New UI to Accompany Office 12

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-09-19 Print this article Print

Microsoft Corp. officials last week took the lid off the new results-oriented user interface in Office 12, the next version of its Office System family of products.

Microsoft Corp. officials last week took the lid off the new results-oriented user interface in Office 12, the next version of its Office System family of products.

The new UI replaces the traditional menus and tool bars with a set of graphical command tabs that correspond to the tasks that people want to accomplish. But these improvements do not come without a cost in the form of a user learning curve.

In the first demonstration of the UI here at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference last week, Chris Capossela, vice president of Microsofts Information Worker division, introduced the main part of the UI, which is known as the "ribbon."

The ribbon is where users go to find the commands that help create documents, presentations or spreadsheets. The ribbon replaces the set of task panes, menus and tool bars in previous versions of Office.

Another feature Capossela highlighted is "galleries," which give users a visual representation of the kinds of formatting choices they can make in a document without setting a number of individual elements to achieve it. "Users get to pick before they click and so get the view that they want," he said.

Tasks such as inserting page numbers, headers, footers and boxes into Word documents will now be far simpler. Users will be able to select them from an available gallery. There will also be tabs for mailings and for reviewing the document and the layout, "which turns every Word user into a power user," Capossela said.

Also new is the Quick Launch Toolbar, which allows users to customize the interface by adding as many commands as they want to a tool bar, while "Floatie" is a formatting tool that presents the most common text formatting features on a tool panel that floats over the selected text.

Microsoft also added a new to-do bar to Outlook. In addition, attachments in Outlook e-mail can be viewed and played in a preview pane. "Search is also integrated throughout Office, using the same indexing technology as in Windows Vista," Capossela said.

Some attendees at the conference said they were impressed with what they saw of the new UI but that they were looking forward to getting the first beta. One attendee said he was eager to see just how much of the desktop real estate the ribbon took up, particularly on laptops with small screens.

The first beta is still on track for release this fall, with the final product expected to be available in the second half of next year, Steven Sinofsky, Microsofts senior vice president for Office, told eWEEK in an interview.

Sinofsky also acknowledged that there will be a learning curve associated with Office 12 that will probably be steeper for most users than the one for Office XP.

"Yes, there will certainly be a learning curve," he said. "We have added hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of features that you would not have been able to use before, even if they were in the [old] UI."

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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