Do You Need Office 2007 in Your Small Office?

Microsoft Office 2007 is big, bloated and brilliant. There is a plethora of new features for PowerPoint, Word, Excel (the jewel in the crown) and Outlook, my other husband. Microsoft recently brought the 2007 show local and I couldn’t resist spending an intimate day with hundreds of other geeks. When the demonstrator’s overloaded power laptop blue-screened, the crowd of small business owners cheered. We’re a testy bunch when it comes to ROI on computer purchases.

Office 2007 runs on either Windows XP or Vista. The changes we saw were primarily cosmetic but productively important: when it takes employees a while to re-learn what they already know how to do, we lose money on the learning curve. (Using Outlook as a business contact manager was a large part of the demo and deserves its own post.)

The Ribbon
Microsoft Office 2007 Ribbon - click to enlargeThe most user-challenging feature will be the “Ribbon,” which replaces the two friendly toolbars we know, love and customize.

Office 2007 is intuitive. The ribbon morphs unasked into the tasks it thinks you want to do next (called “contextual tabs”). If you’re in a table, it moves to table commands in a disconcerting and resource-sucking visual blip. I predict we’re going to lose monitors due to thrown objects caused by ribbon morphing, but right-clicking is a better alternative. Microsoft promotes it with ‘[T]he tabs on the Ribbon display the commands that are most relevant for each of the task areas in the applications.’ Remember that the question of relevancy is highly individual with power users.

Going Home
Microsoft Office 2007 home buttonThe Home button provides easy access to the most frequently used Office commands. To new 2007 users, it’s an extra click, a superfluous layer, another mouse move but in reality, it’s the place to click to share, print, publish, and send documents.

Emailing files
Do you send Word or Excel files? Word 2007 saves in a new format (no more .doc) and you’ll have to “save as” an “older” version (that’d be XP, which is lumped into Office 95 as an antique format) to share with those not yet blessed with Office 2007. A happy new feature is “save-to-PDF” and sending PDF files is the best choice anyway. Recommendation: send PDF files whenever possible.

Do you have the techno-horsepower?
Upgrading your current Office version might be cheaper than buying new, but it is time-consuming to load, resource-intensive and requires more RAM and better video (especially if you’re considering Vista). Office 2007 is exceptionally graphical (and resource-intensive). In preparation, we upgraded our machines from 1Gb to 3Gb of RAM (older RAM costs less) and double-checked the video cards to make sure they had at least 128Mb of on-board RAM (we replaced only two because we knew it was coming 2 years ago). Call your IT folks and talk it all over before buying Office 2007 or Vista.

The money question
Does your business need Office 2007 with its bells, whistles, contextual tabs, galleries and Ribbon now? At the demo, the leader pointed out that things the “geeks” could do are now available to “regular” users like ‘us’ (well, them). The quandary: those things were always available and regular users could rarely do them so what makes you think they’re going to start doing them now because they’re prettier?

The bottom line
The reviews are in. ZDNet advises that if your current version works, don’t upgrade even though there are significant improvements to Excel formula referencing, pretty PowerPoint, and better document recovery. They note that the drastic design changes demand a steep learning curve and the new interface isn’t intuitive.

If you’ve got power users, they’re going to love Office 2007. Regular users will face a learning slippery incline (not quite a steep curve). Your costs for both software and people frustration may vary.

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The Office 2007 Ribbon only goes so far

Microsoft Office 2007Has anyone noticed that the Ribbon in Office 2007 does not extend to all Office programs? Publisher doesn’t have it, as well as some other programs. It seems that Microsoft only saw fit to include in the most loved and used applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. I can’t help but brace for the fallout from users. First Microsoft tries to build a “zero-learning-curve” model into their new office suite, hoping that users will find it easier to use and eliminate much of the complexity of the system, which is quite noble, then they don’t include it in all the suite’s applications? I don’t see such a unified front and integrated user experience this time around that Microsoft is always so long-winded about. So this was motivated not by customers’ needs or the need for one interface, but by rising costs, looming deadlines, and putting out fires during development? In my x-ray vision, I see far into the future and can’t help but wonder if this will help Google (and others) spell doom for at least a good sized portion of Microsoft’s cash-cow business? There is already a ton of speculation that Vista will be the last operating system to be released by Microsoft (as far as we know the traditional OS) because the web is now becoming more important than ever. I am hearing that Google’s online apps will also spell disaster for Microsoft, perhaps in the next decade or so. Do I agree? Well, the jury is still cherry-picking their favorites, so to speak. I have used Google’s apps extensively, including docs and spreadsheets, and I must say that I would rather use Google to get the job done and never have to mess with Office, and I am a long time Office lover. If Microsoft wasn’t the standard for everything it wouldn’t be hard to find other avenues that suit me just fine (as I have found already). Is the selectively programmed ribbon this important, and will it start the downward climb for our dearly beloved Microsoft? It isn’t that deep and probably won’t matter to most people. We will either adapt to the multi-mode confusion, use something else, or get over it, but my point is that Microsoft increasingly lets quality and the integrity of their offerings go by the wayside. In addition, I think Microsoft must get on the web-based band-wagon before they are run over by online suites of prey. Desktop office software is a dying breed, as you can tell by looking at the marketplace and the fast-moving mass adoption of many online suites now used in addition to or in place of Office. Microsoft needs to crack the whip and get into the game while there is still time. It has been quite shocking to watch them slowly lose their stranglehold. It is a whole new world today.

Microsoft to License Office ‘Look and Feel’ for Free

With Office 2007 radically reorganizing the way users think and work with applications — hopefully more for the better than for the worse — Microsoft is recognizing the possibility that other developers may want to copy the new suite’s distinctive style. For instance, if the collapsible ribbon catches on as a menu bar substitute, other vendors may want to try to capitalize.

It seems there isn’t an aspect of intellectual property licensing with which Microsoft isn’t concerned in extensive detail. Today, the company announced a royalty-free licensing program for developers who want to make use of Office’s new, distinctive style.

The question that naturally arises isn’t whether there are strings attached, but rather how many. Today the answer came: As Office 2007’s “chief stylist” Jensen Harris announced on his blog, along with the perpetual, royalty-free license will be a 120+ page document detailing the precise use of Microsoft’s meticulously designed features.

For licensees to remain protected, they must abide by these guidelines, which will apparently be as extensive and strict as were the original Common User Access guidelines from IBM almost 19 years ago.

As Harris describes: “If you choose to implement the Office UI, you sign up for the program by accepting the license terms and giving us a little bit of information about your product. There’s no fee, you don’t owe Microsoft any royalties, and the license is perpetual – meaning that the terms won’t change.

“To stay within the terms of the license, you must follow these guidelines,” Harris continues. “We want to ensure that when someone implements the Ribbon (for example) that they do so the right way…and in a way consistent with how it works in Office.”

A check of MSDN’s new Office UI licensing site reveals that the guidelines have yet to be completed, though the license itself is available, and mandates that licensees must follow those guidelines. A quick read of the two-page license does not indicate that licensees must disclose any information, or are under any obligation to provide any feedback to Microsoft whatsoever. So the extent of the “little bit of information” to which Harris refers, isn’t clear.

However, the license does state that if Microsoft makes changes to its guidelines, or if the company believes a licensee is not in compliance, it will notify the licensee of the changes it needs to make to its software to remain in compliance, and give the licensee six months to produce adequate changes.

Microsoft has released a preview document with excerpts that provide some peeks into how extensive its Office UI guidelines will be. For example, with regard to the behavior of the ribbon, its contents must be capable of repositioning and realigning themselves when the application’s container window is resized.

“Resizing the width of the application window MUST change the layout of controls on the Ribbon,” reads the preview document. “The layout of controls on the Ribbon MUST change in real-time when the application window is resized by dragging with the mouse. The change in the layout of controls on the Ribbon MUST NOT be delayed until after the application window has been resized and the left mouse button is released.”

The document goes on to explain the multiple sizes of icons that appear in buttons within a ribbon, how the hierarchy of a ribbon category decides which sizes of icons appear (either the original or the smaller “variant”) when a container window is large, medium, or small, and how to decide which of the larger icons in a ribbon category represents the entire category when the window is at its smallest applicable size.

As Microsoft general manager for the Office client Takeshi Numoto stated in a scripted Q&A on Microsoft’s corporate Web site today, the Office UI license isn’t necessary for companies wishing to build add-ins for Office, or new classes of so-called Office Business Applications (OBA). The license applies to individuals or companies that wish to produce new, stand-alone software that follows Microsoft’s established look-and-feel.

If the preparation to defend the “look and feel” of Microsoft applications seems strangely, ironically familiar…it brings back memories of May 1989, when Apple was in the midst of a heated lawsuit against Microsoft for allegedly violating its “look and feel” for Macintosh.

At that time, for the original Computer Shopper Information Exchange, I wrote the following about the first rulings in that landmark case, “It has been Apple’s contention that Microsoft violated a written agreement between the two companies licensing certain parts of the Macintosh ‘look-and-feel’ to Microsoft for specifically the original version of Windows. The ruling states that agreement does not extend to the current version of Windows.

“If Apple can successfully claim these features are the copyright of their creator, then Xerox would win all the spoils of this war,” I continued in 1989. “However, the use of the menu bar over the top of the screen at all times, as well as the trash can, were Apple creations, not Xerox. Xerox used menu bars over individual windows, and weren’t cartoonists enough to use trash cans for deletions…What also has surprised me throughout all this is that of all the really good things Apple has brought us through the years, the company seems most willing to defend such relatively trivial things as menu bars and trash cans.”

Fast-forward 17 years, and the chessboard is being set up again, this time with ribbons and variants instead of menu bars and trash cans – and this time without knowing who the opponent will be.

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Yes, there is an Office 2007 ‘kill switch’

Buried in a Knowledge Base article that Microsoft published to the Web on November 14 are details of Microsoft’s plans to combat Office 2007 piracy via new Office Genuine Advantage lockdowns.

When asked last month whether Microsoft was planning to punish alleged Office 2007 pirates by crippling the functionality of their software in the same way that Microsoft is doing with Vista via reduced-functionality mode, Microsoft officials were noncommittal.

But now Microsoft’s intentions are clear: Just as it is doing with Vista, Microsoft plans to incorporate what basically amounts to a “kill switch” into Office 2007. Office 2007 users who can’t or won’t pass activation muster within a set time period will be moved into “reduced-functionality mode,” according to Microsoft’s Knowledge Base article.

Link: KB Article 927921

Microsoft Office ready for download on December 1st

office 2007Microsoft has completed Microsoft Office 2007, and it will be released for download on December 1st for US and Canadian residents. As for users in other parts of the world, there will be 13 countries, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Mexico, that will be able to download a free 60-day trial later in December. Retails stores will not see Office 2007 until early 2007, missing the giant Christmas buying season. The price for the new Office will sit at $239 for a standard home use version, and $399 for an upgraded full retail version. An Ultimate version will also be available that will cost $679 and of course, will be loaded with features. Some interesting stats about the new Office 2007 version: it will feature 50,000 new help articles, 35 new demos, 24 online training courses, and 400 templates.

Product Packaging Screenshots: Windows Vista & Office 2007

With Windows Vista and 2007 Office system, Microsoft didn’t just redesign the software packages themselves, but they are also introducing new packaging for the two products. The packaging has been completely revised and, they hope, foreshadows the great experience that awaits you once you open it. ~Oh God!!!~

Check out the photos below.


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Microsoft Plans Post-Turkey Day Kickoff For Window…

The two products will launch the last week in November at an event focused on business users, sources say. The new versions of Vista and Office are due by the end of the year for business customers, and early 2007 for consumers.

The long-touted Microsoft Vista/Office 2007 tandem launch is on for the last week in November in New York, sources said. This event will focus on business usage and scenarios.

The new client Windows operating system and Office client and server applications have been promised for volume business customers by year’s end and for consumers by early 2007.

Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, would not comment on a specific launch timing or venue but said the company remains on track for the two promised delivery windows. He applied the usual caveat: Microsoft will not ship the code if it’s not ready.

“I talked to Antoine Leblond and Kurt [DelBene] last week and they feel very good about the track they’re on and I know Jim Allchin and the Vista team feel the same way. There’s no new news,” Raikes told CRN in a meeting at its New York City offices Tuesday.

Leblond and DelBene are the corporate vice presidents sharing the reigns of the Office system products. Jim Allchin, co-president of the Platforms and Services division, has said he will retire when Vista hits the shelves.

“We were engaged in dialogue with the European Union that could have delayed us inside Europe and in Korea but we successfully concluded that round of dialogue and are moving forward on a worldwide basis,” Raikes said.

Raikes acknowledged that delays to these key products has been more frustrating for solution providers — who need new wares to sell and, more importantly, the service opportunities those new wares create — more than for business customers themselves.

This is a huge launch for Microsoft partners, he noted. Its “significant with Vista just take that in isolation [but] what you can do with Office System is the bigger overall partner opportunity because of the breadth and depth [of the offerings],” Raikes contended.

Office, now dubbed Office System, has grown beyond the client-application bundles of Word, Office and Excel to a full range of server-based offerings. There are some 26 Office products in all.

The uniform workflow — Windows Workflow Foundation — underlying SharePoint Server and the other Office products will ease creation of new applications for ISVs and corporate IT people.

Joe Fantuzzi, CEO of Workshare, a San Francisco ISV specializing in compliance and security, is aboard Microsoft’s Office push, especially the SharePoint Server component. “Most of our competition builds their own workflow, their own incident management. We bet on Vista and SharePoint 2007. SharePoint Server is visionary and we’ll exploit it,” he noted.

Workshare products include the WS Compliance Indexer, which will use SharePoint Enterprise Search; WS Policy Management, which will perform remediation using Microsoft Rights Management Services in Office or Vista; and WS Incident Response, a managed service using SharePoint Workflow Foundation.

As an ISV, Fantuzzi is also glad that Microsoft is consolidating its own workflow story around WWF. By some estimates Microsoft’s current product set fields nearly a half dozen different workflow engines.

Raikes said Microsoft research shows Vista alone may save business users $35 per PC per year with its new management capabilties. That breaks down to $19 in savings for image management; $13 in support costs and $4 for in security and virus protection.