August 14, 2009

Unofficial Microsoft Project Seeks To “˜Make Office Better’

An unofficial Microsoft project, dubbed "Make Office Better" and started by two employees, is seeking user feedback on the popular Microsoft Office software suite.

Launched by an Office product planner and a Windows software tester, the project involves soliciting ideas from individual users, with others weighing in with their opinions on the ideas.  The topics with the most interest or agreement should naturally receive the most "me, too" votes and rise to the top.

The approach is similar to those taken by news aggregator sites such as digg.com and others such as IdeaStorm, a product-suggestion site run by PC maker Dell Inc.

The project has accumulated some 750 ideas after only a few weeks online, but only about 150 of them have received 10 or more votes.

One particularly enthusiastic user made at least eight separate submissions to "Ditch the Ribbon," referring to Microsoft's new user interface introduced with Office 2007.

The top suggestion so far is to alter the way the Outlook e-mail program handles Web-page-style e-mails.  The idea was posted by Steve Zaske, one of the project's founders.

The site also employs a healthy sense of humor, with a graphic at the top of the home page placing "Clippy," the infamous animated paper clip that offers Word and Excel tips, on the evolutionary timeline somewhere between apes and cave men.

Many of the ideas submitted by users are highly technical, while others indicate nostalgia for features in WordPerfect, an older word processor that Microsoft Office eclipsed years ago.   Meanwhile, others have submitted ideas for more compatibility with OpenOffice, a free set of competing software.

Some suggestions are a bit of a stretch, including one requesting to turn Microsoft Word into a way to self-publish and sell electronic books, with Microsoft receiving a portion of the profits.

Although Microsoft hasn't officially commented on the initiative, and isn't promising to incorporate any of the ideas, Zaske and co-founder Luke Foust say they'll try to get the top suggestions some exposure with the Office team.

Microsoft currently has other ways of seeking input from Office users, including some incorporated into the software itself. 

However, if Make Office Better takes off like Dell's IdeaStorm, Microsoft may want to consider bringing the project in-house. The Dell site has generated more than 12,000 ideas so far, with top suggestions earning more than 100,000 votes.  Dell says it has acted on more than 350 of the ideas.


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