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Microsoft Office Professional 2007
Office desktop productivity suite with editions for all business sizes.

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Thursday, February 22, 2007; :500pm EST

The new 2007 version of Microsoft Office is heralded by Microsoft as being a large leap forward in usability and collaborative capabilities. With this version's interface enhancements and other great new features it may very well live up to those claims; so lets take a trip through Office 2007 to find out...

Microsoft Office this time around comes in a multitude of different packages to suite a variety of needs and budgets; including everything from the Office Ultimate edition that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contacts Manager, Accounting Express, Publisher, Access, InfoPath, Groove, OneNote; down to the more simple Office Basic edition that ships with Word, Excel and Outlook; with a variety of versions in-between. Many would most likely consider the Office Professional edition the "sweet spot" for price and features, and any components that are not included can be purchased individually. Sadly, Expression Web (formerly FrontPage) is no longer available as part of any Office edition and must now be purchased separately.

Once you figure out how to open the nifty new "keep-sake" style box and insert the installation DVD, you're almost done believe it or not. Installation isn't more than a couple clicks to complete - especially if you are happy with a "typical installation". We are glad that most Microsoft applications now ask all the questions they need at the beginning of installation, rather than throughout, saving you from having to stand by waiting throughout the install process. Once installed you can then individually access all of the individual office applications as per previous versions.

Office Professional includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contacts Manager, Publisher, Access and Accounting Express, in this review we'll focus on Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. One of the key new features found in many of the new Office applications, but not all, is the new "Ribbon" interface. Essentially it is a departure from the time tested tradition of using drop down menus, sub menus and tool bars to interface with application features. The ribbon is a bar along the top length of the application that replaces all that with an incredibly intuitive tab / button combination that showcases all the most readily used features in large easy to understand combinations of icons and text labels. There is only a very brief learning curve while you reacquaint yourself to where all the features have been relocated, but the reward for your time is well worth it. Once you get into the ribbon style mode of working with the application, you will never want to go back to regular drop downs and toolbars. You almost instantly become more productive, no joke. Especially with what was once the time consuming task of formatting and stylizing your documents, PowerPoint slides or spreadsheets. Everything feels as though it's in such close reach, like it knows what you want and has it waiting there on the ribbon for you. The centralization of all the open, close, print type functionality into the Office logo was also a nice touch. The only disappointment was that not all applications were converted to this new interface such as Publisher, or were only partly converted such as Outlook.

Another winning new feature is the real time nature of all the style related functions. Want to change the look of fonts, tables, paragraphs, headers, and so on? Simply use the intuitive ribbon style options to change them in real time! Older applications require a "trial and error" approach of changing, seeing what happens, changing again until it's right. The new Office changes them while your mouse hovers over the style change, giving you instant feedback. Once you've used it for more than a few times, you find yourself in other applications waiting for things to change in your document in real time, and then it dawns on you that you aren't using Office. Truly a sign of its usefulness, and its need to be a part of all future applications.

Outside of these major new features, each application individually has had it's share of new features and updates. Microsoft Word sports a new art rendering engine making it easier to add spiffy diagrams to your documents; building blocks lets you quickly assemble documents by tapping into a library of existing document snippets you may have already created to expedite document creation times; directly export to XPS or PDF document format; a new open XML format that provides strong security measures and reduced file size; easy publishing to a blog directly from within Word; and a document cleaning tool that ensure there is no unwanted comments, hidden text or other such things. I must say that Word made best use of the new ribbon feature, making things such as writing proposals infinitely easier to prepare - with a very real lowered cost of production time. With formatting being so much easier to apply and use, documents look a lot better, you can make a pro document, on a budget timeline. One thing we wouldn't make a habit of doing in Word 2007, is to produce web pages. Its save to web page option results in web pages with horrifically bloated HTML code - we were hoping this well known issue would have been resolved in the 2007 release. To illustrate the point... when saving a page with "Hello, world", it produced 48 lines of HTML in "Web Page Filtered" mode; and a whopping 445 lines of code in standard "Web Page" mode, all for a page with 2 words in it.

The export to PDF document format, on the other hand, was most definitely a welcomed addition being such the popular format that it is. Removing the need for the clumsy, bug ridden and generally lethargic Adobe PDF plug-in is an excellent move. The Office PDF plug-in exports equally well rendered documents; in a fraction of the time; and you aren't having to sit through a shuffle of flashing documents and rendering windows... just a simple status bar at the bottom of the page, well done Microsoft.

Excel has also gone through some much needed improvement in the style department; all of the great styling functionality in Word has been applied to Excel giving the ability to finally produce attractive looking spreadsheets if there is such a thing. Only minor styling could realistically be applied to spreadsheets in previous versions; but with 2007 you're creating great looking spreadsheets in minutes. Other new features include large spreadsheet sizes up to a whopping million rows and 16,000 columns; multi-core processing support; all new chart rendering engine for more polished reports; a new PivotTables view; have more control of your spreadsheets and versioning, with the ability to distribute it with SharePoint 3 and improved file damage recovery and reduced file size in new XML format.

With the new PowerPoint, again it takes full advantage of the new ribbon interface and real time style applying. It's the perfect type of application for such an interface, slicing slide design times down to a much more desirable time. The new SmartArt engine has also been employed into PowerPoint making the addition of customizable diagrams a snap. The new Slide Library service lets you store individual slides for use in later presentations to cut down on unnecessary redevelopment time. Other features include PDF and XPS file format exporting; document themes let you make style changes throughout your document easily and new security measures to ensure presentations are unalterable once distributed.

Outlook, while at first would appear to be very familiar to anyone who has used Outlook 2003 day in and day out for the past few years, does have some nice touch ups done throughout. A better integrated search engine makes finding old mail and calendar events easier than ever before. A new panel on the right displays upcoming events, and other pertinent information. The new Outlook gives you a better ability to mark and color code events, tasks and emails for easier future referral. The email composing window uses the ribbon feature improving email composition times and making it easier to design richly formatted emails; the addition of the Business Contacts Manager is a nice lite CRM add-on to Outlook that enables a nice assortment of customer relations functionality without having to invest in a major CRM system.

Overall, there were a hand full of truly impressive updates to the application suite on the whole, and a number of nifty tweaks, features and improvements that really help the overall productivity a typical user will experience. Once you have used Office 2007 for a while, it really does have a sense of living up to Microsoft's claim of improved usability and collaboration. The applications run smoothly, with no apparent shortcomings, bugs or inconsistencies between applications. Would a user of Office 2003 benefit from an upgrade to 2007? While the answer would be yes in terms of productivity gains, the overall cost to deploy the upgrade to a business would certainly need to be determined on a case by case basis. Any companies still relying on an Office version prior to 2003 would be highly recommended to upgrade, while 2003 users would really need to review the features and make a determination based on what would be useful for their particular needs.

So what are the system requirements for all of this new found productivity? A minimum 500MHz processor, 256MB memory, 2GB hard drive space, 1024x768 screen resolution, Windows XP with Service Pack 2. Depending on the actual functionality you will be using, the requirements may be more. I believe reality would dictate a significantly higher specification, with a more modern processor, memory and hard drive configuration to actually take advantage of the productivity gains. While our test machine (a Windows Vista based Pentium 4 with 3.6GHz processor, 3GB memory and SATA 160GB hard drive) ran the applications fluently, the performance was slightly less enthusiastic with 1GB. Overall, most machines purchased within the last year or two should be sufficient for typical Office 2007 usage. Microsoft Office Professional, and other editions are available now from all major electronics online and traditional retailers. Current retail pricing for the Professional edition is $499.00 USD, with some retailers providing great purchase incentives such as free software, memory sticks and other such things depending on the retailer.

PROS - Excellent new usability features that actually improve productivity such as excellent ribbon interface; better real time style selection system makes producing professional looking documents and presentations a snap; great PDF exporting implementation for quick PDF saving; a generally cleaned up, uniform set of applications that work seamlessly with one another.

CONS - Bloated HTML of Word produced web pages; dropped inclusion of HTML editing tool (Expression Web or SharePoint Designer) from packaged applications.

About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.


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