Two(-ish) weeks with Office 2007

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A brand-new Windows PC, fully updated and unsullied by crapware, is a wonderful thing. Sadly, very few people ever get to experience it—but you can!

I recently downloaded the trial version of Office 2007 for a long-term test, and I wanted to share my thoughts and reactions after living with it for about two weeks. I primarily use Outlook and Word, and Excel only occasionally. My comments will obviously focus on those programs.

I’ll start with my conclusion: Based on Outlook and Word, Office 2007 is probably not worth the upgrade. If you were hoping to do amazing new things, or that you would save tons of time because of new streamlining, this is not the office suite you are looking for. What Office 2007 does is fine-tune the interface, which is nice, but not really worth $239-679.

But I am going to get Office 2007 anyway. It took me a few days to come to this conclusion, but the new software takes some time to get used to. When you learn where things have gone and how to manipulate the new interface, it really does make more sense, and it really is easier to use. Still, this is a minor upgrade for the user, whatever Microsoft’s marketing division may say. (My IT friends say MS did a number from a systems perspective, but that doesn’t mean much to me.)

Outlook

I used Outlook for all my scheduling (tasks and appointments), for my e-mail, and for my contacts. It is the first thing I open when I sit down at my computer and the last thing I close before shutting down. Of primary importance to me is the ability to link tasks and appointments to a contact record. E-mails are automatically linked, but tasks and appointments are not. I use a separate contact for each case I have, and link to that contact so that I can use the “activities” tab to keep track of the case.

Imagine my dismay when I opened Outlook 2007 and saw no contact-linking field at the bottom of my task and appointment records! I couldn’t believe Outlook would have gotten rid of such a useful feature. They didn’t, fortunately. It’s under Tools > Options > Preferences > Contact Options > “Show contact linking on all forms.” Phew. Minor catastrophe averted.

The e-mail preview pane is also aligned vertically by default for some reason. This makes subjects difficult to decipher. I should clarify that I have a standard-aspect ratio screen. These might be less annoying on a widescreen. It’s a small matter to rearrange the preview pane to the bottom, however.

Otherwise, it’s much the same old Outlook. The main changes are to the interface. The Calendar is prettier, but functionally the same. And you get a “To-Do Bar” on the right side which mostly just clutters up the screen. It is too narrow to give the user much useful information. I closed it down right away to regain some screen real estate, but then opened it up because I liked being reminded of the two important things I had to do today, even if I can’t tell what they are. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can shrink the font size to make the To-Do Bar more useful.

There are nice new touches. For example, when you are in the Contacts window and start typing the name of a contact, you are taken to the contact. Outlook 2002 didn’t do that, and it was infuriating. You can also add pictures to your contacts, which also show up in their e-mails. This is a nice way to remind yourself what people look like who you rarely see.

The “ribbon” is in use only when you bring up an individual form. It doesn’t help much, since most won’t do much text formatting in forms. If you do, I suppose the change will be nice once you get used to it.

All in all, Outlook 2007 is slightly better than Outlook 2002, but it isn’t a huge leap. Microsoft didn’t make any of the changes I would have liked to see–such as the ability to copy a contact address to the clipboard for pasting into an envelope–and did make a lot of changes that benefit the user only incrementally. It is a bit prettier, perhaps, but that’s hardly a reason to upgrade. Of Microsoft’s “10 benefits,” most are irrelevant to a solo or small-firm user, and the best one–Windows Desktop Search–is available without Office.

Outlook 2007 isn’t itself all that worthy of the upgrade. There are a number of small improvements, but they really don’t make life much easier. Word is a bit of a different story.

Word

In Word, the much-acclaimed “ribbon” comes fully into play. In Outlook, it is visible in the individual records when opened, but it doesn’t come into play very often. It took me a while to get used to the new locations of commands, but all in all, the ribbon is nice. You can find all the old options by clicking on the “Office Button” and then on “Word Options,” so you aren’t losing the ability to reconfigure the way Word behaves. So far my only irritation is that the Styles portion of the ribbon doesn’t change if your template has a custom style set. You have to manually remove each style, then add your custom styles one-by-one. Since I have customized most of my most-used templates, this is a grating irritation.

Still, if you do take the time to customize the “Quick Style Gallery,” it can be an immense time saver compared with the old drop-down menu. I love this feature for frequently-accessed styles.

Other than the ribbon, Word operates pretty much the same as it always has, with a few improvements. As an attorney, numbering comes into use frequently. Word now gives the user fewer options to configure numbering, which is also unfortunate. The old system was unpredictable, but easily re-configurable. I think the new system probably allows you to reconfigure indents, etc., but it isn’t immediately apparent how one would do this.

Word also has the best keyboard shortcut features I have ever seen. Just hit the Alt key and see what happens. It is beautiful. I don’t care who you are, you don’t know all the shortcuts that Word will now show you how to use.

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Annoyances include the right-click menu seen at right (click the thumbnail for full-size). This popped up when I right-clicked on the word “common,” which is barely visible beneath the menus that pop up. Not particularly helpful, Word. I haven’t figured out whether or not I can shut off at least one of those menus yet, and they cause a number of mis-clicks and unintentional reformatting.

One of the best features of Word is the ability to easily access styles, but they are hardly easy to customize, which is my main annoyance, and is holding me up as I switch over my templates.

Conclusion

All in all, the changes feel primarily incremental. The programs still do the same things. This is particularly disappointing with Outlook, where there is a lot of room for improvement and streamlining. Still, Microsoft did a fantastic job of streamlining these already-powerful programs. If you are a casual user, you will enjoy the more-easily accessible features. If you are a power user, I think you will appreciate the streamlining of feature sets all the more.

So should you buy it? I like the upgrade, but it doesn’t feel like it should cost as much as it does. $239 is about the cheapest you can get into the new Office, and that’s pretty steep for what amount to user-interface tweaks.

Still, I am going to buy it. I like it enough, and I welcome anything that adds efficiency and configurability to my computing.

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  • Jon Swenson Tellekson

    One thing you don’t mention much, if at all, on your blog is speech recognition software.

    This is my business, so when I recently read the previous entry about how Microsoft Outlook doesn’t allow you to print an envelope for a specific contact person, I took it as a challenge. I now have a verbal command in Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional so that I can say “Envelope for Sam Glover” and it will promptly check your address in my Outlook contacts, and print an envelope to you with no further intervention from me required. The only caveat is that I need to maintain the list of frequent clients. (Easily done with another command “add to frequent contacts”)

    Thank you for pointing out this weakness, the command will prove very useful to me.

    Still impressed by Dragon 9,

    Jon Swenson Tellekson
    Freedom of Speech, Inc.

  • Sam Glover

    Sounds like a great addition! Any chance you will share your method?

    I don’t post about speech recognition software because I don’t use it. I have tried dictating in the past, but I find it inefficient. Speech recognition software would eliminate some of the inefficiencies, but for me, typing is more natural. I think the same is probably true for most young attorneys, but I don’t know for sure.