Office 2007 “Search Commands” prototype demo

Sometimes what customers want is not always what customers get. Take “Scout” for example, a little piece of Microsoft Research ingenuity that really helps users with the new Office 2007 “Fluent” interface. As religious as I am about the Ribbon and contextual interface, I suffer just as much knowing a feature exists somewhere in the application that I just can’t find in the Ribbon. I mean how do I know what context it’s in? And I’m almost certain I’m not the only one suffering.

Microsoft Office 2007 Scout

Developed and distributed internally at Microsoft as a proof-of-concept, “Scout” solves the problem by offering a simple and straight-forwarding search solution. You basically type the command you are thinking of, and you’ll be presented a list of matching command buttons. And unlike commands in the Ribbon which are only a select few picked by someone else who thought might be relevant, this search goes deep into the application to find anything and everything.

Even though it was highly favored by Microsoft employees, Scout was never released to the public. Chris Capossela, corporate VP for Microsoft’s business division argued Scout was “superfluous and potentially confusing”. No. The only thing superfluous are the features I can’t find.

Of course, who needs overconfident Microsoft vice presidents when you have software developers like Jeff Scanlon. He wrote to me this week about a little something he’s been working on only recently because he came across my posts about Scout. I’ll let my quick 1:30min screencast demo do the talking.

[flv:searchcommands.flv 670 372]

No question this add-in needs quite a bit of tweaking and polishing before it’s widely available, but this is an inspiring start. As you saw, I could edit and publish an entire document with only “Search Commands”. Although that’s not the purpose of this add-in, it certainly shows it’s capable. Together with keyboard shortcuts in future versions, you’ll have access to every feature in Office without even touching the mouse.

Currently only available to Word 2007 as a COM add-in, Jeff plans to work on it more as well as develop the add-in for Excel as well. He also promises to keep it free. Keep an eye or both eyes out on his blog to get it when its available “soon”.

19 insightful thoughts

  1. Not just the Web, but everything computer-related is ballooning ever larger, ever more complex. From personal photos to documents to individual application features. Search is your friend, and it’s a real shame that Microsoft omitted this super cool functionality from Word – especially considering my very poor experiences with Office’s online help this past decade.

  2. This kind of feature has a real problem, and therefor it’s not in the final product I guess: If you can search ui elements, you will never learn where these features are. So in the first place it seems to be very helpful but when you never learn a ui you always have to search and that is really slow. Compare this with learning a language: Yes, you could look up every word in a dictionary…

  3. I would recommend that Mr. Capossela get out and talk with normal users of Office 2007 here in the real world. The keyboard strokes of Alt, F, U apparently no longer works for Page Setup in Word 2007 like it dones in all previous versions of Word. Took me a lot longer than it needed to last night finishing up a document because I couldn’t find where they hid Page Setup now.

    This is one tool I would gladly add to my Office arsenal once it’s out.

    That ribbon bar maybe pretty, but it’s a heck of a new learning curve.

  4. Tino, I do agree with you to some extent. When I have a full release I’ll be placing more detailed thoughts on my blog, however I would like to say that this search add-in shines when users are searching for something out of context (that is, when they have no clue where to start looking for a command). Users *should* learn the ribbon, yes, but the ribbon works best when where to go is natural for the user (or easily figured out, at least)

    Also, searching for commands as normal operation becomes tedious and I’d be surprised if anyone completely ditches the ribbon, relying solely on this search add-in. I’m open to being proven wrong, though. I’m looking forward to receiving wider user feedback for this add-in.


  5. Because, sometimes you simply need to get your job done fast and don’t have time to learn what’s changed, and I think I’m familiar with those god-awful menus from sometime in the past.

  6. Thanks a lot Jeff, this is a very cool initiative.

    Tino’s concerns can be adressed if the “Search Commands” feature also displays where the found feature is (as a Tooltip, or just written below or next to the search result). This way, I search for something only once, and then I know where it is.

  7. Then…

    What is the point of the new ribbon users interface…

    I really hate to type my program name to search in the start menu @ vista…

    that’s why I like mac’s dock

    if this really the future of users interface…
    why don’t use command line

    I hope it will tell users where to find the button as well

  8. I have just upgraded to Office 2007 and have found the learning curve overwhelming. I am a power user and just can’t be bothered having to learn a new interface that doesn’t add any value to me. Also office 2007 is a lot slower! I am going back to Office 2003.

  9. I just want to produce technical inserts for bid documents with graphs and pictures.
    I do not want every other line in Strong , Weak, Upside down or in Belgian,
    The ribbon is a complete waste of wide screen space.

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