Man, I love the new Office 2013 in every way except the user interface decisions.  It’s so fast and works so well, kudos to the team for continuing to add useful features on such an old product.

I can’t say the same for the user interface.  There are so many usability issues, I don’t know how this passed QA.  Let me vent some, as is what people do on blogs on the internets.

1.  No window borders.  While Windows 8 continues the trend for massively thick window borders on the desktop, Office decided it would ignore the Windows team and their silly user interface guidelines, and just do no borders at all.  Talk about two extremes!  Thick borders are a waste of screen real estate certainly, but no borders are even worse because then the content of the window just blends in with the window underneath (especially since Windows 8 has no drop shadows).  Try working on a spreadsheet in a non-maximized window with other stuff open underneath.  It sucks.

2.  Does not use the standard Windows window frame or chrome.  Okay, I get that they are trying to get rid of as much chrome as possible to go for a flat aesthetic.  But they basically just gave the middle finger to Windows’ own window style in the process.  In basically every version of Windows going back to 3.0, you can set the color of the window frames.  Office says you can have any color you want, as long as it’s light gray.  So even if all your other Windows apps have blue frames, Office will be light gray.  This is particularly awesome because in Windows 8, inactive window frames are also light gray.  So your Office window frames always look inactive.  Awesome job!  Oh, there is one cue you can use to see if the window frame is active.  The title bar text and window widgets are black instead of medium gray.

3.  Everything else is white or light gray.  No really, this is true!  I’m not exaggerating.  From the aforementioned window frames, to the backgrounds behind every list, frame, email, ribbon, or anything else. It’s all exactly the same or just a smidge darker or lighter.  You can change the theme if you want a slightly different look, but it barely changes anything.  They give you three options: white, light gray, and dark gray.  Dark gray is really more light gray and light gray is really more off-white, but ehh… semantics.

6.  No distinguishing feature for folders with unread items except a light blue “count” next to it.  In previous version of Outlook, folders with unread items were bold.  This really stuck out and made it easy to visually see where unread email might be for folders you set up rules to sort.  In 2013, you get light blue folder counts and absolutely no chrome, so it’s quite hard to see at a glance which folder has unread items.

5.  Different appointment colors.  Since forever, Outlook has used the following color schemes for appointments until Outlook 2013: white for “free” appointments, blue for “busy” appointments, and purple for “out of office” appointments.  In Outlook 2013 they use white for “free” appointments, purple for “busy” appointments, and purple for “out of office” appointments.  Wait…what?  Yes.  This is true!  Now, granted, the “busy” and “out of office” purples are a slightly different shade, but it’s not immediately obvious at a glance.  At least it’s not yet for me.  Why change this?  Just more example of the Apple-like attitude of usability be damned, THIS IS ART!

6.  On Windows 8, Outlook 2013 uses the new Windows 8 “toast” notification feature instead of the old school desktop notifications.  While it’s nice there is a toast feature built into Windows now, it’s just not as useful.  You can’t change the position of the notifications – it’s always in the upper right where window widgets are, so you can’t close/minimize a window until you dismiss the notifications or move the window.  And something I personally didn’t use, but there is a lot of angry posts in various Microsoft forums that there are no flag/reply/forward buttons on the notification.

And here’s an honorable mention that’s been around for as long as I can remember:

If you select some cells in Excel – maybe you are trying to highlight something important in a big document – and then you change focus to another window and Excel becomes inactive, the selected cells will stop being highlighted.  Why, Office team, why?  Was there a giant outcry at some point that the spreadsheet must be clean of highlighted cells when it’s not in focus?!