Today ushers in a new era for Microsoft Office--and with it, a sweeping set of surprises for users. Businesses now have the green light to download multiuser suites of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and associated software that will save your work in new, XML-based file formats by default.
Microsoft hopes for users to embrace the radically different Office 2007, which offers more tools for bloggers and amateur desktop publishers. You won't find Office 2007 on store shelves until January 30. In the meantime, a growing number of people are turning to free services with fewer features and more collaboration capabilities. Yet Microsoft has barely made a peep about creating browser-based versions of its software, or other tools that would enable you to take work on the road and edit it in a Web browser. The latest Microsoft software might already appear passe, if you're an early adopter of Web-based word processors and spreadsheet services from the likes of Google, Zoho, and ThinkFree--or if you use freebies such as OpenOffice.
Even so, that doesn't mean you can ignore Office 2007--especially if its users send their documents to you. So far, we've found that opening Office 2007 files in older versions of Office isn't as seamless as Microsoft might like (see our video). And for now, Office 2007's open-source documents currently won't open in those indie, Web-based productivity applications. That's likely to change, but be on the lookout for the telltale X in Office 2007 files: DOCX instead of Word's old DOC extension, and so forth. If some eager Office 2007 devotee e-mails you one of those files, which won't open in your favorite online application, return them to sender.
Corel, on the other hand, is already taking steps to make its software cooperate with Office 2007. Its next editions of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and Presentations will support Microsoft Office's new files in addition to the Open Document Format. Given the overwhelming market share of Microsoft Office, Corel's move could be as necessary for the survival of its WordPerfect software as much as it is a convenience for its users. Unfortunately for Corel, most browser-based word processors still fail to open WPD documents composed in its excellent WordPerfect program. We expect that most online applications will adopt Office 2007's open-source formats more quickly than they'll give any love to the unchanging WPD. At the same time, WordPerfect suites are bundled on many Dell computers, which could prevent those users from running out and buying Office 2007. Would you rather play with the dynamic new interface and graphics tools within Microsoft Office 2007 or rely on more portable, less complicated, and less expensive alternatives?