe This Collaborative Authoring Thing Finally Has Legs?

March 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Content Management, Office, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

This morning, Google announced it is buying a little company in San Francisco that enables real-time and asynchronous (offline) collaborative authoring of Microsoft Office docs called DocVerse.  The founders of DocVerse are actually ex-Microsoft product folks.

As I wrote back in September 2008, I believe collaborative authoring is one of the top five trends for next generation authoring.  The increase in technological solutions to the challenges of dealing with multiple authors has continued since then, with many approaches to different aspects of the problem.

First, we’ve seen responses from the big guys.

  • Microsoft: Office 2010 provides a slew of simultaneous editing features (i.e., multiple cursors typing in different positions of the same document), some in conjunction with SharePoint 2010.  Simultaneous editing was already in OneNote, but since that product is mostly relegated to simple note-taking status by all but a few aficionados, having it in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel is hitting the big time.
  • Google: Google Docs allows multiple users to edit the same document in their own format, although in January they added the ability to share any file type (not with simultaneous editing).

To figure out who has the best answer requires knowing the problem you’re trying to solve.  The term “co-authoring” is vague and doesn’t specify what aspects of multiple authors are being addressed.  Is it:

  • Check-in, check-out, and versioning:  The most basic functionality required by multiple asynchronous authors is the ability to tag a document as “checked out” and file it back in later.  Document management systems, collaborative workspaces, and source code control systems have provided this functionality for a long time.  Let’s skip right past this category.
  • Review and Commenting: Often there is one document owner who writes most of the content and has primary responsibility for the finished product, but many reviewers whose input needs to be managed.  Microsoft has promised to allow multiple reviewers to comment up a “single version of truth” document, which would solve many hassles involved with emailing documents around and merging changes.  Other vendors such as TextFlow and Backboard have taken stabs at managing the review process.  Managing the process (verifying reviewers have been heard from, that all comments have been addressed, etc.) is still not directly addressed and provides a more difficult procedural and cultural hurdle than technically figuring out how to merge comments.
  • Simultaneous authoring: Students in classes that want to contribute to a single document of notes during a class have used SubEthaEdit, a basic text editor that has been around for quite a while and allows co-authoring with multiple cursors in documents. Zoho allows this too.
  • Componentized authoring and content reuse: Except for shared note taking and intensive review sessions, simultaneous authoring is not very useful.  What is more common is divvying up pieces of a deliverable to multiple authors for final assembly by a chief editor.  This may involve assigning sections of a presentation deck to a series of authors or dividing a Word document into sections or chapters for members of a team to work on.  High end document creators use XML authoring software such as Altova XMLSpy, Arbortext Editor, BroadVision QuickSilver, JustSystems XMetaL, PTC Arbortext and, Stylus Studio. But a large swath of non-professional authors need easier, less-expensive tools.  One example is Vasont which manages content components as collections, particularly for translation projects.  This problem requires fundamentally different tooling than the set provided by Office 2010 or Google/DocVerse.  It’s less whiz-bang than seeing a demo with multiple people typing away with different colored cursors and arrows to their locations in a document, but I think attention on componentized authoring would yield higher productivity for organizations than simultaneous authoring.

As far as I’m concerned, this purchase is not a big deal yet until it yields some fruit in the unknown future.  And I’d rather see an emphasis on helping authors to componentize and reuse content rather than worry about how to handle about them typing over each other’s cursors.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.


A First Look at SharePoint 2010

July 18, 2009 at 8:48 am | Posted in Catalyst09, collaboration, Composite Applications, Microsoft, Microsoft SharePoint, Office | 17 Comments

The spigot on the information coming out of Microsoft about SharePoint 2010 was cranked up from a drip to a trickle on July 13th with the debut of the SharePoint 2010 web site. Microsoft has been promising to open it to a full-blown fire hose at the SharePoint Conference in October, but until then it’s worth going through what has been released. (there’s also an invitation-only technical preview).

First, before we get to features, there’s a new conceptual view. The old 2007 “SharePoint donut” got tons of usage since most everyone is at a loss to describe what SharePoint is without it. Sure, it’s a “collaboration server”, but what does it do? Well, let me whip out this diagram and walk through it …

Here’s my best guess so far on how the old donut maps to the new one. “Sites” is the most vague (statements like “Sites allows you to expand across environments” that describe capabilities rather than a definition). I think Sites is just a generic, catch-all bucket for anything involving creation of websites, so it overlaps with all the others.

SP2007 to 2010 mapping

Here are my takeaways from the main video (with marketing-speak omitted except where I found it interesting or telling). I’ll be clear where I’m injecting my own point of view by using [brackets], although the rest is paraphrased so what you see here is filtered through my own perspective. I encourage you to view the videos yourself as well.

Sharepoint 2010 Overview (Tom Rizzo)

  • Mentions how they are supporting all browsers (although he tellingly stumbles when trying to say “Safari” … )
  • Promises great strides in social computing
  • Went around the SharePoint 2010 donut:
    • Sites
      • Sites are all about sharing information
      • Mentions a further push into extranets and internet sites
    • Communities
      • Plans to support a hierarchical structure of communities
      • “Regardless of how they come together” [implies to me embracing end user creation and maintenance of their own communities rather than just enabling administrators to create communities]
    • Content
      • People-centric, LOB-centric
      • “We’ve been Working hard to manage content from creation to disposition and destruction … ”
      • Will enhance ability of users to discover content
      • [our analysis of SharePoint 2007’s enterprise content management showed weakness at the later stages of the process , so beefing up capabilites around disposition and discovery seem to show positive action from Microsoft to close the gap]
    • Search
      • FAST will be combined with existing SharePoint search.
      • More investments have been made in uncovering hidden assets
      • People search will be (better) blended with search.
      • At 8:22 he says “You’ll be able to find rich people across your organization”. [I guess that’s handy if Bill Gates works at your company and you need to borrow money for lunch]
      • There’s a plug for the business connectivity services (formerly business data catalog) in terms of searching structured data
    • Insights
      • Combining the rest of SharePoint with the business intelligence stack. [not really any detail here, or nothing new to talk about]
    • Composites
      • “Rapidly create dynamic bus solutions” [At the SharePoint conference in 2006, none other than Bill Gates said building composites is the #1 capability of SharePoint. If they’re going to get away from the “portal” word which is increasingly watered down then this is a good choice. Composite applications encompasses portals, but also other important styles of web apps made from piece parts including any type of assembly of web services or RESTful services, mashups, or business process management]
  • Features shown in the demo
    • User interface
      • The Office ribbon now shows up all over SharePoint and is removable, customizable, contextual
      • He showed live editing of text in a website, and as you mouse over different font sizes you get preview of fonts just like in Word 2007
      • He showed a very fat client-like resizing of images, adding a border, etc.
      • You can add Silverlight with an out of box Silverlight web part
      • There’s the ability to apply PowerPoint themes to sites (colors, fonts, etc.)
    • Business connectivity
      • You’ll be able to put a Visio diagram directly in SP, and since Visio can have links to get live data from business systems that means live data too [neat!]
      • Forget BDC: it’s now BCS. There’s a new acronym: Business Connectivity Services (BCS) to replace the business data catalog (BDC)
      • Instead of just sites in SP designer 2010, it has lists, workflows, etc.
      • Also has an item in SP designer called “entities” for creating connections to bus data
      • Demoed a SQL connecter that auto-creates CRUD (create, read, update, delete)
      • You cal see a BCS data set in SharePoint and it looks like a list, but it’s a SQL database. Demoed filtering.
      • You can also click “edit item” and update the item. [I hope they improve the interface. It refreshes and fills the whole screen with a data dump of the row. Not at all like editing in a cell]
      • Demoed creating a new doc from SharePoint in Word which has a bunch of fields defined in BCS. You can select a customer name from the list and it fills in all the fields from that record in the document information panel
    • Work with data in richer ways
      • Microsoft finally clarified that Groove (new name=SharePoint Workplace) is the rich client for SharePoint. [wow, that took a long time for something we knew was going to happen]
      • Workplace can sync info from a SharePoint site
      • Showed in SP workspace how he can edit info offline, and then synced back up by selecting “Connect to server” and “Sync supplier list”. [Not sure why its so manual. In Notes you don’t have to hit “connect” then “sync”. Maybe there are automated, scheduled options too that weren’t shown. I hope so]
    • Tom emphasized that these are just some of the features – not an exhaustive list.

SP 2010 for IT professional video (Richard Riley)

  • He mentioned on premise or as SaaS
  • Beta later this year, general availability 1st half of 2010
  • Goal is to scale up and out with high reliability [just as Bill Pray noted in his thoughts on Exchange 2010, it seems many of the administrative enhancements for SharePoint 2010 are to help it support SaaS rather than to just help current on premises installations]
  • [bookmark] IT professional productivity
    • Central admin: he mentioned “easier to find” and ribbon UI [he didn’t mention any actual functionality changes]
    • There’s a best practice analyzer
      • It analyzes health, performance, and has reporting
      • Rules can regularly run and send pop ups with issues encountered. Admins can build rules and automatically apply fixes
      • There is a new logging database, extensible with custom data and custom reports
  • Scalable unified infrastructure
    • Large lists will not hang the system anymore [yahoo!]
    • The admin can set thresholds for how many rows max will be returned. And there’s a “happy hour” when you can get larger responses from queries.
  • Unattached content database recovery
    • Admins can browse content in repositories, create an export, and upload to list
  • Flexible deployment
    • You can detach a 2007 database and attach it to 2010
    • When you migrate to 2010 it keeps UI the same, but you can select an option to switch user experiences

SP 2010 for Developer (Paul Andrew)

  • Developer productivity
    • Paul talked about the Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint tools
    • There is a new visual Web Part designer and team foundation server
    • You can look at lists and other server items from the server explorer within VS without having to go to SharePoint
    • Can specify deployment configuration such as a package WSP file that can include custom installation steps
    • Demoed click and drag creation of a Web Part with a button that calls LINQ query
  • Rich platform
    • There is the ability to use LINQ to access SharePoint lists including joins
    • The new client object model can be used to run code on the client machine (.NET, Javascript, Silverlight)
    • Paul also mentioned the Silverlight Web Part and business connectivity services
  • Flexible deployment
    • Paul talked about solution deployment [but frankly I got distracted at this point and don’t have notes here. I believe this is an attempt to address SP2007 weaknesses around staging from test to QA to production]

Data connectivity services

  • In the demos, DCS still showed as BDC in VS 2010 since it’s not finished yet
  • Paul showed how it supports creating methods for BCS CRUD
  • In SharePoint you can create an “external list” now, which means data from the BCS
  • There are new “list” menus in the ribbon bar in the SharePoint web UI
  • Demoed using Silverlight to fill a data grid with data from a SharePoint list. With Silverlight, it’s running on the client so things like sorting the list are done without calls back to the server

That’s a summary of what I took away from the latest information on SharePoint.  At our SharePoint Workshop (SharePoint 2007: The Current Governance Nightmare—and Will It Get Better?) on July 28th at Catalyst we have added a module on what’s new in SharePoint 2010 that includes our statements on what we thought was missing from 2007.  Seeing new stuff is great, but lining it up against the weaknesses in 2007 provides a better view of the progress being made.  All said though, it’s still too early to stand up and applaud.  There’s a lot more information left in the tank that has to trickle out first.

When You’re a Productivity Suite, Everything’s a Nail

May 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Content Management, Information Work, Office | Leave a comment

One of the arguments that many alternate productivity suite vendors have made is that most users of Office are not power users and don’t need all the complex functionality it provides.  These basic users just want the ability to create simple documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and the unneeded complexity of Office makes Office bloated, overly complex, and too expensive.  Guy Creese summed it up well:

Both sides of this argument are wrong: Microsoft saying that you need to overbuy because you never know when a worker might need a certain feature (true, but not as often as Microsoft claims); Google, IBM, and Sun saying that you don’t need all that functionality (actually, sometimes you do).

In thinking through some common productivity use cases with Guy for some upcoming research he’s doing on productivity suites, it occurred to me that an argument could be made that certain complex features should be left out not because they’re infrequently needed, but because they don’t belong in that tool in the first place. 

Microsoft has given the world three hammers in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and now every content situation looks like a nail to information workers weaned on these tools.  They are very generalized tools and have been expanding in functionality to incorporate many situations that other tools would be better for.

To give just a few examples I often see:

  • Excel as a database and reporting tool.  It’s not uncommon to see spreadsheets with thousands of rows being maintained and various tricks to get summary data out of them and enable multiple users to input data into it.  Isn’t that what simple end-user databases are supposed to do for you?
  • PowerPoint as a photo slide show.  I keep getting .pps files with slide shows of funny pictures or inspirational images, one .jpg per slide.  Why?  Just to save the trouble of someone figuring out how to use a zip file of .jpgs?
  • Excel as business intelligence tool. Excel is often cited as the #1 BI tool.  Depending on how high-falutin’ your definition of BI is (and mine stretches to OLAP), shouldn’t you just use a BI tool if that’s what you want to do?
  • Word or PowerPoint as a page layout tool.  Want to create a greeting card?  Or do fancy layout of a newsletter?  That’s why there’s a category of software for doing page layout and publishing, ranging from consumer-level to professional. 

While there’s no doubt sometimes people stretch tools too far simply because they are familiar with them, it shows forethought and flexibility when new uses for a tool keep cropping up.  Specialized tools can be expensive and require learning yet one more interface.

Ultimately, this is just one facet of the “which tool to use?” problem I outlined previously, and it extends to most tools in the information worker toolbelt, from using e-mail for collaboration instead of a collaborative workspace to collating changes in Word docs instead of using a wiki.

This is a cross-posting from the KnowledgeForward blog, but here in my personal blog I’ll add one more example of stretching the boundaries of Office: using PowerPoint to design a New Year’s hat for my kid (see below).  Not quite what its creators intended I’m sure!

New years baby 2009 sm

What Microsoft Office 14 Needs: A New, Separate SKU

March 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Blogs, Content Management, Microsoft, Microsoft SharePoint, Office, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

Recently I posted some guesses as to what features Microsoft will put into Office 14’s content creation tools (the productivity suite consisting of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote).  But those were guesses about what Microsoft would do, not what they could do or should do. 

There’s a lot of interest in O14 since professional pundits (and swivel-chair pundits in fuzzy cubicles everywhere) want to speculate about whether the 800 pound gorilla known as Microsoft Office can be brought down by plucky upstarts like Google or Zoho, or free options like OpenOffice or IBM Symphony. But this speculation is misplaced.  I start the NextGen authoring section of my content creation seminar with a prediction:

If Microsoft is ever dethroned in the content creation market, it will not be because they were beat on features or marketing … it will be because of a fundamental shift in the content creation market for which they failed to adapt.

In other words, it is not Vendor X that will beat them by being cheaper or more feature rich.  It’s Suite X that will beat them with a different set of technologies that addresses a unique but growing subset of content creators.  There is a fundamental shift in how content is being created.  It has bubbled up from old concepts such as collaborative editing and been picked up by web 2.0 and its Gen Y adherents who think in rapidly produced, hyperlinked, searchable content chunks instead of ponderous, static, e-mailed documents. I introduced the NextGen content creation trends here (with further description here).  This is how I see the content creation environment today:

Next gen trends fig1 bg

Note that I chose to visualize this as a central core being expanded by these new needs rather than a versioning depiction such as 1.0 —> 2.0.  That’s because the core needs will always exist in enterprises, but we need to acknowledge a new set of needs that is not well met by the core authoring tools and that will account for an increasing percentage of content creation as Gen Y’ers enter the workforce and information workers get used to authoring in new ways via blogs and wikis.

We are at an inflection point in the way content is being created.  Microsoft would be unwise to pass up this opportunity to segment the market.  Microsoft may be able to get through one more major version of Office by stretching traditional document-related technology to fit.  But this anchors their attempts to address new content creation needs to a 1990’s document-centric mindset.  By carving out a new target market, they build incremental revenue (most buyers of this suite would still have needs for core Office as well), plant the seeds for a new franchise that would be small but grow more rapidly than Office, and compete better with innovative vendors that are unencumbered by entrenched bureaucracy and sunk costs.  And all while helping to mitigate the bloat and complexity of Office by separating out features that will be unused or confusing for many core Office users. There’s a chance that this would cannibalize Office 14 upgrades, but my instinct is that it would make no or a minor short term loss (since the new target market is small) and pay for itself within the next two versions of Office. It could be rolled out on half-cycles with Office to help avoid cannibalization and steady the famously spiky revenue stream and attention that Office releases garner.

Accordingly, I argue that Microsoft should create a new product (a SKU in industry parlance) for the NextGen content tools rather than continually trying to bolt onto Office Pro.  It could be called Office Extended, although some more thinking would elicit a more clever term.  Here’s how I would start:

  • OneNote would shift over to anchor the new suite.  With new branding and development, it can finally stand up as a new type of content platform that allows for content components, real-time collaborative authoring, and improved linking rather than just being a productivity add-on aimed at students and meeting notes.  OneNote will only be truly understood to represent a different paradigm when it breaks the chain it has to the Office Home and Student suite
  • The Live Writer blogging tool would finally get a real home here
  • Microsoft would have a place to create a real wiki rather than the SharePoint template that stands in as the official “Microsoft wiki” for lack of anything better.  No one – not even SharePoint folks – asserts that SharePoint’s wikis are in the league of any best of breed tools, and I can’t think why Microsoft would not want to compete for a best of breed wiki any less than they want to have a best of breed browser.  And remember the pain that being too slow to recognize a “good enough” 80/20 browser wasn’t enough caused them.
  • Microsoft would take an 80/20 swipe at the XML content creation market with a new Xmetal-like tool, much as they grabbed a new low end of the records management market with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007

And that’s just a start.  Part of the idea is to give this new market segment a new matching suite to grow with.  This idea fits Microsoft’s software+services direction since a few of these products (wikis and blogs) are not purely client-based, so services are needed.  I guarantee the evolution of content creation is not over, so the new SKU provides a place with plenty of room to stretch and grow new creation mechanisms the market demands without having to add a 14th pound of flour to the 10 pound bag of Office.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Some Un-educated Guesses about Office 14

March 12, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Content Management, Information Work, Microsoft, Office | Leave a comment

I posted some guesses about what will be in Office 14 over at the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.  As I said there, these are totally un-educated guesses since I haven’t been briefed on it yet.  Here’s the quick summary of my guesses on the productivity part:


  • Breaking down some barriers in moving content to/from the web
  • Better leveraging / integration of OneNote
  • Tighter SharePoint integration with the productivity side of Office
  • Better use of XML schemas
  • Better tagging and use of controlled vocabulary across the suite
  • Web editors with Silverlight
  • Real-time collaborative editing

All well and good, but I’ll be doing another posting on what I think they could do with Office.  Here’s a hint: It involves a new SKU (product that you pay for) …

Component-Oriented Authoring: The Journey Begins with the First Step

February 20, 2009 at 11:21 am | Posted in Content Management, Information Work, Office, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

I highly recommend an eWeek series by Eric Severson on component-based authoring (see part 1, part 2, part 3).  Eric notes how the content creation tools that came of age in the 1980’s are becoming an anachronism in today’s world of expectations for searchable, fresh information.  New  content creation technologies such as blogs, wikis, and easily updatable website are often a better fit for these new needs.

Eric makes a great case for why component-oriented authoring is needed.  But he explores the more well-trodden path of technical and product documentation.  While this does encompass the current sweet spot for component-oriented content creation (and vendors and service providers that implement XML-based content and DITA), I find it more interesting to explore how the sweet spot is expanding.  Technical writers know they are professional authors.  But when does this start hitting the average information worker who doesn’t think of herself as a professional writer, but in fact writing underpins a large amount of what she does?

That question leads to another: Who addresses the gap between the current XML content creation tools (which require significant setup of schemas by people experienced in XML or training on DITA) and the current productivity tools (like Word, where “anything goes”)?  Within that gap lie “lightly structured” or “occasionally structured” documents that are partially unstructured but contain reusable and tagged components in places.

I recently did some research on component-based authoring for my overview “Content Authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 Age” (non-clients can see a summary of the NextGen Content Creation trends here).  Microsoft folks demonstrated to me how Word can be stretched to cover this space with a bit of programming and some slightly awkward UI.  And JustSystems XMeTaL folks described how their tool could be stretched to cover documents with less structure by creating a custom schema.  But you’d still have a separation of authoring, formatting, and publishing that makes sense in large scale, but is onerous at small scale content production.  It’s not an XMeTaL issue – the same applies to other XML authoring tools generally used in structured content creation environments such as Altova XMLSpy, Arbortext Editor, BroadVision QuickSilver, PTC Arbortext, and Stylus Studio.

Until the bridge in the middle is built, a few content authors will continue to fly from the unstructured to structured worlds, but the mass of authors will struggle to make do with their existing tools while waiting for an easier way to take that first semi-structured step in a longer journey.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Complimentary Burton Group Public Seminar: The Present and Future of Content Creation

February 11, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Posted in Content Management, Enterprise 2.0, Information Work, Microsoft, Office, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

For those of you in the Chicago area I wanted to point out a free seminar I’ll be doing in March.  I hope to see you there.

Complimentary Burton Group Public Seminar
Hosted by: Baxter Credit Union

The Present and Future of Content Creation

Wednesday, March 11, 2008 from 9:00 AM until 11:30 AM
Baxter Credit Union
340 North Milwaukee Avenue
Vernon Hills, IL 60061
Click here for map

Seminar Attendees Receive Complimentary Report
Productivity Suite Proliferation: Is It Time to Ditch Microsoft Office?
by Guy Creese

Content Authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 Age
By Craig Roth

Featuring Presentations by Burton Group Analyst: Craig Roth

Craig Roth, Service Director for Collaboration and Content Strategies, will describe how new content authoring, collaboration, aggregating, publishing, and searching technologies are impacting the writing process, and the challenges on the horizon for content authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 age.

Productivity Suite Proliferation: Is it Time to Ditch Microsoft Office?
Microsoft Office has long dominated the productivity suite market. While it still “owns” the market, enterprises looking for a product for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations now have many alternatives to pick from. This overview will look at software (e.g., WordPerfect,, and Lotus Symphony) and SaaS alternatives (e.g., Google Apps, Think Free, and Zoho) and discuss whether now is the time to replace Microsoft Office and put something else in its place.

Will the Traditional Productivity Suite Still Matter in 2010
Content authoring technology, such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, was originally just a tool that enabled the authoring process. However, with functional enhancements in the basic productivity suite, increased interest in brainstorming and mind-mapping tools, and the emergence of Web 2.0 authoring tools, it is now apparent that technology is changing how we write and what we write, even though information workers may not always be conscious of its effect.

Please RSVP by March 9, 2009 to: Curtis Carter at 801-304-8111 or

A Personalized View of the Microsoft Office Ribbon Bar UI

September 30, 2008 at 11:07 am | Posted in Information Work, Office, usability, User experience | 2 Comments

The Wall St. Journal had a section on the Technology Innovation Awards yesterday (9/29/08)which included a trends section called “The Latest Buzz On …” on page R2.  In it, user interface guru Jakob Nielsen praises ribbons bars and, in particular, the ribbons in Microsoft Office 2007 (like those in PowerPoint 2007 below).  I’m going to disagree with Jakob here, and it isn’t the first time.  I’ve been diving into Office 2007 more extensively lately and am not a fan of the new UI.

 Powerpoint ribbon

As a UI, it seems to have sacrificed personalization for context.  By context I mean the drawing tools appear at the top when you click on a drawing object and otherwise they remain hidden so as not to distract you.  That’s nice.  But the toolbar used to adapt to who I am, not just what I’m doing.  If I was a user of the indent feature, it would show up on the toolbar and if I didn’t use it it would eventually disappear since there isn’t room for every icon.  If I wanted to have the review toolbar float near the text and keep other options at the top of the screen to fit my personal work style I could.  In fact, I could move any toolbar to float or dock in any side of the screen.  Now I can only appear at the top and you can only customize the quickbar which is permanently docked.

Besides that, there are still many items that seem to be randomly placed.  There is only so much screen real estate on the ribbon to lay out commands and have them attractively grouped, so certain commands couldn’t fit in their optimal spot.  Does “research” belong under Review?  Doesn’t turning on “snap to grid” in PowerPoint belong under some menu option – any menu – rather than having to right click in the workspace?

There is nothing under the “home” tab that one would guess should be categorized under “home”.  Is “home” a function, process, or task I do like insert, review, or view?  Why would I expect to change fonts, styles, and bullets under “home”?  Didn’t “paste” make more sense under “edit” (its old place) rather than “home” or “insert”?

I know that any UI design, particularly that of a complex system such as Office, is a choice between the lesser of evils.  Everyone thinks differently and I’m sure Microsoft did extensive research to ask people where they would look for things and my brain just isn’t on the same wavelength.  But that’s why I think personalization is so important.  You can never get it just right, so allowing the system to have dynamic last-used, first-shown buttons and movable tool bars helps each user adjust.  Sure training and support can be a little tougher when icons can move, but I think that problem is minimal compared to everyday use.  And I know you can do anything to the ribbons you want to programmatically, but it used to strike a better balance for the experienced user, but not one that wants to dig into code or buy a 3rd party product – like ones that put the interface back to what it was before.

Top 5 Trends for NextGen Authoring

September 17, 2008 at 7:28 am | Posted in collaboration, Content Management, Information Work, Office, social software | 2 Comments

I’ve been researching trends in next-generation (NextGen) content authoring since the spring and I just ran across a fun blast from the past. It’s a review of the very first version of Microsoft Word for Windows in Software Magazine. The article quotes Bill Gates saying that Microsoft Word is “the word processor designed for the 1990s”.  Now, here we are within sight of the 2010s and the 13th version of Microsoft Office, and the question that comes to my mind is this: are we still using the word processor of the 1990s? Or more accurately, are we still caught in the paradigm of the tools of the 1990s (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, email), even though needs for collaboration, reuse, living documents, and quicker authoring cycles have evolved?

Well, from the title of this post you can guess I think there is something more: NextGen authoring.  The core authoring suite has certainly evolved and will continue to play a major part in the lives of information workers.  But I have identified several trends that point out how much further these tools have to go and how valuable some categories outside the core suite can be. The trends are:

  • Collaborative authoring
  • Content reuse
  • Living documents
  • Freshness preference
  • Dangerous findability

To a large extent, organizations haven’t tackled these needs head-on because they are not a pain point. Indeed, they have become a numb point. Authors have become used to clumsy workarounds such as e-mailing files around for comment, creating a new request for proposal by copying an old one then hollowing it out, or click-and-dragging sections of slides from one presentation into a starter template to generate a new presentation (thereby leaving multiple fragmented versions of slides scattered and out of sync across enterprise file stores). They are so used to this by now they don’t generally think of tools to make this better.

But some information workers have decided not to sit waiting for the organization to give them new tools. They’ve applied new methods of collaborating, finding, and reusing content with existing productivity suites, collaborative workspaces, and web conferencing. They’ve also begun using tools that have evolved along with NextGen authoring needs such as wikis, blogs, XML authoring, mind mapping, concept mapping, and note management. These tools have proven that authors don’t mind authoring collaboratively, in small chunks, and doing a little bit of metatagging if it gets them something in return.  And once authors are primed for granular reuse, the standard productivity suite can evolve into something much more useful than Bill Gates could have conceived when praising that first Windows word processor in 1990.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies Blog

The OOXML/ODF Storm Hit While I Was Out of Town

January 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Analyst biz, Content Management, Office | 2 Comments

I just got back from a business trip last night to find that a storm had hit.  My house is fine, but my e-mail inbox is wrecked.  The storm was caused by a document recently published by the Burton Group called “What’s Up, .DOC? ODF, OOXML, and the Revolutionary Implications of XML in Productivity Applications”.  A small minority of the comments address technical issues with the document, but the vast majority are mudslinging that call everything from our objectivity to our parental heritage into question.

This document was published in the Collaboration and Content Strategies service at Burton Group.  I am the manager of that service and the analysts (Guy Creese and Peter O’Kelly) that wrote the document are in CCS.  I stand behind the document, Guy and Peter, and Burton Group fully. 

In seeing this reaction to the document I am not entirely surprised.  My blog entry from September called Microsoft Loses Open XML Vote noted that much of the furor about the OOXML vs. ODF battle was not based on technical merit, but politics and techno-religion. That’s how it seems to have played out too.  It seems the majority of the negative comments in the blogosphere were written by people that haven’t read the report and are responding to a simple summary that they read somewhere.  Please folks – this report is free and available on the Burton Group website under “Free Research”

Microsoft had nothing to do with this document other than providing information and vendor review just like IBM, Sun, and others did.  If Microsoft was trying to buy or influence the writing of this document they would have to be pretty annoyed at how balanced it is.  Here is the entire conclusion of the document.  Does this sound like the fiery rhetoric of someone preaching for Microsoft?

The OpenDocument Format (ODF)/Office Open XML (OOXML) debate is part of a significant phase in the evolution of productivity application, with the shift to Extensible Markup Language (XML) file formats displacing traditional binary and proprietary file formats. The stakes are huge, with compelling new opportunities for content management, as well as both opportunities and challenges for software vendors. Organizations will gain important benefits by exploiting opportunities to improve information management and reduce vendor dependencies by shifting to XML file formats.

The articles on this debate like to pick up phrases from within the 37 page document or pro-OOXML recommendations (stripped of nuance of course), but they are doing a disservice to their readers.  Here’s the beginning of the analysis section.  The full doc has a lot more nuance and detail, but this gives the opening “attack”.  Is this a blustery, one-sided viewpoint? 

The recent industry debate about OpenDocument Format (ODF) and Office Open XML (OOXML) often comes down to the blunt question, “Which one will lead?” There are three answers. The first answer is, “It depends on who you are.” {description of applicability by industry given here … The second answer is, “Within the larger market, OOXML will lead,” for three reasons {the three reasons are detailed here} … The third answer is, “In the long run, perhaps neither.” {description of how OOXML and ODF may both be irrelevent as documents become more hypertext oriented}

Someone attacking our vendor independence pointed out a blog post I wrote about our SharePoint workshops.  This person seemed to believe that if we do workshops on SharePoint strategy we profit from SharePoint’s popularity and would therefore sell our soul to perpetuate it.  This isn’t a direct quote – this person was much less eloquent.  This assertion is flatly wrong.  Our workshop points out the flaws of SharePoint as well as the better parts.  It goes through the offerings of competing products from IBM, Oracle, Google, and more and points out where those products are better and where they are worse.  It points out that organizations have been unsuccessful with SharePoint and that if you fit the same profile, you might be better off with something else from another vendor.  If someone leaves that workshop deciding SharePoint isn’t for them, fine – I don’t lose a penny since we don’t do implementation and we offer the same objective advice about whatever other product they choose too.  And if SharePoint starts losing out in popularity to something like IBM’s Quickr/Connections products, then expect to see an IBM workshop from us that points out strategies, high points, and pitfalls there too. 

I have no trouble attacking SharePoint when it’s warranted.  One of the most popular documents I wrote when I was at Meta Group was called “Sharepoint: Why Not”. If anything, I’ve found Burton Group’s independence to be even higher.  We will not write a vendor document for hire (even for the vendor’s own internal use) or accept any money for a document we are writing.  We do present at vendor’s conferences (we are presenting at Lotusphere next week for example) and we do webinars and other events, but we give the same presentation we would at our own Catalyst conference. 

As stated by our vendor independence policy more than 80% of our customers are enterprise customers.  There are no catches hidden there (our split by revenue is approximately the same, we don’t count Microsoft as an enterprise customer, etc.).  We play to our base, and our base is large organizations and enterprises, not vendors. 

For more information, your first resource should be the document itself.  Go to the source and let us know where you agree or disagree.  If you want a summary of resources on the technologies themselves rather than the debate (good for you!) jump to the end of the report  and it links to information on the relevant standards.

  • The document itself can be found here under CCS.
  • Peter O’Kelly postings here and here
  • Posting on our service blog by Guy Creese here
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