One Easy Upgrade: Office 2007
While Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, has come under sharp criticism from many users, another major Microsoft upgrade has gone more smoothly: Office 2007. And that's despite the kind of look-and-feel changes that usually make consumers jumpy. If you're pondering an upgrade, here are some of the pros and cons:
It looks different. The new Office has an entirely different appearance, moving functions onto a "ribbon" that fills the top of the screen with icons instead of the familiar drop-down menu choices. Whoathat messes with nearly two decades of ingrained habits, and it takes getting used to. Plus, the new look is not yet universal across all the Office components. But once you've learned how to use the ribbon, Office is easier to useespecially for newcomers unfamiliar with prior versions of Office.
Most of us don't need an upgrade. Besides a new look that makes Word, Excel and PowerPoint simpler, the programs pick up useful functions, such as seeing instantly how format options would alter a Word document. But the more powerful improvements are for big companies that use software to encourage "collaboration," the sharing of ideas and work between employees. Home users don't generally need that.
Don't fear an upgrade. Installing Office 2007 is far less painful than moving to Vista. Office doesn't mess with other software the way an operating system does. It interacts less with hardware, too, so there should be no Vista-like problems with incompatible drivers. There's a bit of grief that comes with learning a new way of doing things, but the gains are worth the effort. So if Office 2007 comes preloaded on a new computer, don't fretembrace it.
You can't avoid it completely. Even if you don't make the move now, others willmaking your life tougher, because Office 2007 changes the file formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. To keep up, users of older Office versions should install free software from Microsoft that lets them read and write documents in the new file format.
There are alternatives. Competing programs like OpenOffice, ThinkFree, and GoogleApps offer most, if not all, of the functions that typical users need from Office. The suites can handle files created by most versions of Office and offer all the essential formatting and editing tools. Even better: They're free. That has forced Microsoft to make the new Office better, not just different. "Microsoft needed to take some risks to keep their products ahead of the competition," says analyst Michael Silver at Gartner, a market research firm. But we'll know Microsoft is really getting the message when it drops the price of Office upgrades, which start at a steep $150.