Up to speed with the new Microsoft Office

Word ribbon: (c) Microsoft

When you open Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Office Excel 2007, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007, or Microsoft Office Access 2007, or when you create a new message in Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, you'll notice that the program window has changed. The old menu and toolbar design has been replaced. How do you use this rich, new design? Read on to find out — and to see how Microsoft Office has gotten simpler and better.

Providing the simplicity you asked for

You might feel slightly off-balance when you first use your favorite Office program. The Office you've used for years looks different now. Naturally, you're a bit at sea. But hang on, get your sea legs, see what it's all about. With a little time and exposure, you'll find that this new design works for you, not against you. Called the Office Fluent user interface, it was developed to provide what Microsoft Office users — possibly you — have asked for: Programs that are simpler to use, with commands that are easier to find.

Making commands easy to find

One example of how commands are easier to find in the 2007 release is the rich display of grouped buttons that you see all along the top of the window. There will be no more hunting for commands. What you need is now exposed and readily available. Instead of having hidden toolbars with commands buried on menus or in separate panes, you now have one control center that's brought the essentials together and made them very visual. And the buttons won't drop off; they'll always be right there.

Showing you just the commands you use

You might think, "All the commands in one place, and all visible? That would take up the whole window." Indeed. So there was another goal in the Office redesign: To reduce the number of commands offered as the primary, most available set, and to narrow them down to the commands you use the most.

Microsoft usability engineers found that people using Office favor a core set of commands, which they tend to use over and over. Those commands have now been made the most prominent.

For example, the Paste command is one of the most frequently used commands in Office. Why not give it maximum priority in the window, along with its related commands, Cut and Copy? These no longer have to share space with a range of remotely related commands on a menu or toolbar. These commands are used most often, so they're the ones that are at your fingertips. Remember: The features you like haven't gone away; they've been arranged according to how much you use them.

Organizing commands to support core tasks

So, commands have been made more visible and reduced in number according to popular use. But how are they organized?

They're organized around the core tasks you'd do in a given Office program. Here's how it works: The Ribbon — the wide band running across the top of the window that contains all the commands — divides up the core tasks for each program, and each of the tasks is represented by a tab. For example, the principal task in Word is to write, and the tab that appears first in that program is the Write tab. The primary commands you need when writing a document are collected on this tab, such as font formatting and text styles.

Note     The Paste, Cut, and Copy commands appear on this tab. These commands are frequently used, and logically go with the main core task of Word: writing. As you click additional tabs, the Ribbon changes, allowing for increased visibility of the commands representing other core tasks in Word. For example, the Insert tab features commands that cover a range of elements you'd insert, from graphics and shapes to hyperlinks, headers, and WordArt. The Page Layout tab, next in order, has all the commands for organizing and formatting the page.

You'll find a similar organization in the other 2007 Microsoft Office system programs, with the first tab including commands for the most important type of work. For example, the primary Excel tab is called Sheet. The primary PowerPoint tab is called Slide. For Access, it's Data, and for Outlook, it's Write, to support composing a new message.

Groups: Commands within the larger task

Let's look a little closer at what's on a tab: Many commands, arranged into sets by function. The sets are called groups, and you could liken them to the toolbars of the past. But their strength is in pulling together all the commands you're likely to need for a type of task, and giving you rich visual aids.

For example, the Write tab includes a group called Quick Formatting, which displays a range of text styles with visual examples, and gives a preview of your selected text in the style you point to.

More commands only when you need them

What about those commands that aren't in the primary groups on the tabs? Instead of making every command available all the time, some commands now appear only in response to an action you take. For example, in PowerPoint, when you insert a picture, you get all the shape alignment and ordering commands; they're no longer buried in submenus.

When you want to save or undo

Office didn't abandon all the toolbars. To support the actions you take most frequently, such as save and undo, there's the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). Its default version has only a few commands, but you can easily customize it to contain any command. Just right-click the command you want to add and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar. You will see an icon for the command appear to the left of the first tab.

Switching views

As an Office veteran, you're used to changing views in the program window, such as switching between Normal and Print Layout views in Word, or Normal and Slide Show views in PowerPoint. Each Office program now includes a view selector in the lower-right of the window. It's accompanied by the View menu, which includes commands for arranging your windows within the program window.

Familiar items

There's still a File menu, with several commands you're used to, along with new options for file management, cleanup, and distribution. You can open familiar dialog boxes by clicking the plus sign on some groups, to see more detailed or advanced options for the commands in the group. Sometimes familiar, though trimmed down, task panes — such as the Styles task pane in Word — will open automatically when you click a command, to help you complete the task.

What about screen real estate?

The Ribbon is scalable, adapting even to tablet-sized screens. It displays smaller versions of tabs and groups as screen resolution decreases. The Ribbon performs well with large screens with high resolution, showing the power and depth of its design.

More that's new, more that's familiar

There's more to discover that should please you about the 2007 release. You'll see this in detail the more you use the programs:

  • Starting your file

    When you start a new document, worksheet, slide show, or database, you'll get a full, colorful window for getting started. Choose from the catalog of template or article links to Office Online to jump-start your authoring work. Or start with a new or existing file, as you're accustomed to doing.

  • Finishing your file

    The File menu is more multifaceted now. Located on the upper left corner of the Ribbon, it has the basic commands you'd expect: Save, save as a new file, and print. It's also where you select settings for the program, such as for printing, checking spelling, and the default file view.

    Additionally, there is support here for checking that a file has no more revision marks or other private information, and for distributing the file to a shared workspace.

  • Keyboard shortcuts

    All old shortcut keys that start with CTRL are retained. So are the function keys.

    New shortcut keys that start with ALT are clearly indicated on the screen. Just press and hold the ALT key and Office shows the letter for each tab, group, and command.

    Note:     You can select a program setting to turn on the shortcut keys starting with ALT that are used in Office 2003 if you want.

  • File formats

    In the 2007 release, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have embraced the Microsoft Office Open XML Formats, which means that their default file formats are now based on Extensible Markup Language (XML). Benefits of the change include increased security for your files; reduced chance of file corruption; reduced file size; and data sharing across a range of storage and retrieval systems. You can save your 2007 Microsoft Office system files in the older formats if you choose, but you'll lose these advantages.

    For documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, the default file format now has an "x" on the end of the file extension, indicating XML. If you save the file as a template, the same applies: You get the template extension of old, with an "x" on the end: .xlsx in Excel, for example. If your file contains code or macros, you have to save it using the new macro-enabled file format. For a Word document, that translates into .docm; for a Word template, .dotm. There will be two versions of zipped files — those with no code in them (.docx, .xlsx and .pptx) and those with macros enabled (.docm, .xlsm, .pptm and some others).

  • Version compatibility

    If you open a file that was created in a previous version of Office, you will be asked if you want to convert it to the new format. If you say yes, the document will be saved in the new XML format. If you choose to not convert the file, it will retains its original format. You can open and modify it in the 2007 Microsoft Office system, but some features of the 2007 release won't be available.

    If you are using an earlier version of Office and you receive a file that was created in the 2007 release, you need to download a converter in order to read and edit the 2007 Microsoft Office system file. You can download a convertors here.

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