Microsoft Office Standard 2007

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Microsoft Office Standard 2007

Pros

  • Great new features, powerful file format

Cons

  • Inevitable learning curve, expensive

Bottom Line

Significant revamp provides more applications and many design improvements, though these take time to learn. If you'd like to get the most out of Office applications, this upgrade can help you do it.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 2 stores)

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If you've followed Microsoft Office through its succession of lacklustre upgrades in recent years, you might be excused for yawning at the prospect of the 2007 version. Well, wake up: the 2007 Office System is by no means just another collection of incremental tweaks to the world's most widely used productivity suite. What does that mean for users who already live and work in older versions of Office? Like any software that undergoes significant interface changes, the 2007 apps impose a more-demanding learning curve than their predecessors did. But we've found the adjustment worthwhile: this is clearly the most compelling Office upgrade we've seen in recent years. You can download the suite from a special page of the Microsoft Office Online site and check it out for yourself -- free for 60 days.

We used the $690 version (Microsoft Office Standard 2007), which bundles all of the reviewed applications except Access. We weighted the price component slightly lower than design, features, and performance, since we figure that people who need Microsoft Office will end up buying it despite its hefty cost. Also, in gauging the PCW Ratings of individual applications, we assumed that buyers would purchase them as part of a suite, so we used a neutral price rating rather than the application's stand-alone price. For more information on the eight different Office 2007 suite configurations (five are sold in stores), the apps they contain, and how much each one costs, visit the Microsoft Office Online.

The applications we reviewed sport both a dramatic new look and new underpinnings in the form of XML-based default file formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The changes have a collective purpose: the redesigned interface makes finding and using these applications' powerful features much easier, and it is especially useful if you want to make your documents look their best. The XML file formats reduce file size, let corporate users easily transfer information between applications, and automate formatting and other changes across huge libraries of documents. Since they're based on an open Microsoft spec, rival productivity apps should eventually be able to duplicate and work with Office documents faithfully.

For network-connected workers, the suite provides more tools than ever, including the new Office Groove collaboration app, and support for wikis and blog posts. These features become even more useful for enterprises that invest in Office server products, such as SharePoint Server or Groove Server.

A whole new look

The sweeping design changes in Office 2007 can be unsettling. Instead of depending on myriad cascading text menus and skinny taskbars, most of the action in Office now takes place in a fat band or "ribbon". It appears where the taskbars used to be and graphically displays features that change as you click the different menu bar tabs.

You may have to scramble at first to find the new locations of familiar options (Microsoft provides extensive online help). But the ribbon may also introduce you to tools and commands you never knew existed. In addition it supports a useful new feature called live preview: select all or a portion of your document, hover your mouse over a formatting option (a new font, for example), and you'll see how it changes the actual document's appearance. If you like how it looks, click to apply the change; if not, move on to another option. This feature makes experimenting with style changes easier and more fun than ever.

In case you miss having a few frequently used commands always at hand, the Quick Launch toolbar gives you a place to pin commands from any of the application's ribbons. It's not perfect: we miss being able to add boilerplate text with a single mouse click on one of the AutoText toolbar buttons we created. But by default, the Quick Launch toolbar includes some highly useful commands, including Undo and Save buttons.

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