Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First impression of next version of MS Office (Office 12)

Note: This article has been re-written to incorperate new ideas and outlooks on the situation/product.

Microsoft’s next version of the Office suite, called Office 12, is an interesting ramification of Microsoft's 2007 strategy. This strategy will use Windows Vista, .NET, XML, WiFi, and WinFS to completely re-design the computing landscape. Office 12 is due in late 2006 (so expect it to arrive mid 2007), and will be available on both Windows XP/2000 and the new Windows Vista (Longhorn).

Office 12's interface looks completely different from the old version, it uses Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly code name "Avalon"), so if you're using Windows XP you'll be forced to install Service Pack 3. This picture of Word shows the new menu system and if you look closely, you’ll see that the only drop down menu is the file option, the rest are ‘command tabs’ that change the toolbar below it.

The new menu system would be especially helpful for the more complex applications like Excel and Access. Access had spent too long with its clunky interface, so I was especially relieved when I saw the new ‘access objects’ sidebar. I was even more so when I saw the tabs along the top. I also think Excel will benefit greatly from having related tasks grouped together. No more looking for buttons, when you’re doing page layout you only see layout stuff, when you’re doing formula work you only see formula stuff, it’s great.

The PowerPoint interface looks great. This article from Cnet claims that PowerPoint will automate the document process so that users can “quickly create documents that look good”. I can’t help wonder if more automation would create more presentations that look the same and have pointless ‘special effects’. I have seen too many tutors skip through animations that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The other major feature in the upcoming version of Office is a communications package, which includes Voice over IP (internet phone) and some XML based tools. Very little information has been released on this feature.

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