MS Office 2007: The great Gamble

By : |November 30, 2006 0

Shashwat Chaturvedi

Over the last few decades, mankind (the computing literate one) has been divided into two factions, namely Mac and PC. The ardent cohort of one group will be often found deriding the other.

The debate on which system (Apple Mac or Microsoft PC) is more superior and easy to use has been going on for quite sometime. At the very center of this debate are the operating system and its applications.

                                 

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Somehow, Mac has been idolized for friendly user interface (UI) and robust applications. Despite having the overwhelming numbers, purists have shunned Microsoft Windows and Office applications as being far too complex.

So, when the giant at Redmond releases Office 2007 on November 30th, it could be trying to right that what has been around for so long? It could be a kind of admission that, probably — just probably — we were not so good after all

Why else was there such a major overhaul of something that the world had been so accustomed to? Most of us would not know whether Office was good or bad, simply because there were no other options readily available.

Personally, I have very faint memories of Word Perfect, I do recall tinkering with Lotus 1-2-3, but that is where my memory fails. Every since, William Henry Gates III came up with this brilliant idea of bundling and selling applications rather than individually, every other competing application be it Word Perfect, Lotus, and others seem to be relegated to history.

With over 400 million users, Microsoft Office is a winner all the way to the bank. So what is novel about Microsoft Office 2007? Here is a brief rundown of what you can expect when you get your hands on the Office 2007 CD.

The biggest change has been in the UI, gone are the ever-so familiar menus and the toolbars, replaced by something known as ‘Ribbon’. Basically, it is a collection of different tabs having a set of commands each. With the Ribbon, Microsoft expects to make the features of the application more discoverable and accessible with fewer mouse clicks as compared to the menu-based interface in use in Office earlier.

The Ribbon is made out to be intuitive in a sense, as some tabs, called Contextual Tabs, appear only when certain objects are selected. These Contextual Tabs reveal functionality specific only to the selected object. For instance when one selects a picture, it brings up the Pictures tab, which presents options for dealing with the picture.

Unarguably, the UI shift is the most significant change in the new Office and even the guys at Microsoft are aware of this. “The Ribbon is fantastic for end users, it changes the way you work with Office and how users can create beautiful looking documents as it is much, much easier. We are really very excited and it’s a risky thing for us to do,” says Chris Capossela, corporate vice president, Business Division Product Management Group, Microsoft.

“Consider this, around 450 million people use Office everyday, it is a tough call asking them to change the way they do things. So, with the Ribbon, I say we have made the biggest bet on as a business and we are excited about it,” he adds.

Ribbon is integrated into core Office applications, namely, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook’s mail editor. These applications have been selected as they center around document authoring and present multitude of options that users are often unaware of.

The second big element is the open file format, OpenXML to be used as a default file format. It is based on XML and uses the ZIP file container.

According to Microsoft, this file format is compressed and up to 75 per cent smaller than the current Microsoft Office file formats. This means lesser space on your hard disk. Also, it will open up the data that has been locked up inside the documents.

Initially, Microsoft had announced that it would provide in-built export to PDF function, but it backed out after litigation threats from Adobe Systems.

The new Office 2007 also includes Groove, a new application that brings collaborative features to a peer-to-peer paradigm. With Groove, users can host documents created in Office 2007 application in a shared workspace, where different users can edit them. It seems quite familiar to Microsoft Visual Source Safe, an enterprise level application that allows collaborative sharing of documents. The idea behind Groove seems to be quite the same, though there are a few enhancements, like messaging and alerts.

For all those, who were loathe to the prospect of searching a mail in Outlook Inbox, there is good news. Searching for information is going to be much faster because Outlook now indexes messages and attachments, as well as calendar, contact and task information. RSS also makes an appearance in Outlook. There is a reader for RSS feeds, thus you can subscribe for news alerts and they will be delivered directly in the mailbox.

Excel has been left more or less untouched barring few cosmetic changes like conditional formatting of cells. SmartArt promises to improve visual appeal of a presentation, Word document or an Excel sheet. Microsoft is also laying emphasis on integration among the applications. Thus, if you insert an Excel sheet in the Word file, any data changes in the original Excel sheet will be updated in the Word file as well. There are a lot of small things as well like Live Preview and others.

The big question is: are these changes sufficient to merit a change? A change of not only an application suite, but also the way we do things. For one, there would be a whole cycle of learning and unlearning with the new Office 2007. Will enterprises be willing to spend huge sums just to teach their employees a new suite, is certainly a fear that must be plaguing the minds of Microsoft honchos.

The biggest rival of Office 2007 is Office 2003, Microsoft has an uphill task on its hand, trying to convince users to make a change, ring in the new. The cheapest pack is Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, priced at approximately $149 (over Rs 6000). This is quite a lot if you take into account all the other costs involved. Also there is the catch: if I have to learn all over, why not give it a shot with something that is free and getting kind of popular? There is something that goes by the name, OpenOffice.org. With over 40 million users, it could turn out to be a viable option. Office was first introduced in 1987, and it has been over four years since last (Office 2003) was introduced. With such radical change, Office 2007 could very well be, Microsoft’s greatest gamble. Here’s wishing luck to the giant at Redmond.

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