I have been using Microsoft Office 2007 for a few weeks now, having shifted to it at the same time as Windows Vista. Although I had read the upbeat Office 2007 review by Paul Thurrott of SuperSite for Windows, I was very skeptical about the Ribbon interface and felt that there was no way it could replace the toolbar mechanism in the previous Office versions. How wrong I was!
The Ribbon-based UI is astounding from a usability standpoint. I was amazed at the ease and speed at which I was able to format and edit documents, spreadsheets and email. There is hardly any learning curve. The commonly used commands are provided in the main ribbon. Once or twice, I thought that the product had missed out a useful command (like “Change Case“), but on looking closely, it was right there in front of me.
I also like the new Calibri font that is now the default in Microsoft Word. It is more readable and looks great. Word also shows a real-time preview of what the text would look like when you hover over various styles, fonts or sizes. The whole interface looks much less cluttered and very visually appealing. You don’t feel like using keyboard shortcuts anymore because you like interacting with the various controls on the screen.
Some of the other features I liked are Direct PDF export and smaller file sizes. The PDF Export doesn’t come out of the box directly because of some licensing disagreement between Microsoft and Adobe. But you can easily download the add-in from the Office website. Previously, this point was one of OpenOffice‘s talking points against Microsoft Office. And as for the smaller file sizes, each MS Office file is actually a ZIP file containing multiple files. You can try opening a DOCX or XSLX file using WinZip to view the files inside the file.
So far, so good. Now for the bad stuff:
- There are some weird issues with large Word 2003 documents. The smaller documents work reasonably fine, but some larger documents do not finish loading and the formats of tables and diagrams look out of whack. At other times, they load just fine. I am confused about what to do. I don’t think it is possible to have two versions of Office on the same system and I don’t think I want to.
- Many of my customers and contacts do not have Office 2007. So I still have to save documents in the previous Office formats or send them a PDF. It will definitely be sometime before I can assume that the recipient will have Office 2007 and send them a file in the new format.
- Although there is less need for customization, you may still want to create useful macros to speed up certain tasks. But unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no way to add macro commands to the Ribbon. You can only add them to Quick Access Toolbar on the title bar, where they appear as a very small icon. Not good.
Generally speaking, increased usability is the key selling point for Office 2007. However, any compatibility issues could be a major concern for enterprises who have several thousands of technical documents and cannot afford the time or money to clean them up. It is actually a pretty grim scenario if you cannot see the contents in the older, critical files properly.
How does Office 2007 compare with online office applications? In terms of features, there is really no comparison – Office is miles ahead. However, it is pricey and products like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheet do provide functionality that is useful for people who don’t want a full-blown office application. In fact, if the online applications had “Format Painter“, good table editing and paging, they could attract a lot of new customers away from Microsoft Office.
Right now, Microsoft has created a considerable gap between it and other desktop Office applications like OpenOffice. In fact, OpenOffice could face pressure from two sides – on the desktop side from Microsoft Office and from the online Office applications. StarOffice is in a worse situation since it is a commercial product.
Should you upgrade if cost is not a factor? Yes, but definitely load important documents that you need and see if they work fine in Office 2007. If you are only planning to create and use new documents, you don’t have to worry much.