One of the most challenging aspects of developing the new UI has been making sure that everything ends up loaded into the airplane before it takes off. Confused? Let me explain.
Sometimes I think about shipping Office like an airplane taking off. Our job is to load up the plane with the right passengers, the right luggage, enough soda and snacks, professional pilots, lavatory service, and great in-flight entertainment.
But once the airplane takes off, it’s gone–there’s no turning back. It’s going to land at its destination regardless of if all the pretzels came on board. The insect which flies in through the airplane door two seconds before it closes ends up halfway around the world at the plane’s final destination. On the other hand, a piece of luggage which is late to the plane by thirty seconds misses the destination entirely and can only be returned with a great deal of cost and effort.
Our job, then, is to make sure that all of the features find their way onto the plane before it takes off. With so many features buried in menus, toolbars, Task Panes, context menus, and the command well in Office 2003, there are thousands of moving parts to track. Sure, we’ll make sure that Bold finds its way to Sydney, but what about “Collapse Subdocuments?”
We have a number of systems in place to triangulate this problem and to help ensure that we don’t leave anything behind. We have documents which track every visible piece of UI in Office 2003 in all languages and editions and where it’s moved to in the new version. How do we create these documents? Someone manually goes through every menu and toolbar, noting everything they find.
We also have a SQL database which tracks all of the commands programmatically and can spit out a list of where in the UI each feature is accounted for. This database also backs the various migration tools we’re making available such as the Ribbon Mapping Tool–a clickable simulation of the old UI and new UI used to help locate any command in the product.
Just like with baggage moving through the bowels of the airport, being routed, security screened, and weighed, each feature has a set of trials it goes through before it can be marked as “ready to go.”
For example, each top-level feature needs a Super Tooltip: a brief summary of what the feature does and why you might want to use it. We wrote well over a thousand of these. We also created tooltip pictures to help better explain certain features.
Every feature needs an icon in several sizes and color depths. In most cases, the hardest part of this process is developing a metaphor to illustrate what a feature does.
Every feature needs to be checked to ensure that it uses proper spelling, branding, and capitalization. We use Title Case for features exposed through the Ribbon. In dialog boxes, we use sentence case for labels and Title Case for push buttons. This review is underway internally as I write. Every label fixup in the product then needs to be translated into every language in which Office will ship.
Help then needs to be written about the location of each feature, and that help needs to be translated into each of our supported languages.
We have to get all of Office’s features accounted for, beautified, documented, localized, and on the airplane before the cabin doors close and the plane taxis to the runway.
It’s a part of the job that requires painstaking meticulousness and coordination between many people to ensure that the luggage isn’t lost.