As I reported this morning over on Between the Lines, Microsoft Office Labs has introduced a prototype training tool called Ribbon Hero. You can read the BTL post for the details, but the long and the short of it is that users will be able to compete with each other via Facebook to learn new features of Office. While the tool is available to any users and has plenty of implications for corporate training, my first thought was how it would directly appeal to college students.
Most campuses have some sort of licensing agreement with Microsoft that makes it very cheap for students to obtain the latest version of Office. While that's all well and good, the software often represents a lot of bloat, overhead, and a real learning curve for students who want to use it well and efficiently. OpenOffice and the increasing presence of Google Apps on campuses present really viable alternatives rendering Office somewhat irrelevant.
But wait! What if Ribbon Hero could teach students to fully exploit the features of Office (especially the upcoming 2010 incarnation)? How many college students do you know who spend a fair amount of time tending their crops in Farmville or amassing weapons and cash in Mafia Wars? Believe it or not, Ribbon Hero stands a chance of turning that sort of motivation loose on learning productivity-boosting features in Office. Many of these features are rarely used by students who simply need to crank out papers and presentations.
However, many features, particularly in Office 2010, have the potential to add more than flashy artwork to a slide show. They are designed to help people work faster and produce really rich documents. What better way to get students to learn and use these features than by rewarding them with what essentially amounts to a Facebook app?
Don't get me wrong. I'm just as avid a supporter of Google Apps and open source software as I ever was. For many users, Apps delivers exactly the functionality they need. However, for campuses with Microsoft license agreements that put Office in the hands of lots of students, Ribbon Hero will make it much easier to realize the value of desktop software for those who need it (and even for some who didn't realize they needed it).