Office 2007: Good or Bad?
Overview: The Purpose of Office 2007
When Office 2007 finally came out, many users were disappointed, and many were satisfied. This is in stark contrast to previous Office releases, which have all been largely accepted by the Office-using community. However, the major changes that took place in the new version of the software were largely misunderstood as an "unnecessary makeover" or an "extreme overkill" of perfectly good software. If you take it upon yourself to do a little research and get down deeper into WHY the changes were made, you begin to understand things a little better. This is especially true for users that haven't been forced to use the new versions. Unfortunately, many HAVE been forced to use the new Office 2007, and I am genuinely sorry for those who were used to the old interface. I can certainly understand and agree that after becoming accustomed to an interface for 5+ years, it would be quite irritating to have it completely overhauled, without any way to go back and use it efficiently like you're used to. I count myself fortunate to not be among that crowd; I have found the new interface to be far more efficient to use and easier for me to find things. It is too bad it couldn't be that way for all users.
So, it's time to answer the question. WHY was such a big deal made about the new version? WHY did so much extra work go into the user interface? WHY did it have to be so different from the old versions?
The answer is that Microsoft supposedly wanted to "reveal" features to users rather than have them hidden behind endless menus, submenus, and dialog boxes, forcing the user to have to look in a different place for each option. Instead, they developed a tabbed look that sorts all available options into similar tabs, so that you can see pretty much everything you can do, and don't have to navigate a maze of menus to get to anything. You can, of course, invoke dialog boxes for certain aspects of your documents if you prefer, which adds a slight amount of traditional feel to the application. This can be done in any "pod" in the ribbon that has a tiny icon in the lower-right corner. Clicking on this icon will bring up the traditional dialog box for the options in that pod, if there was one. Whether this change truly revealed new features or hid them is still largely debatable, and depends on each particular user. I found plenty of new features within minutes of using the new software; however, for most users, it seems this wasn't the case, in fact it was quite the opposite.
Every version including and preceding Office 2003 used the menu system rather than the ribbon. All these "pre-ribbon" versions had, for the most part, the same exact features you can use in Office 2007. In other words, not much was added to the software feature-wise. The primary difference is in how many features users are able to find and use. On average, the basic (non-tech-savvy) user will use 23 or so different features on a word document in Office 2003 or a previous version. With the new Office 2007, that average has risen to nearly 70 features per document. That's a lot of extra feature usage! Why bother to even program the features if no one is going to use them? The whole point of Office 2007 and the new ribbon is to make it easier for users to find the features they want to use, but do not necessarily know about. In fact, after Office 2007 was released, statistics show that most of the "new" features that users were trying out had been available in the past, but the users just didn't know about them, or couldn't find them. I can certainly attest to this; many of the features I thought were new had been previously hidden in a submenu or dialog that I was unaware of, and now is exposed plainly on the ribbon.
Now that you know WHY Office 2007 is the way it is, let's look deeper into various parts of it and see what has really been done.
The New Look
Obviously, the user interface has undergone the most drastic changes. Again, this is mostly to allow the user to more easily find features that he/she wants, as well as find by accident features that the user didn't know about.
The main source of frustration for users switching to Office 2007, at least in my experience, is the Office Button. Why this is such a problem is a mystery to me--the office button was the very first thing I saw when I opened the program. I'm not sure why--it could be that it was flashing prominently, that it was 20 percent brighter than the rest of the screen, that it was the biggest button in the interface, or that it was right in the upper-left corner (which is the first place my eyes go to anyway!) So if you somehow missed all that, let me just put it to you straight: yes, you can click that, it's a button. It's basically the equivalent of the file menu in previous versions, but more interactive. It has two halves--the left half is the commands, such as new, open, save, yada yada yada. The right half is a nifty recent file list, which you can also pin files into so they always stay there (click the little thumbtack). Also at the bottom of the right half are the "Options" and "Exit" buttons.
Next we have the two customizeable bars: the quick access toolbar (at the very, very top of the screen) and the status bar (at the very, very bottom). The quick access toolbar is, basically, the toolbar from older versions of Office. It's just a lot easier to customize. Also, the status bar, which used to be an amalgamation of various who-knows-what gizmos all bunched up down there (where no one ever looks anyway) is now a sleek and efficient second toolbar. It's more for displaying things like word count, line number and page number, and the lock key states as well as insert or overwrite mode. It's as easy to customize and as helpful to use as the quick access toolbar.
The newest part is called "The Ribbon", which is the long, thick part just underneath the tabs that has all the options and buttons and everything in little pod-like containers that glow when hovered over. This is quite different from the bland, menu-driven interface of past versions. No longer do you have to find the exact submenu, dialog, and tab for only one option; instead, all options are displayed directly on the ribbon, and can be easily and quickly accessed. Some users complain that the ribbon takes up too much space--however, if you double-click on any of the tabs, the ribbon will hide itself until you open another tab (or double-click the same tab again). There are also three "themes" that you can use: Blue, Silver, and Obsidian. To change the theme, click the Office Button (again, it's that huge, flashing circle in the upper-left corner, you can't miss it) and go to "Word Options" at the bottom next to the exit button (or "Excel Options" if you're in Excel, and so forth). Click the "Popular" button on the left, and change the "Color Scheme" option to whichever of the three schemes you want.
Okay, so the user interface has been completely revamped. But is that IT? I mean, is that ALL they did to make Office better? Thankfully, the answer is no.
Many new features besides the UI have been improved, including backwards compatibility, document formatting, visual styles, live previews, and better drawing tools called SmartArt.
You can still open and save documents in formats from 97 to 2003 versions of Office. This is a great help for those who don't have 2007 and still need to use the old formats, or for more reliable backups.
Document Formatting (*.docx, *.xlsx, *.pptx, *.mdbx)
The new document formats are not only compressed so that they take up less than half the space of old formats, but they are saved using XML, a new tool that is becoming increasingly popular, especially in web design. These new formats will give you a level of quality never before seen in Office documents.
You can now use and define custom styles for any Office document, and use them again and again. These are similar to the old "header / normal text" styles that could be found in the font toolbar, but they can now be redefined to your needs, so that you'll always have the styles you want.
Didn't you hate having to apply a change to a whole document, realize that it wasn't what you wanted, change it all back, and then reapply a new one? I certainly knew, when it happened to me, that there were better ways I could have spent five minutes. Now this problem is gone with the introduction of live previews--see what the changes will look like before you make them! A little window will pop up and show you a preview of what the new style or text will look like before you actually change anything.
Remember all those shapes and different things on the drawing toolbar? Now, this has been standardized and dubbed "SmartArt." It's a little drawing that you can put all those shapes and lines and things into, and it functions as a unit that can be easily moved from one application to another, or copied among other documents.
The Verdict: Good or Bad?
Office 2007 may not be right for you, but feature-wise, there are certainly some great new options available. The trashing of a completely-usable interface that probably 90% of the everyday users were accustomed to is definitely a downside. At the very least, they could have allowed for a much slower transition (or none at all if preferred) by making the new interface an available option, but not the default one, instead keeping all defaults the same. Gradual changes, rather than earth-shaking and interface-crushing ones, are generally the better choice.
So, the verdict is, Office 2007 is good for users who can use the new interface efficiently, but bad for those who prefer the traditional menus. I would encourage you to at least give it a try on computers that have it before deciding to buy it or not. If this isn't possible, you can download a 30-day trial version from Microsoft's website. Chances are that if Office 2007 isn't for you, you already know it. The only catch is, if you want to take advantage of all the new features, the ribbon comes with it. No matter what you choose, I hope that you can benefit from and enjoy your choice as much as I enjoy Office 2007.
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