11:49 AM

Review: 2007 Microsoft Office Beta 2 Is Up And Running

Beta 2 of Microsoft's upcoming Office suite is out. It's bigger and better, but still a bit strange.

It's been a while since Microsoft's Office suite, the collection of software applications that a large percentage of today's workers use on a daily basis, has had a major overhaul. Redmond brought out Beta 1 of the new collection last November; now Beta 2 is out. The new version (officially called 2007 Microsoft Office, with the year before the name) has added several features to the previous iteration and has firmed up many of the features that didn't work properly in Beta 1. In addition, Microsoft has put together the various packages that will make up its Office suite collection -- seven in all.

Review: 2007 Office Beta 2

•  Introduction

•  Packages And Pricing

•  Inspecting The Interface

•  More Interface Fun

•  Open XML And Conclusions

•  Image Gallery

Depending on which version you choose, Office will include the basic applications that we've all come to know and (some of us, anyway) love, such as Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets, Access for databases, Outlook for e-mail and personal information management, and PowerPoint for presentation viewing and creating. Other available apps include Communicator (instant messaging), InfoPath (forms), OneNote (a notekeeping/journal app), and Publisher (desktop publishing).

Most of the improvements in the existing applications were detailed in our November review of Beta 1, "First Look: Microsoft Office 12 Beta 1."

A new addition since then is Office Groove, the result of Microsoft's 2005 acquisition of Groove Networks. Groove revolves around the concept of "collaborative work spaces," shared places where teams can work on documents, have threaded discussions, share schedules, and track who is working on what when. It is a simple and easily understood application that works very much like a traditional instant messaging product -- you have a list of contacts whom you can invite to a workspace using a Launchbar that lists your active, online, and offline contacts. There, they can access shared files, draw together on sketchbook pages, have a text or audio chat, and even have an online meeting.

Office Groove provides a shared workspace where co-workers can collaborate.
Click image to enlarge and launch image gallery.

Several upgraded products aren't included in any of the suite packages but are also being introduced as Office applications. For example, Microsoft Office Project, the project management application, won't be included with Office but is shipping separately in two versions: Standard and the enterprise-level Professional (which can connect with Microsoft Office Project Server 2007). Office Visio is the latest version of the excellent Visio flow-charting and diagramming application; it will also come in a Standard and more complex Professional version.

Finally, SharePoint Designer, a Web authoring application that takes the place of FrontPage, is aimed at the moderately to highly experienced site designer. According to Microsoft's literature, the shipping product will include more than 40 prebuilt SharePoint applications from the Microsoft Developer Network site.

Windows Office SharePoint Server 2007

Many of the new collaboration features in Office are not found directly in the Office client itself, but rather via Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Previously known as SharePoint Portal Server 2001 and then Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (Microsoft has a fondness for constantly changing product names), Office SharePoint Server 2007 includes a variety of features to make portal-building easier. These include preconfigured site templates, "social networking" features that can be used to build applications for helping employees communicate with one another, and "Colleagues and Memberships Web Parts," which allow employees to easily find people they know, or who have interests in common with them, as well as people who belong to the same distribution lists and groups.

Microsoft also tries to tackle the thorny problem of document management in Office SharePoint Server 2007. To that end, it offers new document management tools, including ones that handle automatic retention of documents and e-mail to comply with legislation and internal auditing rules. There are also a wide variety of new templates for building document libraries, and tools for managing those libraries.

And Microsoft has tried to tackle search as well. In the past, Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 used different search interfaces, which made searching confusing for users. Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services now use the same implementation of Microsoft Search, which should lead to a more consistent search interface.

There is much more new in Office SharePoint Server 2007 as well, including:

  • Blog creation
  • Wikis and shared notebooks
  • New ways to update content, including RSS and document synchronization
  • Mobile access to SharePoint data

These tools can be integrated directly into various Office applications. For example, blogs can be authored from directly within Word.
— Preston Gralla

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