Since the first details of the radical overhaul of the user interface in Office 2007 (er... 2007 Microsoft Office system) were revealed, I have seen numerous references to the "cost of retraining" this reinvention of the human computer interface will precipitate. Having worked with the beta for a number of months and having first seen what Microsoft's UI designers were planning almost a year ago, I can honestly say I don't see where the concerns are coming from. This whole retraining issue is nothing more than a canard borne from what typically happens when people spend an hour or three investigating a new release and then sit down to write about it to make a deadline.
Canard, by the way, is defined in Wikipedia as follows:
In computing, Canard (French for duck) refers to "a mistaken and confused belief", as in the following example: "Although Multics was much derided at the time by its critics, history has shown these complaints to be canards."
For those unfamiliar with computer jargon, this usage can be misleading because, in English, canard connotes an intention to deceive — specifically, by spreading an absurd, overstated tale: "M.P. So-and-so again brought up the tax reduction canard in spite of the fact that taxes have actually risen". In the above example, the author does not mean to imply that the criticisms were deliberately overstated in order to deceive; the criticisms were myths.
That's right... myth. Urban legend. I'm no more concerned about how long it will take for any of the information workers in my company to get productive with the new Office than I am about what I will spend my Nigerian windfall on.
Don't take my word for it (like that was likely). Read what Jensen Harris, Microsoft's Office UI blogger wrote today in addressing the learning curve issue. He talks about the concept of "first-hour comfort" in his latest post and, almost without exception, I have seen this phenomenon play out in every demo I'm given of the new suite.
"...Our design goal was to require no training at all. From the earliest prototypes, we were trying to design an experience so that people could sit down in front of Office 2007 and be effective right away at getting their work done. One of the reasons we didn't go more radical on the overall design was that we wanted to make the product comfortable to use--after all, at the end of the day, it's still Microsoft Office."
The Office team has prepared a one-page introduction to the new 2007 Microsoft Office system (small "s") that reinforces my belief tat this canard should be put to rest. If you are an IT manager with concerns about your end users getting up to speed with the new UI, take a look at this one-sheet (Word or PDF). Watch the short video introduction to Office 2007 that Jensen points to. Download the beta 2 release and do some basic usability testing with a group of employees with varying levels of expertise in Office.
I suspect what you will find is that the biggest pushback will come from the most knowledgeable users. They have developed habits that will require some adjustment with the new UI. Once they get over their completely understandable and instinctive loathing of change, they'll be fine. And I feel pretty confident that the users you should be most concerned about - those who would potentially be the black hole into which all of these retraining dollars and time would disappear - will really like what they see and take to it like... well, like canards to water.