REDMOND, Wash, Nov. 21, 2006 – Later this month, Microsoft will make the 2007 Microsoft Office system broadly available to volume license customers. This new version of the world-leading productivity software solution includes popular application suites such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. The new release marks the most significant advancements to Microsoft Office in over a decade and includes a newly redesigned user interface intended to help customers get more out of their desktop applications. The new UI represents a massive R&D investment and is a big step forward in terms of simplicity, ease of use and end-user productivity. By licensing this intellectual property, Microsoft seeks to allow partners to take advantage of its large R&D investment in order to benefit users.
To that end, Microsoft has created a royalty-free licensing program that will enable developers to build applications that have the look and feel of the new 2007 Office system applications. The new program will license elements of the new UI to software developers and component vendors on a royalty-free basis.
PressPass spoke with Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft general manager, Office Client, to discuss the user interface redesign and explain the new Microsoft Office 2007 user interface licensing agreement.
PressPass: Why has Microsoft created a licensing program for the new 2007 Microsoft Office system user interface?
Numoto: Partners have been contacting us since the new Microsoft Office UI was first demonstrated to express interest in using the new UI in their applications and software components. This licensing program offers developers royalty-free access to that intellectual property with positive assurance that their use of Microsoft intellectual property has been approved. We spend a significant amount every year in research and development of cutting-edge technology and innovative features, including advances in user interface designs, and we care deeply about our intellectual property rights and respect the intellectual property rights of others.
PressPass: How does the licensing program work?
Numoto: Microsoft is licensing its intellectual property rights in the UI (which cover both design and functionality) and offering a comprehensive Design Guidelines document that is a roadmap for developers implementing the UI. Licensees can sign up on the Web and register their products with us on the Web site as well. We are not licensing any code at this time. As I mentioned before, the program is royalty free.
PressPass: Why will people need this license?
Numoto: Just to be clear, Office is a great platform for developers to build into the application UI, and for this you do not need a license. We provide great tools to do this that leverage this extensibility and for many, this will be all they need. For those that want to build their own UI that takes advantage of our design guidelines, they will need a license.
PressPass: What are the benefits of the licensing program to developers and ISVs?
Numoto: The 2007 Microsoft Office system application user interface design is a dramatic improvement over traditional menus and toolbars, particularly for software products that are complex and offer many layers of functionality. It also looks great and is easy to use, two things that customers love. The new licensing program enables developers and ISVs to benefit legally from Microsoft’s innovation by using the UI for their own applications. The Design Guidelines encapsulate what we’ve learned through years of research and user feedback about both the functionality and the look of the UI. A natural audience for the licensing program includes component and software tool vendors, ISVs for commercial applications, and developers of complex enterprise-level systems.
PressPass: Can any applications use the license?
Numoto: The license is available for applications on any platform, except for applications that compete directly with the five Office applications that currently have the new UI (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access). We wanted to make the IP available broadly to partners because it has benefits to Microsoft and the Office Ecosystem. At the same time, we wanted to preserve the uniqueness of the Office UI for the core Office productivity components.
PressPass: Have any developers and ISVs already approached you about licensing the UI?
Numoto: Yes. We had a number of early-adopter component vendors and ISVs working with us to help shape the licensing program from the ground up. We wanted to make sure that the program met the needs and expectations of the broad user interface development community while at the same time appropriately protecting our intellectual property rights. We have over a dozen licensees already signed up, from ISVs like ABB, Attachmate, and MindJet to component vendors like Infragistics, DevComponents and Telerik. They’ve been enthusiastic about the high level of detail we’ve given them in the Design Guidelines.
PressPass: Why has Microsoft decided to change the user interface in this Microsoft Office release?
Numoto: While users have generally been very satisfied with the existing versions of Microsoft Office — and the consistency of the user interface over the years has been a big part of that — we have heard from customers that the current user interface and toolbar system had grown difficult to negotiate. As we’ve added more and more features to the Office applications, it’s become a challenge for people to find the tools they want to use. For example, Word 1.0 only had about 100 commands and users could simply click through the menus to see all the features and tools. Microsoft Office Word 2003 has over 1,500 commands, many of which are admittedly difficult to find.
In a recent customer survey, we asked users what features they wanted from the new version of Microsoft Office. More than 90 percent asked for features that were already available in Office. This made it clear to us that we needed to address the issue of “discoverability” in the current user interface. In addition, we wanted to provide new features and found the old user interface couldn’t easily and clearly expose some capabilities, especially those involving diagramming and art. And finally, we wanted to give it a redesigned look.
PressPass: What are the benefits of the new UI to end users?
Numoto: The redesigned interface is focused on providing innovation and value for our customers. The new Microsoft Office UI represents a shift to results-oriented design, enabling people to focus on what they want to do rather than how they do it. Through extensive customer research we’ve redesigned the new UI to make it easier for people to find and use the product features they need so they can work more productively with information. For instance, we learned what commands people click on most often and then placed 80 percent of these common commands on the first tab of the interface. We also learned what features and functionality people routinely customize. As a result, the redesigned user interface focuses on showing the most relevant command set for each application and solves 60 to 90 percent of the most common customization scenarios. We have also heard from customers that they like the overall visual appearance of the UI.
“Attachmate’s customers place high value in being able to provide applications to their users with a consistent look and feel as other applications on their desktops. Since Microsoft is the leader in defining new UI paradigms, it is valuable to Attachmate to be able to leverage in our own applications Microsoft’s investment in the user experience.”
Randy Robinson, Senior Vice President of Products and Marketing
“We are interested in licensing the Office 2007 UI because we see it as the next step in helping users share critical business information. The UI’s ‘ribbon’ merges menus and toolbars into a simpler, more contextual way—which we think will help users to get the best out of rich software products such as Mindjet MindManager and Microsoft Office.”
Richard Barber, Vice President of Engineering
Office UI Licensing Partners
Falafel Software, Inc.
Developer Express Inc.