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

Word menus and toolbars are now 'ribbons'

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Other Application Changes

PowerPoint picks up SmartArt and the new ribbon bar, and you can change themes to give your presentation a more pleasing look and feel (themes control everything from background color to the color of a table or chart, the text font(s) and the bulleted style). Otherwise, it's pretty much the same as the 2003 version.

In Access, new field types let you attach any file (a document or image, for example) or enter multiple values in a field.

Details on changes in Visio 2007 and Publisher 2007 were not available at posting time.

Working with Multiple Applications

Office has evolved from the days when linking data in one Office application to another was considered revolutionary. Cross-application interaction is stronger in this release.

In Outlook 2007, for example, you can automatically import meeting details from a calendar item into OneNote. OneNote also indexes text within image files by using a optical character recognition engine, so its Instant Search can find words within images, scanned documents or handwritten notes. As in Outlook, search results begin to appear as soon as you type the first few letters that match an item in the index.

There are some surprises, such as how Office simplifies or automates what you could do in previous versions (but only manually). Word's "Insert Excel Chart" option opens an Excel spreadsheet, creates a chart, embeds the chart into the Word document, and links the data to the Excel document. Change a value in Excel and the Word chart is automatically updated.

Office InfoPath forms can be sent in an e-mail message; recipients using Outlook can complete the form and e-mail it back to the sender without having OneNote installed on their systems. Assignments from Microsoft Project 2007 can be viewed within Outlook, and status and time spent can be reported and returned to Project for automatic updating.

Share and Share Alike

The major change in Beta 2 was the introduction of Office SharePoint Server. Built on SharePoint technologies and requiring Windows Server 2003, Microsoft's direction is clear: sharing, collaborating, searching. You can post PowerPoint slides to a SharePoint server, and your colleagues can select which ones to use in building their own presentations. Enterprises today typically put entire presentation files on a shared network drive; using SharePoint lets users select individual slides in what Microsoft calls a SharePoint Slide Library. And users can be automatically notified when a shared slide is changed (so you'll know when a slide you've incorporated has been updated with the new company logo, for example).

SharePoint pioneered several technologies that Office SharePoint Server now incorporates, such as workflow: You can track the status of documents or start new workflows with Office SharePoint Server, or create a workflow that automates document review and approval routing. There's more document management via check-in/check-out for documents, as well as versioning. You can also employ Office SharePoint Server 2007 with policies (a set is included with the product), such as labeling, expiration and auditing, with flexibility to assign policies to an entire site, a specific list of files or a particular content type.

Microsoft has learned a lot about search since Office 2003. Using Office SharePoint Server, you can conduct a search across a wide range of file types, then use filters to limit results. Speaking of file types, you can create HTML-based views of Excel worksheets and upload them to SharePoint and allow others to view the data. Likewise, an Excel PivotTable can be manipulated through a display on an Office SharePoint Server site, though the underlying data is protected. It's a good way to introduce business intelligence into an organization.

Access, which gets a user interface update in the 2007 release, lets you upload your Access data to a SharePoint Server, thus allowing you to use the server's backup, revision history and user access features.

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