I've been playing around with Office 2007 for the past week and it's been interesting. Overall I have to give the Office team a big thumbs up. This is the most significant release since at least Office 97.
Here's my take:
- Overall the new command panes seem to work well. Most commands are organized logically and I was able to find most core commands quickly and without trouble. Initially the change is startling and confusing. If you’ve been using Office for over 10 years you’ll be wondering how to get the menus back. The answer is you can’t. This is a two edged sword. On the positive side this forces the Office team to get it right. On the negative this may slow adoption for conservative companies who don’t want to retrain their staff.
- Most of the commands are easy to find and have obvious locations. However since the interface is so different I found myself looking for a way to surf menus. The most frustrating was when I knew the name of the command and the old menu name but couldn’t find it in the new system. I was definitely itching for a way to search for a command. As a simple example I wanted to "Insert" a business card into an Outlook message so I click over to the "Insert" tab but inserting a business card isn't here. I’ve done this a before and this is the logical place but the command for inserting a business card is on the home tab labeled "Include" rather than insert. No big deal, eventually I'll learn this or perhaps the Office team will have this command in both places. (Hint Hint). - In general the more obscure the command the harder it is to find. This is what you want but the curve should level off earlier. In some cases the commands are so hard to find I had to resort to the help file!
Side Story: In my previous install of Excel I had experimented with the option to speak table cells, when I upgraded to the Office 2007 Beta the Excel program kept the setting for speaking cells turned on. Unfortunately since speaking cells is an obscure command it didn't make it onto any of the tabs. The only way to get to the feature was to customize the toolbar and add a button temporarily that would do this. For about 15 minutes I couldn’t get Excel to shut up as it spoke every number I typed. I got some funny looks as I tried to turn this feature off.
The applications installed are Word, Excel, Outlook, Access , Infopath and Publisher. W,E,O,A are all updated with the new style. Infopath and Publisher still use toolbars and menus. I can’t speak to the utility of either Infopath or Publisher. Infopath always felt like a natural feature of Excel or Access to import data from a form, it doesn’t feel like it’s own application. Similarly publisher always seemed like a feature of Word to create brochures. Notably missing from the default install is Visio and Frontpage.
I’m less of an Excel expert but I discovered many features that are either new or features I didn’t know about. I primarily use excel to add up columns of numbers and even this simple tasks was made more intuitive. Functions like sorting and filtering are easy to find, a new conditional formatting feature makes it easy to find key trends in tables of numbers. The new print layout makes it easy to see how your data is going to print out on paper. There are a couple of problem areas or areas for improvement but that’s why they call it a beta.
There are a couple key improvements that make this version of PowerPoint a winner. For me the big change is that the button to play a presentation is no longer the smallest button in the bottom left hand corner. Here’s what else is new:
- Lots of attractively designed templates. Out of the box your presentations will look better.
- A new presenters view makes it easy to present with duel monitors. This features has been improved and works well allowing users to easily setup a presentation and see notes on the other monitor.
- One of the most useful features with one of the worst names is called “Smart Art.” This used to be called ‘Diagram’ in previous versions of Office.
- It’s not a good idea to call anything smart because it doesn’t describe the task or function of the tool. (it’s also presumptuous, remember inteli-menus?) It would be much more appropriate to call this feature “Insert Diagram”
- This “Diagram” feature allows you to create simple flow charts, process diagrams and visual schematics.
This is a perfect complement to PowerPoint and helps embody the idea “show-don’t tell.” My only hope is that people don’t over use these diagrams. The new functionality is much improved from previous versions with lots of different types of diagrams.
- Charts and graphs are much improved. This is true across Excel, Powerpoint and Word
- When you insert a “Photo Album” PowerPoint will automatically create slides for each photo in your album. One oversight is that the images that get added are not impacted by the new formatting picture styles such as reflections, shadows, etc. Otherwise this was a useful feature.
- Things I learned how to do that are not new:
- Burn a CD with your presentation from within Powerpoint (I know it was there before, but it was always hidden with “inteli-menus”
- Setup timings for your presentations
- Create notes and handouts for a presentation
I think the foundation of all the office applications is the formatting and editing in word. The interaction model of the ribbon, selection, reviewing and inserting is arguably most complex in Word. In a week of using Word I now feel totally comfortable with writing and editing text.
- I guess the starting point should be with the font. Office is using a new font called Calibri.
The font doesn’t have serifs (caps on the ends of the letters). This makes the font crisper at smaller screen sizes. It’s perhaps not the best headline font but it may be better for reading text. Calibri is slightly more condensed in terms of spacing. At small sizes it seems more defined then both Tahoma and MS-Sans.
- The core formatting features are still there, bold, italics, etc. etc.
- The styles menu is expanded out making it easier to select core styles visually without digging in a combo-box.
- The grammar checker has been enhanced with a key feature. Blue underlines for wrong word choice. For example if you say. “I rote a book and I learn through rote repetition.” You get a blue underline on the word rote the first time but not on the second rote. This is an amazing feature that will help me learn to right write better. can not only I’m a notoriously bad speller. Here are some others that it has caught.
- It’s better then than I thought.
- It effected affected my writing style a lot.
- In it’s its current state it seems pretty good at catching many common errors.
- Overall text rendering is superb and graphical performance seems pretty fast as well. As you use the toolbars and controls many of the text boxes and changes happen in real-time giving you instant gratification. The one thing that was a little strange is that you start to expect the instant feedback on everything and some features don't have it wired up. For example as you open the font menu you get a live preview but as you hover over bold italic and underline you don't get the live preview.
- The zoom feature (present on Excel and PowerPoint as well) makes it easy to enhance text and quickly change views.
- Word has introduced a floating toolbar that they refer to as a shy toolbar. This toolbar sometimes appears next to the mouse cursor when text is selected. The toolbar is useful when you want it but can get in the way if you don’t. In addition it’s somewhat non-deterministic behavior can at times be frustrating. If this toolbar had a predictable behavior such as being located always above the insertion cursor it could be more useful.
- There are many more features of Word, one that really has potential was the support for blogging tools from within Word. In fact this review was written completely in Word 2007. The tool still needs some work but it's going in the right direction. My initial source code had over 2300 unclosed span tags and I couldn't get the photos to publish.
There are tons of useful new features in Office 2007 and equally as many old features that are newly discovered.Overall I think the release is very positive and at the same time very risky. In the past I’ve been critical of the Office team for taking the safe road and not pushing the bounds on what could be done. This release will change that. Many people who resist change will really hate the changes but in the long term I do believe this is a positive step.
The results oriented design is a great step in interface design and really shows application developers how to scale functionality without drowning in features. I could easily see an approach like this applied to other large applications such as PhotoShop, DevStudio and others. As with any large change I expect that it will require some course correction but as far as I’m concerned I think Office 2007 is on the right coarse course.