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February 19, 2008

The Most Frequently Used Features in Microsoft Office

Online office suites like Google Docs are often criticized because they have a very basic feature set, but the advanced features from software packages like Microsoft Office are rarely used. Jensen Harris, Group Program Manager of the Microsoft Office User Experience Team, published in 2006 a list of the most used features in Microsoft Word 2003, according to data collected from the users who opted for the Customer Experience Improvement Program:

1. Paste (11% of the usage)
2. Save (5.5% of the usage)
3. Copy
4. Undo
5. Bold

These five commands account for 32% of all the command usage in Microsoft Word 2003, as they are used very often.

"Paste is also far-and-away the number one command in Excel and PowerPoint, accounting for 15% and 12% of total command use, respectively. Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably. The percentage difference in usage between the #100 command ("Accept Change") and the #400 command ("Reset Picture") is about the same in difference between #1 and #11 ("Change Font Size")," according to Microsoft's data.

Google Docs auto-saves documents so you don't need to press the Save button, while the undo feature has a powerful complement in revisions. On the other hand, because of the security restrictions from browsers, copy/paste doesn't work very well (but there are workarounds).

So instead of adding advanced features, Google Docs should focus on the most frequently used features and try to make them easier to use, while addressing the main goal: "enabling people to manage and collaborate on the documents and spreadsheets they rely on in their personal and professional lives, no matter where they are or when they need to access them".

{ via Jeff Atwood }


  1. This is like saying that most time spent in car involves going and only a little stopping, therefore stopping is not important!

  2. Those features may be the most used ones, but Google Docs has still a lot of catching up to do if it wants to offer the same features as Zoho.
    I love Google, but I'm using Zoho Writer because it's more advanced and looks more professional.

  3. Yes and in fact ThinkFree is even better than Zoho, in my opinion. It is almost as powerful as Office XP. However, it takes a little longer time to load.

  4. Wow. This is an amazing case of believing your own BS.

    Google Docs is a cute little toy and I use it for very minor things.

    Limitations are the size of documents that can be used, lack of ability to save pdf files IN Google Docs, inability to link spreadsheets, inability to use circular calculations in spreadsheet. Time for the baby steps to end.

    Oh yes and how about not being able to use Google Gears for offline use. How did Zoho happen to figure this out before the great Google.

  5. The irony of this post is that the same logic is what led to Google crushing Microsoft/Yahoo in search. Microsoft focused on only the "most used" (i.e., most searched) keywords in search while Google addressed the long tail. The long tail of MS office use has led it to be so strongly entrenched in the corporate world. The IT dept buys one package and the engineering dept uses some features that the accounting dept never uses which in turn uses features the marketing dept never uses and so on.

  6. @Dave:
    I wouldn't compare search with productivity apps this way. Google has a general-purpose search engine that works well for many kinds of queries, but the interface is simple and doesn't require reading a manual or answering complicated questions. Very few people use the advanced search page and Google could easily remove it.

    Applications like Microsoft Word have complicated interfaces, hundreds of options and buttons that get in the way and complicate your life. Many people use a small subset of Microsoft Word's features and Google Docs will probably be enough for them in a year or two, while those who need advanced options will continue to use Microsoft Office.

  7. I love docs - I use it all the time because my needs are so minimal. But I wonder if this post contradicts itself a little bit? That is, you suggest that Google should ignore advanced features and "focus on the most frequently used features and try to make them easier to use" - which is pretty much what I thought they should do as well... But in the post you Microsoft says "Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably." - so in fact, other than the basics which it already does, there really aren't any significant "most used features". Tons of features all get a little bit of use. That's wierd.

    But as you say, I think Google should switch from a feature match to the real win of building out the online aspect, like it did with that recent forms thing for it's spreadsheet.

  8. Hehe I like the point about the car!

    Actually I was planning on using google docs a while back. But it didn't have a good equations editor like word 2007. I can't even imagine using word 2003 to write my lab reports.

    The problem is, most people won't need an equation editor. But I'll bet most word 2007 users have their own specific feature that has turned into a need.

    Its the advanced features that make you go for word in my oppinion. WordPad does all those top 5 things yet people seem to still buy office packages.

    Googledoc's main thing is the excellent collaboration imo. Microsoft do it with word 2007 and sharepoint but thats way way to much for the average user!

  9. I love the fact that "paste" is used far more often than copy. That means the copying is being done outside of Word which means, and I know I'm stretching here, that we've got a lot of people plagiarizing.

  10. Unfortunately, my company blocks the domain completely. I've seen zoho blocked as well, though they seem to be allowing it right now for some reason. Very annoying, as I would love to use these tools.

  11. There are some essential functions that you may only use once out of the thousands of times you use others. Like spending an entire week composing a document you must send by postal-mail--but not having a print function.

    Importance of a function should also be evaluated.

  12. Joel Spolsky addressed the problem of small set of core features excellently: despite the fact that a single user uses 1% of all features, 10,000 users might use 25-50% of all features. That is why "the long tail" does matter.

  13. itman, you are dead right (or Joel is). While a single user may only ever use 10% of the features of a product, every user uses a slightly different 10% to the last. Over a millions users (or more for MS Office) all the features are being used by many people.

  14. I've been trying to convince my son to use Google Docs for school homework. He says that he doesn't like editing in Google Docs. It definitely needs improvement. My daughter, on the other hand, uses it for her homework. I have blogged about how they use online tools to collaborate on school work.


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