Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Review and Visual Tour: Microsoft's 2007 Office Beta 2

ComputerWorld has published their Review and Visual Tour: Microsoft's 2007 Office Beta 2 (as well as their (Visual Tour: 20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista... I sense a theme in ComputerWorld's coverage.)

It's an interesting read, and you should take some time to look at it. Here are some highlights of the features covered:
  • No Menus. The "ribbon" is a huge horizontal tabbled panel that replaces the space formerly occupied by your menu and toolbars. It contains a hodge-podge of buttons (some with text, some without), listboxes, spinners, and other controls. It's an interesting feature, but I'm not impressed with the eye-candy. Why not? Because that ribbon comes at the price of a significant amount of screen real estated; and because it represents a fair amount of re-training. For instance, ComputerWorld states, "The File menu is gone; now you have to somehow guess that the big icon in the upper left corner is its replacement." That's not the way to take care of your customers. Compare to OpenOffice.org, which keeps the menus you're used to, but improves the location of a few that were illogically placed in MSOffice.
  • Save to PDF. Welcome to the club, Microsoft; OpenOffice.org has been doing that for some time now.
  • SmartArt. According to CW, "when you add a step to a diagram, the Office application will redraw the image with all components properly resized and rearranged." Well, "properly" is the operative word here, isn't it? Often, any re-arrangement from what you've chosen is improper, but that hasn't stopped Word from re-formatting paragraphs, dropping text, or doing any number of things it deemed "proper" without your permission. Time will tell if this is more of the same. It's worth noting, though, that OpenOffice.org has a fully featured Draw application built right in, and it leaves things where you told it to.
  • Spreadsheet Size. Excel 2007 can handle over a million rows and 16,000 columns per sheet. That's very impressive... however... a spreadsheet is designed to be an interactive tool. If you have a million-row spreadsheet, you're using the wrong tool, and should be using a database to analyze the data. Fortunately, OpenOffice.org ships with a relational database and as built-in support for many others.
  • Conditional Formatting. CW reports that spreadsheet cells can be formatted based on their content. I was wondering what was so special about that, and realized that this is because the feature's already present in OpenOffice.org.
  • Charting. This bears quoting in full: "Charting features have improved; the graphics sport a more polished, up-to-date look. Unfortunately, finding the right set of tools in the ribbon proved frustrating. When a pie chart we created didn't have a title, it took us over five minutes of right-clicking and searching before we found the Chart Layout "contextual tab" -- a subribbon, if you will (see Figure 7). While Microsoft says this user interface feature helps expose functionality only when it's needed, in this particular instance it's a case of a contextual tab/ribbon being too subtle to be noticed." Now, that's not very promising, even aside from the deficient useability. The purpose of charting is to make complicated data clearly understandable. BTW, the 3D charting feature in OpenOffice.org generates fully rotatable, 3-dimensional objects that are quite attractive and clearly depict the data.
  • Excel still has Pivot Table support, though CW calls it "befuddling," and says any improvements are "minor at best". OpenOffice.org also has pivot tables, contrary to some reports: in OpenOffice.org it's called the "DataPilot".
  • The review spends some time looking over Outlook. OpenOffice.org doesn't have an equivalent to Outlook. For that matter, neither does Microsoft; Outlook is a non-starter, and you should be using something other than that security nightmare. I heartily recommend Lotus Notes, which out-does Outlook in every way, in my opinion, and adds in features of the rest of the suite (OneNote and SharePoint) AND more besides, but in a different way. But that's the subject of another blog entry. As of my last upgrade, a Lotus Notes client plus all of OpenOffice.org cost one-tenth of the the cost of Microsoft Office Professional.
The ComputerWorld article concludes much as I do, that the new interface is hit-and-miss, will make all reference materials (and a good number of skills) obsolete, and is likely to adversely affect productivity and the Help Desk, at least initially.

ComputerWorld doesn't compare the new MSOffice 2007 to an upgrade alternative. But let's be clear... have your word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation graphics needs grown beyond what your current software provides? And if so, have they grown in the same direction as Microsoft's suite? If not, you don't need MSOffice 2007. More likely than not, you didn't need MSOffice 2003 over MSOffice97, but upgraded with new machine purposes, or because of support issues from having incompatible versions.

But what you do need is a current software suite that's regularly updated and supported for security reasons. You do need to be able to interchange documents with others, as you can with the ISO standard OpenDocument format used by OpenOffice.org. You do need to be protected against obsolescence.

You can solve all of that... the cost of upgrades, the cost of retro-fitting otherwise serviceable software, the recurring training issues involved, the headaches of shoving data to-from people with other versions of MSOffice; as well as obtaining really useful new functionality (such as PDF export)... by switching to OpenOffice.org and Lotus Notes. I can help you with the upgrade and the training, and for customers in upstate South Carolina I'll even throw in an installation of VIC CRM. Just call 864-427-7008 or email sales@cratchit.org.

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