another way to give us feedback

Aside from leaving comments in this blog and the other various MacBU blogs, or sending us feedback on our product feedback website, there's another way to interact with us. Our user experience research team (which includes me) conducts usability tests.

In a usability test, we show you a prototype or some very very early code and ask you to complete some tasks using it. While you're completing those tasks, we'll usually ask you to think out loud so that we know what's going through your head when you're going through our code. Our usability tests take an hour or two, and we schedule them at your convenience. This means that you get to see early versions of what we're working on, and help shape the future versions of our software!

For example, if I were conducting a usability test for the calendaring functions in Entourage, I might ask you to complete the following tasks:

  • Look at your calendar. This tests whether you can find the icon, menu item, or keyboard shortcut that opens up the calendar view.
  • Your accountant just called and asked if you could meet at 2pm tomorrow. Are you free at that time? This tests whether you can understand the information that is presented in the calendar view.
  • Before your meeting with your accountant, you'll need to remember to get together your tax information. Leave a reminder for yourself. There are multiple valid ways to perform this task. If I am interested in a specific one but the user does the other one, then I'll ask them to try to find another way to do the task.

This is only a small corner of a usability test, but it gives you an idea of what we do when you come in for our usability tests.

We primarily do our usability tests in Redmond, Washington (which is in the Seattle area) and Mountain View, California (which is in the San Francisco Bay Area). We also travel around the world to meet our users. In exchange for participating in a usability test, you will receive a hardware or software gift from us. You could get a free copy of Office:Mac 2004, or one of our desktop sets (including Microsoft's new Mac-only desktop), or an Xbox 360 game, or even a copy of Windows XP.

If you are interested in participating in our usability studies, sign up here. People always ask about beta testing, but I think usability testing is cooler. (I know, I know, I'm biased!) You've got two hours of my undivided attention. I take the results of the usability tests that I conduct, and go directly back to the product teams to make recommendations for improvements. Usability tests are very hands-on, and have a huge impact on what we do.

Comments (23)

  1. John Baxter says:

    My experience with this (at Redmond many years ago) was quite positive.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time since to take part in offered sessions which I fit, and many of the offers have needed Windows experience (which I lack).  [Then, too, round trip ferry costs plus gasoline costs are much higher now than they were then, although my Office98 premium would have covered today’s costs nicely.]

    If this sounds at all interesting to you (and you are within reach of Redmond or Mountain View), I’d suggest you give it a try.

    (In the testing, I never did figure out how to set the early-version Word98 I was working in to use Word 5.1 style menus–I did manage the other tasks.)

  2. Jeremy says:

    I’d love for Office/Mac to be Universal.

    And seriously, boost Entourage’s speed….even with a hundred text-only emails…its slow.

  3. Hi Jeremy – We announced at Macworld Expo, and confirmed again at WWDC, that the next version of Office will be a Universal Binary.  It’s coming!

  4. david says:

    I hope Microsoft’s usability philosophy has changed since the mid to late 90’s. I took part in a usability test of Win Office (I think 97 but it might have been 2000) and when several of us complained about the way menu’s worked in Word (hiding and showing items) instead of the testers thinking ‘oh, we may need to rethink this idea’ we got a lecture on how this menu system was superior to they way we thought it should work. Hmm, the user is supposed to adapt to the way the software works…I don’t think so.

  5. opensourcefan says:

    This may come as a shock to Microsoft because they seem to think they are the world. Most of the country is EAST of you!

    I’d be glad to be a usability tester – just so I could complain about the non-Mac way Office works. 🙂 If you did it remotely or bothered to come to some other places in the country from time to time then perhaps you would get some nice ALTERNATIVE perspectives.

  6. david – I’m really surprised at that.  I promise that I’m not going to lecture you on how you should do things!

  7. Jess Have says:

    It seems that you are not interested in testers in Luxembourg as the country is not listed on your sign up form…

  8. Dr.T says:

    Well i think we have some action here. Just signed up for usability studies. Let’s see what else than marketing fluff will happen …

  9. Eduardo J. Gisbert says:

    Interesting, however, I’ve never heard of a usability test here in Venezuela, and even less in the city I live (Puerto Ordaz). Maybe Microsoft does conduct usability test in Venezuela’s capital (Caracas), but not here.

  10. Jeremy says:


    Good to hear the speech once in awhile…

    As a member of the ACN, most of the complaints I hear from are Entourage-based.

    Things my clients like about Entourage:

    – Accessing via WebDav (any ol’ net connection) – Real nice perk

    – Built-in support tools (rebuild database, etc)

    – Calendar support

    – Basic HTML

    – The fact that its fairly stable

    Things my clients dislike:

    – Speed (or lack thereof)…even on loaded systems with a small amount of email

    – Root Certificate errors – There should be a mroe helpful dialog explaining what needs to be done (in non-techie speak)

    – The overall "Blahness" of the Calendar…needs some color and clarity (ala iCal)

    – Recurring Public Folder oddities (Permissions, Info, etc)

    – Public folders continually refresh unless they are "Favorites"…and when they are "Favorites", sometimes permissions are thrown right out the window…seem to forget themselves

    – HTML does not seem "real" – not "Vanilla" HTML

    – Little warning about conflicting rules

    Thanks for listening!


  11. Jeremy says:


    We’d also REALLY, REALLY like packagemaker-based installers…instead of the ugly VISE.

    It would make updating apps (such as MS Office 2004 for mac 🙂 FAR easier than going from mac to mac, or reverse-scripting the log file entries and re-packaging them…not that I have done that, of course!



  12. opensourcefan — I have to admit that Microsoft is a pretty Redmond-centric company.  As a Microsoft employee who is outside of Redmond (and who has never worked in Redmond, just visited), I have a pretty good idea of what you’re talking about.  We do conduct the majority of our MacBU usability studies in our two main offices (Redmond and Silicon Valley), since it means that we can do more of them.  We’re doing a lot of usability studies in the coming months, and we’re planning on doing some of them further east than Mountain View. 🙂

    Jess — Thanks for pointing out that oversight.  I don’t own that website, but I’ve put in a request to have it fixed.

  13. Why isn’t Microsoft DRM not available on macs.

    Is it cause Apple dictates what MS can do on macs.

    Or is it cause MS doesn’t want to support macs

    My friend thinks its Apple doing the dirty work, cause MS drm is available everywhere, from creative to now Amazon. Not supporting macs, for MS is ridiculous and its Apple behind this mess.

    I need an official reply. who is not supporting who

  14. Buddy – I’m sorry that I can’t help you, but this is a question for the Windows Media Player team.    

  15. akac says:

    How about in Austin, Texas? I know MS has an office down here 🙂

  16. Richard Leonard says:

    Hiya Nadyne – We met at WWDC – I’m the one who pointed out the "slight security glitch" in Entourage…

    At this point – we need Outlook for the Mac – not another version of Entourage…

    Delegates and other forms of shared calendars that seem only to work on Outlook on PCs..

    OWA won’t work completely because it needs "MSIE and ActiveX" to be truly "happy"..

    Even MS Supplied Remote Desktop Connector no longer works on MacIntels – (no shared resources, like printers)

    Are we likely to get any updates before 10.5 comes out?

    and a Universal app would be pointless unless it gets feature improvements as well… (my 2 cents)

    Rich Leonard

    Cal Poly Pomona

  17. Asam Bashir says:

    Hope it works flawlessly with iChat 4 for collaborative work….

  18. SLDreamer says:

    First, let me say I am really glad to see the MacBU opening their doors in this blog. Gutsy and much needed. Thank you. I think overall the team has done a nice job of making Office a true Mac app, with room for improvements, of course.

    That said, I would love to participate in a usability study! I live about 4 hours from Redmond ("dry side" of the state) but would happily drive over to give my $.02 worth. Well, okay, you’d get way more than $.02 worth. I’m a relatively recent Mac convert, having been a Master Instructor for Microsoft Office since version 2000 and all versions since.

    In a nutshell, I, like Jeremy, would like to see full-blown Outlook-type mail client on the Mac.  Entourage is our number-one cause of complaints in our company. We have about 400 Mac users and VERY FEW actually like Entourage. Most ‘put up with it.’

    Slow response, no read receipts, no voting button support, "real" html support, integration with other Office Apps (why can’t I see tables from Excel or Word in my messages) and the list goes on.

    Thanks again…

  19. One question …

    Is the next version of MS Office for mac going to support Arabic and Hebrew ? or will we keep suffering forever in this part of the world ?

    Please inform us …

  20. stata says:

    Great to see this dialogue.  I’d be very interested in usability studies if you hit the East coast (Boston) or in doing remote usability studies (wouldn’t a conference call and remote desktop session work?)

    As for entourage, I’d love to put in one feature request…can we have an "activity log" to track phone conversations, meeting notes, etc. that link directly to the contact ala ACT?  I know Outlook doesn’t do this (though the plug-in for Outlook business does).  I don’t think Entourage needs to be a full CRM solution, but simply making it easier to track interactions with contacts over time would be a godsend.

    Many thanks.

  21. nagha says:

    I want a MacOffice that’s feature compatible with WinOffice. Let me clarify:






    Messenger (with audio/video chat)

    RDC (multiple sessions and enabled shared resources)

    Now, having said that, I want those applications to be wrapped up in a Mac UI (ie, don’t force the Win UI down my throat like you tried to do with Word 6). I also want the performance to be somewhat on par with the Windows versions. Don’t tell me that you can’t do this because Adobe seems able to give  me the same application on both platforms.

    "Borrow" the code from WinOffice and start working. If you ship MacOffice and it has spinning wheels when I try to make text bold, the developer in charge of making text bold should be SHOT on the spot!

    Thank you.

  22. ArneLovius says:

    Entourage works, it works quite well as a POP3/IMAP client for a ‘home’ user, it sucketh enourmously for a corporate user. One of my clients runs about 60 pc’s and 30 macs, to say the mac users get the thin end of the wedge is putting it mildly.I can see why you chose to do it the way you did with HTTP, but with teh current issues with it its a JOKE is curently making email unusable for the entire company because of the broken cached mode in Entourage.

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