GCN Insider | Office's brand new shine

TRENDS & TECHNOLOGIES that affect the way government does IT

Ever hunted around Microsoft Office and thought, 'I know this function is in here somewhere, I'm just not quite sure where it is?' You're not alone. Julie Larson-Green, group program manager for Microsoft Office, stopped by the GCN offices the other day to show off the design changes for the next-generation Microsoft Office 2007, due later this year for government users. More than cosmetic, the changes are meant to make Office more intuitive for users, she said.

And that was no easy task. The Office suite now has more than 1,500 separate commands, many of which are additions barnacled onto program menus in a seemingly arbitrary manner. The Office team heard from too many people unable to find certain functions they knew existed. Worse, they kept asking for features that Microsoft Office already had, Larson-Green said.

So to simplify matters, the design team did away with the single menu bar that, by default, ran along the top of the open program. Instead, all the commands are divided into two categories. One includes all the actions you can do to a document at a macro level (i.e. save, print or e-mail). This cluster is captured in a button on the left-hand side.

The other category comprises all the things you can do with your working document (change fonts, spellcheck, etc.), and sits on what Microsoft calls a Ribbon, a stripe that runs across the top of the application. From the Ribbon you can pick what you need to do from various thematically clustered icons. The programs feature a number of different thematic ribbons ('Page Layout,' 'Review') that are indexed via Firefox-like tabs.

The team also looked for ways to visualize commands wherever possible. Few people know the command for, say, adding shading to a character, but everyone can recognize a shaded character icon. So the new Office makes visual icons out of as many features as possible. Another new feature, Live Preview, lets you highlight the area you want to change before you actually commit to that change, again the idea being that it's better to see what you're getting before you make a change.

With all these updates, timid souls might ask if the new Office would offer the old look and feel as an option. But there will be no 'Classic Mode,' insisted Larson-Green. Early user tests have indicated the learning curve for the new Office is pretty much nonexistent. We'll find out for ourselves this fall, when the software is introduced to agencies.

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