[Big thanks to MikeS and MikeM from MS...who verified permission for me to show you some of the cool stuff Microsoft is currently working on!]
Note! If you don't understand what all this gibberish about Beta versions means, be sure to check out my article: Software Development Lifecycle
Microsoft is busy working away on the next version of Microsoft Office. They just released a refreshed version of Beta1 this week. If you haven't heard anything about Office 2007 (formerly called Office 12) yet, check out these TechTrax articles:
Yes, the new version of Office will be like nothing you've ever seen before! Now that idea alone has a lot of people nervous, even scared. And yes, I can hear everyone screaming "It doesn't work like it did before!"
But that's also a big plus! Sure, I've used and loved and cursed Microsoft Office applications for over 10 years now. However, Microsoft has been listening (I TOLD you they did!<g>) to what people have been saying. So this round, they've taken a big step and drastically redesigned the GUI (Graphical User Interface...what you see on the monitor and the stuff you interact with to get your work done).
What they have done is to look at how people use the Office programs, such as Microsoft Word, and done away with the standard idea of the usual menus for File, Edit, View and so on. Instead, they have reordered things so that they are more event driven. Now don't let that term confuse you. Maybe I could come up with a better one and that's probably not the one MS uses, but it's how my mind sees it. In programming, an event is something the user does to cause an action to take place and have something happen. For example: you click a button...that's the event you trigger...and the resulting action is that maybe a dialog box appears.
Office 2007 has been reorganized with what I consider to be a similar idea in mind. When you are working on a particular process, such as composing text, inserting things or working with the layout, the most common actions you'd need to handle...things you would most likely need to do...come into view for you so you can more easily do what you need to do without a lot of excess clicking around from dialog box to dialog box.
Here, let me show you...
Let's say I'm using Word 2003. I'm creating a simple document. Before I even start typing, there are several things I'll probably need to do...
Click File > Page Setup to go into that dialog box and adjust the margins...
Click Format > Columns to go set my columns...
Click Format > Borders and Shading to setup a page border...
And click Format > Paragraph to go into yet another dialog box to set the Indent and Paragraph Spacing.
In order to get this Word 2003 page with a border and two columns, I had to jump into several different dialog boxes.
In Word 2007, most of what I need to do is right there on the Page Layout Ribbon. By spreading out the Ribbon across the top with the majority of common commands for various categories of moves...the user can more easily just click away on each of the items they need.
A click on the Margins button and here are visuals of several common choices.
After a few more clicks around the Page Layout Ribbon, I get the same results with a lot fewer dialog boxes and task panes popping up. This means a lot less hunting for what you need and a lot less clicks.
Another really slick feature is the content sensitive views that let you see what the content will look like should you choose a particular style or look.
In the image below, I'm simply mousing over the sample Heading 2 choice, yet my text has taken on that look, temporarily, to allow me to easily see what it will look like. This will save time because you won't have to choose a look, go into Print Preview to see what it will really look like and then go back and change the settings. Just hover your mouse over a different choice. Or design up your own, custom look.
Say I want to insert and format a table...again, just by moving my mouse around the possible formats, the table in my document dynamically changes to show me how each potential selection might look on my page before I commit that change to the page. Is this cool, or what!
How about all of you who have tried to wrestle headers and footers into submission...how's this for simple. Click on the Insert tab of the Ribbon and view the Header choices to pick what you need.
No more inserting table cells and setting various alignments, just enter the info you need and be on your way!
Excel has been subjected to the same overhaul fate, including tons of very cool looking new designs.
Now I must admit, Access scares me a bit when I open it. But then Access scared me in Office 2003, too!<smile> But I'm sure this is because I haven't had time yet to look at Access 2007 at all. I've been concentrating most of my beta testing time in Word, so for me to make any judgments of the other apps would be unfair at this point.
Outlook looks pretty much the same as it did in Office 2003 at first look. But there have been improvements under the hood, such as an easier email setup wizard and some other nice improvements. Plus, once you get into an email, you'll be within the Word Ribbon environment. And I'd be happy to show you that fact, were it not that I just blew it up shortly before writing this article and I'm not going to take time to fix it right now.
Geetesh has shown you PowerPoint in his article (listed at the top of this article).
Yes! Change can be scary and trying to learn something new can be frustrating. And yes, I've been frustrated trying to do things I did before in Word. But I think part of my problem is what I tell so many Word Perfect users who get aggravated with Word because it doesn't work like Word Perfect...it's NOT Word Perfect! So stop thinking of it as if it is!
With this radical change to Office, I think I have to set my mind in the same state. I have to stop thinking of trying to do the things I used to do in Office 2003 in the same manner in Office 2007, because it's NOT the same environment. I've learned to use tons of software programs over the years, so I have to deal with the new version of Office with that same mentality...it's NEW!
Oh sure, this won't stop the complaints or frustrations! But Office 2007 did leave in a lot of crutches for those of us who refuse to deal with the new interface as a newbie should. There are several legacy settings and back doors to get into the old stuff if you feel the need. But there's also new stuff we will have to learn...new stuff that should, eventually, make our lives easier...even if we kick and scream during this transition period.
Plus, Microsoft created a really cool site that contains dynamic, animated pages that allow you to view the Office 2003 interface and click on a command...then animation takes over and shows you how to find that same command in the new version. This is a fantastic process that will allow users to get over the hump of dealing with the changes. I know it's saved me from wanting to toss my PC out the window in frustration! Hopefully, this site will be integrated nicely into the applications so users can get the answers they need to get on with their work, quickly.
Oh, and those of you who are shortcut users will have a step up on getting rolling with the new version! As a shortcut maniac myself, I've saved myself a lot of where did they put it stress by just hitting my old shortcut keys, most of which still work. Cool! If this thought makes you want to bone up on your shortcuts, see these articles: Microsoft Word Shortcuts List and Nothin' Up My Sleeves.
Overall, I'm excited about the new version. It's slick and allows you to do a lot of things, easily.
As a developer, I'm a little frightened because there are a lot of new issues to tackle, including learning XML much better!
But ever since my former boss, Monty, dragged me...kicking and screaming...into Windows and Microsoft Word, when I was perfectly happy using Word Perfect in DOS...I learned that new stuff can be cool and better than old stuff.
So bring it on, Microsoft...I'm ready to do battle with this strange new world!
(Besides, remember...Windows will be changing this year, too! So we'll all be so confused with new technology we won't have time to whine about any one item!<smirk>)