Office 12 Beta Brings UI Changes

Opinion: The Beta 1 versions of Microsoft Word and Outlook are decent enough, but the real Office 12 story will lie on the server side.

Microsoft says Office "12"—the 12 is always in quotes since the company will probably end up calling the final release Office Vista or something—is the most important Office release in a decade.

It may well be, though I think its the various Office servers that make the statement true more than the client. And, just for convenience, Ill skip the quote marks.

I havent had a chance to play with the servers, but have spent several days now using the client software, especially Word and Outlook. Here are my early findings:

First, as befits a first beta release, there have been crashes, and performance could be a whole lot better. Fortunately, though Word has crashed dozens of times, I only lost data in one of them. The other times, Word has recovered quite nicely and Ive continued my work.

Outlook 12 has not crashed once in three days of heavy use and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

In this column, Ill share my experiences with Outlook and Word. PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher and FrontPage will be discussed in a future column. I will probably stay away from Access, InfoPath and OneNote, three programs with which I have only limited experience.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts first beta release of Office 12.

Word 12: The More Visual Word Processor

The big differences between Word 2003 and its successor are obvious. The new tabs-and-ribbons user interface takes a bit of getting used to, especially for functions—like the spell-checker—that dont appear in the Write ribbon, though they certainly should.

It also took me a minute, during which I sat somewhat dumbstruck, to realize that adding a table to a document is an Insert function and thus is found on that ribbon.

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Having the spell-checker on the Review ribbon makes sense, as the speller does review my spelling. But checking spelling is something I will do multiple times during a writing project, so easy access is important.

Even on the Review tab, spelling and grammar are not a top-level ribbon item, requiring the user to open a pull-down. Those Microsoft people must be really great spellers, at least judging by how thoroughly theyve hidden the spell-checker.

Having the spell-checker accessed through the Review tab is a throwback to Word for MS-DOS, when the speller was hidden in something called the "Gallery." Most people didnt notice, however, because they were using WordPerfect at the time.

Next Page: Live previewing in Word and a look at Outlook 12.