Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bigger is not always better: Communication breakdown

Using Excel 2010 on Windows 7 to make an estimate for a new project, I ran into this problem that I think is both funny and a bit frustrating.

As we all know, Microsoft is a huge software company, with many developers and lots of QA people. Where they used to suffer from a reputation of poor quality, recent years have shown us Microsoft can make decent quality software with great features. Part of that ability comes from having lots of people working on projects. However, it can work against you as well, as Microsoft demonstrates in the following bug.

I’ve been a keen user of Excel for the past decade for a lot of different tasks. From simple estimations to long-list and complete data conversions, I’ve done it all with Excel. One of the long used features is the ability to block indent inside a cell. You know, these two buttons:


I use this feature frequently, so I figured a keyboard shortcut would make me more productive. Fortunately for us Microsoft makes finding out shortcuts very easy. Just hover over the button:


Mm, something is not smelling right, but hey, maybe the Office developers did a great job on implementing these shortcut keys. So let’s just try it…

…No. That’s not what I wanted to happen. Instead of indenting the contents of my cell, it showed the Windows 7 process switching dialog thingy or whatever it’s called. You know, the preview of your open windows?

Turns out both the Windows 7 team and the Excel team are using the same shortcut here. Excel has been using it for a while (since before Excel 97!), but in Windows this was only introduced in Windows 7 for the first time! Didn’t anyone figure “hey, we wanted to use this keyboard shortcut in Windows 7, but it’s already used in Excel 2010 so let’s have a meeting to discuss this”? In fact, shouldn’t a company like Microsoft have some sort of registration on what keyboard shortcuts are used where?

Even worse, Microsoft knows about the problem right now and has it published on their website. Is it really that hard to get a patch out for Excel to assign a different shortcut key to this function?

There is a lesson to be learned here. If you work at a small software company (with say, under 20 developers), make sure you utilize this advantage of a small team and communicate! It can make sure that your next product / project will be great.

No comments:

Post a Comment