Microsoft wants more details on how its products are used so it can make its applications "almost entirely crash-free" and build features users want.
With the launch of Office 2003 later this quarter, Microsoft will also introduce a Customer Experience Improvement Program for Office. Users will be asked to volunteer to share information on feature usage, software and hardware performance and the type and frequency of errors, group program manager for Office, Eric LeVine, said.
The program builds on Microsoft's error reporting tool in Windows XP and Office XP, which asks users to send a report to Microsoft when an application crashes.
The Customer Experience Improvement Program goes a step further.
Much broader usage data was sent to Microsoft on an ongoing basis without alerting the user, LeVine said.
"With error reporting there are explicit events," LeVine said. "The Customer Experience Improvement Program gives us an anonymous ongoing feed."
Users would be asked to join the program a few days after installing Office 2003, he said. After a user opted in, the data gathering happened in the background and did not bog down the system.
The Customer Experience Improvement Program is not new.
Microsoft already used the program for its Money, Windows Media and MSN Explorer products, LeVine said.
The program helped Microsoft understand how its software was used and made decisions on new features and bug priorities, Microsoft said in a white paper on what it calls its Customer Connection and Satisfaction Tools, which are used in the Customer Experience Improvement Program.
It may never be possible to create "perfect" software that performs without crashing under every circumstance, but the tools have led many product teams in Microsoft to believe they can make applications "almost entirely crash-free," according to the white paper. Building stable software was one thing, LeVine said. Data on which features users care about in Office was worth more.
"The Customer Experience Improvement Program lets us measure the progress we're making as we fix crashes, but the more interesting thing is that it lets us understand the functionality people use, what they like and dislike," he said. "So as we design future software versions, we make sure that we design features that matter to customers.
"It is not about turning the world into a giant test lab. It is about us understanding how our software performs in the real world and how we can continuously improve it based on feedback."