Early Impressions of Office 2007

Microsoft released Beta 2 of Office 2007 on Tuesday, and I decided to give it a try. I've not been using it long enough to make a real judgement about it, but my initial impressions are quite positive. It's still quite rough in some places, but the overall experience is pleasant enough.

Installation

Probably the biggest problem I had was getting the thing installed. Installing the Professional Suite took quite a long time, and I had to fiddle around to get everything working properly. Outlook in particular was a pain, because the installer didn't uninstall the previous version despite me selecting the option. None of the problems I encountered were catastrophic, but they all added up to make me quite annoyed.

The other main problem I've had is with Windows Desktop Search. I've had no luck getting it to work, so I've decided to give it a miss. I'm a bit annoyed that Outlook requires it for the Instant Search, but search folders still work so I can live without it for now.

I've not had time to give everything a thorough going over, so I'll stick to what I've spent the most time with.

OneNote

Unfortunately I've not had a great experience with OneNote so far, but I'm putting it down to a hardware / driver problem on my machine. The mouse has a habit of jumping around the screen, and then the app crashes. This has happened to me with other apps, so I'm not blaming OneNote. It's a shame though because it looks like a really cool app.

When it has worked, I've had chance to play with copying text from images and jotting down notes about various subjects. I have a feeling it would be a great tool for organising blog posts, so I'll definitely be giving it another shot when I get a new computer.

Excel

The first thing you notice with Excel is the Ribbon. Seeing as it's in a few apps, I'll talk about it in detail later, but for Excel it really makes you feel like you're getting more. You can see a lot more functionality without digging around too much, and the new tooltips explain features a lot better.

I mostly use Excel for scheduling time on projects, so I haven't seen most of what the product has to offer. I'm sure I'll have a better idea of what it can do over the coming weeks, but for now it does it's job and that's all I can ask.

Outlook

I use Outlook every day, so I was a little anxious about replacing the original with the Beta. It's been a mixed bag so far, and I'm not completely convinced.

The new To-Do bar is a nice addition, and it gives you a good overview of upcoming tasks and appointments. I've found it much more useful than "Outlook Today".

There seem to be a few tweaks email wise. You can quickly assign a category to emails, and flagged emails show up in the To-Do bar. The task and calendar sections have also been improved. None of the improvements really stand out yet, but they all add up to a more pleasant, tighter experience.

Performance wise, I'm a little disappointed. I don't exactly have a powerhouse of a PC, but for me Outlook is the most sluggish of all the new Office tools. It freezes for a few seconds whilst switching emails, and can freeze for quite a long time for no apparent reason.

The interface for composing emails benefits from the new Ribbon, but it's not so useful if you're a fan of sending plain text emails. If you want to get a little fancy though, it looks like it will be a big help.

Word

The first thing that really struck me about the new Word is that it looks, well, nice. I realise it's only a word processor, and that looks are secondary to functionality, but it's always nice to enjoy using a piece of software. My first impressions were definitely positive.

Of all the programs out of the new Office that I've used, Word certainly feels the most improved. It's still a little bit ropey in places however, particularly in some of the older dialog boxes. The overall experience is very slick though, and I've found that the new appearance and interface alone makes me feel more productive.

Styling the document is a breeze, and the “live preview” feature is more useful than I imagined it would be. Simply hovering over styles in the gallery will change the selected text. This is nice because you can see how the style will look without having to worry about ruining the document if you don't like it.

Not all the improvements are as big as the ribbon. The status bar at the bottom lets you change the view and zoom level quickly, and also displays the current word count. Nothing spectacular, but it's a welcome improvement.

It's not all good though, and one feature I was disappointed with was the blogging support. From what I gather it was only recently added, but as it stands it's not very useful at all. It can't use categories in WordPress, and it also gives the wrong posting date. Oh dear. Here's hoping it will be much improved before the final release.

Overall

I'll be honest, I've never been as interested in any of Microsoft's products as I am about Office 2007. Public betas, blogs such as Jensen Harris's and a fresh interface really seem to have moved the product forward.

The Ribbon isn't as obtrusive as it may look, and it can be collapsed to give even more space to the document. It didn't really take any getting used to, and I have a feeling that once you've used it for a few days you won't want to go back to the land of toolbars.

The biggest complaint I have is the lack of consistency in usability. The Ribbon makes using most features much, much easier, but it's a shame that there are still poorly designed dialogs present.

I realise I haven't dug too deep into the products, but for general use they've been a pleasure to use. Word is certainly a big improvement, and I don't think I'll be switching back to Office 2003 any time soon.

3 Comments

It sounds like a very hit-and-miss package. My experience with the previous Office package has been excellent so far, so I'm reluctant to upgrade. I'm intrigued by the idea of the Ribbon though - what exactly is it?

May 26, 2006 at 04:54PM

It's not as hit-and-miss as it sounds. There's a lot of improvements, and most of the negative elements are just remnants from the old versions of Office. They just stand out a lot more because of all the other big changes.

The best way I can describe the Ribbon is as a tabbed toolbar. Instead of digging through menus to find the feature you want, you can find them pretty quickly on the Ribbon. The icons are laid out much clearer, and a lot of existing features such as tables of contents and headers/footers are much easier to find and use.

There's some good pictures on Jensen's Blog, such as this screenshot of Word 2007.

May 26, 2006 at 06:39PM

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