Microsoft Office Standard 2007

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Microsoft Office Standard 2007

Pros

  • Great new features, powerful file format

Cons

  • Inevitable learning curve, expensive

Bottom Line

Significant revamp provides more applications and many design improvements, though these take time to learn. If you'd like to get the most out of Office applications, this upgrade can help you do it.

Would you buy this?

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XML marks the spot

Microsoft's decision to use its new Open XML file formats (distinguishable from the old formats by the addition of the letter x to the file extension -- .docx, .xlsx or .pptx) as the defaults in Word, Excel and PowerPoint is likely to irritate people who don't have the 2007 versions of these apps and receive documents from people who do.

Microsoft has tried to minimise the pain by quietly shipping Office 2007 awareness patches to Office XP and 2003 users who keep their suite current -- by using Windows Update, for example. People who've received the patch and try to open an Open XML file within Office XP or 2003 will get a pop-up window informing them that they need to get a 2007 Office Compatibility Pack -- a free, 27MB download. With the Compatibility Pack installed, Office XP and 2003 users will be able to open, edit and save to the new Open XML format.

Unfortunately, people who try to open Open XML documents in older versions of Office or other productivity suites will encounter messages saying that the application can't open the file. Your odds of reaching the Compatibility Pack improve if, instead of launching an older productivity application, you click on a file to let Windows try to open it. The OS will still tell you that it doesn't recognise the file type, but you'll have the option of letting Windows go online to find an application that can open it -- and that way you'll get to the Compatibility Pack. With the Compatibility Pack installed, Office 2000 users gain limited functionality in the XML formats; and all other users will be able to convert Open XML documents to Office 97 formats and back again from Windows, though the process isn't particularly intuitive.

Basically, Microsoft's Open XML formats sort the various components of a document -- content, formatting, comments, and so on -- into different files that the software then zips into a single Open XML file. (You can check this out by changing any Office XML file's extension to .zip and then opening the file with any zip utility.) Using zip compression makes files smaller; separating content from other attributes enables you to change those attributes without changing the content. A corporate user could, for example, change the look of a series of documents by swapping out the formatting files.

In the end, you may decide that your current productivity apps are all you need. But if you'd like to get the most out of Office applications, this upgrade can help you do it.

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