As Microsoft has tacked features onto Word over the past 17 years, each new version made you hunt harder than the last to find newly located functions. Word 2007 is the company's attempt to arrest this feature bloat. Rather than continue to nest new features within a hodgepodge of drop-down menus and toolbars, Microsoft scrapped the old interface and started from scratch with Word 2007's layout. Microsoft's impending update to its word processing app puts more tools front and center within a tabbed Ribbon across the top of the page. The Ribbon takes up more screen real estate than did the banner of menu headers in past editions of Word, but that also spares you mouse clicks. In our tests of the 2007 beta 2 incarnation, we liked the clarity of the Ribbon's enlarged, labeled icons. The tabs include Home, Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View.
The Ribbon is dynamic, so it shape-shifts to anticipate your needs. For example, the Format tab, which lets you tweak and crop images, appears only when you're clicking on a picture. In our tests, we wished that Word would just display all the tabs at once instead of continuing to bury some tools. But we like that the rebuilt graphics engine within Office 2007 lends Word an elegant feel and enables it to make basic image adjustments without making you open an image-editing program. We expect Word 2007 to please users who design layouts for newsletters, invitations, and the like. Word 2007 beta 2 clusters formatting changes within drop-down Galleries that you can roll over to preview a font or a graphic style before finalizing it. A cover-page Gallery drops down more than a dozen choices from the Insert tab. More templates are built into Word 2007, and even more are online.
Microsoft has beefed up the tools within Word 2007 beta 2 for researchers who insert citations and for office workers who perform mail merges. Word 2007 will create cleaner HTML to serve bloggers, too. And there are new options for reviewing and protecting your work; you can better track the hidden metadata and set editing and formatting restrictions. Plus, the new XML-compatible file formats shrink document sizes for better portability and are open to developers' tweaks. You can also save backward-compatible versions of files that will work within Word 1997 and up.
You can test-drive the in-progress version of Word 2007 yourself; just visit Microsoft's Web site for a download that expires in February 2007.