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

Word menus and toolbars are now 'ribbons'

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There aren't a significant number of new features in Excel. Microsoft focused on refining some current behavior and making it easier to use. And then there's the matter of size: Excel 2007 now supports over 1 million rows and over 16,000 columns per worksheet.

Among the more significant new features: Excel 2007's new ways of visualizing data. For example, you can use conditional formatting to color the background of cells based on their value (see Figure 5). Conditional formatting also lets you display the size of a cell's value by the length of the colored bar in the cell's background, called a Data Bar (see Figure 6).

fig5_coloredbars_sm.gif

Figure 5: Conditional formatting can

apply colors to cell backgrounds based

on cell values.

(Click image to see larger view)

fig6_databarsEx_lg.gif

Figure 6: Conditional formatting can

apply a colored bar in a cell

background; bar length is

proportional to the cell value.

Charting features have improved; the graphics sport a more polished, up-to-date look. Unfortunately, finding the right set of tools in the ribbon proved frustrating. When a pie chart we created didn't have a title, it took us over five minutes of right-clicking and searching before we found the Chart Layout "contextual tab" -- a subribbon, if you will (see Figure 7). While Microsoft says this user interface feature helps expose functionality only when it's needed, in this particular instance it's a case of a contextual tab/ribbon being too subtle to be noticed.

fig7_charttoolssub_sm.gif

Figure 7: Additional chart features are displayed using contextual tabs,

but it's easy to miss that the interface has changed.

(Click image to see larger view)

Charting is also one area where you may waste plenty of time -- not because the program is inefficient but because there are so many options to tempt you.

Microsoft says it has enhanced PivotTable creation, but the changes are minor at best. A panel provides some overviews, but the actual creation of a PivotTable remains befuddling, which is one reason the feature is among the least-used. That's sad, because PivotTables are amazingly powerful. Now if only Excel would provide a bit more handholding -- examining your data and making suggestions, for example. Microsoft still has work to do here.

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