Microsoft Office 2007 review

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Four years in the making, Office 2007 is nothing short of a revolution in the way we interact with software. The main applications all have a radical new look and new file formats. And, while the changes to the minor applications may be less obvious, they’ve all been updated with new features and capabilities.

Here at PC Pro, we’ve been testing all the components of Office 2007, both client and server, for nearly a year. In this review of the final code, we bring you the truth of what’s good, what’s great and what could still be better in the client apps.

User interface

The most obvious change, which hits you as soon as you start Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Access, is the revolution in the UI. (In Outlook, the shock is delayed until you open a mail message, task or appointment.) Out go menus and toolbars, and in comes the Ribbon.

From usability testing, watching real people do their real jobs and from the data collected by the Customer Experience Improvement Programme, Microsoft noticed that people’s experience using Office degraded over time. Toolbars popped up to let you do something but were never dismissed. TaskPanes sprouted all over the place. Users could unintentionally drag the main menu off an application and then not know how to put it back. People who spent a lot of time using Office but weren’t experts could end up with a very untidy display.

It also noticed that a lot of requests for features to be included in Office actually concerned things the program was already capable of – people just couldn’t find how to do them. Microsoft realised that this was mainly its own fault, as Office applications had got more and more complex – the menu and toolbar UI model was breaking under the strain. Office 2000 introduced adaptive menus, where little-used options were hidden from the user. But it was a bad move. If you didn’t use a feature for a couple of months, it disappeared so you had even less chance of finding it. Toolbars also hid lesser-used icons in a “bucket” at the end. If you didn’t know this, you rapidly got frustrated looking for tools you were sure were there last week.

The Ribbon aims to be the one place you look for commands to do things to your documents. It takes up the top part of the application’s window, and all the commands for the application are logically arranged in different tabs, grouped according to their function. Each application has its own set of standard tabs, which are available all the time, and several context-sensitive tabs, which appear when you select particular types of object. For example, if you select a picture in a Word document, you see an extra tab of tools, which let you format that picture. If you select a picture in a table, you see extra tabs for table tools and picture tools.

Many complex formatting tasks are represented in galleries of choices and they often provide a “live preview”. Hovering the mouse pointer over the choices causes the text or object you’ve selected to take on the formatting. Point to a different choice and your document changes again. Then, just click the mouse to make the change permanent.

Each application’s Ribbon of commands is fixed. There’s no built-in way to rearrange tabs, groups or commands. Microsoft found that in previous versions of Office, very few people ever deliberately customised the menus and toolbars other than accidentally. Being able to move buttons around also caused problems for IT support personnel when trying to help users. In Office 2007, the only bit of customisation left is the ability to add any group, gallery or command to the Quick Access Toolbar. This normally lives on the left-hand end of the window caption, next to the big round Office Button, but you can move it to below the Ribbon if you need more space. This lack of customisation may annoy power users, but it will be a great relief to the vast majority of people. If you really need to tweak the UI, you can write Add-Ins in Visual Studio Tools for Office or buy one of several third-party tools.


Software subcategory Office software


Processor requirement 500MHz processor

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no
Other operating system support None

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