PRODUCT REVIEW
Microsoft Office 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

Every few years the folks up in Redmond, Washington, come out with a new version of Microsoft Office. This year saw the release of Office 2007, the newest latest and greatest. Because the software comes to us from Microsoft, the company everyone loves to hate, the release of a new version of Office generally gets a mixed reaction. Either it does not do enough or it does not do what it does well enough. Once in a while, however, people take a good look at the newest iteration of the world’s most popular office productivity suite, scratch their heads, and say something like: “Damn! That’s actually pretty good.” Office 2007 gives many people that very opportunity and good reason to take advantage of it.

Office 2007 presents a completely reconceptualized and redesigned interface. Your first reaction to the new iteration of the suite may well prove similar to mine: “Okay, what happened to the toolbars?” In fact, Microsoft has replaced the toolbars with a new ribbon that serves as your means of interaction with Office’s command central. The replacement of the toolbars with the ribbon may confound you at first. I had some difficulty locating features that I use regularly as a result of the change. After I spent some time working with the new ribbon, however, it made me a fan. Rather than hiding the features that I could not immediately locate, the ribbon, in fact, makes it easier to find features within the programs.

As if to announce that this version represents significant changes to the product, Microsoft introduced an XML-based document format structure with the Office suite. Although the 2007 version can read documents produced by earlier versions of Office, earlier versions cannot read the XML format without modification. Microsoft has released patches for both its Macintosh 2004 version of Office and for Office 2003 that allow the older programs to open and write to the new XML format. Some time ago Microsoft made it a point to set up its files so that they worked interchangeably between its Windows- and Macintosh-based versions of Office. Microsoft has already announced that it has a new version of Office coming out for the Macintosh platform. In addition to generating a suite that runs natively on the Intel processors in the new Macs, one can bet with reasonable assurance that the new Macintosh version will also use the new XML format to maintain the ability for documents to be interchangeable across the platforms.

Office 2007 can convert earlier formats to the new format or operate in a compatibility mode, enabling it to work with such documents but not reformat them. Although the patches to the older programs generally seemed to work well, we did have problems getting some XML format documents to open on the patched older versions. We have not yet determined what caused that problem. As most of the documents opened up just fine, however, this may prove itself a minor glitch or even some form of corruption in the files with which we had difficulty.

The good news is that once you get over the changed interface, the programs in the suite work pretty much the same as they did in the past, the new format notwithstanding. In fact, if anything, they operate better and more easily than earlier iterations.

One of the most significant changes for lawyers relates to that old bugaboo of metadata (hidden information containing details about a document and its authors). I have heard many metadata horror stories about older versions of Word, probably the most-used program in the suite. The new version includes better metadata control for the user. It also provides both for the addition of electronic signatures and for file encryption.

Microsoft really juiced up the handling of graphics in this iteration of Office. Check out the Picture Tools options available to you. You have the ability to preview changes in colors or themes before you actually make them. Once you select a graphic, Picture Tools allows you to modify the presentation of the graphic in any number of ways, such as rotating it, changing its borders, or changing its shape and position.

I especially liked the changes in PowerPoint. It has the new interface and much-enhanced abilities to deal with graphics, including using shared libraries. The new smart-art diagramming makes it much easier to create more professional-looking and sophisticated presentations. If you like PowerPoint, the changes to this part of the Office suite alone will justify the cost of upgrading from an earlier version. Or, you might just want to upgrade your PowerPoint software for $109.95. (But then, the cost of upgrading to Office 2007 Standard is only $239, so it probably makes better sense to do that.)

Microsoft has packaged the new version of Office in several different ways. As has always been the case, Microsoft employs a pricing structure designed to induce you to purchase the whole suite, rather than just one or two programs. And, in fact, for many reasons, following that suggestion makes good sense. It is certainly easier to work with the same version of programs in the suite rather than trying to work with different versions—working with a single version means you use a common interface for every program. Additionally, each newer version of Office has seen increased collaborative functionality, and the 2007 version is even more collaborative than the 2003 version.

Word 2007, Excel 2007, PowerPoint 2007, and Access 2007 cost $229 each if purchased new or $109.95 each for upgrades from earlier qualifying versions. Outlook 2007 costs $109.95 for a new version; Microsoft offers no upgrade pricing for Outlook. The Standard version of Office 2007 includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. Purchased new, the Standard Version costs $399. As an upgrade it costs $239. The cost of the individual programs would come to $796.95 as a new purchase and $439.80 as an upgrade (remember you have to buy Outlook as new). Microsoft Ultimate Office costs only $679 new and $539 as an upgrade. The Ultimate version of the suite includes several additional programs (most notably Access 2007, Accounting Express 2007, Groove 2007, InfoPath 2007, OneNote 2007, and Publisher 2007), so it makes little sense to get the programs separately; if you have an interest in any of the additional programs, it makes good sense to jump to one of the more expensive versions of the suite, especially if you can do it with an upgrade. For a more detailed list of the prices for various versions of Office 2007, see the table below.

Another nice thing about Office is that Microsoft has adopted a generous policy respecting upgrade qualification. To qualify for the upgrade price of Office 2007, all you need is Microsoft Works, version 6.0 through 10; Microsoft Works Suite, version 2000 through 2006 or later; any Microsoft Office program or suite, version 2000 through 2007; or any Microsoft Office XP suite except Office XP Student and Teacher.

If you would like to explore Office 2007, examine a chart showing which programs come with which version of the suite, see a demonstration of some of the features, verify upgrade eligibility, or get a demo version of the software, Microsoft has set up a special portion of its website for Office 2007.

So, we finally get to the ultimate question of whether or not you should upgrade (or switch) to Microsoft Office 2007 and, if so, to which version. Before responding to that question, I will disclose that I like the changed interface enough that it justifies the upgrade cost to me. That disclosed, I have the following comments: First of all, if you only do simple text creation with the suite, you probably do not need to upgrade (unless you just want the improved security or the new interface). Using the suite for simple, text-only documents will not take advantage of the many features enhanced in or added to Office 2007. If, on the other hand, you generate complex documents or like to include (or want to include) graphics in your documents, you have even more reasons to upgrade to take advantage of the additional features and ease of use through the new interface. By way of clarification, I consider standard correspondence, pleadings, and the like to be simple documents, whereas I view briefs with a table of contents and a table of authorities or any other document that includes tables, graphs, or graphics to be complex documents. If you use PowerPoint in your work, that would offer yet another reason to seriously consider upgrading. In terms of which version to get, that will depend on your uses for the suite. Unless you like Microsoft Access or want some of the other programs available in the larger and more expensive versions of the suite, the Standard Version should do nicely for your office. Don’t forget about the discounted educational version for home use if you have a student or teacher in the family.

2007 Microsoft Office SuitesRetail Price/Upgrade Price
Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007Available only through volume licensing; price not quoted
Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007Available only through volume licensing; price not quoted
Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007$679/$539
Microsoft Office Professional 2007$499/$329
Microsoft Office Small Business 2007$449/$279
Microsoft Office Standard 2007$399/$239
Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007$149/NA
Microsoft Office Basic 2007Available only through OEMs; price not quoted

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSOLO ’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport . He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix and is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales and a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may be reached at .

Copyright 2007

Back to Top

< /