Office Assistant Demonstration: From Office 97 Comdex Roll Out

Bill Gates
Las Vegas, Nevada

Monday, November 18, 1996

MR. GATES: Good afternoon. It's very exciting for us to be here today launching Office 97. This is a milestone product for us. Not only is it the largest Office category, but it's really the category that can define how people use their PCs. And there are some important themes that equate to this product that will really make the PC a far more valuable tool than ever before.

Office tools go all the way back to Wordstar, Digicalc, and the improvements have been quite dramatic over the years. In the early '90s the competition was about features -- who could get rich enough to have the things that every lawyer wanted or engineer wanted. And people started to improve different productivity applications together. But in the character mode world, the integration was very, very loose. No one ever achieved the suite concept in anything other than a pricing fashion.

A big switch came as we moved to the graphical platform. This was where, for the first time, we had user interface consistency. We had real integration, where you could easily move between the applications, take data of all types and use that data where it was appropriate. And those battles raged over a period of several years, and now people take that for granted. Today, over 90 percent of productivity software is integrated productivity software.

We think that the key issues, moving forward, will be how these tools fit in as a collaborative platform, how they tie into the PC as the communication device, reaching out to the Web. And so those have been the big things that we've concentrated on in this version of Office.

Now, we have many ways that users help us to make decisions about what should go into Office 97. A key element, of course, is face-to-face meetings, sitting down with customers. Every week, all of us who are involved with Office are going over and meeting with corporate customers, are going out on the road all over the world to find out what they're saying. And they've been giving us a very consistent message: Make it a better communication tool and make it very, very easy for them to upgrade and deploy that application. By accomplishing this we're getting end-user enthusiasm for these new versions and they're able to fulfill that enthusiasm by putting it out as a corporate standard.

We've had to pioneer a lot of techniques to really watch how people use Office. We go in and interview users, we look at all the documents they create. We try to understand their activities. What is it that they're doing in managing information and how could the PCs play a stronger role? We call this activity-based planning.

Another key thing we do is usability testing. We've put in over 25,000 hours of usability testing in Office 97. We create versions of the product that are actually instrumented -- that is, they record all the commands the user gives. And we send those out to literally tens of thousands of users and then get it back and see what commands were used heavily. Were some commands used in a group, so that we might be able to pool those together and make it simpler? And when did they pause for a long time? When did they get an error message? What was it that was confusing about the product?

We also drive ourselves on performance metrics. One of the best new features is making something faster than it was before. And we've done a lot with our algorithms here to make the key things -- page layout, recalc, database access -- significantly faster than ever before.

Another key element of the feedback loop that we have with customers is our product support. We're very proud of what we've done, year after year, to make this better and better. Our response times, when customers call in, are well under a minute, and we track that very, very carefully, as well as doing follow-up calls to make sure that the percentage that are very satisfied after those support calls remains at a very high level. We believe that, not only is our product support the best in terms of policies and people delivering that, but we think that's fundamental to us designing the right product. We have our engineers go and spend time on the support lines. We take every one of those calls and log them into a database.

And for every new release, we say to ourselves, "Can we make it so a lot less people have to call?" With Office 95, we achieved that. Our call levels for each copy that is out there are significantly down. And we think with Office 97, we'll go even further there.

** Text deleted **

MR. VAIL: Okay. The Office Assistant is an integrated place to find all the help topics. And it works in the context of my job. So I'm going to go ahead and type a letter here, and I'm type it to "Dear Bob," and -- well, I guess "Dear Sam." We'll hit enter here --

MR. GATES: I guess we've got auto-correct that changes "Bob" to something else. (Laughter).

MR. VAIL: So here, within the context of my job, we have the Office Assistant ask us whether we want help printing the letter. We'll go ahead and say yes, and now we'll get a dialog box that allows you to step through the process of printing a letter with Letter Wizard. Notice it has switched between different paths here. The Assistant just gives me, interactively, different types of help.

We'll go ahead and cancel out of this here. Let me show you the other example of working with the Assistant.

Oftentimes when a user is using an application, they call somebody on the phone and say, "Hey, how do you do this?" What we want to do is put that expertise into the product itself. Using natural language technology, I'd use it like this: I'd type, "How do I send this to my boss?" When I hit enter here, we're going to use natural language technology to read through that sentence, pull out the key elements and map that against the index and we'll bring back help topics that are most relevant, based on what we asked here. It's a great way for users to become empowered and become more productive in the applications themselves.

Let me show you another example of that in Microsoft Excel. Not only can we ask the computer for questions and advice, the computer will give us interactive tips as well. So I'll go ahead and type some text inside of my spreadsheet, like Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. When I'm doing that, notice that the Assistant brings up a tip here. When I click on that, it's going to tell me about a feature called AutoScroll, which I may not know as an end-user. So I'll go ahead and close that and I'll take the advice of the Assistant. So, while I'm working in the application, the system watches what I'm doing and basically, if it finds that I can do something more effectively, it gives me a tip.

It also determines what kind of help I'm going to need. So I'm going to go through and just do some sorting for my spreadsheet. When I click back on the Assistant, notice the Help topics here are all about sorting a list. So what we do is we build a context of what's going on in the application and figure out what help topics are going to be required.

Let me show you how this is really done here. I'm going to go through and maybe print this document, but let's say I just choose cancel. If I click back on the Assistant, you still see it's pretty much about sorting the list. But if I close it down now and click over here and choose print again -- maybe I'm really a user who's struggling with printing inside of my spreadsheet -- when I click on the Assistant one more time, you can see it's all about troubleshooting printing inside of my application.

And of course the Assistant was designed to help us and not get in the way, so, as I move text around, the Assistant just does not get in my way.

MR. GATES: What if I don't like the Genius?

MR. VAIL: Well, we know a lot of users have different ways to work here, so we have a number of ways to get options inside of the application. So if you're a real sophisticated user, you can scale the system back. But if you're a brand new user, you can make the system more interactive with you to give you more help and make you more productive.

Also, if you want to choose different types of personalities to work with here, we have a whole bunch of different types of Assistants.

MR. GATES: That's different. (Laughter, applause).

MR. VAIL: We'll go ahead and cycle through and we'll go ahead and choose Power Pup here, which is my favorite.

So I'm going to go ahead and pop over here to our expense report inside of Excel, and one of the nice things about the Office Assistant, as a shared component in Office 97, it's a fully-programmable object model. So, as a corporate developer, I can build interactive help in my application. So I'm going to type some information here -- 7/23/96. And I'm going to type in a value here for my travel expense. Well, $7,000 is way over the VP's signature here, so I'll go ahead and retry this, and I'll choose something that's a little less offending here, maybe put in a couple expense reports. And as I step into my hotel field here, the Assistant says, "Hey, this is how you itemize for your hotel expenses." And as I step into my meals field, it does the exact same thing.

So I'll go ahead now, and I'll submit this expense report. And, again, since the Assistant has a fully programmable object model, it can say, "Hey, there's a few things that you didn't do yet. You didn't type in your employee ID number and employee name." Switching is okay here, and I'll just type in that information. So now I'm ready to go. I'll go ahead and submit this now to my manager. I'll click "submit." Assistant says, "Hey, you're ready to go." We'll go ahead and chose "okay," and now we're ready to go, and this is sent to my manager. And, of course, you do have the animation. That's the Assistant in Office 97.

MR. GATES: Well, it's great to see it's not only for our functions, but you can extend it with programming as well.

MR. VAIL: Exactly.

MR. GATES: Thanks, John.

MR. VAIL: Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. GATES: Well, this is a very exciting milestone. In fact, just a few hours before I got up here to do the introduction, I was informed that we actually have released Office 97 to manufacturing. That's a great achievement -- (cheers, applause) -- because so many people are working hard getting that done today, most of them are back in Redmond. But we do have several dozen of the developers here, and they'll be at the reception later on and very interested to talk to you about the work they've done.

The complete overview and demonstration of Office 97 can be accessed at here.<