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Step into the new Office

Step into the new Office

Microsoft is giving its productivity suite, Office, a radical makeover and inviting you today to test the beta 2 version. The final release, expected early next year, will further distinguish Redmond's tools from the competition's. Office 2007 will reveal a dynamic new interface; spruced-up graphics; and smaller, open XML-based file formats. We've installed the private, beta 2 test version of Office 2007 and have been playing with the features for a week. Now you can give it a spin on your own PC; just visit Microsoft's Web site for a download that will work until February 2007.

See for yourself

What will the next Office have in store for you? For a sneak peek, see our video first look and slide shows of the impending versions of:

  • Word
  • Outlook
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint

    You can also track Microsoft's progress via our pictures of the earlier builds, Microsoft Office 2007 beta 1 from March and the Office 12 beta from last fall.

    Ribbon

    Microsoft rebuilt Office from the ground up, and most features are located in different places than in versions 2003 and earlier. Gone are what Microsoft considers too much of a good thing: the buried locations of more than 1,000 features within top-down menus. Now you can access functions front and center within a tabbed Ribbon across the top of the interfaces of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. We expect this new look to challenge longtime users with a steep learning curve. The intent is to make the apps more intuitive, but the opposite is true for certain features if you want to fall back on old habits. For example, Insert Comment within Word is no longer found within the Insert menu but within the Ribbon's Review tab. While we had problems initially getting oriented, we found our bearings for most of the major functions within a few days.

    Dynamic

    We have mixed feelings about the Ribbon's ability to surface and hide features according to your task at hand. Though the icons are big and labeled, the contextual Tabs sometimes left us befuddled. For instance, to view the full gamut of changes you can make to an image, you must first select the image. What if, say, you're working in Word and wish that you could insert a picture, rotate it, and wrap the text around it to make a newsletter? If you haven't already inserted and clicked on a picture, the Format tab will be out of sight and you'd never know those image-tweaking features existed.

    System requirements

    System requirements for Office 2007 aren't finalized yet, but so far Microsoft says that you must run Windows XP SP2 on a 500MHz PC with a 2GB hard drive and 256MB of RAM (512MB for Outlook with Business Contact Manager).

    Suites

    Microsoft has reduced the number of suites originally planned for the Office 2007 system to seven, from Basic to Enterprise. Most consumers will likely opt for Basic (containing Excel, Outlook, Word) or Standard, which throws in PowerPoint. The Small Business package adds Publisher as well as the Business Contact Manager version of Outlook.