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5 Things To Know Before Installing Office 2007 Beta 25 Things To Know Before Installing Office 2007 Beta 2

From download size to when the software expires, here are five fine-print particulars you should think about before putting Office 2007 through its paces.

Gregg Keizer

July 7, 2006

6 Min Read

Microsoft's decision to push back the delivery date for Office 2007 may have a silver lining for some: it gives them all that much more time to try out the for-free preview, dubbed "Beta 2," before shelling out $149 to $679 for the real deal.

And with Office 2007 Beta 2 still available -- Vista's test isn't -- there's still a chance to join in the fun.

If fun is the word.

Office 2007 is, as nearly every reviewer has noted, a major departure from earlier editions. That alone may scare you off. Or maybe you're not easily frightened.

In any case, here are five fine print particulars you should think about before putting Office 2007 through its paces.

1) Downloading the beta takes ages

Although Office 2007 Beta 2 is still available online -- unlike Vista, which shut down its servers to new users last Friday -- the download is, well, large.

Pulling down the 550MB of Office 2007 takes just 9 minutes by Microsoft's calculation when using a 1Mbps broadband connection, but grabbing the whole enchilada -- Office, Groove 2007, SharePoint Designer 2007, OneNote, Project, and Visio -- will consume 33 minutes at 1Mbps, over 2 hours at 256Kbps, and a whopping 6+ hours at 56Kbps.

Download that and the server software for Groove, SharePoint, and Project and you're staring at over 3GB of data, around the same amount as the Vista Beta 2 download.

Fortunately, you can order a DVD that holds it all for about $7 (in the U.S.; $4.95 for the DVD, $2 for mailing).

The order process starts here.

2) It goes dead in February 2007, so you might be sans suite

Like most Microsoft previews -- including Windows Beta 2 -- Office 2007 is Cinderella Software in that it stops working at some point. Its deadline: February 1, 2007.

That date has new meaning after last week's announcement that Office won't appear until "early 2007" (to volume customers "by the end of year 2006"). It's unclear what will happen to your beta copy of Office 2007 if, say, Microsoft doesn't roll out a final until March, which by some accounts, is still "early" next year.

Last week's postponement was, after all, the second since late March.

After the February 1 cut-off, the suite "will continue to work in a reduced functionality mode that limits your options and operations," Microsoft says on its Web site.

No other clues, however, as to what that means.

3) Office's default document format may strand your data

Among Office 2007's more noticeable departures from earlier editions -- other than the revamped interface -- is a switch to a new default file format. Called "Open XML" by Microsoft, it's been criticized as neither open nor XML by some analysts.

What's important to testers, however, isn't the imbroglio over Open XML and the open-source OpenDocument Format (ODF) pushed by the likes of Massachusetts and the European Union, but that the former is set as the default in Office 2007's applications.

It's one of the reasons why Microsoft puts the following in boldface on the Beta 2 site:

"It is strongly recommended that you back up your existing data before you install and run this software."

Files saved in the .docx and .docm formats within Word 2007, for example, won't be accessible to Word 2003 if you decide to ditch Beta 2 and don't take additional steps.

What steps? Simply put, you need to update your copy of Office XP (SP3) or Office 2003 (SP2) running on Windows 2000 SP4 or Windows XP SP2 -- those are the only editions supported -- with what Microsoft calls the "Office Awareness Update." And install a "Compatibility Pack" for Office 2007 Beta 2. (The updates are available here.)

Another way to avoid file format doom and gloom is to immediately change the default in the Office 2007 applications. In Word 2007, that can be done by heading to "Word Options," then clicking on the "Save" link at the left. Choose the default format from the drop-down list to, for instance, "Word 97-2003 Document (*.doc)" and click "OK."

4) The user interface may make you crazy

Not only has Microsoft put a lot of work into the new interface, but it's pulled out the marketing stops on its Web site.

The user interface (UI) gets big-time treatment with its own subsection of the Office 2007 site, a 13-minute video demo, and its own blog.

Plenty has been written about the UI, which relies on an entirely new "ribbon" metaphor, but what will probably stagger most old hands is Microsoft's omission of a "classic" option that would let them shift back to a look-and-feel approximating Office 2003. (By comparison, Word has offered several ways to revert to a WordPerfect-esque interface for several editions now.)

Nor can you recreate the UI of an older application, since Office 2007 severely curtails interface customization. The aforementioned interface blog goes on at some length on the why, which boils down to this: hardly anyone was customizing the UI in pre-2007 Office.

"Looking across a hundred million or so people using Office 2003, here's what we found: In fewer than 2% of sessions, the program was running with customized command bars," wrote Jensen Harris, a lead program manager at Microsoft.

Other UI-makes-you-nuts moments will come when you realize that parts of Outlook 2007 uses the old-style interface, parts the new-and-improved; or when you first launch Publisher 2007 or OneNote 2007, neither of which use the new UI.

5) Office 2007 has issues

Beta software is, of course, a work-in-progress, so you'll want to check out the known problems with the suite's applications before you enter the world of the unknown.

Microsoft's 2007 "Office System Beta Known Issues/ReadMe" document is a good place to start. The 34-page Word document -- at least it's rendered in .doc format so older editions can pull it up -- sports such oddities as nonfunctional passwords for Open XML format files in Word and fruitless typing in Outlook's messages.

It's no surprise that Microsoft tries to ward off the faint-at-heart with the usual warnings about the sketchy nature of the preview. "Beta testers may experience problems with 2007 Microsoft Office system Beta 2 products that could potentially result in loss, corruption, or destruction of existing data."

By the way, if you do take the challenge and want to add to Microsoft's already-heavy load of Office 2007 feedback, the suite's development team has recommended using the "Send a Smile" tool, available for download from here.

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