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Review and Visual Tour: Microsoft's 2007 Office Beta 2

Word menus and toolbars are now 'ribbons'

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May 23, 2006 (Computerworld) -- When Microsoft released the first beta of Office 12 in November, many features were promised but not ready. With 2007 Office Beta 2 released today, most of those promises are fulfilled. One thing is clear: Office's big push is for collaboration, and SharePoint is at the core of this movement.

There are plenty of changes to the Office applications. Let's start by looking at what an application user will see, then we'll explain the move to SharePoint. Finally, we'll consider several important issues IT managers need to weigh when deciding whether to upgrade.

Goodbye Menus, Hello Ribbons

Right from the start, you'll notice the most significant change to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and many screens in Outlook 2007. Gone are the familiar toolbars and menus; they've been replaced by "ribbons" that house a variety of buttons, icons and graphics (see Figure 1). The ribbons have a dual purpose: to highlight features that users are likely to use most often or want most (but have trouble finding), and to promote features at the point they're most useful.

Figure 1: Word's "Home" ribbon contains most
of the editing tools you're likely to
access most often.
(Click image to see larger view)

For example, the Home ribbon in Word offers shortcuts for the clipboard (cut, copy, paste) and font formatting (font and font size, underlines and superscripts and so on) -- the kind of everyday tasks most of us use in Word. If you click inside a table, Word presents a special ribbon with just table options. When you move away from the table, the ribbon disappears. It's a good example of providing help right when you need it and staying out of the way when you don't.

Figure 1A: Here's what happens when you place a table in a Word document, then click inside that table. Note in the upper-right corner that the ribbon bar has a Table Tools contextual tab.
(Click image to see larger view)

The Word on Word

Hands down, Word is the Office application that has changed the most in this release. Given that it's the most used application in the suite, that comes as no surprise.

A large portion of the main ribbon in Word is devoted to styles, using preview icons to show the principle characteristics of the style. For instance, the Heading 3 style icon shows a small, plain (that is, not bold) font. These style buttons work in tandem with a "what you see is what you get" feature. Select some text (or an entire document) and hover over the Heading 3 style icon, and Word immediately applies the Heading 3 style in a "preview" mode. The text adopts the style characteristics so you can see the effect in your document, but the style isn't applied until you click on the style icon (see Figure 2). If you move away without clicking, the text returns to its original state. It's a great way to do quick, interactive previews.

Figure 2: You can see how text will look (here, it's the red text)
if you were to apply a style using the new preview mode.

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