Friday, July 07, 2006

Office 2007 Beta

I’m writing this post using Word 2007, part of Microsoft’s flagship office suite. This is the second Beta release, and it’s my first look at the software.

The first thing I have to say is that Microsoft are taking a big gamble. They have totally overhauled the user interface. Gone are the familiar menus at the top of the screen – File, Edit etc. These are replaced by 8 tabs:

  • Home, which brings up a selection of buttons relating to basic text editing, such as fonts, emphasis, alignment, styles and search/replace.
  • Insert, where you will find the shapes that used to be on the drawing toolbar, tables, objects, page breaks etc. Here you will also find headers and footers, Word Art, and the equation editor.
  • Page Layout, which is fairly self explanatory, and contains all the options which used to be in the Page Setup dialog box, and the paragraph formatting.
  • References – Here are table of contents, footnotes, citations, captions and indexes.
  • Mailings covers mailing labels, envelope printing and mail merge.
  • The Review tab is all about tracking changes, adding comments and proofing.
  • View has the controls for different page views, options for showing rulers, the zoom level and window arrangement.
  • The last tab is Add-Ins, which is where, remarkably enough, you control any add-ins.

Notice that nowhere have I mentioned opening files. It took me 2 minutes to find the open file dialogue. It is cunningly hidden in a dropdown menu that is opened by clicking on the Office logo at the top left!

Looking at this completely new interface, the first thing that occurred to me was that Microsoft have removed a major barrier to switching to People are afraid of change. Replace Office 2003 with and you will get complaints about not being able to find things. You’ll get far more complaints with Office 2007. bears far more resemblance to past versions of Microsoft Office than this does.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the new interface, just that it is so radically different that your average user will take some considerable time to get used to it. In an SME, you may find the IT support staff find it simpler to give everyone than deal with the fall-out from this upgrade.

So, what else has changed? Well for a start, the default font is now Calibri, a nice, clean looking sans-serif font, replacing the horribly old fashioned Times New Roman. Also, it wouldn’t be an office upgrade without a new file format. The default now bears the extension .docx, and is Microsoft’s OpenXML format. You can still use the Office 2003 file structure though.

A new option is to create a PDF (OOo got there first), but this is no great shakes as there were plenty of free tools to do this already, it just makes it slightly more convenient. Also, creating blog posts, such as this. Word will link to a variety of blog sites, enabling easy uploading of posts. I’ll find out shortly how well that works!

What really prompted me to download this Beta was the news that Microsoft are working on Open Document compatibility. Prompted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts plan to move document storage across to Open Document format, Microsoft has been forced to embrace the competing standard. There is a plugin available to download from Sourceforge, which is fully open source. At the moment it only seems to support importing, rather than exporting. The option is there now, but not selectable.

So far I’ve only looked briefly at Word. I don’t use Powerpoint much, but I will be looking more closely at Excel and Access in the future.