Today we've been talking about Office12 at the PDC (Professional Developer's Conference) in L.A. There are blogs going up about Office12 from some of the people on the team (see for example Jensen Harris ). BillG's keynote is also up - the first 30-40min covers Office 12 and Vista - good stuff. One of the obvious changes that people are talking about is the new UI. Julie Larson-Green, the Group Program Manager for the Office User Experience (UEX) team does an interview here. She's also on Channel 9.
One of the things some people are going to be confused by is that not all the applications in Office 12 have this "new UI". Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and parts of Outlook have it. The others do not, including OneNote. How can this be? Naturally, your first reaction to hearing this will be determined by your built-in bias. If you like the new UI, you'll be disappointed. If you fear the new UI, you will be happy. If you hate "M$", you will talk about how we are just stupid. If you respect "Microsoft", then you'll be searching for understanding. For the real explanation about the new UI, you should look at the links above.
But the explanation for OneNote goes something like this. The main driving force for the new UI was to improve the "authoring" experience. The whole design of the UI (especially the "galleries" to quickly apply complex formatting) is optimized for applications that build richly formatted output. These applications also happen to have oodles of features which were getting buried in the previous UI metaphor of menus and toolbars. People were complaining they couldn't get value out of all the capability in the product. A menu and toolbar approach can display 50-100 commands without difficulty. Word has 1500+ commands. Something had to be done.
OneNote doesn't really match this target. We're not focused on formatting fancy-looking stuff, and we are not suffering from command-overload. People can generally find nearly all our functionality since we don’t have years of features yet. As the UEX team says it: there's nothing wrong with menus and toolbars. They work great for apps with tight sets of functionality that aren't focused on visualization. Does this mean that OneNote will never see a new UI? Hardly. OneNote 12 actually has some new UI for navigation and organization. For example, you can pop open your set of notebooks (yes, you can now have multiple notebooks!) and leave it sitting next to your note page (on the left) to make it easy to navigate your notes, and also to use drag 'n' drop (Yay! Drag 'n' Drop!) to rearrange your pages, sections, folders, and notebooks. But we still use toolbars and menus, since they work fine for us. In the future, the UEX team is going to tackle the problem of what non-authoring apps might need for a new approach to UI. That'll be us.
Since we're now public about Office 12, I'm going to be blogging more about it (especially OneNote) in the next while.