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Office 2007 First Look
Posted by: Dale Franks on Monday, March 26, 2007

Because I am a participant in the Microsoft Partner Program, I have access to something called the Action Pack. It's actually a pretty good deal for small businesses like mine that work with Microsoft technologies. For an annual subscription fee of $299, you get 10 desktop licenses for all of the Microsoft Office Enterprise applications (Including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Infopath, Groove, Visio, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Project, MapPoint, etc), as well as all of the primary server and OS technologies (Sharepoint, Win2k3 Server, SQL Server, Vista, Small business Server, Exchange server etc.), all of which can be used for your own business' use. For as long as you pay $299 a year, anyway, else you have to uninstall the lot of it.

Still, it's an exceptional value, considering that a single licensed copy of Office 2007 alone costs upwards of $800.

So, I've finally gotten around to installing and using Office 2007, and have been running it for about two weeks now.

Under the hood, there are some neat things. For instance, all Office Documents are now XML files. Actually, a bunch of XML files. The new file extension for Word Documents has also been changed from .doc to .docx, although you can still save your documents in the old format.

If you take a Word 2007 file, and change the file extension from .docx to .zip, you can open it up as a zip archive. When you do, what you see a whole bunch of XML files. the Office 2007 document isn't a "document" as such. Instead, it is a container for a bunch of XML documents, all of which can be viewed in a text editor.

The old versions of word stored all of the metadata such as styles, fonts, footnotes, etc., in the document itself, making it inaccessible to you. isn't. That's pretty cool, although, having said that, I can't envision too many times when I'd actually want to go in and edit all those XML files. So, it's cool, but...useless for any conceivable purpose for the user.

As for using Office to do my day-to-day work...I don't love it.

I'd like to, but I can't, because Microsoft, in its wisdom, has decided that they don't want me playing around with their product any more. Office 2007 has a huge, glaring deficiency that really just spoils all the new goodies for me.

To explain, let's take a look at Office 2003.

Word 2003 Interface

This is the traditional Microsoft Word Interface that has been basically unchanged since Office 4.3 for Windows 3.11. The most fantastically useful thing about this interface is that is can be almost completely customized.

And I do a lot of customization of the interface.

For instance, I do a lot of my blog posts in Word, and to help me do so, I have VBA macros that insert the appropriate HTML markup into the text of the post I'm writing. I've replicated the tools available to authors in the .Blog admin interface. To access that code, I have a custom toolbar I created for HTML commands.

Word custom toolbar

From left to right, the tools on this toolbar stuff in the HTML tags for Bold, Italic, Hyperlinks, Blockquoted text, the cool Hidden Blockquote that .Blog uses, Superscript, left and right guillemots, bulleted lists, numbered lists, images, the URL for books, and the Drop Cap used as the first letter of this post. So, in previous versions of Word, not only can I make custom toolbars, I can create custom button images for the tools, so I can see at a glance what the tool does.

Well, kiss all that goodbye.

The new Interface for Microsoft Office is a radical departure from what we're all used to. Here's what the new Word interface looks like.

Word 2007 interface

There are no longer any menu commands, such as File, insert, View, etc. Instead, the new interface introduces an entirely new toolset.

Word 2007 detail view

The "Office Button" is a round button that drops a menu down—the only menu left in Office—that more or less corresponds to the old "File" menu. Instead of menus, the Office interface uses a series of tabs. Each tab, when clicked, exposes an entirely different set of Ribbon controls. On each ribbon control are the buttons that correspond to the traditional tool buttons.

Above the ribbons, along the left side of what used to be the title bar, is a single row of tools called the Quick Access Toolbar. This is the only part of the Office Interface that can be customized. If you have special macros, you have to add them to this toolbar.

To make matters worse, when you add your custom macros to this Quick Access toolbar, you can no longer customize the button images. Instead, what Microsoft has done is to provide a much larger selection of pre-made tool icons from which to choose.

Custom Button Images

Microsoft says, "Well, now, don't you worry your pretty little head about making your own custom tool buttons. because we've given you a whole bunch of them! Isn't that a nice, large selection of pretty button icons?"

Well, yeah, it's a much larger selection of buttons, and they sure are pretty. There's only one problem.

They don't mean anything! And, of those that do mean something, they replicate tool icons that already exist for existing features! Every time I look at that dialog box, I feel like Charlton Heston being sprayed by a firehose in the human cage: It's a madhouse! A madhouse!

Which of these buttons let's me know I'm inserting guillemots? Which one is the HTML Bold or Italic Button? Which one is the dropcap button? I don't know, because those images are so generic that most of them could mean anything.

"Well," you think, "that is kind of a problem. But, why not just display the macro name in text on the Quick Access toolbar? That way you can just read what the macro button is for."

That would be a great solution. If it were possible. Which it isn't.

Essentially, what Microsoft has done is to make any personalized customization impossible for the average user.

Oh, if you're a programmer, you can customize the hell out of the interface. You can simply change the ribbon components to suit you, and display any tool you'd like.

First, you open up a text editor, like notepad, and you write an XML file—in text, mind you—that specifies the tabs you want to display, the ribbon controls that are displayed on the tabs, the tools that are displayed on the ribbon controls, along with the tool names, the tooltip text, the custom image for each tool, and the name of the coded subroutine that will be called when the tool is clicked by the user.

Once you've spent several hours typing an XML file by hand, then you open up Visual Studio 2005—assuming you have downloaded the Visual Studio Tools for Office add-on—and you create a Microsoft Office add-on project. In that project, you incorporate the XML file you've just spent several hours writing. Once you've done that, then you write all the C# code for the subroutines that the buttons will call.

Then, you can compile the add-in, open up Word, and install the add-in, and presto!—you have a customized version of the Word interface.

And, if you'd like to go back later and add another button to a ribbon, all you have to do is go back to the XML file and manually edit it, open the Visual Studio project and write the new code, compile it, and re-install it!

What could be simpler! Who wouldn't want to spend 10 or 12 hours of valuable programming time, just to do the same interface customization you could do in 20 minutes in those older, obsolete versions of Office?

Well, me, for one.

You don't take a highly valued feature like interface customization, then just throw it away because you've decided you know better. Taking valuable and widely-used features away from the power user isn't the way to keep your customers happy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

For me, this radically decreases the usefulness of Microsoft Office.

Overall, I'm very disappointed. So much so that I'm tempted to characterize the whole package in the same way that I characterize the XML document formats. "Cool, but useless."

Of course, that would be unfair. Only the customization is useless. So, I can't say the whole package is useless. I can only say that it noticeably lowers my productivity.

But that's quite bad enough. At the end of the day, when I look at the loss of customization, and the loss of productivity that goes with it, I still feel like Charlton Heston. I look at the interface as if it was the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, and I think about the Microsoft Office Product Team.

You bastards! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to HELL!
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Microsoft Vista - The ’New Coke’ of the software world!

Something tells me I should be happy for the lack of access to 2007...
Written By: Scott
URL: http://
You are coming to a sad realization. Cancel or allow?
Written By: Tim C
URL: http://
For users w/heavy customization the new interface can definately cause problems.

However for the 99% of users the ribbon interface is a huge usability improvement.

It’s a shame but unfortunately that is life
Written By: Jayson Billington
URL: http://
Two words: Open Office

Edit [Bryan]: Fixed the link for you, Dan. And I love OpenOffice.
Written By: Dan
URL: http://
This makes me so glad that my WordPerfect 6.1 still works fine.
Written By: Bill Peschel
I’m testing out vista and office right now for my company. Man, I would not want to use Vista with less than a gig of ram, I’ll tell you that.

The most annoying thing I’ve found is the way IE7 handles navigating in trusted and internet zones. When I open the browser and type in, it forces it to open in a new 2nd window, or if there’s already a 2nd browser window open for internet zone sites, it adds a tab on to that. The problem comes in that it won’t let me open 2 different browser windows with trusted/internet zone sites. So ALL my sites in the trusted zone are forced into the same window in different tabs, which makes it impossible for me to log into our portal with my id and a test id at the same time.

There must be some setting for this, but I haven’t found it yet.
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
I am in the process of uninstalling 2007 as I currently write this, after having it installed a few short hours ago. For me, the tipping point was the installer changing my Firefox home page to without bothering to even ask!! Well damn you microsoft!!! I am running XP only because of Visio, which btw is a great product (and *not* developed by msft, just as SQL server and any other reliable msft-branded product). But then again: VmWare on top of linux does the same thing, with the exception of one easily being able to restore previous snapshots, whenever those redmond clowns screw something up. Argh, I am upset!!!!
Written By: Petar
URL: http://

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