I originally posted this at http://www.318.com/TechJournal
Microsoft has released the beta version of Microsoft Office, version 12. This new version is packed with new features and of course, a new look for documents.
Office 12 no longer has drop down menus. This has been a hallmark of Microsoft Office since the first version. Nearly every other productivity suite has been built around drop down menus on every platform since the days before point-and-click. Microsoft has replaced drop down menus with a new concept that they are calling the ribbon. When you click on what were once drop down menus, the toolbars change to include only the features relevant to that option. By placing buttons and menus in the ribbon, Microsoft is able to include many new features without forcing users to have so many toolbars that their workspace is greatly reduced. The ribbon is not resizeable, so users of bigger monitors will likely approve of this feature than users of smaller monitors.
Other new features in Office 12 include the ability to save files into read-only PDFs, an Inspector that allows users to hide text or reveal text, the ability to remove the document creators name and contact information, a live preview feature that allows users to view the effect of changes before making them and tighter integration with OneNote.
There are also new features specific to components of Office 12. Word 12 includes a new zoom bar, which is meant to help zoom in and out of text rapidly as well as a new bar at the bottom of the screen that includes word count, page count and other information about the document. Conditional formatting in Excel 12 allows users to spruce up their spreadsheets with colors and effects based on formula outputs. PowerPoint 12 now gives a greater sense of control with more streamlined features. Outlook 12, unlike the rest of the Office suite, did not receive the ribbon. It did get the sleek new interface, a To-Do bar and color coded users, a feature useful in shared environments. Finally, Access was given a new interface to make it easier and faster to rapidly create databases.
Microsoft Office has given the world a standard for documents that has enabled sharing to a level that might not have otherwise been possible. With their latest version they are making their format for documents open source, or freely useable by other organizations, in order to enable people to share documents between applications more freely. With this innovation in the way that Microsoft goes about business, they are joining the packs of companies such as Novell, RedHat and Apple. While Microsoft has been criticized in the past for their fierce competition, this change will actually foster innovation in the field of word processing, spreadsheet creation and presentations. The new format will also allow users to make larger files and shrink existing files, as it splits each file into separate components stored in a .zip format. The new format will have an x at the end of the name of each extension for old formats. For example, Word files would be .docx and PowerPoint files would be .pptx.
There will be an initial learning curve for adopters of Microsoft Office 12, but the productivity enhancements will quickly offset this with the proper training and planning.