by July 20, 2006 0 comments



Following the trend of recent Microsoft software releases, Office 2007 has a
completely redesigned UI. Things like menus, toolbars and the ever-present
task-pane from Office 2003 have given way to a new approach of context-sensitive
workspaces. Applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint have live previews of
the changes (like fonts and colors) you’re about to make before you make them.
There are tons of ‘quick styles’ that you can apply to slides, tables, text
paragraphs and the like; enabling you to change fonts, sizes, spacing, alignment
and colors of these items in just one click. Since just a listing of the new
features and changes to old ones through the suite will take up a few tens of
pages, we’re taking up the more critical ones that may not meet the eye in
this review.

‘X’ files
All your Office documents now get an ‘x’ at the end of the file extension:
DOCX, XLSX, PPTX and so on. Access databases are strangely ‘ACCDB’. This
also signifies that these files are not directly compatible with Office 2003 and
below. The company says that converters are on the way that will let users use
the new files from versions 2000 onwards. These ‘X’ files are smaller by
about half compared to their Office 2003 counterparts; and the reason is simple:
they are actually compressed ZIP files. You can actually open these files
(manually or programmatically), and make changes to individual elements.
Properties and text content are present as tags in XML files while pictures are
as separate PNG files in the ZIP file. You could use this technology to have
plug-ins in your DMS that would clean up or add elements to documents for
various purposes.


Price:
NA

Meant For:

Office users

Key Specs:

New SKUs, completely redesigned UI, new file formats

Pros:

Task-based UI response, smaller file sizes, new widgets make work finish faster

Cons:

May take sometime to get used to for existing Office users

Contact:

Microsoft Corporation, Gurgaon Tel: 5158000 E-mail:
connect@microsoft.com 

New SKUs
The Office 2007 suite is slated to be released in eight different SKUs as well
as independent products. The SKUs are: Basic, Home and Student, Standard, Small
Business, Professional, Professional Plus and Enterprise. There is also an ‘Ultimate’
edition that has everything Office 2007 has to offer. The difference between
each is not only in pricing, but also in the components that each of them will
contain. The Standard edition will contain only Word, Excel, PowerPoint and
Outlook. The Small Business edition adds the Business Contact Manager For
Outlook and Publisher to the Standard SKU. The Home and Student edition does not
feature Outlook but has OneNote instead over the Standard. The difference
between the Professional and Professional Plus SKUs is in their availability
too: Professional Plus is available only through Volume Licensing while
Professional is available through retail channels as well. Both these editions
contain Access, Publisher and InfoPath over Standard. The Enterprise SKU
includes everything in Professional Plus as well as Groove and Communicator.

Word 2007
Word is perhaps the most widely used component of the Office suite, along with
Excel. Most users of the new Office would probably decide their entire
evaluation with the product suite based on their experience with this one
component. And working with Word has certainly become much more easier and
intuitive. It will take you a couple of days as an existing Word user to find
all your favorite menus and shortcuts given that they have mostly been all
re-arranged. The default font and line spacing has undergone a change-it is
now a new font called ‘Calibri’ at 11 points-and you will instantly notice
the neater on-screen display of your documents as well as your print outs.
However, this does not take effect automatically for old (2003/XP) documents as
they use ‘Times New Roman’ as the default font. Even everyday tasks like
inserting and working with tables, artwork and the like. There is a new thing in
Word called the ‘SmartArt’, which is a new way to do your flowcharts and
diagrams where it intelligently colors, arranges and lets you edit these
diagrams. SmartArt also features its own values editor that lets you enter the
labels and data values for the diagrams independently. Cross references and
links, citations and bibliography, tables of figures and indexes, formulae, and
page themes have also become easier to do from single click items in the ribbon.

Smart Art in Word is a cool way to add diagrams, figures and flow charts to your documents

Managing your MailMerge documents and data is much easier with Word 2007 with
the new ‘Mailings’ tab in the ribbon. Each level of the mail-merge process
is available as separate ribbon segments – for instance, all the tasks that
you need to start off using mail merge with this document are classified under
‘Start Mail Merge’. You can preview the results, find recipients using an
on-ribbon search facility, add greetings and text blocks and so on using just
the ribbon.

The ability to manage multiple reviewers for a document is also more
intuitive with its own tab: ‘Review’. From here you can look at the actions
and comments of particular reviewers and work with them. Then, you can compare
multiple versions of the same document and merge changes from different authors.

Access 2007
The default interface for Access in 2003 was a blank screen that was boring even
to database programmers. The 2007 edition has a much more visual interface, with
content from Office Online featured in the previously blank workspace. Now, you
can create tables out of other sources: ODBC databases, HTML files, SharePoint
Lists and Outlook folders (contacts, email, tasks, …) just to name a few. A
handy database documenter can help you document all the fields in the database
which you can further print or save as different kinds of files (Word, HTML,
PDF, XML, etc). And, remember all those warnings we get when opening a database,
saying it could contain harmful content and should we really open it and so
forth?

The ‘Instant Search’ feature in Outlook 2007 finds messages across mail folders quickly and more efficiently

That’s all a thing of the past now. The database opens in a ‘restricted
mode’ with a ribbon on top with an ‘Enable content’ button to let you
enable whatever Access judged harmful.

Excel 2007
Pivot tables has been one of the best things that happened to Excel. If you’ve
used it before, then you’ll remember that there’s a wizard that takes you
through the process for creating it. You had to run it from the Data menu. In
the new Excel, it’s moved to the Insert menu, and you straightaway get a
single dialog, after which you drag-drop items onto the familiar four squares on
a task pane that opens up.

Conditional formatting is another useful tool in Excel that quickly shows you
everything that’s different. Here you can setup rules for data that are above
or below a certain value, are duplicates, contain a certain value and so on. To
quickly differentiate between the different values and the normal ones, you can
setup colors, icons or graded scales that appear and change automatically. The
nearest you can have to this in Excel 2003 is to use macros or cell formulae to
have a similar effect. But you can have only one condition setup for a
particular cell at a time. On the ‘Home’ ribbon, you have a ‘Format as
Table’ option. Select a range of cells and click on this option to have Excel
treat that range as a separate table. Later, when scrolling around, if you click
inside a cell of such a table, the column or row headings automatically transfer
onto the grid headings as long as that table is visible and you have atleast one
cell of that table selected.

The Formula ribbon is new to Excel where you find all the formula related
features including cell range name managers and tools to trace out how a certain
calculation proceeds (‘Trace Precedents’ and ‘Trace Dependants’). Also,
some amount of tuning can be done in formulae since Excel can now use your
column headers as range specifiers. For instance, if a column is called ‘Cost
Price’, and you need a total of the first ten columns under it, you can now
say ‘SUM(InventoryTable[Cost Price])’ instead of ‘SUM(C1:C44)’ and then
wonder what’s in that range. If you’re not sure how you ended up at a
particular value, use the ‘Evaluate Formula’ option (the ‘fx’ icon in
Formulas>Formula Auditing) to debug the progress through the calculation.
And, we now have ‘Watch Windows’ in Excel too, that programmers would be
familiar with. Here, you can setup ranges of cells (in any worksheet and
workbook) to keep track of while you’re changing values. This can avoid a lot
of scrolling through different workbooks and sheets.

InfoPath and Publisher 2007
In earlier times, you needed InfoPath on all your systems to be able to view the
forms you created with it. Now, you can centrally deploy the Forms Server 2007
(not yet available) and serve InfoPath forms through that over a Web browser
interface. InfoPath itself appears to be unchanged, it still looks like its 2003
ancestor with the same UI. Publisher 2007 currently has a few bugs in that when
you create or import a document and then apply a template to it, the data
disappears into an ‘Extra Text’ task pane and you have to retrieve it from
there, and redo your formatting! Otherwise, it is again the same UI as the 2003
version.

Outlook 2007
The e-mail and calendaring client has become a little larger in the features it
offers. Now, it has RSS integration and a revamped tasks pane where everything
(calendar appointments, To-Dos are listed together). Outlook’s calendar now
also carries forward event deadlines if they are not completed in the earlier
indicated time. This is better than the 2003’s philosophy of marking them
undone and ignoring them after the deadline is past. RSS subscriptions can be
pulled in from what IE is using (if you have IE 7) or from the one in Vista (if
you are using Vista’s Sidebar and the RSS Feeds widget in that). You can
subject these RSS feeds to regular rules for processing, forwarding or delivery.
Outlook 2007 is just as friendly as before, with integrated “Instant Search”.
But for Instant Search to work you need to download an update to Windows Desktop
Search from the Microsoft website. Once installed though, searching through your
e-mail is easier than before-it searches as you type and shows e-mail from all
your folders in one list with the search terms highlighted in yellow.

Access now features a way to automatically collect data using e-mail. A simple wizard gets you started

PowerPoint 2007
Again the theme application bug exists, but you can use the Quick Style panels
to change your slide layouts, themes and designs very quickly. If you have an
old set of slides that you need to freshen in a hurry, this is very useful for
you. Working with Slide Masters is a pain, because all the text disappears
behind any graphics (in the editing mode, but they appear fine when playing the
slide show) that are on the slide master with no apparent way to make them
visible without hiding all the graphics on the master. This was done very easily
before, where you could switch to the master view, make your changes and have it
easily reflect across your slides.

If you have more than one monitor attached, you can use the ‘Show Presenter
View’ option to view the presentation as it would be during the show, on the
other monitor while you make your edits. You can also start your slideshows from
any slide with two predefined points (beginning of the file or current slide).

Add Ins
There are a lot of useful add-ins in Office 2007. Some of them you might never
get to see if you didn’t know you could turn them on. To do so, you need to
right click on the ribbon, select the ‘Customize quick access toolbar’
(quick access toolbar is what the ribbon is called). Here, click on the ‘Add
Ins’ item on the left side menu. While the list here currently only shows you
what add-ins are loaded and in use and so forth (without actually letting you
turn something on or off), the ‘Manage Add Ins’ item at the bottom of that
screen gives you access to a lot more options, through a dozen more screens.
Quite a lot of these at present are not as intuitive as the Office component
(Word, Excel and so forth) that you have opened up. But then again, these
options would only be used by a power user and the usability of these screens
for such a user is not a problem. One useful add-in that automatically turns on
is the ‘Bluetooth’ which shows a nice little drop down allowing the user to
send a document from any Office client (Word, Excel, etc) product to a Bluetooth
device in range in a single click.

Bottom Line: For a product suite that has such a lot of changes across
the spectrum (right from the UI to the way users work to the file formats to say
the least) the Beta 2 is a very stable and usable product.

Sujay V Sarma

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