Office 2007 beta
Forgive the blatant reference to The Buggles. I feel that it's a fitting tribute to the demise of Times New Roman as the default font for Microsoft Word, which was replaced by the new kid on the block, a sans-serif font named Calibri. In fact, this font looks to be the default for the entire MS Office suite. In case you haven't heard the news, Office 2007 Beta 2 is available for public testing.
While free, it comes at a price. Be advised, when you install the beta, by default it replaces the previous version. If you want to run it separately, be sure to choose that option instead. It will also reclaim all file associations such as
.xls. If you can live with that sort of thing, and are the more adventurous type, then you might consider giving it a test drive.
I have been playing around with the "big three" of Excel, Powerpoint and Word. I have mixed feelings about each of them, perhaps due to the starkness with which they have departed from the tried and true interface elements present throughout so many previous iterations of MS Office.
If you thought Office 2003 was shiny, wait until you see the fully bling'd out interface for 2007: screenshot. It looks like a train wreck between IE7 and Hotmail. Thankfully, there is an option to switch to Vista Gray: screenshot. Colors aside, this new interface could be a major step forward in usability.
In the case of Office 2003, there really was not a whole lot of improvement over Office XP. This was evident in the choice of advertising focus. Instead of featuring what was new and exciting, Microsoft berated previous customers, casting them as Dinosaurs who had failed to evolve to the next version. That was when I voted (withheld) my dollar and made the switch to OpenOffice.
With Office 2007 though, there have been some big changes. There appears to be quite a bit more visual continuity between the applications, centering around the MS Office logo, which also doubles as a button. Additionally, all the menus are now stored in tabbed format. I guess they learned their lesson in the Firefox vs. IE arena, and are now tabbing just about everything. Dubbed the "ribbon," this interface takes some getting used to, but is pretty intuitive.
Additionally, you can finally save to PDF directly from any of the MS Office programs, without having to buy the pricey Adobe Acrobat software package. This has been a glaring shortcoming for quite some time now, especially considering it was already standard for the free alternative, OpenOffice.
From what I hear, the main market will most likely be enterprise level bulk purchases. The collaborative tools have been improved upon, making it better for an corporate environment as opposed to an individual user. So, do I think that you should run out and pre-order a copy? That really depends on what your business needs to accomplish with its office productivity software.
Personally, I hardly use any office products at all, aside from OpenOffice Writer at home for working on papers, and Microsoft Outlook at my day job. As far as email goes, I detest Outlook and prefer Gmail or Thunderbird. So, I will probably not bother with Office 2007, because Windows Vista will be too little, too late. Instead, I will soon be making the "switch" to a Macbook.
In a way, it is ironic that a good version of Microsoft Office is finally being developed, in conjunction with a lackluster operating system. I think this quote from John Gruber accurately sums up my feelings on the matter:
Microsoft is turning into a company that values management decisions that increase complexity over design decisions that increase clarity… This is how a company with so many talented programmers can spend six years developing an operating system that no one is excited about.