Microsoft will release the new Office suite as well as Vista on Nov. 30 and Exchange 2007 in December.
The most noticeable change in Office 2007 for users will be the new ribbon user interface. The ribbon replaces the well known look and feel of the drop-down menus and tool bars in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and the mail editor of Outlook with a colored bar divided into groups of icons and buttons organized by task.
The idea behind the ribbon is to cut down on search time for tasks. It will list the most common tasks or commands in the main ribbon menu while relegating more obscure tasks, or those for certain applications, on menus specific to a given application.
The upside is that command searches have been centralized, making them easier to find, according to Microsoft. The downside, however, is a radically new, unfamiliar realm of tabs and icons users will have to learn.Instincts rule in Office 2007 user interface
"On the one hand, the new UI is more intuitive," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at analyst firm JupiterResearch in New York. "On the other hand, things are no longer where users expect them to be," he said. "For users, it's like getting in a car and the steering wheel is on the wrong side."
The learning curve will be on both ends of the spectrum, said Rob Helm, director of research and desktops for consulting firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. For lower-level users who follow specific commands day in and day out, the command tasks will have to be relearned because they have been moved, he said.
For high-end users, obscure commands will be harder to find. Overall, though, Helm said they will have fewer problems with Office 2007 than with earlier versions. "The difficulty for them with this UI is that obscure commands become more obscure," he said. "They may find that the odd combination of commands they try are no longer honored."
Either way, expect efficiency levels to drop as users adapt, Helm said. Through testing in his own organization, for example, comment and revision tracking on documents are a lot harder to get to than before, requiring a lot more mouse clicks, he said.
The plan at Toledo, Ohio-based healthcare provider HCR Manor Care Inc. is to try out the new interface with a test group, gather feedback and go from there, said Tom Olzak, director of IS Security for HCR.
"Most of our users are healthcare professionals who share the same PCs and just want to easily make changes," Olzak said. "There will be some resistance, and the only way to overcome that is to show them where there are huge benefits to learning something new," he said. "I don't know yet if we'll get that out of Office 2007."
Expect atypical help desk demands
The new Office interface will be a major revamp, but it should be no harder to train employees on it than when his company rolled out a new payroll system or Windows 95, said Bruce Boyce, IT director at Legum & Norman Inc., based in Alexandria, Va. "It will create a burden on the help desk, but [it's] a normal training burden as if we were rolling anything else out," he said.
Office 2007 will be anything but a typical training experience for users, said Chris Shannon, systems engineer, First Merchants Corp. in Muncie, Ind. "It will be a huge training issue because [the interface] is 100% different. I'm not saying it's going to be a nightmare, but we have to have formal training to show them how, and call loads will go up," he said.
Users may also trip up on the new file format in Office 2007, which could generate a greater volume of help desk calls, Gartenberg said.
The bottom line is that for the first time in 10 years Microsoft is changing the native file format for Office.
"This means if one person creates a document in the new version of Office and sends it to someone with an older version, they will not be able to view the document," Gartenberg said. "Users will have to be trained to save in old file formats, or the IT person will have to install a converter and show users how to use it if everyone isn't upgraded at the same time."
Another change to the interface is the "galleries" feature, which will give a preview of the changes that a command would make to a document before that command is executed.