Common misconceptions about Office 2007

We answer some common questions about Office 2007 from Office Watch readers

I don’t know whether it’s because of all the Microsoft promotional material about Office 2007 or in spite of it, but looking through the messages from Office Watch readers it’s clear that there are some misunderstandings about Office 2007.

Before you rush off to buy Office 2007, or make a firm decision to stick with what you have – here’s an attempt to set the record straight.

I have to use the new document formats in Office 2007

No, you don’t. It’s quite easy to configure Office 2007 to use the older (doc, xls, ppt) formats as the default format. While the new Office 2007 formats are better and smaller, it’s difficult when everyone you deal with can’t read the formats (despite the free Compatibility Pack )

Not even all Microsoft products have been updated to deal with the new formats so it’s not realistic to expect Office users to make the change immediately.

In Word 2007 go to Word Options | Save | Save files in this format – the equivalent position in Excel 2007 and Powerpoint 2007. This sets the default document type for new documents you create.

You can still read the new document formats or use Save As to make them – at some future time you’ll probably switch to .docx etc as your default formats. The new formats are better in the long run. That choice is yours not Microsoft’s.

The new ribbon interface is too hard

No it isn’t – a lot of the negative press about the Office 2007 user interface is based on people who had not used it, or have only tried it briefly.

For example, we still hear concerns that toolbars only appear when needed (eg the Table tabs show up when you’re in a table). The thought of it brought back memories of the much despised ‘Clippy’, that could be intrusive and troublesome. The Office 2007 ribbon isn’t like that.

When you click on an image in Word 2007 the Picture tabs appear on the ribbon but the focus doesn’t switch from the toolbar you’re on. The relevant tools are offered to you, but not rammed down your throat.

Once you sit down and use the ribbon you’ll see that there are teething troubles but overall it’s a good move. It’s takes a little getting used to, but not as much as you might expect and is worth the trouble.

That’s our opinion, other people may find changing to a new interface is difficult. Even if the new system is better in the medium and long term there is a learning curve in the short run.

One of the Office Watch team said when reviewing this article “I think you’re being overly positive about the impact on ordinary users, especially as to the learning curve that’ll challenge them.”

I’ll have to re-learn everything in Office

We don’t believe so. The Office 2007 ribbon looks quite different at first glance but when you start using it you’ll see that it’s more familiar.

All the standard toolbar buttons are there, just in different places. Some options that used to be on menus are now on the ribbon or in pull-down lists available from ribbon.

The tooltips that appear when you hover over a button are larger and better worded than in the past.

The ribbon is a shiny new exterior for Office but the inner workings are much the same. On many ribbon sections there is a small arrow icon on the bottom right corner, double-click on that and you’ll see the familiar Word dialog. That dialog is the same or similar to the one in Office 2003, Office XP or even Office 2000.

For example, double-click on the Font part of the ribbon to see a Font dialog box that hasn’t changed in any major way for many versions of Office.

Common keyboard shortcuts remain unchanged. Even though the older menus have gone, the shortcuts remain. For example press Alt+T then a key to get to a feature that was on the Tools menu in Word 2003.

The Office 2007 ribbon takes up too much screen space

Microsoft argues that the ribbon takes up a similar amount of space than Office 2003 with a few toolbars added.

While the default Word or Excel 2003 toolbar setup does take up less room (with standard and formatting toolbars on a single line) most people have those two main toolbars on separate lines. In addition there are toolbars for reviewing etc.

Microsoft says that many users suffer from ‘toolbar creep’ with toolbars being added for various reasons but the user doesn’t know how to remove them.

With the Office 2007 toolbars the ribbon is a fixed size, it can’t encroach into more screen space. Unlike previous versions of Office, when you make the window narrower, icons don’t disappear off the right-hand edge. Instead the sections of the ribbon compress to show less on the screen with all the options shown if you click on the ‘down’ arrow at the bottom.

You can also minimize the ribbon using the Ctrl+F1 toggle which leaves only the tabs. Single-click on a tab to see the full ribbon again and it’ll automatically disappear when you’re done. We use the minimize option often on smaller screen laptops.

Office 2007 will run on my existing hardware

This is Microsoft’s common line, as we’ve noted before in Office Watch, and it’s in the company’s interests to downplay the hardware requirements.

Office 2007 will run on machines that would run Office 2003, but Office 2007 will use more computer resources so most people will find that there’s a noticeable performance loss moving to Office 2007 (compared to Office 2003 on the same machine).

That loss isn’t great for Word, Excel or Powerpoint but Outlook 2007 seems to us to be getting hungrier for processor time and memory with every release.

Check out our ‘Real Installation Guide for Office 2007’ to see our recommendations for Office 2007. Certainly, we feel that 1GB of RAM is the minimum memory for practical use of Office 2007 and probably more for heavy use of Outlook 2007.

We’ve been trying Office 2007 on a 64-bit Acer Ferrari laptop with 2GB of RAM (courtesy of Microsoft and Acer) and it’s a considerably better experience than our older machines with a less powerful processor and less RAM.

Office 2007 needs Windows Vista

No it doesn’t. Office 2007 will run quite happily on Windows XP, and in fact there’s an argument for sticking with it and not moving to Windows Vista (at least not yet).

There are benefits to combining Office 2007 with Windows Vista but both are new products and it’s a risk to make two major software changes at the one time. Better to upgrade one, settle in with that, then upgrade the other.

However there’s much to be said for the policy of many Office Watch readers who refuse to upgrade until at least the first major service pack for Microsoft Office.

I have to upgrade to Office 2007

No – sure there’s lot of marketing hype about how wonderful Office 2007 is (partly true) and implying that ‘everyone’ else is switching over (certainly not true). If you’re happy with your current version of Office then there’s quite possibly good reason to stick with it.

Office 2007 is better in many ways, but whether it is worth the high cost of upgrading is something you have to decide yourself. You’ll be frustrated with Office 2007 if your computer hardware isn’t up to it.