ship it!


Here’s a secret of software development. You’re never actually done with your software. There’s always one more feature to add, one more button to tweak, one more change to make.

The end of a cycle is an odd time. Everyone is hard at work. The developers are finishing up their features and fixing bugs. The testers are ruthlessly hunting down bugs. The program managers are prioritising those bugs. The user experience researcher (hey, that’s me!) is planning the final studies of Office 2008 for Mac.

But there’s a problem. The people involved really love their jobs and have an unparalleled passion for excellence. ‘How can that be a problem?!’ I hear you ask. This is a problem because of feature creep. I hear it all the time. ‘You know, if we just had a couple more days, we could do [more cool stuff]. What’s a couple more days?’ The devs come up with these ideas as they’re working on the code. The testers come up with these ideas when they find a bug and come up with an elegant solution to the problem. The PMs come up with these ideas when they look at the lists of possibilities for their areas. And yes, I do it too: I conduct a usability test and think of a great approach to a particular scenario that I observed in the lab.

The end of a cycle is hard because you have to clamp down on these kinds of things, and it’s hard to say no to a good idea from someone who deeply cares. Several feature creeps have crept into my office in the past month, brought in by people who have great ideas and want to get a UX perspective on their idea. Each of these feature creeps only take a couple of days, maybe a week, to fully realise. But the sum of all of these tweaks and additions and improvements that have crept into my office is easily six months, and I know that I haven’t heard all of the ideas that have come up.

Creating a suite of products that have the scope of Office for Mac is a difficult mission. To make this mission somewhat easier, we have to decide how we’re going to focus our efforts. This is decided early on in the project and is based on lots of research to understand and prioritise user needs and requests. It gets refined as we go along. When ideas come up, aside from considering their impact to the schedule, we have to figure out how they fit into our focus. If they’re not quite on target with our focused priorities, the end of the cycle is when we’re more likely to regretfully say ‘no’. If the idea is on target, then a hard conversation starts: how do we fit this great idea into our product without having a significant impact on our schedule? It’s always a delicate balancing act, and it gets more and more delicate as we get closer and closer to launching Office.

There’s a growing refrain in the hallways whenever feature creep rears its attractive and tempting head: ‘Ship it!’ I’m hearing it more and more. We’ve all heard Steve Jobs’ legendary “real artists ship” — and that spirit is alive and well here and now. It’s really hard to say no to cool things even when they come late in the game, but at some point, you have to realise that you don’t have an infinite number of hours in a day and that you can’t do everything that you want to do. This time.

Every day, we get closer and closer to being able to ship it. I’m looking forward to that day. Until we ship it, we have to avoid the siren song of feature creep. The good part about your software never being done is that some of us are already working on the version after Office 2008 for Mac, and all of these (and so much more!) will get their due consideration based on research and customer feedback (isn’t this where I came in?).

Comments (38)

  1. John Baxter says:

    And you didn’t explicitly mention it–so one hopes it is implicit–but each proposal needs to be looked at in terms of possible impact on the security of the project.  And that is hard.

  2. So long as there is some kind of ARD deployment support (like Adobe’s CS3) and Entourage is a whole heckuva lot better, I can wait all year!

    Thanks,

    j

    ACN

  3. John Muir says:

    Good to hear things are coming to their peak. Parallels is a godsend but I’d still prefer to be able to handle everything natively without virtualisation of course.

    I wonder how the decision comes about as to when the next Mac Office is scheduled? It was four years ago the last one came out, so a knowingly trouble-making estimate would be 2012 for Office 13! I hope you’ll prove me wrong on that.

  4. Alan Sky says:

    Don’t forget that we VBA developers need to provide a good User Experience with Office.

    So as VBA won’t ship with Office 2008, please make sure we can have equivalent of UserForm dialogs in Office that we can call from Applescript. And take care of the problem when Applescript Studio dialogs are brought to front from a Word-based applescript (can we click behind, can we bring the window in the back to front ?).

    Thanks for focusing also to the VBA replacement before you ship.

  5. Tyler says:

    And in case of Microsoft there is allways one more bug to fix!

  6. Steve says:

    Great, but when?

  7. Nicholas Stehle says:

    Interesting post!  Thank you!

  8. Alberto says:

    So, what about VBA?

    Have you included it?

    If not, whether you ship or not is completely irrilevant…

    Anyway Excel and Word crashes too often

    Excel workbooks tend to corrupt themself  regulary…

    I’m just waiting for a spreedsheet by Apple (written in Cocoa and with Quartz graphic!!)

    Thanks…

  9. nadyne says:

    Software scheduling is more of an art than a science.  We constantly correct our schedule as we go along to account for things that we didn’t foresee, or that we did foresee, but didn’t accurately assess their impact.  I don’t think that anyone, aside from a time traveller, could have foreseen the impact of the Intel architectural switch on our schedule.  That’s just one example among many — although, thankfully, the rest weren’t quite as big!

  10. Eric says:

    I know that I, as well as many other, choose stability and speed over features any day.  

    Kudos to you guys focused on releasing ’08 for Mac – one of the most important software releases for this platform in 2007.  Break the cycle on the Windows side of the house and ship a stable, polished application set on time (or early!)

  11. Joe Husk says:

    To me, this release is make it or break it.

    Unlike Outlook, Entourage simply cannot handle large scale Exchange environments… takes forever to sync a few hundred meg of messages, spins the cursor needlessly on a full months calendar, and chokes to death on LDAP directory lookups with large databases.

    Considering that MS has been COMPLETELY mum on showing or mentioning Entourage I’m a little less than optimistic.

  12. Maart says:

    Thanks for the hard work! Looking forward to office ’08. Can’t wait. M.

  13. Andrew from OZ says:

    It think feature or scope creep is an issue faced by most non-trivial projects.

    On another note, I’m looking forward to Office 2008. I too am looking for an improved Entourage with more complete support for Exchange.

    Cheers!

  14. Henk says:

    I would like to say I’m looking forward to Office 2008. However, in my experience it is old bugs that were never addressed and new bugs (even in updates!) that have stopped me in my enthusiastic drive for the newer, ‘better’ software. This especially applies to PowerPoint, where two things have been a problem from the start and were never addressed: 1) cross-platform compatibility: I recently had to transfer a presentation to a Windows (XP) laptop, and it did what I thought it would do: background image had disappeared whilst other images that had not been tweaked in Photoshop showed "quicktime plugin missing" message and no picture, whilst installing Quicktime did not alleviate this problem; 2) copying and pasting text into PP does not do what it is supposed to when using Paste Special – Unformatted. I have had this problem for as long as I can remember, even on Mac OS7 with Office version??? So why not try to address these basic problems rather than continue building in features most people will never use?

  15. Mal says:

    How about those translators for working with docx files in OFfice 2004?  How are those coming along?

  16. Schwieb says:

    They’re coming… 🙂 The beta should be available pretty soon.

  17. Mal says:

    Glad to hear it!  They’re eagerly anticipated at colleges and universities around the country.

  18. Jon says:

    Looking forward to the Beta of the translators.  Will they be available for Office X as well?

  19. Casey Gatti says:

    The whole Office suite works really well for our Mac-based company. Very rarely we get the "missing Quicktime" image when viewing some PowerPoints on a Windows computer, and regardless, they are easily fixed. I’m looking forward to the 2007 document convertor for the Mac. Luckily we haven’t received 2007 files yet, but I can guarantee that it’s only 1-2 months until that starts happening.

    Here’s looking forward to a great product (Office 2008) that is still "drag-and-drop" easy to install and fits on a normal CD.

  20. DannyK says:

    I for one am extremely impressed with what MBU has accomplished over a few years. With all the negative propaganda going around, you guy’s (and gals) offer a topnotch real office solution for all Mac enthusiasts out there. Just think what could be achieved if all developers had to unite and put their expertise together instead of everyone hammering away at a different rock!?

  21. Stephen says:

    Any update on the development of messenger for mac? are we likely to see a new release alongside Office 2008? And while on the topic of messenger how about overhauling the UI, its a mess and pales in comparison to iChat.

  22. AS says:

    Please answer me this simple question. Will Office 2008 fully support right-to-left languages, like Arabic and Hebrew? Please say yes. When needing to write in those languages, I have to switch to another word processor, and you don’t get complete compatibility between those and Word (including when sending something to a Windows user). Other word processors on the Mac do it; please let Office 2008 support Arabic and Hebrew. I like Office 2004 quite a bit, but this has been a nagging problem for me. Please solve it. Or at least tell us what your plans are. Thank you for your attention.

  23. SLDreamer says:

    I just want to add my $0.02 to the wishes for a successful launch of  Office 2008. I’ve used, supported (help desk) & taught Office extensively on both platforms. I really like the design of Mac Office, in general, but I am very disappointed with Entourage. I have agree with the earlier comment that Entourage is just a slug on in an Enterprise/Exchange environment. Ugh!

    One request I would make is that you would try to implement SharePoint  integration. We are a very "SharePoint happy" organization and is just painful for Macs to work in SharePoint. Please, please, please fix this. Or am I truly just a Silly Little Dreamer?

  24. Gareth Williams says:

    Just keep those greatg products flowing.

    Bought my first mac in 2001 with Office X. Then went out and got Office 2004 when it came. Amazed you guys can still improve an excellent product.

    A++++

  25. Kevin Ledgister says:

    Will the dreaded problem of black graphics when opening files with certain graphics created in the Windows’ version? I work in a heavy Windows environment and often the graphics come over just black and it would be a pain to ask every user in our organization to change the files that they’re using.

  26. LawClerk says:

    Looking forward to a new version of Office!  When does it go into beta? And how does one become a beta tester for the new Mac office?

    Another thought:  Is the impending release of Leopard going to set you all back any?

  27. Mac Mojo says:

    Spring is here and I don’t know where the time has gone… So apologies for not posting earlier! A short

  28. admford says:

    Well, I know this is a bit much to ask. But by using more of a plugin architecture so that the user can choose the scripting languagage they prefer. Be it a version of VB Script, Applescript, Javascript or even Python in the future. It would kinda leave the door open for you guys to be a bit more flexible in scripting language implementation in future releases.

  29. James Arscott says:

    Hi I am a UK office 2004 user in a exchange 2003 environment. We are getting ready to migrate to exchange 2007. I am REALLY excited to see what feature set Entourage 2008 will have, do you have a time scale for releasing more info on the feature set ?

    things I am *really* hoping will make it….. real notes and task ‘sync’ with exchange… out of office settings from inside entourage…. the same meeting abilities  (including assigning resources / rooms) as Outlook 2007….. can anyone confirm any of the above ? 🙂

    keep up the good work !!

  30. bob says:

    Please, please, please, make a true MAPI emai client like the days of old with Outlook for the Mac. Entourage is simply a dog (Intel or not) and I’ll never ever understand while some key little things are missing, like you can’t forward an invite, or propose a new time. Forget the eye candy, forget the ribbon, just give me a real Mac client for Exchange and I will be happy.

    I can’t help but think the only reason you don’t do this is because parity with the Windows side of things is scary to the broader business of microsoft.

  31. Here’s my suggestion for Office 13, have a Public BETA, with no support of course, but a discussion forum would be nice.

  32. David says:

    It would sure be nice if Office for the Mac and Office for the PC have the same features, UI and support the same files for import.  Very few Mac folks use Office for it’s features.  Most use it because they need to be compatible with Office for the PC.  It seems that Microsoft has not learned this lesson or simply forgot.

    For example, Office 2008 won’t have VBA.  This is a very bad and shortsighted move.  Microsoft just lost the sales of any Mac user who has to run VBA on their computer.  Dumb.

    What has always amazed me is why Microsoft can’t deliver the same package on both platforms at the same time?

  33. Chris says:

    I need a more functional Exchange client than Entourage. We moved off Groupwise in large part because it sucked for Mac users, now Exchange 2007 is sucking in most of the same ways. It would be great to see a MAPI client that handled GALs properly, recognised rooms and resources, and didn’t take an age to sync.

    Also, while you’re at it, if you could do search like mail.app does search, that would be swell.

    Oh, and I need it soon. It’s a bit inconvenient having to wait 6 months for the mac release when Outlook 2007 is already drawing wows from our PC users.

    Thanks, and good luck.

  34. In every project, there’s a point where you have to stop tweaking this and touching up that little bit

  35. John says:

    Its been about a month since the comment about the Office 2007 File Converters betas would be available "pretty soon", and it’s now at the end of the "late March/early April" timeframe mentioned in http://blogs.msdn.com/macmojo/archive/2006/12/05/converters-coming-free-and-fairly-fast.aspx

    I’m an IT SysAdmin for a 1000+ machine mixed (Office 2003, 2004 and 2007) environment and the lack of Mac converters causes my users and support staff grief every day.

    Is there an update on when we could expect the beta’s, and how long you expect the beta period to last?

  36. Tony Kendall says:

    Please please, make sure Entourage has at least the same capabilities as Outlook (html handling, RSS features). If you want to exapand more into the business market then you need to do that. Make easier to convert from Outlook to Entourage without 3rd party software. In fact, we have Excel, PP, Word, why not Outlook? Would like Mac version of Acccess but that’s another story.

  37. Bruce Bradley says:

    Fantastic article.

    This is probably the best description of this aspect of software development I have ever seen.  

    I printed it out and gave it to my non-software developer business partners.

  38. Gavin Shearer has joined MacBU.