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By now, you’ve probably
gotten a peak at the radically new interface shipping with Office 2007. From
Word to Excel to PowerPoint, the new interface is designed to increase
efficiency and make it easier for users to find features to get their work done.
The end result is an interface that does make
it easier to get things done, but there are some caveats. In this article, I’ll
provide a detailed overview of the new interface as well as pointing out some
areas of challenge.

Note: Since the
first beta release of Office 2007, I’ve forced myself to use all of the 2007
applications, although I have kept Office 2003 installed “just in
case.” As a result, I’ve been using the new interface for quite a number
of months.

Significant interface changes

As soon as you load an
Office 2007 application for the first time, it will hit you: “Whoa.”
That was pretty much my reaction, even though I’d seen screenshots and other
details. Once it’s on the screen in front of you, it’s a little daunting,
particularly if you’re an Office power user. In fact, Office power users will
probably have the hardest time adjusting to the new interface.

Under the hood—that is,
once you get into a regular dialog box—you’ll notice that many of the dialog
boxes are similar to the ones found in older versions of Office, but the
elimination of the traditional menu bars requires a different way of thinking. In
short, the Office team at Microsoft has thumbed their collective noses at the
traditional interface and created a new way of working. Here are some of the
highlights of the new interface.

The Office button

At the very top left
corner of the Office window, you’ll see what is referred to as the Office
button, mainly because it has the Office logo on it, but also because it gives
you quick access to many of Office’s most important tasks. Among these tasks:
open a document, save your work, print your document, publish
your work to a shared work space, and a lot more. From this button, you can
also access a list of the most recent dozen and other documents you’ve worked
on.

The Office button also
takes all of the non-document related activities and puts them in one spot. By “non-document,”
I mean tasks that do not directly relate to the editing task at hand. These
items include Open, Save, Print, Close, and more. From the button, you can also
configure overall product options. In Word, for example, you can set your
proofing options, save options and more. See Figure A for an example of what you’ll find on the Office button.

Figure A

What’s on the Office button?

Items on the Office
menu that have arrows to the right of the entry have sub-options. For example,
in Excel 2007, when you click on the Office button and hover over Save As, you’re
provided with a list of the possible save options, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Save As menu in Excel 2007

The Ribbon

Goodbye menu bar. Goodbye
traditional menus. Adios toolbars. In most of the Office 2007 products,
Microsoft has foresworn these tried and true interface objects in favor of
something more streamlined: The Ribbon. The Ribbon takes up a good chunk of the
top portion of the screen—the section once occupied by the menu bar and various
tool bars. Your initial use of Office 2007 with the new Ribbon may make you
wonder why Microsoft would use interface real estate in this way but, after
using the Ribbon for a while, you will probably see how its use can result in
significant improvements to the way you work. However, it will take some time,
especially if you’re an Office power user.

Users that are very
familiar with the old Office interface will have the hardest time adjusting to
the new system. See Figure C for a
look at the Ribbon in Word 2007. Figure
D
shows you the Ribbon used in Excel 2007. Notice that the Ribbon is broken
down into a number of tabs, including the Insert tab, from which you can add
visual elements, such as tables, charts and more, to your Word document. The
Page Layout tab replaces the Page Setup dialog and provides a place for you to
change your document’s margins, page size, indentation, and more.

Figure C

The Word Ribbon puts the most necessary items on the Home tab.

Figure D

The Excel ribbon houses Excel-specific tasks.

The Ribbon provides a
contextual experience for your users. By that, I mean that the tabs that are
available on the Ribbon change based on the document context. If a user is
working with a table, for example, a Table Tools section is added to the Ribbon
with Design and Layout tabs. These new tabs are visible only when your
insertion point is within a table, and stay out of your way at other times. Figure E shows you an example of the
Table Tools context sensitive tabs.

Figure E

Context sensitive tabs keeps the clutter out of your interface when it’s
not needed.

If you’re more
comfortable working with a more traditional dialog box, these haven’t been
eliminated from Office. In fact, many of the most common dialog boxes are
accessible via a single click of the mouse. Take a look back at Figures C, D, and E. In the lower
right-hand corner of most of the various sections of the Ribbon, take note of
the small arrow pointing down and to the right. These icons open up the
associated traditional dialog box. For example, if you click on the arrow icon
in the Font section of the Ribbon in Word, the Font dialog box will open. Since
not every single option will fit on the Ribbon, these dialog boxes remain
useful.

In the Ribbon bar, on
the Home tab, you can also see the most obvious example of galleries. A gallery
is basically an example of what a particular style will look like. Word, Excel
and PowerPoint make liberal use of galleries. Word uses them to give you a look
at what would happen if you applied a particular style to your document. Excel
uses them to apply formatting to your spreadsheets and PowerPoint uses them so
you can get a look at what a particular template might look like.

To use a gallery, just hover your mouse pointer over one of the representations in
the Ribbon. In all Office programs that have a gallery, hovering
the mouse pointer over the sample actually temporarily applies that style to
your work. As you move across the gallery, you can see each style in turn. To
apply a particular style to your work, click the style.

Summary

As you can tell, the
Office team at Microsoft has made huge changes to the interface in the Office
products. How well the changes will be received by hard core users has yet to
be determined. In my opinion, the changes, overall, are good. I do like the new
Ribbon and really like the galleries, but the learning curve has been a little
steep. I use Office — particularly Word, Excel, and Outlook — every single
day, and generally all day. In all, it took me a few days to really figure out
where to find everything and I still find myself looking for things that I used
to be able to find. However, once I’ve found something, it’s pretty easy to get
back to it.