Hands up if you upgraded to Office 2003. While some of us probably use Microsoft's recently succeeded productivity suite, there wasn't a rush to buy when it went onsale. Businesses, in particular, may well have upgraded in the three years it's been around, but many more will have been content with their software and stuck with it. See also: Office 2013 review.
After all, there's not a lot wrong with Office 2002, XP or even 98. Or should that be that there's not enough to grumble about to justify an upgrade that'll cost a couple of hundred pounds?
So Microsoft is likely to have a hard sell on its hands. Becta (the British Education and Communications Technology Association) has already warned UK schools to hold off on upgrading to Vista and Office 2007. Sensibly, Becta knows that organisations would be better to wait until bugs and other issues that gradually come to light have been ironed out. Nevertheless we're pretty gung-ho about Office 2007. It's not just an incremental change here and a tweak there - Microsoft has overhauled the whole look and how you interact with it. It now features a chunky toolbar, known as a ribbon, which houses tools in a far more intuitive way than previous Office iterations.
Cleverly, the ribbon learns which tools you use most often and serves them up without you even having to ask. It's a welcome change from hunting through endless menus and submenus, as was required by earlier editions.
We'll talk you through these changes, introduce you to and review in detail the slicker, slinkier applications in Office 2007. We'll assess who'll benefit most from making the upgrade, but consider the free alternatives for those who want a strong set of tools without the outlay.
Microsoft Word 2007
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Microsoft Word 2007, the most frequently used application in the Office suite.
Microsoft Excel 2007
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Microsoft Excel 2007, the king of spreadsheets.
Microsoft Outlook 2007
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Microsoft Outlook 2007 and its helpful interface enhancements.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2007
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Microsoft PowerPoint 2007, which has received its meatiest make-over in years.
Microsoft Access 2007
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Microsoft Access 2007, which features beefed-up security tools and improved usability.
If you've followed Microsoft Office through its succession of lacklustre upgrades, you might be excused for yawning at the prospect of the 2007 version. Well, wake up: the 2007 Office isn't just another collection of incremental tweaks. Like any software that undergoes significant interface changes, the 2007 apps impose a more demanding learning curve than their predecessors. But the adjustment’s worthwhile. You can install the suite from the DVD that comes with the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, and check it out for yourself.
In determining the overall suite's rating, we used the £330 version (Microsoft Office Standard 2007), which bundles all the reviewed apps. We weighted the price component slightly lower than design, features, and performance, since we figure that people who need Microsoft Office will end up buying it despite its hefty cost. The applications we reviewed sport both a dramatic new look and new XML-based default file formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The redesigned interface makes finding and using these applications' powerful features much easier, and it's especially useful if you want to make your documents look their best. The XML file formats reduce file size, let corporate users easily transfer information between applications, and automate formatting and other changes across huge libraries of documents. Since they're based on an open Microsoft spec, rival apps should eventually be able to duplicate and work with Office documents.
For network-connected workers, the suite provides more tools than ever, including the Office Groove collaboration app, and support for wikis and blog posts. These features become even more useful for enterprises that invest in Office server products, such as SharePoint Server or Groove Server.
A whole new look
The sweeping design changes in Office 2007 can be unsettling. Instead of depending on myriad cascading text menus and skinny taskbars, most of the action in Office now takes place in a fat band or ribbon. It appears where the taskbars used to be and displays features that change as you click the different menu bar tabs.
You may have to scramble at first to find the new locations of familiar options. But the ribbon will also introduce you to tools and commands you never knew existed. In addition it supports a useful new feature called live preview. Select all or a portion of your document, hover your mouse over a formatting option, and you'll see how it changes the document’s appearance. If you like how it looks, simply click to apply the change.
In case you miss having a few commands at hand, the Quick Launch toolbar gives you a place to pin commands from any of the ribbons. It’s not perfect: we miss being able to add boilerplate text with a single mouse click on one of the AutoText toolbar buttons we created. But by default, the Quick Launch toolbar includes some useful commands, including Undo and Save buttons.
Microsoft's decision to use its Open XML file formats (distinguishable from the old formats by the addition of the letter x to the file extension - .docx, .xlsx, or .pptx) as the defaults in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will irritate people who don't have the 2007 versions of these apps and receive documents from people who do.
If you use an older version of Office, you need the free 27MB 2007 Office Compatibility Pack download. With the Compatibility Pack installed, Office XP and 2003 users will be able to open, edit, and save Open XML files.
Meet the suites
The cheapest retail suite is the Home and Student 2007 edition (£99), which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the OneNote note-taking application. Next up is the £330 Office Standard 2007 edition reviewed here; it substitutes Outlook for OneNote. The Small Business 2007 edition (£380) swaps OneNote in favour of the Publisher desktop-publishing tool, and adds Outlook with Business Contact Manager. The £280 Professional edition adds the Access database program to the Small Business lineup, and the Office Ultimate edition (£575) introduces a whole slew of other business-focused titles such as the Groove 2007 collaboration application.
There are also three versions not for retail sale: Basic 2007 (with just Word, Excel and Outlook) will ship on new PCs; Professional Plus and Enterprise 2007 will be available only to big businesses. If you currently use practically any recent Office program or Works suite there are substantial upgrade discounts available.
The FREE atternatives
Click here for PC Advisor's review of OpenOffice Writer, the longest-standing free alternative to MS Office.
Click here for PC Advisor's review of OpenOffice Calc, a spreadsheet application that compares well with its Microsoft Office equivalent.
Google Docs & Spreadsheets
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Google's web-based office software.
Click here for PC Advisor's review of Mozilla Thunderbird, a useful one-stop shop for communication.