The chances are that anyone using a Windows based PC has come across a version of Microsoft Office over the years. I remember installing Office 4.3 back in the 90’s from 32 floppy disks. Then came Office 95 which was launched to coincide with Windows 95. This version was fairly buggy in my opinion and was quickly followed by Office 97 which was possibly the most popular version of the office suite to date. Microsoft continued to release a new version every 2 to 3 years with the arrival of Office 2000 and then Office XP in 2002. The next version, Office 2003 was released almost immediately after. This seemed a strange decision as Office XP seemed to behave perfectly well to me. There then followed a four year gap to Office 2007 which is currently the latest version of the suite. This version saw the most radical changes since the transition from Office 4.3 to Office 95. We will go into the details shortly.
The software comes on two DVD disks, the first one is the Microsoft Office 2007 software itself, the other is Office Communicator 2007 which I have not installed and will not be discussed in this review.
To install the software, insert the main Office disk into your DVD drive and let it start up automatically. At the beginning of the installation, you will need to provide the 25 digit serial number to confirm that you are using a legitimate copy of the software. After you have done this, sit back for around 10 minutes depending on the speed of your machine and let the computer do the rest.
Once the installation has finished, you will need to activate the software with the Microsoft online servers within the first 60 days of use to complete the registration. Failure to do this will mean that you can now only view documents and will be unable to create new ones.
==The Office Suite==
Microsoft Office 2007 is a collection of programs (this is the correct spelling for a computer program) which serve to aid users in their day to day business operation. Many of these programs will be familiar to frequent computer users but some of the lesser known programs will still be a mystery to a lot of users. This is not a full review on each program as this review would be unbearably long and boring. It is intended to give an insight into all of the programs that make up the suite.
Microsoft Word has now been the industry standard word processor for over a decade, since the demise of WordPerfect in the mid 90’s Word has been left pretty much unchallenged for this crown.
If you have used any of the previous versions of Word then you are in for a real surprise with the 2007 offering. This now looks completely different to its predecessors, buttons have now moved from their normal positions in the tool bar and instead are on panels supposedly grouped together with other items of similar functionality. For example, if you want to spell check your document, the ABC icon is no longer visible on the main screen and it is not really obvious where you will find it. After a few seconds of rummaging around the menus, you’ll eventually find it under the review heading.
All these visual changes in my opinion are unnecessary and only serve to confuse the user. As someone who still uses Office 2003 at work, it is a nightmare trying to find something that is easy to do in 2003. In fact, after using Word 2007 for 18 months it is still difficult to get used to it.
What is good about Word 2007 is that you can now save your document as a PDF file without the need for a dedicated PDF writer installed on your PC. This is great for emailing documents that you do not want people to have the ability to change. It is worth noticing that the standard file extension for Word 2007 is now docx as opposed to doc. This means that any file with a docx extension will not open in a previous version of Word. If you need to do this (and you will if you are circulating a document to multiple recipients) you will need to force Word to save the file as a Word 97-2003 .doc file.
Excel 2007 is a spreadsheet application which allows the analysis and manipulation of numerical data. As with Word, the interface for Excel has had a drastic rework from the earlier versions. Strangely though, in my opinion, this change has made Excel easier to use as now, things like graphs and pictorial representation of the data has its own enhanced section and some of the things you can now do look just as professional as a proper reports package such as Crystal. There is now more emphasis on third party data with connections to other systems like Microsoft Access and Microsoft SQL Server meaning you can seamlessly interact with data from these heavy duty database applications. If number crunching is your thing then you can’t fail to be impressed with Excel 2007, it really is a massive step forward from anything that we have seen before.
As with Word, Excel now uses a new file format, namely xlsx. To produce spreadsheets in a format readable by Excel 97-2003 you will need to manually select this format when saving the document.
Now, as someone who has developed software over the years, I’ve often found myself using Microsoft Access a lot. Access has always been the one Office application that has had problems being backward compatible with previous versions. Whereas Word and Excel would quite happily open in older versions, you have to implicitly tell access which version you want your database to be compatible with. This can lead to all kinds of problems when you want to share the database with other users who all have different versions of Access.
The Access interface has stayed pretty consistent for the past 15 years but Access 2007 presents the user with perhaps the biggest change in the entire office suite this time around.
Key operations such as table, query, form, report and module design are no longer the main focus of the interface. In my opinion this is a bizarre decision from Microsoft as without using these operations, there is no database, end of story. In their wisdom, Microsoft has decided to hide this content under the Create menu. When you finally get to this menu, things start to look familiar again and anyone familiar with Access should now be able to start work in earnest.
The main enhancement in Access 2007 is its close links with Microsoft SQL server. In previous versions, it was possible to make this link via something called an ODBC link. Access 2007 now makes it easier to connect to third party databases.
There is undoubtedly a steep learning curve to using Access, loosely speaking it’s a form of programming at a very high level and this fact puts a lot of people off using it. As Access is very particular about versioning, You cannot simply open an Access 2003 database in Access 2007, you either need open it as read only or convert it to the newer format. This is the only Office program where I have had the need to install two different versions.
PowerPoint is one of my pet hates. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had to sit through slide after slide of constant drivel. In my opinion, PowerPoint is responsible for allowing presenters up and down the country to produce the same unoriginal presentations, if you’ve sat through one PowerPoint presentation, you’ve sat through them all!. PowerPoint 2007 is actually very similar in layout to PowerPoint 2003. The menu items along the top are much more obvious than those in Word and because of this, the navigation is simple. As a limited user of PowerPoint, the only real noticeable difference from earlier versions is the inclusion of SmartArt. SmartArt basically allows you to group images together on a slide. This could actually be accomplished by creating the images individually but SmartArt does seem to do this in a much more efficient way.
To summarise, PowerPoint 2007 seems to have very few changes in it since PowerPoint 2003. If your main reason for upgrading to this version of Office is for PowerPoint then I would advise you not to bother as you will not be getting anything extra that you cannot already do.
If you have a business email client on your office PC, the chances are that it will be Outlook (not to be confused with Outlook Express that used to get installed with Internet Explorer prior to Windows Vista). Outlook is an excellent piece of software for organising your appointments and task list as well as being the home for your email. As with PowerPoint, the 2007 version of Outlook offers very little in terms of enhancements from previous versions. This is not to be seen as a bad point as it doesn’t actually need enhancing.
When you create appointments with Outlook, you are able to set reminders that will pop up a set time before the event, you then get the chance to dismiss this reminder so that it will never appear again or you can snooze it for a user defined duration. If you have a busy lifestyle this really is a godsend as it almost seamlessly manages your schedule and warns you if you double book. If you use Outlook in a business environment, you can even share calendars with your colleagues but as this requires Microsoft Exchange Server, it is not really a function the home user can make use of. If you use a web based mail provider such as hotmail or googlemail, you can still make use of Outlook although I would say that web based mail is best left on the web where you can retrieve it from anywhere. Once mail is downloaded into Outlook, then it is only available on that one computer.
Microsoft Groove 2007 is a new product in the Office suite. It is mainly aimed at business users who share a specific job role. With Groove you can share files, hold discussions and/or meetings in the form of a chat room style scenario. This software would be a very valuable tool for a department which is based over several sites.
Infopath is an electronic form designer. These forms can then be published either in infopath itself or via a web browser. This is a very powerful tool for capturing any data an organisation deems necessary. Data is captured in the industry standard XML format meaning that it can be analysed in almost any data driven application on the market today. Of course, Microsoft really want you to do this analysis in either Excel or Access so there are automatic integration options with these programs.
Microsoft Publisher is a nice application for the home user. If you want to make invites for a party, thank you cards for Granny or a calendar filled with your kids photos, you won’t find a better application than this. There are however, a million and one other things you can do with publisher if you have the time and patience to sit and play around with it such as actually producing a professional looking flyer or newspaper.
Publisher 2007 actually feels completely different to the rest of the office suite. Just as you have got used to the new menu structure and the zones, Publisher goes back to the traditional menu approach which leaves you asking the question ‘What exactly has changed from the previous version’. Even the file extensions still appear to be compatible with previous versions, again leaving me to question whether this is actually Publisher 2003, just with a new name. Saying that however, this is still a fun package to use and mess around with at Christmas time for example, just to see if you can come up with the perfect Christmas card.
Obviously not everyone is going to want to pay for Microsoft Office, so what are the alternatives? Well you will be pleased to know that there is a very good competitor on the market called Open Office by Sun Microsystems (http://www.openoffice.org/). Open Office is a free alternative and contains most of the applications that Microsoft Office does (Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Database, Presentations and Graphics), it is also Microsoft Office compatible which means that if someone sends you a document created in Microsoft Office, then it will open perfectly in Open Office. With over 100,000,000 downloads worldwide, Open Office is probably more popular than the Microsoft version and with the current cutbacks that companies are making, a lot of them are now turning to Open Office as there corporate software suite.
There is no denying the quality of Microsoft Office 2007 but is it worth buying. The simple answer is yes, the more in-depth answer will depend on your own personal taste and requirements. Office 2007 represents a massive change from anything that you have seen before in the Office family and this change may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some users will like it due to its intuitive grouping of functions whereas others will hate it as things have moved off the main toolbar and they are not always easy to find. The new document extensions will also catch a lot of people out.
There is a lot of software in this version that most people will hardly use, if at all. For the home user, Microsoft Office 2007 Standard Edition will be a better choice, this contains all of the core applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) but doesn’t include the more specialised ones.