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 spend a lot of time in Outlook fortunately or unfortunately the main Outlook application for email folders, calendar and contacts still has toolbars and menus. That said all the individual email messages, calendar forms and contact forms have been updated with the new menus.
- The main folder view has a new “todo” bar that gives a quick list of actions and calendar and can easily be hidden. I think it may be nice for some people but I turned this feature off. Both Calendar and Todo are still a click away so I prefer to give the space to email. With the feature turned on you get a four column view for email. 1) Folder List 2)Email List in the selected folder 3) Preview 4) To-do bar
- Email, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks has integrated search via the desktop search engine. The overall UI integration is nice and it fits in with the design however the actual search is slow (for email) and not always accurate (contacts and email). Sometimes I would get no hits for things that were clearly there. When the feature works it’s great but it doesn’t seem as accurate as Lookout Search (a company acquired by MS a few years back). It may be based on similar code but the results don’t seem as fast or as good.
- The main email list allows you to tag emails with colored categories. I like the idea but it gets away from simplicity. I now have an icon, a flag reminder and a color to tell me the status of the message. I liked how this was combined and subtle in the previous version of office with a single flag. The new interface looks more cluttered in the main email list:
- In the contacts list there is a new Business Card view that shows you contacts with a visual business card. You can even create your own business card. It’s sort of like trading baseball cards and gives the contacts list a much more visual feel. I had a lot of fun with this feature.
- Internet calendars finally work. This feature has been around for a while but I’ve never been able to actually publish a calendar. The new version integrates with Office Live and it wasn’t too hard.
- Outlook now has support for RSS feeds. Feeds get placed in a special feeds folder and each feed has its own folder. I liked the option to use RSS from within Outlook and it could be useful for keeping track of feed news in a similar way to emails. I would have preferred having one folder of RSS items and the option to re-group the feeds by site or source. One strange thing with RSS in outlook is the question of usage model. To delete or not to delete? Using tools like bloglines I’m used to reading and ignoring the message, with an email centric tool I was left wondering if I was supposed to delete feeds or keep them around.
- The “Categories” section of the tasks and email sections has been changed to encourage users to quickly select categories from a pre-defined list. Previously this functionality was in a separate dialog. I’ve always wanted to use this feature but it was too difficult. Anyone familiar with the book ‘Getting things done’ will appreciate the use of categories in specifying context for tasks and emails. This would be even more useful if it was pre-filled with some good default categories such as Home, Work, Phone, Email, Meeting, etc.
- The other areas of Outlook such as Notes, Journal seem mostly the same with updates to the menu and command structure.
- Main Outlook 2007 Changes
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.
- Converting a string of text into a table
- Fetching stock prices based on a stock ticker in a cell
- Remove duplicates from a list of cells
- Track changes in Excel like you do in Word
- Using named ranges in an equation
- And much more.
- Conditional formatting is super useful. This allows you to easily color code cells with icons, glyphs or colors showing you what cells are high, medium and low. The feature is really easy to use and also really useful for large data sets. I had a ‘why didn’t anyone think of this sooner’ type of reaction.
- Similarly table formatting is also very easy giving you a gallery of simple table styles with alternating colors. This makes it easy to create a table where the numbers are easy to read across.
- One drawback I noticed from the new table style is auto filters. In previous versions of Excel you could “autofilter’ a column or a table and you would get single click options within the filter control. This would include options like top-ten. The new version doesn’t allow you to get things like top-10 lists but it does allow you to have multi-select filters. In my opinion this is an example of adding a feature the wrong way. Multi-select filters is useful but it shouldn’t come at the cost of losing the quick and easy filtering of previous versions. Some small alterations would allow you to do both the single click combo-box and the multi-selection filters.
- The new mini-tab at the bottom makes it easy to create new tabs:
- The new toolbars and menus help expose a lot of the power of Excel. In particular many of the logical and financial functions are much easier to find. That said most of these functions are displayed using the old names such as DOLLARDE and ACCRINTM. While I’m sure there are many people who know these names I would expect the new ‘results oriented’ interface I would have friendlier and more task centric organization and naming of these functions.
- Overall I ran into many features where I found myself saying, “I didn’t know Excel could do that”
- Main Excel 2007 Changes
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.