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9/15/2006
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Review: Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh

B2TR adds a few features, tweaks a few others, and reminds us that there are changes coming in Microsoft's popular Office suite.

Microsoft has been slowly releasing updated versions of Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 7 and, on September 14, Microsoft Office 2007. Redmond continues to play name games with its betas: While the last iteration of Office was officially designated Microsoft Office Beta 2, the latest version to hit the Net has been dubbed Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh, or B2TR for short. And while this isn't as radical an update as its predecessor was, B2TR does have a few new angles that are worth exploring. (You can find a full report on the features in Beta 2 in Review: 2007 Microsoft Office Beta 2 Is Up And Running.)

I'd like to start by pointing out that Office is getting a lot closer to the finish line. It's pretty much feature-steady at this point, although they are obviously still making adjustments here and there. In general, Microsoft says that this iteration is faster and more reliable, something I'll have to take the vendor's word for, since I didn't have a whole lot of problems with the Beta 2 version. It's also integrated more thoroughly with Microsoft's Windows Desktop Search tool.

Winding Up The Ribbon
Of course, the main focus of everyone's attention is still the new User Interface (UI); more specifically, the new Ribbon, which has replaced Office's more familiar toolbars. There has been a lot of moaning among Office aficionados about the fact that you can't add or delete features to suit your needs and that it takes too much space away from the work area. Microsoft is very cognizant of this; it made some adjustments in Beta 2 and has added a few refinements in B2TR.

To suit those of us who like to have our most-used features immediately available, there is a Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) which can sit in various parts of the window and to which users can add whatever commands they want easily available. This isn't new to Office 2007; what is new is a drop-down menu that appears when you click on the down arrow in the Quick Access Toolbar, and which offers a checklist of what Microsoft has determined are the features most likely to be added, such as New, Save, E-Mail, and Quick Print.



The Quick Access Toolbar now has a drop-down menu.
Click image to enlarge.



To answer those who complained about the amount of space taken by the Ribbon, Microsoft has refined its "Minimize the Ribbon" feature. (The company also insists that the new Ribbon takes up only as much, or less, space than the previous toolbars, and will provide exact measurements ad nauseum if you ask for them.)

If you right-click on the Ribbon and select "Minimize the Ribbon," most of it will disappear. All that you'll see on top is the Office button (the large round button on the upper left corner that leads to most of what used to be the "File" commands), your Quick Access Toolbar, and the various category names. Click on a category name, and the Ribbon appears in its usual place, but over your document (something like the way a Windows taskbar set to autohide will only float into visibility when you put your cursor at the bottom of the window). Finish making your choices, and the Ribbon disappears again.



Because of complaints that the Ribbon takes up too much space...
Click image to enlarge.





...it's now easier to use the minimized Toolbar.
Click image to enlarge.



As someone who likes a clean workspace, I found that this new minimized Ribbon worked quite well for me. And if you prefer to keep your hands on your keyboard, you can get the same effect by hitting the Alt key for a few seconds, and the keyboard prompts (small letters next to each feature that you can then hit on the keyboard) appear next to the various categories. Once you've finished accessing your commands, and return to your document, the Ribbon is gone.

Speaking of keyboard prompts, Microsoft asserts that 30 percent of features and commands were accessible by keyboard in Office 2003; all features will be available via keyboard by the time the new version ships in 2007.

Oh, and those who are unimpressed by either the Microsoft Blue or Motorcycle Black interfaces that were previously available for the Office applications, you can now also have your office in Unintrusive Silver.

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