Ten months ago: Finally, a bit of free time. Is there anything I can do to save time for later on? I know! A new version of Microsoft Office is due out at the end of the year. Since nothing is ever truly new in Office, I can pull lines from my past Office columns and write my column now. Let me see, Ill pull “isnt significantly different from previous versions,” “last truly worthwhile upgrade was Office 97” and “businesses are better off sticking with older versions.” Then Ill add a little filler and, voilà, a completed Office 2007 launch column. Now Ill have some time to do early holiday shopping next year.
Today: Oh, well. You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. It figures—the one time I bet on Microsoft sticking to past strategies and putting out a barely improved Office is the one time the company does a 180 and releases a truly significant upgrade to its core productivity suite—one to which businesses should actually think about upgrading.
Make no mistake about it: Office 2007 is a major improvement over previous versions of the suite. From big changes such as the user interface ribbon and new file formats to a host of small but helpful usability enhancements, Office 2007 is Microsofts first attempt to truly change the way people create, edit and manage content.
As for me, based on my use of Office 2007 betas and the RTM code, Im a convert.
The ribbon gets most of the hype and recognition, and it is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it type of thing. For the most part, I love it, although sometimes I find myself working around it. But in other areas—such as layout, design and advanced Excel functions—the way it clearly exposes options makes me wonder how I ever worked without some of these features before.
However, the ribbon is only part of the usability improvements. Spread throughout Office 2007 are several small changes and enhancements—probably gathered from years of user complaints and suggestions—that serve to make daily Office usage easier and faster.
So far, my favorite change is one that probably seems like a small one to many people: I can now configure Word so that Paste as Unformatted Text is now the default—which is how Ive always thought it should be.
As Ive mentioned in previous columns, lots of IT departments are terrified of the potential training hassles of moving to a radically new Office suite. They see things like the ribbon and major alterations in the menu options, and they picture months and months of anxious calls from confused users.
Of course, there will be training issues. Look at Office 2003—it came with some major training issues, and it wasnt even massively different from the previous version of the suite. Common sense says that training issues with Office 2007 will be worse.
Im not so sure, though. Sometimes it can be harder to train people on an interface when the differences between it and the previous one are small—users get very upset when an application doesnt work in the way they expect it to. In the case of Office 2007, in contrast, the interface is so different that users will recognize immediately that things wont work the way they always have, and users will possibly be more receptive to learning new methods.
Now, while I do like Office 2007 quite a bit, it isnt a must-upgrade. If your business is working fine on an older version of Office or on a competing suite, then theres really no reason to change. But if Office 2007 isnt a must-upgrade, it is certainly a worthwhile-upgrade.
Years from now, when I try to get a head start on an Office column, theres a good chance there will be one change in the templated comments I pull from past columns. Future columns could very well say, “The last truly worthwhile upgrade was Office 2007.”
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]
Self-proclaimed Office UI bible:
Online test drive for Office 2007: