Microsoft Office Labs Looks to Make Office Better

Among Microsoft Office Labs’ first wares are Search Command and Community Clips

For anyone that has used Microsoft Office for a number of years, one of the biggest changes to occur interface wise was the new ribbon interface in Office 2007. Many realized finding the commands they were used to seeing in one place on older versions of Office was a bit more difficult in the new ribbon interface.
To combat this problem, Microsoft has announced Office Labs, a new service that consists of a small cadre of developers headed up by Chris Pratley. Office Labs plans to test new products and ideas for Microsoft Office that may eventually make it into an Office product or may simply turn out to be a bad idea.

The idea behind Microsoft Office Labs is very similar to Google Labs in that small pieces of code are offered up to users with the caveat that Office Labs offerings are available for the sole purpose of gathering feedback on an idea. To gather feedback, Office Labs will track how the code it offers is used and the code is beta and offered for use at your own risk.

The Office Labs site spells things out clearly, the software being offered may have bugs and it doesn’t promise to fix these bugs. Chris Pratley said in his blog post, “You might be wondering why this site isn’t located on microsoft.com. One reason is simple: we didn’t want to give anyone the impression that these projects are full blown Microsoft products. This site itself is also a concept test. Over time we’ll be modifying it to experiment with ways to engage with you, our community.”

Despite the multiple warnings that software code from Office Labs is use at your own risk, many Office users will end up checking out its wares. Two of the first offerings are interesting and one of them is something many users will wonder why it wasn’t included in Office 2007 to begin with — Search Commands. Search Commands will probably be one of the most popular items offered by Office Labs.

This code allows users of Office 2007 Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to find commands, options, wizards and galleries by simply typing what you are looking for into a box. The Search Commands feature also includes a Guided Help that walks users through specific tasks.

The other initial offering is called Community Clips, which allows users to make how-to videos about Microsoft Office products sort of like an Office specific YouTube. Community Clips also includes a client application for recording screen views and voice. Listed as other interesting projects are InkSeine which allows the use of a tablet PC with an interface tailored for pen input for sketches, and writing. Task Market is an online marketplace that allows business to connect with and hire freelancers in graphic design, writing and editing.

Microsoft also announced that it was considering new business models for its Office application last week including a possible subscription based distribution and a free ad-supported version.

News source: DAILYTECH

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