Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Microsoft Office 2007 Review

Microsoft Office 2007 Review
by Simon North

The first time I used the new version of Office was when it was in Beta 2 stage and there were a lot of things wrong with it, the main one was the slowness that came with a recharged user interface. There was also in consistency between the applications with a handful of the suite using the new interface, and it is sad to report that it is still slow, you certainly cannot run one of the new Microsoft Office applications whilst running something like Flash or Visual Studio.

However, it isn’t all bad. The new interface is beautiful, you can choose from three colour schemes, black, blue or silver and the new ribbon style menu and toolbar replacement, works a treat and was pretty easy to start using. The tools are situated under the right tab, so if you want to insert a picture you’ll find the insert picture option under the Insert tab.


The ribbon is a new strip similar to a tab control at the top of the application, this removes the idea of menus and toolbars which is a step forward in user interface design and you may well see this in a lot of applications in the coming years. To use a tool (of which there are over 1500 in this version) you simply click the relevant tab, so for example you want to add a header, you will click Insert and then click the Header option. Now this doesn’t mean that you have 20 tabs on the ribbon because that would make it very confusing, instead you have just the main tabs and then when you click on say, a picture, the picture tab will appear at the end and when you click off the picture the tab disappears, called 'Contextual tabs', this removes the idea of having a WordArt toolbar or Picture toolbar on your work area whilst your not actually working with an image.

Toolbars haven’t totally disappeared, if you select some text on a document then a semi translucent toolbar appears just above the text, but unlike in previous versions, this toolbar doesn’t get in your way, if you don’t want it then simply move your cursor away from it and it will disappear, if you want it again then hover over it, the closer you are to it the more opaque it becomes. This idea is certainly a gift from Microsoft and it proves that they do listen to the customer (occasionally),

Main Menu (Office button)
There is just one menu on the new office and this can be found in the top left hand corner, this acts as a kind of File menu and gives you all the options to save, print, publish and send. It is a large area which can be seen by clicking the Office button in the top left hand corner. As you hover over a command, a list of options will appear on the right.

Live Preview

Live Previews have been around for a long time in some applications and now they make their way into Office and I must say it is a great idea. To explain this I will use an example. I have some text which its font is set as Arial, I want it to become Verdana so I highlight the text and click on the drop down menu for the font on the Home tab. I hover over Verdana and the text font turns to Verdana, I haven't clicked anything at this point, this gives me a 'live preview' of what it will look like. This feature is not just for text, you can use it for images, tables, text boxes, shapes etc. and it certainly speeds up the time it takes to perform a task. It is a perfect addition to Office 2007.

New File Formats
A new file format has been introduced into Microsoft Office 2007, the new format is called Microsoft Office Open XML and is based upon the XML language and uses a zip style for compressing the files to 75% of the size it would be. The new file has a new file extension which is basically the same as the traditional file extension (.doc, .ppt) but with a 'x' on the end (.docx, .pptx). Office also supports previous versions of the file format so you can still use the traditional Office 97-2003 filetype.

In the beta builds leading up to the release of Office there was support to export your documents into Adobe's Portable Document Format (or PDF), this has been removed from the final release due to legal objections from Adobe, however you can install a third party plug in.

I mentioned this above and I will go into more detail now because, it is a serious problem and would really annoy some people. I used Microsoft Office 2007 Enterprise for this review and this includes the following programs:

  • Microsoft Office Word 2007
  • Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007
  • Microsoft Office Publisher 2007
  • Microsoft Office Access 2007
  • Microsoft Office Excel 2007
  • Microsoft Office Info Path 2007
  • Microsoft Office OneNote 2007
  • Microsoft Office Groove 2007
  • Microsoft Office Outlook 2007

Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access all sported the new Office interface, whereas the rest just used a variation of the new interface and in some cases like Publisher it still used the old 2003 interface. Office, since 1997 has created consistency which meant that if someone used Word, for example, they would also be able to use all the other applications in the suite with little effort because they looked and worked in the same way. So for a new Office system that already people are steering well clear of until they need to upgrade because it looks too complicated, the state of this inconsistency within the suite could have a massive impact on the customer. Microsoft's excuse for the inconsistancy is that the applications that use the new interface centre around document authoring meaning that there is a wealth of features which need to be organised in a manner that is user friendly. The applications that lack the interface will be upgraded to the interface in future versions of Office.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word has undergone the most changes and it is the centre of the new office. It uses the new user interface and is packed full of great new features in order to help you produce professional documents. Better integration with the new recharged Office Online allows for more templates, updates, clipart and help. The office assistant has finally died due to the massive help that is included with office. New imaging features allows you to add nice looks to your images including, 3D effects, glows, shadows, reflections and bevels.

It includes much better support for blogging allowing you to upload straight to your blog. Blogs that can be uploaded to include the main names like Blogger and Spaces. A perfect addition to the program is the real time word count in the status bar which is perfect for authors and students. Easy zooming by the use of a slider in the status bar eradicates the need for choosing the right size from a drop down menu. There is the ability to add cover pages with customisable fields. A new default font called Calibri makes your documents look modern and professional. You can add styles to pages as well as colour schemes. The main tools can be found on the Home tab of the ribbon and all other tools are on the correct tabs with long informative explanations appearing whenever you hover over an option.

So, Microsoft Office Word 2007, which is regarded the centre of office is fantastic, with new looks and new features it enables you to produce a professional document with little hassle and with little time spent.

Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint is also spoilt with the new interface. Microsoft claim that the new PowePoint makes it easier for you to design and produce professional looknig presentations due to its intuative interface. Microsoft PowerPoint has many new features including new templates, styles, all the user interface features (ribbon, live previews etc.) and finally after all these years, new WordArt. Better imaging tools allows you to create much better looking presentations with the ability to add reflections, glows, shadows, bevels, 3D effects or soft edges to your images. Not much has changed in animating effects, you still have the same slide transistions and item animations.

A new feature that is present in Microsoft PowerPoint called 'SmartArt' allows you to produce relationship, workflow, or hierarchy diagrams easily and quickly making producing company styled presentations a much quicker process. There is also the option to create a photo gallery slideshow, this is done automatically as a seperate presentation and all you need to do is add the images you want, perfect for showing your family and friends your holiday pics.

So, Microsoft Office PowerPoint has undertaken a new look and feel and a few new features have been added, but I do feel that there hasn't been enough development, for example I would have expected new animation effects to make presentations look more unique rather than the traditional checkerboard or blinds animation.

Microsoft Publisher 2007

Microsoft Publisher 2007 doesn't have the new interface which is a shame, because it is seen as a second rate program in the Office suite, used by very few people either as an extra (people don't spend hundreds of pounds to produce amateur christmas cards) or for fully fledged graphics designers who would probably use a more suitable DTP package anyway.

Very little has changed in the application and is sports the same traditional menu and toolbar feel of previous versions of Office. The task page however, has had a re-design with nice effects when hovering over choices curtosy of work done in the new user interface. The task page also looks a lot easier to use with a new icon style interface making it quicker to choose and customise your design including setting colour schemes and orientations.

A nice edition to the program that is going to make a lot of users happy is something called the Content Library, this is a type of clipboard which is independant to each publication meaning that you can basically save images and text and use them in other publications by simply dragging and dropping the item from the panel.

There isn't much to say about Microsoft Publisher, the company hasn't really put much effort into it, especially because of the Microsoft Expression suite that Microsoft is producing especially for designers.

Microsoft Excel 2007

Microsoft Excel 2007, a spreadsheet application, has been improved with the new user interface. The main focus on Microsoft Excel is to provide everyone with an easy to use application to support their company or personal finances. This is done via the new user interface which has been dramatically improved in order for you to use formaulas and graphs easily and quickly. Formatting has also been improved and with live previews you can be much more productive. Graphs now look more professional with new rendering with the use of bevels and other imaging effects seen throughout Office 2007.

Behind the scenes things have changed, limits have been taken off, for eample there are over 1,000,000 rows compared to the previous 65,000, memory management has be adapted so that you can run your spreadsheets much faster than the capped memory usage in previous editions.

Microsoft Access 2007

Microsoft has been blessed with the new interface which makes the application much more pleasurable to use, although it still seems more like an application for a professional rather than an amateur computer user, who would probably be best suited to Excel. However, Access does provide plenty of templates to help you get started and does bear resemblance to the previous editions of the application. It has a number of extra features to help you build your databases much quicker and has much better integration with Excel.

Better organisation of the interface allows for much better editing of forms and reports unlike the previous builds which featured multitudes of floating windows which got in your way. A new feature allows you to simply organise fields on a form rather than having to redesign the whole form interface.

The new Access has masssive improvements on version 2003 and it's much welcomed new design and features will impress regular and even new users of the application.

Everything else
I have detailed the main applications in the Office suite, but there are plenty more depending on which suite you purchase, details are below. Microsoft FrontPage has been discontinued in Office 2007, but you have two different alternatives, part of the Office suite (selected editions) is Sharepoint Designer 2007 which looks and works similar to FrontPage 2003, but it is based on the Sharepoint server, the other alternative is part of Microsoft's new suite of applications designed for designers called, Microsoft Expression. Microsoft Expression Web, like Sharepoint Designer is similar to FrontPage 2003. New applications and new versions of 2003 applications are also featured in the new office system, including OneNote, Visio, Project, InfoPath and of course Outlook (which features the new interface).

Microsoft Office 2007 has seen significant improvements, the main one being the look and feel of the new interface which will recharge the designing not just of Microsoft applications, but applications from other companies. There is inconsistancy throughout the suite but at least Microsoft have said that they will work on integrating the interface throughout the system. Some programs have seen significant work, whereas others just cosmetics and in some cases not even that. But as much as I put down the new Office, I cannot help but like it and I'm sure you will too. Thankyou for reading

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