Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 review . . . continued

The last bit really kills me. That Word users press ENTER twice to start a new paragraph is not a reason to attack the action and attempt to change it. Essentially, Microsoft arbitrarily declared its dislike for a typing habit practiced by tens of millions of Word users and hundreds of millions of typists. What fatuous churl made this decision? Or was it, again, a committee decision based on compromise or the need to appease some powerful crank within the product development group? We'll likely never know.

(Ed. Note: Instead of moving the cursor to the next line, every time you hit the Return or Enter key in Word 2007 and PowerPoint 2007 you move the cursor to the beginning of a new paragraph with the requisite space above. This action is irritating beyond belief. After decades of double-returns to start a new paragraph, Microsoft is attempting to change the way I paragraph half a million words or more every year? Even the hint of such an idea is insane.)

A blog told Microsoft to change the fundamental design of the standard document template? Who participated in that blog? Did any of the brilliant decision makers involved in the process look at the ridiculous new line spacing when composing a standard business letter or report? I doubt it. So we have to laboriously change fonts and change formatting of the standard template installed on our own workstation, then (in a small office) take the time to make the changes on every other computer with an Office 2007 license just to ensure that all our business correspondence looks the same. Microsoft absolutely owns the office software market, so why isn't it looking at existing templates and importing them automatically during installation of Office 2007, thereafter making them available to Word 2007 users on each PC? Microsoft needs to spend more time respecting what its customers already actually do with Office, and far less time imposing its will.


Excel 2007 fares no better. While Excel at least remains a much more robust productivity tool than Word 2007 (because the addition of the Ribbon interface to Excel is not quite as disconcerting), new operability problems have been introduced. In Excel 2007, click the new little Add Worksheet icon to the right of Sheet 3. A new sequentially numbered worksheet (4) appears. So far so good. Delete worksheet 4. Click the Add Worksheet icon again to add a worksheet and you get worksheet 5, which means you have to manually re-number it to 4. Stupid. More irritating still is that deleting a worksheet doesn't automatically put you back on the worksheet you were editing, but rather the previous worksheet in sequence. Clearly, the productivity analysts at Microsoft have taken a long holiday.

The respite from the Ribbon abomination is Microsoft Publisher. No Ribbon here — just the familiar and highly productive interface to which we've grown accustomed. Publisher 2007 is snappy, supplied with a refreshingly well-designed boatload of templates, and seems to run extremely well under all versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. Print rendering is excellent, including output to bargain basement printers, which is credit as much to the continually improving print formatting engines in Windows XP and Vista as it is to the printer drivers and Publisher itself. The one sour note in Publisher 2007 is the unintuitive web publishing process. Novice users (and even intermediate users familiar with web publishing and HTML documents) will still have a hard time with this version of Publisher. Somebody at Microsoft needs to spend some time on this aspect of Publisher because publishing to the web should be one of its strong suits by now. However, the process remains unintuitive.

Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 offers one curious omission and one curious inclusion. OneNote, Microsoft's truly excellent multi-level/multimedia data organizer and note taker, is conspicuously absent from Small Business Office 2007. The barely useful Microsoft Access (database maker) 2007 is included as a trial version. It seems as though the product manager, PR manager and marketing manager were battling head to head and needed some third-party mediator to finalize which Office components would be included in the final Office Small Business 2007 package. Spare us the functionally useless trial version of Access (retail price $230) and include the genuinely useful OneNote (retail price $99) plus a lite version of Microsoft Project.

Cons: Stay away until at least Windows Vista SP1 and Office 2007 SP1 have been released and prove stable for several months. Even then, I'm not sure exactly what benefits can be derived from the service packs because early reviews of each pack aren't as impressive as I'd hoped. You will have to do a lot of reading of third-party Office 2007 tutorials and instruction books in order to come to grips with the Ribbon interface, the new document structure, change tracking functions, and the extensive collaboration features. Failure to do so may result in far too much lost productivity time while you hunt through the new interface to find the features and functions you need. As usual, the purchase price of Microsoft Office is far too high, now especially given the amount of time being wasted by users of previous versions who must come to grips with the new design. In that light, even the upgrade pricing is outrageous. The product installation does not detect and preserve existing document templates from previous Office versions. All your previous documents (i.e., Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher) will load, edit and print properly, but new Word documents will always begin with the terrible new default template. That means you're going to be spending the same amount of time re-creating all your business templates as you did when you first created them for your very first Office installation years ago. The new document formats (DOCX, XLSX, PPTX, etc.) are of no benefit to home users, SOHO or small business and of only dubious benefit to small-to-medium business (SMB) establishments. Furthermore, since DOCX offers no direct compatibility with accepted Open Document standards being circulated throughout the open source development community worldwide, there's no question that the core benefit to DOCX users shows up only when using Microsoft Live services (maybe), and perhaps more importantly in enterprise document exchange and project collaboration environments which of course have nothing to do with Office Small Business 2007, such functionality being the preserve of Office Enterprise or Office Ultimate installations. Two-way document compatibility between (2 & 3) and Office 2003 is quite good, but terrible with Office 2007. Microsoft continues to explain its reasons for doing what it has done with Office 2007, but I must be stupid because I understand very little of what they're saying and continue to struggle to find reasons to use Office 2007. When running under Windows Vista there are frequent typing lags — literally, pauses while the software draws what you've typed to the document work sheet. Whether such poor operation is the result of Windows Vista issues or poor design within Office 2007 is irrelevant, because Office 2007 feels like a beta product in some respects rather than a professional release. On a partially patched Windows Vista Ultimate PC, the Office 2007 online help system did not install properly and remained completely inaccessible until Vista was fully patched with a special Registry repair for the help system. This enormous and expensive product is not supplied with a full, printed user manual. This enormous and expensive product is not supplied with even a complete set of tutorials. The cost of a good Office 2007 tutorial book adds to the already high acquisition cost of Microsoft Office Small Business 2007. Little things provide great irritations within Outlook, e.g., extra spaces are added automatically above and below signatures which most often makes the formatting of an entire email look unbalanced. For the millions out there who still care about how their writing looks, it's important. Reformatting of copied text within Outlook messages is still broken, with extra spaces, fonts that cannot easily be resized and so on. As usual, you sometimes end up sending a poorly formatted message simply because you run out of time fiddling around trying to get it right. Outlook 2007 periodically locks up on Windows Vista, or rather slows down so much that it appears to be locked up. We experienced fewer problems on Vista PCs that were re-booted twice daily.

Pros: Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 looks nicer than previous versions. Online collaboration tools are expertly integrated which makes the use of Microsoft Live services a more streamlined and effortless experience, rare though it is for Office users in SOHO and small business environments. Project collaboration using Word and PowerPoint in particular is a very productive experience. Outlook 2007, while slow in general operation, shows improvement in many other areas including Journal, Calendar, Junk Mail filtering and spam control. The Business Contact Manager built into Outlook is a robust supplier, customer and associate tracking product offering excellent integration with all the other products in the suite (Journal and Calendar in particular of course) as well as multimedia capabilities — all-in-all a much more useful and completely responsive product than Access (and all the attendant manual labor that has to be done in order to get Access to perform at even a fraction of the level achieved by Outlook w/Business Contact Manager). Surprisingly, our experience showed clearly that Office 2007 often provides a smoother, more responsive and productive experience under Windows XP than it does under Windows Vista. The new typefaces supplied with Office 2007 are generally well done and should prove to be quite useful. Under Windows XP Home or Professional, Office 2007 appears to be as stable as the rock-solid Office 2003.

Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 is immensely powerful, vastly capable and amazingly versatile, but nonetheless for home, SOHO and small business use is a consummate embarrassment — a quirky sledgehammer rather than a lithe, intuitive productivity program. Microsoft should be ashamed of itself. As Microsoft pours resources into ever more complex implementations of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) in an attempt to stop or catch every possible illegal copy of Office or Windows, and as the company continues to spend enormous amounts of money on telephone support because licensed users have to periodically call to reactivate either Windows or Office after any substantial change to their PC hardware (and often after upgrading only RAM or a video card or a hard drive), the actual usability, stability, speed and productive use of the products Microsoft so madly rushes to protect are all suffering. The situation is stupid. Microsoft owns the operating system and Office, yet it still can't get the text formatting right when copying blocks within email messages in Outlook. Simple tasks such as reformatting bullet text copied between Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents can be a nightmare, with unreleased line associations, unreformattable copy, non-deletable indents and other aggravations to plague you and suck up endless minutes (and hours). Such an unrepaired lack of integration and such poor interoperability between documents is often a sign that the wrong people have been left to mind the most important things in a company — its core products. Microsoft has made some monumentally stupid decisions regarding Windows Vista and Microsoft Office. I have gone back to Office 2003 and I'm a much happier person for having done so. Instead of purchasing Microsoft Office 2007, spend the money on a handful of really nice dinners at some nice restaurants. We'll see what Office Service Pack 1 brings, but for now Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 is not recommended.



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