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.

Open XML: Another Bone Of Contention
The new interface isn't the only controversial area that Microsoft will be contending with. Microsoft has been championing its Open XML file format against the open-source OpenDocument Format (ODF).

Review: 2007 Office Beta 2

•  Introduction

•  Packages And Pricing

•  Inspecting The Interface

•  More Interface Fun

•  Open XML And Conclusions

•  Image Gallery

Microsoft's XML format is very much in evidence in Office; it is the new default for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, for example. There is no doubt that it can be very useful; it allows for changes within zipped files, for instance, and lets users tag information (such as a logo) in documents so that it can be re-used easily by organizations. Open XML is also behind Word's new ability to look for and remove hidden metadata or other information (such as, say, Comment fields) that you'd rather not send to a rival company by mistake.

However, ODF was recently ratified by the International Standards Organization (ISO), while Open XML has yet to be accepted. Microsoft has petitioned the competing ECMA standards body for approval of Open XML.

More Info

See our review of Beta 1 for details about improved features in Word, Access, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint in 2007 Office.

Microsoft Office is the tool that thousands of people use every day to get their work done. It is always a danger when this kind of tool is radically altered in an effort to keep it current and make it better -- and to keep it competitive in a market that is beginning to offer a variety of free or inexpensive online and open-source alternatives (such as OpenOffice).

Now that the new beta is out and available for download, Microsoft should soon be getting an idea of whether its gamble will pay off. The new interface will alarm quite a few long-time users; but if my own experience is any yardstick, once the initial shock is over, most people will be pleasantly surprised.

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