Microsofts Office 2007 Beta 2 technical Refresh introduces performance enhancements as well as user interface tweaks—most notably, more intuitive ways to work with the new Office ribbon.
Available for download since Sept. 14 from www.microsoft.com/office/preview, the Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh—for both client and server systems—will be free to Beta 2 customers. Customers will need to install the update as a patch over Office 2007 Beta 2.
eWeek Labs tested the refresh on a Lenovo ThinkPad T41 running Microsofts Windows Vista Release Candidate 1, with a 1.5GHz Intel Pentium M 758 processor and 1.5GB of RAM. We also installed the office suite update on a Hewlett-Packard xw9300 workstation with dual 2.6GHz Advanced Micro Devices Opteron 252 CPUs and 4GB of RAM.
The Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh requires Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista RC1. However, the HP workstation we used for testing was running Windows XP Professional 64-bit SP1, and the refresh installed just fine.
Reviewers were given a completely new installation copy of the suite update, so we uninstalled Office 2007 Beta 2 on our test machines and installed the Beta 2 Technical Refresh.
The update focuses mainly on UI and performance enhancements. For example, users who are tired of Office 2007s two color schemes—black and default blue—will applaud the suites new silver theme, accessible regardless of the operating system used. And, while weve found some Office 2007 applications, including Outlook, to be sluggish, the performance improvements in the refresh were obvious.
We especially liked a couple of enhancements that have been made to Offices new ribbon interface.
Its now easier to minimize the Office ribbon to provide more document real estate: Users need only right-click anywhere on the ribbon and choose "minimize the ribbon" to work on their documents without all of the ribbons tools; a second right-click brings the ribbon back. The ribbon has also been enhanced with the addition of menu tabs, which let us bring back a minimized ribbon by left-clicking on a tab. We could then reminimize the ribbon with a second left-click.
In Word, the refresh improves image support: While Beta 2 required an FTP account to add pictures to blog posts, users can now upload images to blogs from Word (assuming their blog provider supports images).
In Outlook, appointments and meetings now can have time zone controls, an especially handy feature for business travelers who want to create appointments that start in one time zone and end in another.
Searching for e-mail in Office 2007 Beta 2 could be tedious, so we were glad to see that the Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh uses an updated version of Windows Desktop Search—a definite improvement. We also saw noticeable performance improvements in Excel, particularly when creating, opening and saving charts.
There was one feature that was conspicuous by its absence: PDF support. Many users of Office 2007 Beta 2—including eWeek Labs analysts—had come to appreciate and depend on its PDF functionality. Unfortunately, that feature doesnt appear in the refresh because of a squabble between Adobe Systems and Microsoft.
Built-in PDF capabilities arent the only file formats missing from the Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh: Microsoft has yanked from this version support for XPS (XML Paper Specification).
While Microsoft has made a number of good usability improvements in Office 2007 since Beta 2, the suites new UI and Office Open XML document formats will still be big hurdles for users.
Along with the Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh, Microsoft has made materials available to help IT managers train users to work with the new interface. An Enterprise Learning Network has also been established to help IT managers develop a training and communications plan for employees.
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at email@example.com.