Microsoft Word was first introduced 25 years ago in 1983 as Multi-Tool Word, with the first version for Windows appearing in 1989. As a component of Microsoft Office, it is very common in corporate environments and healthy discounts for education and public sector settings have ensured its majority share of the market. The latest versions reflect its key role in the Office Suite with its full name being Microsoft Office Word since 2003. In 2007, Microsoft introduced the latest version of the software for Windows, with a radical upgrade to the interface. This review considers the effectiveness of the new version in use as a word processor for producing a wide range of documents from short articles to a whole book manuscript.
Microsoft Office Word for Windows 2007
The 2007 version of the software, has a number of key features. The first one is a new file format (.docx). This was introduced in response to criticism of Microsoft for using proprietary file formats. This format is XML based but has a number of compatibility issues with standard XML, and is incompatible with the existing open source OpenOffice format. It has been endorsed as an ISO standard, but this has also been criticized and challenged by some.
The second key feature is a radical shake up of the user interface, with the increasingly complex menu structure replaced by tabbed ribbons, supported by the retention of keyboard shortcuts and short context-sensitive menus available from a right-click of the mouse.
One of the most prominent new functionality features is the ability to produce Acrobat files directly from Word documents. A less obvious function is the ability to inspect and strip out all metadata before sending the document to another user.
Microsoft Office Word 2007 in use
For the last year, I have been using both Word 2003 and 2007 in different environments. The benefits of the newer version are not easy to see. The new file format makes transferring files between versions a slower process, although the filters provided in the 2007 version, and downloadable for the 2003 version, appear to work reliably. An irritation is the refusal to open early Word formats, without some changes to default settings. Also documents produced in the .docx format have not always been recognized by recipients of e-mails.
The new user interface does not seem easier to use or particularly intuitive even after a year’s use. As an example, the handling of tables has proved to be particularly frustrating. Many of the 2003 menus are mirrored in the new tabbed ribbons. Not the Table menu. The “Convert text to table” funcion is found on the Insert ribbon, whereas “Convert table to text” is on the Layout ribbon. Why?
Even the table options on the short menus seem to lack the convenience of Word 2003.
The Acrobat export facility is one of the best features of Word 2007. However, in this area, Word is playing catch-up with the open source Writer application within Open Office which has enjoyed such a facility since version 2. The facility to inspect the hidden metadata and remove it if required is unglamorous but very welcome. Unfortunately, as with many features in Word 2007, it is not easy to find: it is on the main menu at the bottom.
Ultimately, I am unconvinced by the latest version of Microsoft Word for Windows. After a year of use, I still find the new style user interface difficult and frustrating to use and file compatibility remains an issue.