Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Explaining the basics – Why Microsoft & Office 2007 don’t get it.

Posted by shannonclark on April 7, 2007

The version of Office 2007 which Microsoft gave me for attending the launch a while back includes a product called Outlook with Business Contact Manager.

As an entrepreneur and founder of a business dedicated to networking business people I decided to install this feature and see how it might help me as I organized my large stack of pending contacts to enter from business cards. My plan for this new laptop is to migrate my old data over slowly, taking advantage of the relatively clean system to cleanup, organize and enhance my data.

However as I looked over the product I realized I was not 100% clear how Microsoft intended certain fields to be used. Specifically what are the intended distinctions between “accounts”, “contacts”,  and “opportunities”? I think I know, but I’m not sure – nor is it clear on first glance if I’ll be able to move things around in the future (i.e. if I put in every contact, can I later designate that some represent opportunities? that some will become “accounts”? further, my business will have a couple of really different types of business relationships – I’ll have (we hope) many many 1000’s (hopefully millions) of users of NELA, a large number but a subset of the total users whose companies pay for commercial features of NELA, and finally a very different set of business relationships with companies that advertise on NELA to our users. We may also have a number of other different types of business relationships – partners, service providers, companies for whom we resell or recommend their products etc. Will I be able to customize this tool to help me track these nuances of business relationships?

So, I went to what seemed like a good starting point – Microsoft’s help page for the product.

Here I encountered one of the really fundamental areas where Microsoft gets it absolutely wrong.

Take a look at the following page, which claims to help you understand how to add data. The title of the page is “Getting started with Business Contact Manager for Outlook 2007” (side note, look at that URL – SEO hell, garbage data in the URL)

Microsoft actually does embed definitions of the various categories on this page – but quick, take a look, do you see the links?


Try scrolling down, click on the “add this … ” links.

Anything useful there?

Didn’t think so.

Turns out, if you hover your mouse over the words “Account”, “Business Contact”, “Opportunity”, or “Business Project” in the first paragraph you’ll note that there is embeded Javascript so that on click a definition of that term is displayed inline on the page.


This runs counter to all good web style. Other than hovering your mouse over every bit of text on the page, there is no visual clue that these words are anything different from everything else on the page.

When I was starting to write this post, in fact, I was going to say that there was NO definitions for these terms on the page.

And I’m a pretty advanced user of the web (been online, running my own servers since 1991, have helped define standards, built pretty complex web apps etc).

Turns out phrases all over this page have the same treatment.

But I, for one, am not in the habit of following with my cursor every word of a webpage I am reading just on the off chance that something is a link which does not look like one (or as in this case, has javascript surrounding it to do something on mouseover or click – so not actually a “real” link in fact.

As a further experiment, take a look at each of the “creating a … ” entries on the page.

One of these is not like the other.

All but the Opportunity section are just step-by-step instructions on how to create (of the form like click the create … button”. Pretty brainless and useless for nearly anyone who can read. No context or significant help in understanding the intention of the software.

In contrast, the Opportunity section starts with a definition of what this is intended for.

 Opportunities are chances to sell your products or services. Opportunity records help you prioritize your sales information, track your sales process and customer interactions, and forecast your sales.

And actually, in that block above, the Opportunities and Opportunity records phrases are further javascript links to definitions – though the UI expert who suggested that people would expect to click inside of a block of text which had, itself, only shown up as the result of a click should probably be looking for work in a different field.

I will give the application a bit of a try, though I am not optimistic that in the end it will prove all that useful for my needs.


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