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There are always a few changes when Microsoft releases a new Office version, but the change from Office 2003 to Office 2007 was drastic to say the least. With many new features and a completely redesigned interface, Office 2007 pushed the product forward in a great new direction.
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Ribbon User Interface
This is probably the biggest new feature and you're likely to either love it or hate it. At my company, most people have grown to really appreciate the new ribbon interface for it's simplicity and logical layout of functions. It definitely takes time to get used to, but after a while, it’s hard to go back to Office 2003’s interface.
The ribbon interface adds a context sensitive ribbon where the old menu and toolbars used to be in previous Office versions. Instead of small square icons representing everything from justification to text coloring, Office 2007 breaks the tool bar into logical sections such as Clipboard, Font, Paragraph, Styles and Editing (Figure 1). This provides much more space and lays things out in a logical manner making it much easier to find the most commonly used functions.
Just above the tool area are the tabs. Tabs further break the functions down into logical high-level categories such as Home, Insert, Page Layout, Reference, etc. As an example, I always had trouble remembering how to change my page layout from Portrait to Landscape, but now, it’s under Page Layout, Orientation. I think the people who will have the hardest time learning the interface will be those power users who have been using Office products since the beginning. Users new to the Office suite should find the layout much more intuitive - allowing them to use little known features with incredible ease.
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As mentioned above, tabs separate major functions. Instead of cluttering up the tab area with tabs you may not use very frequently, Microsoft added the ability for Context sensitive tabs. As an example, you can create a table, but since there are a lot of different things you can do with a table, you will see a new context sensitive tab pop up allowing you to interact with features only applicable to a table (Figure 2). As soon as you click off the table, the menu disappears until you need it again. It’s a simple addition, but one that keeps the interface clean and less cluttered.
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How many times have you wanted to try out a new font and you end up applying several different fonts to a block of text before you find the right one – having to chug along through several button clicks to change the font, pick a new font and repeat? Another great feature is Office 2007’s use of “Live Preview”. Essentially, this allows you to select fonts, colors and styles, etc. to apply to a block of selected text, and Office will allow you to see the change in real-time without actually applying the change. Again, a simple addition, but one that is sorely missed when going back to previous versions of Office.
There are many other features included and most focus on general usability, document security and integration with other Office products.
Office 2007 was a major change from previous Office versions – I think it was necessary for Microsoft to make some waves since several Open source products were quickly catching up to Microsoft in terms of pure functionality. It’ll be interesting to see how Office 2010 turns out!