The post I wrote about finding the hidden 'Hide Sheets' command in Excel 2010 wasn't about hiding sheets. It was meant to illustrate two key points.

  1. “Help” in the Windows version of Microsoft Office needs a lot of help itself.
  2. A well designed Help system, like the one in OS X, can obviate frustrations caused by a crowded, over-thought interface like the Office ribbon.

Apple, like Google, gets search. Apple built a useful native Help system; Google relies on social clues. Both approaches work.

On a Mac, I don’t have to leave the software to find things in the software because OS X indexes menu commands. More importantly, the architects of OS X understand that when people search for a menu item, they probably want to know where it’s located.

PC users don’t benefit from such design insight. For them, is an indispensable accessory to Office. It’s the only way to find answers to basic usage questions in a reasonable amount of time.

The fact that Google is better at providing information about Microsoft software than Microsoft is particularly telling. Google can eliminate tens of billions of web pages and provide frighteningly accurate answers in less than a tenth of a second.

Why can’t Microsoft accomplish the same thing on a local hard drive?

The answer, I think, is simple: Microsoft doesn’t understand that the importance of good feature search is proportional to the number of features an application contains. In other words, if you’re going to build feature-heavy software, you’d better make all those features easy to find.

Microsoft’s approach to making features findable is to make them more visible and numerous on a screen. It’s a primitive, self-defeating attempt at solving a modern problem. Tomorrow I’ll elaborate even more—in the context of a home project, physics, and good ole common sense.