Working in the Office 2008 booth this year felt different than the past. That seems like it’s a function of where we are in our release cycle. Last year, since we had just launched our product, I could have simply printed up a sign and taken care of 90% of the questions that I got: “It went on sale on Tuesday”, and “We’re not selling it in our booth, but several vendors on the show floor have it, as does the Apple Store and online stores like Amazon.com”.
When I talked to users about Office 2008 last year, I was the one who mostly directed the conversation, talking about new features and offering demos. For me last year, MWSF was about what I think Office 2008 does. This year, Office has now been in our users’ hands for a year and they’ve had the chance to bend it to their will. As a result, the questions that I got this year were about what our users think Office 2008 does.
There’s a difference between what I think Office does and what our users think Office does. People will find ways to use your stuff that you never intended or imagined. That is, by no means, a bad thing — it just makes you think through what they’re trying to accomplish and perhaps offering up tweaks so that they can do it better. Even with our announcements this week of a new Entourage and a new standalone app for accessing SharePoint and Office Live Workspaces, most of the questions that I got were more about the users’ experience than about what I thought the users’ experience should be.
As a member of the technical team, I learned more from working in the booth this year than I did last year. Telling people what I think it should do doesn’t really teach me anything other than how to give a good demo. But now that they’ve had the chance to use the apps and integrate them into their life, I get to learn more from them about what they want from us, where we met their needs, where we have some room for improvement.
I don’t know what the future of Macworld Expo is. I hope that it continues. Apple says that they don’t get a lot out of trade shows like this, but I do. I get to network with other Mac geeks, with people I know incredibly well even though I see them only once a year. I get to learn about what happens when we set our software free in the wilderness for our users to do with as they please. There’s simply no substitute for that.
We’ll see what 2010 has in store for us. My Magic 8-Ball will only say “reply hazy, try again later”.