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Microsoft seals the deal with Office code

Microsoft seals the deal with Office code

Changes to the code of Microsoft Office 2007 are complete today, and the renovated software is set to become available to corporate customers by the end of this month. The consumer editions of Microsoft Office 2007 are expected to hit stores in tandem with the Vista operating system early next year.

We've followed the development of Microsoft Office 2007 for more than a year, test-driving various rough-draft versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and companion applications. We've found that the fresh face of Office takes some time to get used to, but it also surfaces tools that used to be buried within drop-down menus. Among the sweeping changes are ground-up interface rebuilds and new file formats. Office 2007's XML-based files will squeeze more data into fewer kilobytes. However, as with the release of Office 1997, you won't be able to open a file in the new format immediately when using earlier versions of the programs. This could cause grief if you've got the new software but need to share work with people who haven't upgraded. The 2007 applications let you save backward-compatible files, but not by default. Those running, say, Word 2003 who need to open a Word 2007 DOCX file will first have to download a one-time Compatibility Pack.

Office 2007's other notable features include a strong emphasis on style templates, with the ability to preview changes to fonts and graphics on the fly. There are more options for dressing up documents with the sorts of charts, diagrams, and pictures usually offered by desktop publishing software. New shortcuts for analyzing information within Excel let you display patterns of data as a colorful heat map, for instance. There's new support for blogging within Word. Outlook gets deeper search and task management abilities in addition to SMS text messaging. And Office 2007 features easier-to-manage document security overall.

Oddly, however, Microsoft won't let you easily access, author, or edit those letters, reports, spreadsheets, and presentations within a Web browser. Microsoft and Google are battling to win over small-business users with free, Web-based services. But there is no Microsoft equivalent to the online Google Docs & Spreadsheets, just as Google's productivity services don't match the depth of features within Microsoft Office software.

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook will make up the $399 Office Standard package, while Office Home and Student for $149 will come with the same applications, though trading Outlook for OneNote. The $449 Office Small Business, $499 Professional, and $679 Ultimate editions will throw in more services for businesses, including Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Publisher, and Access. Office 2007 is supposed to work the same whether running on Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, or Vista.