rolling out major changes in its Office 2007
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
July 4-10, 2006; issue 871
High Tech Office column;
Change is good, right? Well, users on the Microsoft upgrade track, get
ready for a lot of change, ready or not.
The company has new releases for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer and
Windows Server, all due early next year. And this time around, the new
Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer 7 all sport major
interface redesigns, which in the case of Office, the company has
declared will be “the most significant productivity enhancements
in over a decade.”
Recently, Microsoft made pre-release beta versions of Vista, Office
2007 and Internet Explorer 7 all available for free download. This lets
the adventurous see what all the fuss is about, and perhaps more
importantly, prepare for the finished versions.
Remember, though, that these downloads are pre-release for a reason.
While they are officially “feature-complete,” not
everything may work as advertised. For example, Office 2007 beta has an
option to install it alongside an existing Office installation. Despite
choosing that option, installation nuked my previous versions both
times I installed it. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Otherwise, the Office 2007 beta has been working fine with everything I
tried thus far. And it is the biggest change to Office since
1994’s version 6.0 grew multiple toolbars. Gone are the familiar
menus and toolbars common to most business applications. Instead, the
top inch of each window is taken up by what Microsoft calls a
“context sensitive ribbon” – sets of task-oriented
icons grouped in a more or less logical fashion. Word’s Home
ribbon sports icons for cut/copy/paste, for font changes, paragraph
formatting, styles, and find/replace. Click the word Insert, and rather
than opening a menu, the ribbon swaps in a different set of tools.
Unlike older versions, this new look and feel is only minimally
customizable. Everyone gets the same icons in the same places. There
are no options to turn off the new interface or to use the old menus
and toolbars alongside it. (Old keyboard shortcuts still work, though
there are no longer hints to tell you what they are.)
While it takes a bit of getting used to, the new interface is well
organized. Despite fears that the new version will require a lot of
retraining for businesses that adopt it, Microsoft suggests that the
new look makes features more discoverable. Little training is therefore
There’s also a new set of default file formats based on XML code.
This could be potentially problematic within organizations where
employees use a mix of Office versions (i.e. virtually all of them) or
for individuals who exchange office documents with others (i.e.
virtually all of us). Microsoft is promising add-ons for recent Office
versions allowing them to open and save in the new file formats, but
users of, say, Office 97 are probably going to be outside the loop.
Word, Excel, and Powerpoint can be set to save in the old, more
widely-supported file formats by default, but that’s a step that
users or organizations are going to have to do on their own. Expect
chaos and confusion as users send e-mail attachments that their
colleagues can’t read.
There are alternatives to Microsoft Office. Ironically Corel Word
Perfect, Sun Star Office and the free OpenOffice.org suite all may seem
more familiar to long-time users of Microsoft Office than
Microsoft’s upcoming Office 2007 and all do a good job of working
with the traditional MS Office file formats.
But if you or your organization expect to be buying into Office 2007,
it may be worthwhile to get a head start at www.microsoft.ca/office/preview
Just keep repeating: “Change is good.”