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    Office 2007 marks major Microsoft product upgrade

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver 

    February 6-12, 2007; issue 902

    High Tech Office

    January 30 marked the consumer release of both Microsoft’s next-generation Windows Vista operating system and its Office 2007 applications suite, programs accounting for the bulk of the software super-power’s revenue. Of late, business and home users are proving increasingly slow to replace their current versions with Microsoft’s latest and greatest; the company’s biggest competitor is its own older product generations.

    While some commentators have compared Windows Vista to its predecessor Windows XP with fancier graphics, one glance at the new Office version shows off the differences. An all-new interface dumps the familiar menus and multiple toolbars for ribbons: sets of large icons representing commonly used tools. Tabs along the top let users switch between ribbons.

    There’s just one menu: an office button in the top left corner replaces the file menu with standard open, save and print commands. Users are allowed a tiny amount of customization, with an optional quick access toolbar for frequently used commands.

    Microsoft claims that new users can locate what they need more easily. Users accustomed to looking in menus or toolbars, however, will need time to accustom themselves to this makeover. All the menu options you’re used to are in a ribbon somewhere. Keyboard shortcuts from the older versions continue to work.

    Moreover, Office 2007 introduces a whole new set of default file formats, the first major change since Office 97 confused users with a word processing format that couldn’t be read by earlier versions.

    The new formats get names like DOCX and XLSX. Microsoft claims that saved files in these formats will be smaller and more compressible than files saved in the older formats. Based on XML standards, the formats will give software developers easier access to file content like charts or comments.

    These new formats, however, promise a painful transition as Office 2007 users interact with users of older versions. Downloads are available for Office 2000, XP and 2003 users. Anyone still running Office 97 will be left out in the cold – time to update, Microsoft implies. Users of Mac Office 2004 have been promised compatibility with the new file formats, just not now.

    As with Windows Vista, Office 2007 is available in a confusing number of versions with a wide range of prices. Enterprise customers have access to special versions at volume-licensed pricing, while computer manufacturers and resellers have access to a specially-priced Office Basic for pre-installation and resale to retail customers.

    Retail pricing ranges from $899 for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Office Ultimate 2007 down to $199 for the Home and Student 2007 edition, with discounted upgrade versions. Note that while attractively priced, the home and student version no longer includes Outlook. It has been replaced with the OneNote outliner. Product activation makes it difficult to share a copy of Office among multiple computers, but unlike Vista, Office 2007 licensing allows a buyer to legally install it twice: typically at work and at home or on a desktop and laptop, on condition that only one installation is used at a time.

    Microsoft advertising may imply that Office 2007 goes better with Windows Vista; t’ain’t so.

    It will run just fine on XP systems, though not at all on earlier Windows versions.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan