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

Word menus and toolbars are now 'ribbons'

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The Upgrade Decision

Should you move to Office 2007? The question comes down to how you view two key issues that are the same for individual users and enterprises alike: training and productivity.

The first issue is how quickly you or the users you support will be able to adapt to the new interface and how much (re)training will be required. How will experienced users react to (or rebel against) this menuless version?

Experienced (power) users are likely to find the interface restrictive. For users who mourn the loss of the classic menus, all is not lost. If you want to do a word count, the shortcut in previous versions of Word is Alt+T and then W. That still works -- when you press Alt+T, Word pops up a window that says it recognizes the shortcut and tells you to proceed. When you press W", Word displays the Word Count dialog box. Thus, if you remember the shortcuts from Word 2003, you can still use them. Microsoft eliminated the menu system, so there are no visual clues to help remind you of the shortcut, but at least the shortcuts work. (Power users can also make use of an application's Quick Access toolbar, Office 2007's single customizable toolbar, where you can place your favorite toolbar icons.)

Beginning or occasional users may profit from the ribbon-centric interface, but such users are a much smaller portion of the workforce these days.

One consequence of the new interface Microsoft is mum about: The user interface makes all previous materials (such as books on Office applications) outdated. Corporate training courses will have to be rewritten. Almost every instruction will need to be examined and, most likely, corrected. An individual user's reference library is of significantly diminished use; while the keyboard shortcuts work, some dialog boxes and task panels have changed, which could lead to confusion.

Another issue when considering an upgrade is how much of a productivity improvement you can expect. Are many tasks easier as Microsoft claims? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. While many ribbon features are where you might expect, some design choices are puzzling. Why is header and footer control on the Insert ribbon and not Page Layout, since headers and footers typically appear on each page? Sometimes Microsoft puts pretty ahead of functional: When you select Insert/Header, why is the drop-down menu stuffed with formatting options instead of leading with "Edit header," which allows a user to enter header text simply and easily?

There's no doubt there are benefits to the contextual tabs. When you create a header or edit an existing header, Word switches the ribbon to a special Header/Footer ribbon that offers some rarely used (because you can't find them) options, such as letting you set a different header on the first page of a document. (In Word, this is inexplicably hidden in the Page Setup section. In Word 2007, its location makes far more sense.) This is just one example of how Word works with you to highlight options you need just when you need them (see Figure 12). That could reduce help desk/tech support calls.


Figure 12: Some contextual tabs put hard-to-find

commands where they're needed, such as this

tab for headers and footers in Word.

(Click image to see larger view)

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