An Interview with Katherine Murray
Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj
Date Created: October 6th 2007
Last Updated: March 4th 2009
Katherine Murray is the author of more than 50 books
on technology and writes articles for various Microsoft sites. She
also writes and edits the Microsoft Mindshare newsletter and contributes
articles to CNET's TechRepublic. In addition to books and articles,
Katherine publishes BlogOffice,
a blog sharing tips and ideas related to various versions of Microsoft
Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself and the books you author.
Katherine: I've been writing about computers since the early 80s when the first IBM PC arrived in town. I wrote my first books on WordStar 3.3 (I hope I'm not the only one who remembers that program!) and I remember having my doubts when that odd program that used windows instead of the DOS command prompt arrived on the scene.
I write about all sorts of applications, with a special emphasis on Microsoft Office. I've written about it so many times through the years it feels like a friend you've matured with. I absolutely love Office 2007 and think it is by far the best Office we've seen yet. The design, the functionality, the graphic enhancements and research supports are terrific.
Geetesh: You have authored books on many computer programs -- do you think the newer versions of these programs are easier to use than the older versions, and why?
Katherine: Not all newer programs are easier to use than their predecessors (I still flounder when I try to do something a little advanced with Photoshop), but this time around, Microsoft Office is definitely easier for new users to learn. For Office users who are proficient with Office 2003, the dramatic change in the user interface can be a bit off-putting; when they first look at the screen, people sometimes say, "Hey, this looks nice, but where are all my familiar tools?" As people start to get into the applications, however, the shift occurs easily--once you get a feel for the contextual tools, you realize that Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access bring you what you need depending on the task you are performing. That keeps the screen a lot cleaner and saves you from having to wade through menus, submenus, and dialog boxes to find the command you want.
I do think that for program developers there's a tension between wanting to improve a program by adding features, making it more powerful, and wowing users and keeping the program as clean and simple as you can so that it meets the needs of the broadest range of users. As a user, I want my programs to be reliable (no crashing), feature-full (I don't want to have to open another program to do what I could do in this one), and fast (I hate to sit and wait while things load). I like to have a good help system (in my opinion, Office products have continually improving help and good online resources; Adobe help needs help!). Most of all, I want the program to do what it says it will do and do it reliably.
Geetesh: Can you share something from your new Office 2007 books.
Katherine: The First Look 2007 Microsoft Office System book may still be available as a free download from the Microsoft Learning site; it was a fun one to write (I actually wrote it on Beta 1 and Microsoft Press released it timed with Beta 2, so there are a couple of features in there that didn't make it into the release product). But that book gives a kind of birds-eye-view of all the different applications and features in the 2007 Office system (including Office Groove 2007, which in my opinion is the "sleeper" product of Office 2007--meaning that it hasn't gotten a lot of press, but once people start to use it, they will fall in love with it).
Geetesh: What is your favorite new feature in PowerPoint 2007?
Katherine: I am a very visual person, so I love the simple design features--the way you can flip among themes easily, enhance photos using the picture styles, and use live preview to try things on before you click. I also love the idea of reusable content and like being able to create your own slide libraries and boilerplate info to save yourself the trouble of creating things from scratch every time.
Geetesh: Can you share some trivia -- some great feedback, an unconventional use of your book(s), anything you would like to share with Indezine readers.
Katherine: The applications in the new Office 2007 were designed with integration in mind--to make it easier for us to move from program to program, leveraging what we create in one application to include it easily in another. Often Office users specialize in one program and only use the others when they have to (this is to be expected; actually I do the same thing unless I'm writing about the whole system or a client has a need for something from a different application). I would encourage you, if you haven't at least opened all the other aps in Office 2007 (Word, Excel, Access, Publisher, Outlook) to take a few minutes, launch the program(s) and look around. You might be surprised to find how friendly they are--and how many features they have that might be helpful to you in your work. Be sure to visit the Office Online site regularly, too, because they are continually posting new free downloads (templates, clipart, articles, and more) that can simplify your projects or give your creativity a boost!