Microsoft Office 2007: More Mac-like Than Ever
I tend to like innovative software - software that "thinks outside the box" and provides users with a way to accomplish a task in a straightforward, functional manner without providing hours upon hours of frustration. The best applications let users accomplish a complex task in a simple way, yet still have the capability to do more if the user should desire it.
Apple tends to be excellent at doing just that. The initial version of iMovie was amazing - you could edit videos on your own computer at home without having to buy and learn expensive editing software. The movie editing software was already on the computer you bought; all you needed to do was plug in your camcorder and import your video.
In the age of YouTube, this could be considered something that should be a standard feature of any computer, but iMovie came out in 1999. Microsoft's initial response, Windows Movie Maker, which came with Windows Me in 2000, was fairly basic and didn't provide users the expanse of functionality that iMovie had.
Sometimes applications are just old and stingy - like Internet Explorer was. Apple's response was Safari (2003), and then came was Firefox (2004), which took off to the point of seriously capturing some market share from Internet Explorer. According to InformationWeek, 14% of Internet users in the US are using Firefox, and IE accounts for about 79.6%. (At Low End Mac, January 2007 stats show 34% of visitors using Firefox, 30% on Safari, and 26% with IE. Among Windows users, we estimate 40% are using Firefox, 60% IE.)
Both Safari and Firefox offer better security, tabbed browsing, and built-in RSS readers. They offer several things that versions 5 and 6 of Internet Explorer didn't, and a lot people switched.
Many Windows users still stick with the old version of IE, either not caring enough to switch - or fearing the change. Many haven't updated to IE 7 yet, with 60.7% still using IE 6. (LEM stats show 1/3 of IE users on version 7, 2/3 on version 6.)
Microsoft Office has been one of those stingy, old applications. On the Mac, Microsoft has been more daring with the window palettes replacing the old toolbars in Office 2001, and the new OS X-like interface and transparent Excel graphs and charts in Office v.X.
On the Windows side, however, features have been added constantly with no real change in how they are organised. Pulling down any of the menus reveals a long list of options, many of which are hard to find. Just changing the page layout and line spacing not only occurred in two separate places (unlike on the Mac), but it was placed out of the way in two completely different menus (File and Format).
A lot of Mac users don't expect innovation from Microsoft. After seeing Windows Vista, I didn't particularly expect it either (it acts an awful lot like OS X), but Microsoft Office 2007 (Windows only) far exceeded my expectations.
Firstly, it's a radical departure from Office 2003's very highly text-based interface. 2007 is very visual - almost like iPhoto - with just about every command right on your toolbar and a welcome lack of reliance on buried menu options. For instance, tracking changes is a simple click of an icon on the "Review" section of the "Ribbon", as the new "super-toolbar" is known.
Office 2007 is meant to be user-friendly, and I honestly felt like I was using an Apple application when I first opened it up. Things are simple, straightforward, and easy to figure out. If all you're hoping to do is write a simple letter, stay on the Home section of the Ribbon, and all the options you will ever need are present.
Some people are up in arms, claiming they will never upgrade - or "not for a long time". Would some people rather struggle with a clunky old application that's hard to use and requires classes just to get the basic idea?
No, what people are afraid of is learning something new. They don't want to throw out the many hours they spent learning an earlier version of Office in order to learn to do the same things in a newer version of the same application. That's somewhat valid, but they'd soon realise that the much more efficient organisation of menu options in the Ribbon would make their life easier.
Microsoft was in a position where it's old Office software was fine for many people. For most PC users, any version from 97-2003 was fine and saved the files in the same format. If you could type a paper in Office 97, why upgrade to Office 2003 to do the same thing?
But upgrading to Office 2007 gives people a whole new way to look at creating documents, and I like that. Microsoft was in a position where they needed to find some way to increase sales, and they decided to make user-friendliness the reason to upgrade.
I believe it's a worthwhile upgrade for anyone using a PC.
While you could argue that Microsoft took a page from Apple in regards to the simplicity of the interface, other companies have realised that simplifying things can help them sell, too. For example, Adobe offers its Photoshop Elements application, a more basic version of Photoshop CS2, to consumers who want to have access to some Photoshop functionality but don't want to or need to buy the full application.
But with Office 2007, it's simplified, yet all of the functionality of previous versions is still there.
It's an impressive piece of software, and the fact that it runs on Windows and not on the Mac is pretty close to stunning. Sure, people may put off upgrading. Yes, there's the new file format to deal with (you can change the default to the old format if you want), but eventually people will upgrade.
If for nothing else, they'll upgrade if Office 2007 comes bundled with the next PC they buy.
The Best Is Yet to Come
If this is the Windows version, I can't wait to see what Office 2008, the next Mac version, will be like.
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Links for the Day
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