office2007_45e33c4555a4dMicrosoft Office 2007 Review

By Don Lipper & Elizabeth Sagehorn - Technology Writers


If you're like most computer users, you look at a new version of Microsoft Office with at least an equal sense of dread and glee. You ask yourself the same basic question: do I need to upgrade? Our answer is no, you don't need to. At least not right away.

The new version has a snazzy streamlined interface that requires a bit of a learning curve. However, once you get the hang of it, the new interface makes it oodles easier and faster to do things like formatting pages on the fly or creating charts and pivot tables with ease.  For example, in PowerPoint you can now effortlessly try thousands of ways to make your presentation look graphically outstanding (whether your topic puts the audience to sleep is all about you).

 

Adding to the fun, the file formats of the main office applications have changed to a new XML-based system that is supposed to make it easier for large companies to track and find data easily. (XML also has a nice way of killing macro-based viruses.) Colleagues who have older Office versions won't be able to read the new formats without downloading a 27 MB converter package. Office 2007 users can also save documents in the older formats. On the good news front, Office 2007 works fine with Windows XP so there's no need to upgrade to the Vista operating system.

 

The files are based on OpenXML which Microsoft says will play nice with other office suites. If you work with lots of different office suites such as StarOffice, OpenOffice, Corel WordPerfect Office, you'd do well to verify that you won't have translation issues. As an added bonus, the new file formats mean files are 75 percent smaller than their predecessors.

 

So what's new?

 

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Microsoft Office Word 2007, Office Excel 2007, Office PowerPoint 2007, Office Outlook 2007, and Office Access 2007 have all gotten a makeover featuring "a streamlined, uncluttered workspace that minimizes distraction". The top menu headings and toolbars are gone with most of their commands on display in a new mega toolbar called "the Ribbon" which senses what you are doing (writing, formatting, creating a mail merge, etc.) and presents the commands for that task.  According to Microsoft, this allows users to get direct access to commands (Word 2007 has more than 1,500 commands).

 

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The Ribbon in Office Word 2007. View a larger image.

 

Most of the functions previously found under the old File menu are now reached by clicking on the large Microsoft Office button in the upper left corner

 

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The Microsoft Office button in Office Word 2007. View a larger image.

 

In addition to the Ribbon which senses what you're doing, Office uses "contextual tabs", which display options. For example, if you click on a slide, a format function tab appears with a variety of formatting options. (See below.)

 

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Perhaps the sexiest things in Office are the Galleries which show you pre-selected ways to format a document. Using Office's new Live Preview feature by simply mousing over the gallery thumbnail, you can see what the document will look like on the fly without committing to any of the changes. (This functionality occurs with every formatting choice. Highlight text and then just mouse over the fonts and you'll see it transform.) This is probably the best time saver (or waster if you must look at every combination). You can quickly format the documents, spreadsheets and presentations with ease.

 

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For most users, the most frequently used Office application is Outlook. While the main page doesn't get a Ribbon makeover, you'll find the Ribbon appearing in the subtasks, like when you create an appointment or compose an email. The software indexes your emails for easy searching (something Google Desktop offers for free). Outlook also is tightly integrated with other Office apps. For example, you can click on a meeting in Outlook and create a OneNote page where you can write notes for that meeting. If during the meeting you are assigned a task, you can send the task from your meeting notes directly from OneNote to Outlook. Another very sexy feature is the ability to preview an attachment such as a document, spreadsheet or presentation in Outlook's email reader.

 

Out of the box, Office has a variety of collaboration tools for the average user. But the people who get the biggest collaboration bang will be Enterprise Office users with Groove who will benefit from creating collaborative workspaces and improved document-security (such as the ability to delete edits and other private information before a file is emailed).

 

One of the most confusing changes in the Office suite is the demise of FrontPage. FrontPage has been split into two programs, if you use SharePoint, you should get SharePoint Designer. If you don't, you should use Expression Web. (The Expression Suite is Microsoft's attempt to take on the graphics powerhouse of Adobe.)  Microsoft pledges that Expression will be standards-compliant, but we've heard that before.

 

The question of how to roll this out is really a matter of pricing. Microsoft has no less than eight versions with different applications loaded. You can find a useful chart here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/suites/FX101635841033.aspx But if you want to find pricing information, you need to go here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/FX101754511033.aspx Even if you can afford to implement this upgrade across your company, we suggest you do it as a rolling upgrade so you can resolve any issues inherent in your particular set up without taking down the entire company.

 

Although this a major upgrade for the Office suite and with the new interface you can do everything faster and easier, the business case for the upgrade is iffy. There is no killer application that adds a tremendous boost in functionality, unless you use SharePoint software to collaborate. Bottom line: Microsoft Office 2007 is very worthy upgrade, but not an urgent one.

 

You can try an online test drive or download a 60-day trial from this page (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/default.aspx).

 

Pricing: Retail/Upgrade

Enterprise 2007: Available only through volume licensing/price not quoted

Professional Plus 2007: Available only through volume licensing/price not quoted

Ultimate 2007: $679 retail/$539 upgrade

Professional 2007: $499/$329 upgrade

Small Business 2007: $449/$279 upgrade

Standard 2007: $399/$239 upgrade

Home and Student 2007: $149

Basic 2007: Available only through OEM/price not quoted


 

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