MS Office 2007 Beta 1 Refresh Polishes UI

Microsoft is giving testers a Technical Refresh with bug fixes and a retuned user interface that it promises will not create a retraining problem.

Microsoft plans to make a Technical Refresh of its Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 1 program available to testers the week of March 13.

A company spokesperson told eWEEK that the refreshed code would include an updated build of the new user interface and fixes for the bugs most commonly reported by testers, resulting in a more stable, reliable experience overall.

"The code refresh is another step toward offering a high-quality testing experience for the public Beta 2, which is on track for sometime this spring. The best way to get ready for the 2007 release is to sign up for updates," she said.

The latest build of the new UI, which Microsoft has said is designed to make it easier for people to get better results faster, will be more complete and polished than what was originally presented with Beta 1, the spokesperson said.

Updated visuals and additional background on the redesigned UI can be viewed here as a Word document.

The new user interface replaces the traditional menus and tool bars found in previous releases of Microsoft Office with a design intended to enable people to focus on what they want to do rather than how to do it.

Microsoft has said customers felt the existing UI model hid features under the top-level menu structure and had too many places for people to go to find functionality, resulting in four major design goals for the new UI: to make the overall software experience easier, reduce design clutter and interruptions, increase feature and capability discoverability, and support the creation of great-looking documents.

But such changes do not come without challenges: in this case, convincing users that the changes will not require extensive staff retraining at a significant cost.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about how changes in Office 2007 could be disruptive to businesses.

Chris Schneider, senior marketing manager for Microsofts Information Worker Product Management Group, based in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK that the customer research and user data received from its technical beta program indicated that the learning curve for the new UI is small.

"So we dont anticipate an impact to peoples productivity. That aside, we know that user training is an important issue for IT folks, and were going to provide lots of new kinds of training, such as giving IT people customizable training materials," he said.

But some enterprise customers like Robert Rosen, CIO for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, in Bethesda, Md., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, say they are not yet convinced.

The new UI and changed file formats in Office 2007 posed "major concerns and will slow up adoption significantly," Rosen said. "Since we dont know enough about the benefits of Office 2007, we have not yet developed any plans to move forward."

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read more about the 34 Office suites, programs, servers, services and tools—13 of which are new—that form the Office 2007 family of products, click here.

Joe Wilcox of JupiterResearch, of Jupitermedia, based in Darien, Conn., told eWEEK that when Microsoft introduces something new, it disrupts, and that increases factors like help desk costs and employee downtime. "So, to get to the benefits that come with this, they have to get past whatever retraining will be needed around the new user interface," he said.

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