If you're waiting for Microsoft to field "Scout," a Microsoft-Research-developed search applet designed to help users navigate Office 2007, don't hold your breath.
It sounds like the Office team has no intentions of letting users try Scout, even as an optional downloadable add-on. Chris Capossela, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's Business Division, told me this week that the Office folks view Scout as a proof-of-concept app, nothing more. The Office team decided, after extensive user testing, that the Ribbon user interface is intuitive enough the way it is, and that adding another search tool on top of it would be superfluous and potentially confusing, Capossela said.
So does that mean Scout dies an untimely death? Or will it just go underground?
Based on a post (that has since been removed from Microsoft's Web site), it looks like Scout is still alive. Luckily, I grabbed Microsoft Consulting Services architect Irena Kennedy's January 31 post before it was "disappeared." Here's what she had to say about Scout, a k a "Office Command Search," which has been in use inside Microsoft since September 2006:
"There are a couple of posts on this topic by non-Microsoft employees (links below); so, since the secret is out, we can talk about it openly…
"When you opened Word 2007 for the first time, how long did it take you to figure out how to add a comment? What about adding a watermark? Rotating a page to landscape mode? Admit it, it take a while to re-learn how to do things in the new user interface…
"Now, imagine being able to search for commands using regular English keywords… For example, you click *Search Commands* menu tab, and the ribbon displays a *Search* textbox… You type in ‘*create style*’ and immediately see three matching results – *Create New Style*, *Style by Example* and *Create New Table Style*. Note that ‘Style By Example’ is not a match using traditional word match, but is a valid result because it fits the context. Or you type ‘*watermark*’ and you get 8 command choices – you click on one of them, e.g. *Insert Watermark*, follow the intuitive stops to actually perform the desired action… * * "Moreover, if you misspell a command, e.g. you type in ‘*spelcheck*’, you immediately get useful feedback – Did you mean ‘*spellcheck*’? Yes, finally computers are getting better at understanding humans!
"Now, given, in a short while you’ll know exactly where to find those frequently used commands using the ribbon. But what about the less frequently used ones, or those that don’t exist on any ribbon? For example, did you know that Word 2007 has an easy interface to add math symbols like fractions, complex equations, matrixes, radicals and much more?
"Internally, Microsoftians have been using Scout since September 2006 and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. This Office extension was not developed by the Office team, but the Office team is looking at it, and will make a decision on whether to make it publically available. Personally, I hope they will, and as soon as it is deemed ‘production quality’… Keep an eye out for it – once you try it, you won’t want to be without it!"
I, for one, would like to give Scout a try. Why not release Scout as an optional download? Or maybe as a Vista gadget or a Windows Live/Office Live service?