Review and Visual Tour: Microsoft's 2007 Office Beta 2

Word menus and toolbars are now 'ribbons'

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While Microsoft has made it easier to apply styles, it has done little to make them easier to design or understand. Applying a style from one document to another has been a continual source of user confusion. It remains so in Office 2007.

The preview mode is also available with other icons in the ribbon, such as font and font size, but oddly not for the paragraph-control icons (you can't preview a bulleted list or flush-right alignment, for example). The Font pull-down menu also shows font names in their associated fonts (see Figure 3).


Figure 3: Fonts are listed using the font itself.

(Click image to see larger view)

The Insert ribbon has groups for adding Smart Shapes (arrows, connecting lines and so on), pages (cover page, blank page or inserting a page break), tables, illustrations (more on SmartArt in a moment), links, headers and footers, text boxes, Word Art, drop caps, symbols and more. Despite so many options, this and the other ribbons in Office 2007 don't feel cramped.

That's not to say that all ribbon designs are flawless. The Page Layout ribbon holds the key to margins, columns and watermarks, but some controls commonly used in editing a document, such as indents and interline spacing, are found on a different ribbon. Therein lies a problem: You can't move components between ribbons. The interface is fixed.

Other ribbons include Reference (for handling a table of contents, footnotes, citations, captions, indexes and table of authorities), Mailings (for printing envelopes or labels, or setting up and executing a mail merge, much like the mail merge wizard from Word 2003), Review (spelling, comments, track changes, document compare or protection) and View (to show or hide a ruler or gridlines, present a document map, zoom in or out, and arrange windows). A change from Beta 1: an "Add-ins" ribbon that puts third-party tools in one place.

The radically different interface isn't the only thing that's new in Word 2007. Other features we like include the ability to save a document in PDF format as well as XPS (Microsoft's answer to Adobe's PDF). Word's new Building Blocks feature is like a clipboard that persists between sessions. It's a good tool for inserting repetitive text -- a bit simpler than using AutoCorrect's "replace as you type" feature in previous versions of Word.

Word's default font is now Calibri, not Arial; Calibri is a highly readable font. When you hover over a ribbon button, a short explanation (in plain English) describes the button's purpose. The File menu is gone; now you have to somehow guess that the big icon in the upper left corner is its replacement. One feature we're happy to see: The "most recently used" list is no longer limited to the last nine files. Likewise, Track Changes now won't flag as "different" text that is simply moved, which is smart. We also like the new comparison layout that lets you more easily determine the differences between two documents.

Looking Good

Office 12 applications do their best to help you use more colorful layouts. For example, insert a cover page in Word and you're presented with a variety of richly formated layouts to choose from.

SmartArt is another welcome addition for improving your documents' visual appeal. In PowerPoint, for example, you can insert a Venn diagram or a step-by-step process chart, or select a bulleted list and apply the same graphic layout to your existing text (see Figure 4). You can directly edit a SmartArt object -- when you add a step to a diagram, the Office application will redraw the image with all components properly resized and rearranged.


Figure 4: SmartArt can turn bulleted lists into professional-looking graphics.

(Click image to see larger view) SmartArt also lets you add some professional touches to the images, such as shading and glow, and you can control transparency or add reflections.

Excel Excels

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