When my daughter was in grade school, she was excited because she knew all the answers in her new computer class. She'd been using a computer since age 4. But one day she asked me a question about computers and I provided the answer. She suddenly looked sad.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I felt like I was so smart in computer class today, but now talking to you I realize how much I don't know yet!"
I assured her she was smart and tried to provide a little analogy. "Think of technology as a ladder...one that has no end. We're all learning and there will always be more to learn. Maybe I'm a bit higher up on that ladder than you are. But also realize that when I look up...there are a lot of people who are ahead of me, too. So when you feel frustrated because you feel like there are too many people who know more than you do ...stop and look down! Realize that you've come a long way and there are a lot of people who haven't gotten to your level! In fact, look back and see all those people who haven't even gotten to the first rung of that ladder! Don't focus on how much there may still be ahead of you...but stop and look at how far you've come already!"
She felt better. I've also shared that story with my students over the years to give them some perspective when they start feeling overwhelmed by technology.
Every office has a few gurus. They can give you the answers, but it can also be frustrating wondering how you're ever going to know as much about software as they do. All those toolbars, dialog boxes and lists of commands can be daunting. But a change is coming! Microsoft has given the next version of Office a major makeover. They hope the changes will help level the playing field.
Office has a totally new look, feel and in many cases, a new way of working. This change may prove frustrating to some power users because they will need to tackle a learning curve to get a job done. But for the newbie or average user, this change should prove exciting. Microsoft has worked hard to make their Office programs easier to use. I must say they've done a pretty nice job of it. You no longer will need to know a dozen commands to "get to" the one command you need to use. Complex programs like Microsoft Word now do more to show you what you will most likely want to do next.
The good news is that less experienced users should get fewer gray hairs trying to produce documents. Plus, those documents will look more professional with less work! The bad news is that those users who are stuck in the mud and don't like change and like to do things the way they've always done them may quickly become frustrated! But if these folks learn to go with the flow a bit, my guess is that many will soon learn that it's easier to learn a few new tricks versus trying to fight it. At least, that's what I've learned over these last months of testing the beta (pre-release) version of Office 2007.
In this article, I'll give you a preview of Office's new look along with a few tips I've learned about mastering this new format.
Right now, anyone can now get a copy of the Beta version of Office 2007 and give it a try. You don't have to just sit back and listen to what some techie tells you about the program, you can experience it for yourself because Microsoft has opened Beta 2 up to the public. However, you do need to understand that this is not trial software! It is software that is still in the testing phase.
If you don't have some experience and knowledge about dealing with pre-release software, you do not want to install it on your only home computer. But if you can read, follow directions, and aren't afraid to reconfigure your computer (if need be), you may want to check out Office 2007 Beta 2. To do so, go to this link. Read and follow the directions to download the beta:
If you're not brave enough or you don't have the right hardware to give the beta a test run, you can still learn a lot about what is coming down the pipe by checking out this Office 2007 Preview link:
Whether you give the beta a try yourself or just want to keep up on news about Office and discuss issues with those who are testing it, you may want to join my free Office 2007 user group. You'll find it here:
The new Ribbon is the biggest conversation piece in Office 2007. All menus, toolbars and many of the dialog boxes that were in previous versions of Microsoft Office applications are history. They're gone!
Figure 1. Word 2003's Insert Menu
To work in Office 2007, you need to learn how to use the Ribbon.
Figure 2. Word 2007's new Insert "Ribbon"
I must admit that when I looked at Word 2007 for the first time (and even several times after that), I was a bit panic-stricken because I was totally lost. I have been able to make Word sing and dance for many years and now it's all different. Plus, this is the program in which I make a living. Yikes!
But with a little practice, experimentation and reading the help files, you'll learn that the Ribbon is not really as frightening as it first appears.
For example, consider this scenario. You have to write a report for your company. You want it to look nice, but you don't have much experience with document design. How many of you have ended up with a report "cover" that looks like this one?
Figure 3. A generic report cover.
Pretty boring, huh? Since you have a deadline, you don't have the time to learn how to be a graphic designer. This layout is the best you could do on short notice.
However, with Word 2007, you can click the Cover Page icon on the Insert Ribbon to instantly add a professional looking report title page. You just click the Insert tab to display the Insert Ribbon and then click the Cover Page within the Pages group (or chunk, as the Ribbon groups are also known).
Figure 4. Your cover page choices.
As you can see in Figure 4, you have a choice of several, very nice looking cover pages. You can just select the one you want and a new page is added to the top of the report. You just click and type in the editable areas to type in the content.
Figure 5. A new cover page.
Here's another situation. Suppose you need to add a little diagram to your report. Rather than messing with those simple drawing images from Word 2003, with a click in Word 2007, you can insert a quick Smart Art diagram to convey your point.
Figure 6. A new Smart Art diagram.
With just two clicks, you can add the diagram and apply a sharp looking, shiny 3D effect. Yes, you have to type in the content, but the content containers ask you what to type into each display (as shown in Figure 7). It's so easy, even my mother could do this!
Figure 7. Content containers ask you what to type.
This type of automation is why I think Office 2007 is going to level the playing field for new users a bit. Although many people will still wrestle with the program trying to design their own, custom pages, newbies will be able to just click on predesigned elements and get on with their work.
Another cool feature of Office 2007 is that many formatting icons give you a Live Preview of what your document would look like before you commit the changes to your document.
For example, check out Figure 8. My current text is still Normal style, but as I mouse over the other styles, the text in the document changes to show me what it will look like if I click and choose this style.
Figure 8. Live Preview.
Many things have moved in Office 2007, so you will need to figure out where all your favorite commands have gone. However, those of you who have learned all those shortcuts over the years will be glad to know that most of them will still work. I soon discovered that if I couldn't find a command, I could just press the old shortcut keys and voila, the commands still worked!
The Help system in Office 2007 is like most help systems in most software. It leaves a lot to be desired. But one thing that is helpful is that you can easily find help locating the new commands. If you're not connected to the Internet while you are checking the Help files, you'll be somewhat limited in the amount of information that is available. But if you press F1 for Help and type 2003 commands, you'll find a document listing details about where Microsoft hid all your old favorites, as shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9. Where'd they go?
If you have online access, you can type the same search term (2003 commands) into the help, and you'll see a link to an Interactive page that compares commands from Office 2003 with 2007. When you open that page, you can click the Start The Guide link to move to a Microsoft ActiveX page. On this page, you see the 2003 version of the application, so you can click an old menu command to find the location of the new command in the 2007 version.
Figure 10. An Active X Page with help on new commands.
Here's one final tip I often tell my students. When in doubt, try right-clicking! Many of the old right-click menus still exist.
Figure 11. Try right-clicking.
No More Toolbars?
For power users, the new XML file format (.docx) is a little troubling. Although the new format may prove to be more stable than the old .doc format, it means some things we've done for years will be different. For example, Office 2007 doesn't have toolbars anymore, so many of the custom toolbars you created in the past may not work. I say "may" because some of your previous customizations could end up in the Add-Ins tab.
Although customizing the Ribbon is possible, you'll need to be somewhat of an XML developer to learn how to do it.
Okay, so now you might be wondering how you can easily access your favorite commands. In Office 2007, you now have the QAT. (Which no one has clearly decided how to pronounce yet...some say Q-A-T, some say quat, and my screen reader says CAT.) Whatever you call it, the QAT, or Quick Access Toolbar, is a simple way to add tools you need to access quickly. Thankfully, it's easy to use and you can continually customize it.
Figure 12. The QAT.
The QAT default location is at the top of the screen along the title bar, but you can easily move it below the Ribbon, which is where I prefer it. When you see a command you want to keep handy, just right click and add it to the QAT.
Figure 13. Add your favorite stuff to the QAT.
You can remove items from the QAT just as easily with another right click.
The Office Button
The Office Button is another new item. Rather than having File as the first, main menu, the large Office Button appears in the upper/left corner. It contains most of the old File commands, along with many other application-specific commands. It's also where you'll find all of the customizable Options.
Figure 14. The Office Button.
In previous versions, you selected Tools|Options to change settings. But then again, some options were also found by choosing Tools|Customize, and even a few other menu options for custom settings, such as AutoCorrect options. Now everything is in one place under Word Options, which you access from the Office button.
Figure 15. Changing options.
As with previous versions, you should spend some time snooping around the Options. It's a great place to figure out what the program can do. Changing the options to suit the way you work will save time and aggravation, since you can tell the program not to do things you don't want it to do.
So when will all these Office changes hit your life? As of this writing, Microsoft has announced a further delay in the debut of the final version of Office 2007. Originally, the plan was that it would be available to corporate users in the fall of 2006 and hit the public shelves in January of 2007. That time table has been pushed out a bit and may change yet again as Microsoft attempts to release the new version of Office 2007 along with the new version of Windows (called Vista) in the coming year.
Although I'm excited about the new version, there are a lot of new things to learn and old tricks that you won't need or won't work. Granted, a compatibility pack is available so you will be able to work with legacy document files from previous versions, but I still plan to keep Word 2003 around for some time to make sure I can properly deal with compatibility issues.