Final Review: The Lowdown on Office 2007

Should you upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office?

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Other components of Office we did not test include Groove 2007, which lets you review documents collaboratively in real time, InfoPath as a collection tool for an Access database, the ability to update Microsoft Project files through SharePoint and Excel's Data Connection Library (to connect spreadsheets to corporate data sources). We also did not test the ability of SharePoint to administer and deploy business forms using Office InfoPath 2007 templates as browser-based forms that don't need any additional software running on the user's machine.

Who should take the plunge?

Exact release dates have not been announced for Office 2007. We do know that businesses should be able to purchase Office suites before year's end, while consumers will have to wait until 2007. But should you update to Office 2007? That depends on the investment you're willing to make (see Microsoft's Office 2007 pricing information; SharePoint pricing is not yet available) and the benefits you expect to receive.

For users new to Office, who may stumble on menus and a conglomeration of options spread across many dialog boxes in the 2003 version, the attractive user interface will probably make learning the applications easier. Advanced users who are accustomed to customizing their interface -- including this writer -- will learn to adjust, albeit perhaps grumbling loudly along the way.

If you use Office for everyday correspondence and not for creating documents with fancy formats, or to analyze data or create budgets and update lists in Excel, Office 2007 offers little in the way of new features for the stand-alone user. PowerPoint profits most from the new graphics capabilities, and Excel charts and graphs will definitely look more polished. Galleries and Live Preview make it easy to get more visually exciting documents, but that's insufficient justification for the hassle and expense of upgrading.

If you're an IT manager, keep in mind that if you move to Office 2007, your training materials will become obsolete (or unreliable at the very least). Likewise, the many tips found on Web sites and in books and manuals will be out of date. That could make for a serious setback in terms of training and productivity, at least in the short term.

The trade-off will be if users start to find (and use) features they knew were in the product but couldn't find, perhaps lowering the cost of support. An unchangeable user interface also benefits your organization's help desk, since icons will be consistently placed on everyone's desktop (with the exception of the Quick Access Toolbar, of course).

If collaboration and file sharing are on your mind, SharePoint Server and its integration with Office 2007 are impressive. That's the reason to upgrade. SharePoint installation is strictly for experienced IT pros; this is not a program a small or midsize business should install on its own. Once installed, however, the ability to create dynamic sites -- and for users to benefit from these tools and create their own My Site pages -- is extraordinary. Users can be trained to work with shared libraries, calendars, and other content in very little time. That's where the payback lies.

For more up-close views of Office 2007, see our accompanying Visual Tour.

Richard Ericson is the reviews editor for The Office Letter, a weekly newsletter devoted to Microsoft Office tips and tricks.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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