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Final Review: The Lowdown on Office 2007

By Richard Ericson
October 11, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Galleries provide visual shortcuts to many formatting tasks in Office 2007 applications, from applying styles in Word and choosing chart styles in Excel to applying a fresh design to a SmartArt illustration (more on SmartArt below) in PowerPoint. Select a range of text in Word, for example, and you can quickly apply a style by picking it from the Style Gallery. Hover over the gallery and your selection will change so you can preview its effect; move away without clicking and your selection is unchanged.

You aren't restricted to gallery defaults; you can easily add an element to the gallery, and Office will create a preview image. For example, we created red text in a 16-point font for a heading, and we were able to quickly add it to the Style Gallery; Word displayed text in that style as a button in the gallery (see Figure 3).

Of all the features in Office 2007, graphics have received the greatest (and most interesting) improvement. Apps within the suite now feature a classier, more professional look, with new 3D effects, shadows and glows, as well as more surface textures, good-looking color schemes and new ways to add emphasis.

There are more ways to see how your work will look. A new Live Preview feature helps you preview choices -- for instance, in Word you can hover over a font name and Word will change your selection to that font. Click the font, and the change is made; move your mouse away, and Word returns to the original formatting.

In Excel, you can change the look of a graph the same way. In fact, charts are dramatically better looking in Office 2007, and PowerPoint users now get the full benefit of Excel's new formatting power when incorporating charts -- say goodbye to the adequate but dull MSGraph charts of old.

What's missing, what's better

Some features have been radically changed since Office 2003 -- or have disappeared completely. The ability to add a favorite folder to the My Places bar is no longer found in the File Save and File Open dialog boxes. Instead, you navigate to the folder, right-click on a blank spot in the My Places bar and choose Add from the pop-up menu. Other My Places features remain unchanged: For example, you can't remove the default shortcuts such as My Documents without editing the registry.

Task Panes, which offered an attractive list of the last files used (an alternative to the file list in the File menu) in Office 2003, is no more (though it does appear in some functions, such as mail merge). The Work menu of previous versions, which allows you to keep a list of your favorite files, is also gone; however, the File list (displayed by clicking on the brightly colored Office Button in the upper-left corner above the Ribbon) lets you "pin" a file to the list so it's always available (see Figure 4). That's a nice design improvement to a feature that few users knew about, let alone used. Whether most users will intuit that clicking on the pushpin icon keeps the file in the list is unclear.

Pinned files always appear in the Files list  
"Pinned" files always appear in the Files list (Click image to see larger view)

On the plus side, new options let you set the Paste command's default behavior; now you can select which format to use when you paste text within the same document, from a different document, from a different document when there's a style conflict, and from another program. You can keep the original's format, use the destination's format or just paste plain text.

The Lowdown on Office 2007

We found much to praise in Office 2007. SmartArt lets you build some amazing graphics -- diagrams, flowcharts and the like. It's easy to add text to the illustrations (see Figure 5); you can quickly adjust the number of elements in a diagram, and Office adjusts the font and graphic sizes and positions automatically. The results are professional and visually pleasing. Also new: a gallery of styles for headers and footers (see Figure 6), which takes some of the fuss out of creating those elements. Inserting shapes is also easier, thanks to the Shapes gallery (see Figure 7).

Pick a shape, any shape  
Pick a shape, any shape (Click image to see larger view)

While the Help system has been entirely redesigned, much Help information is now handled by pointing you to Office-wide topics, so there's more text to wade through to get your answer. The File Save command, for example, lists commands for eight applications (including Visio), not just the application you're currently using. To find equivalent keyboard commands from Office 2003, enter "Office 2003 shortcuts" into the Help system to get a link to a program that lets you use a mockup of the current application's menu system to show you the equivalent commands (when they're available).

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