Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, May 2008
Published by: Microsoft
Requires: Any Windows PC running Windows 98, 2000, XP or Vista; 512MB RAM, 1GB available hard disk space; minimum effective screen resolution is 1024 x 768
MSRP: US$449.95 (upgrade $279.95), pricing varies by country, enterprise and institutional discounts available

It is impossible to understand why Microsoft decided to segment its flagship Office software suite into so many variations that even the most experienced pundits and tech writers sometimes get the details wrong. So as much as the launch of Windows Vista was anticipated as the arrival of a remarkable new operating system, so too did observers eagerly anticipate as much of a sea change in the new version of Office Small Business 2007. And that's just what arrived — a whole new way of doing things along with a new user interface and a new approach to daily productivity when using Word, Excel and PowerPoint in particular. Microsoft Office Small Business 2007 consists of Word 2007, Excel 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Outlook 2007 w/Business Contact Manager, Publisher 2007 and Accounting Express 2008. Access 2007 is included only as a trial version.

I want to track down and stun into immobility every single individual involved in the decision to reorganize every single familiar feature and function and control location into new groupings. I want to rant and holler at all the designers and product managers responsible for removing the familiar menu bar and replacing it with the new, highly touted "Ribbon" interface. I want to send a big fat invoice to Microsoft for all of the innumerable hours I've spent trying to figure out how to perform the same productive tasks which had become second nature to me using all previous versions of Microsoft Office. I haven't been this angry at a software company in all the years (since 1982) I've been using computers. What on earth possessed the managers at Microsoft to so thoroughly destroy my productivity? We'll likely never know. But if you want to use Microsoft Office — the familiar, friendly Microsoft Office — buy Office 2003 if you can find it.


Let me state clearly though (just in case it isn't already obvious): I'm not a happy camper.

The text formatting engine Microsoft Office 2007 — e.g., that part of Microsoft Word which allows you to apply different font, word, paragraph styles and layouts among many other things — is so wholly different from Word 2003, that I ended up having to redo the entire template to match thousands of other documents generated in recent years. My existing Office 2003 templates would not import consistently without problems. Upon initial installation and launch of Word 2007, I was in fact alarmed by the irrational and illogical use of san serif and semi serif typefaces in the supplied Office 2007 template. The template was obviously designed by people who've never in their lives written an acceptable business letter or produced a readable report, essay or research document. Apparently, Microsoft either designed or commissioned a collection of new typefaces for Vista and Office and then felt the need to use them anywhere and everywhere in the product. Microsoft's new Calibri body text font is a san serif typeface. For monitor and web use, that's just fine. For body text in print, it's insanity. Cambria, the new heading font, is certainly professionally designed, kerned and hinted, but feels somewhat weak and fails to achieve the stature needed for a heading font distributed to tens of millions of users.

After two decades of office productivity software development, Microsoft still doesn't offer default template automation for even the two most basic contemporary SOHO and small business needs: a) printing, and b) web publishing. For all the increasingly complex power offered by each succeeding version of Microsoft Office over the years, starting a new Word document (click Office button>New) provides a default choice of either blank document or blog post. Blog post? Microsoft thinks that writing blog posts is some sort of priority for SOHO and small business Office 2007 users? It seems so, and all other template categories are demoted to the general list, in the process failing to include even a basic default HTML/web page template. Where are Microsoft's usage and usability studies for previous recent versions of Office? I want to see where it says that blog posts are a priority use for Microsoft Word. There are many other similarly goofy decisions sprinkled throughout the Office Small Business 2007 installation. Office Small Business 2007 in many respects feels like a giant, ill-bred compromise in which so many people were allowed to have their say that the product's character and usability were diluted to a level of passing incomprehensibility.

After three months of relentless use, I am still running into problems finding the location of and recognizing common functions. I hate the designers for the burden they've placed on me and my productive hours. Such a broad re-design is an insult to every one of the tens of millions of Microsoft Office users who since 1995 have remained loyal to the product, learned its ins & outs, become accustomed to its fundamental design paradigm and who have used Microsoft Office to generate countless reams of productive work.

If Microsoft Office 2007 in any of its myriad SKUs was a faster product, such a speed increase would serve to mitigate to some extent the imposition of the Ribbon interface. But the slowest PC on which I've tested and used any version of Office 2007 is an Intel Core 2 Duo Dell with 2GB of RAM, a fast hard drive, a fast video card and fast network and Internet connections. Unfortunately, even on that machine Office Small Business 2007 plods along, notably slower in everything from file open, file save, screen redraws, program launches (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.) than Office 2003 running on Windows XP (Home or Professional) and Windows Vista (Home Premium, Business or Ultimate). In terms relative to actual speed of work and overall productivity, it is absolutely true that Microsoft Office 2007 is not functionally unacceptable. But Office 2007 is now a somewhat inferior experience compared to the excellent Microsoft Office 2003, a conclusion which should be utterly unacceptable to anyone and everyone at Microsoft.

Here is a perfect example of a glaringly irritating Word 2007 problem. The following quote is lifted unedited from the Office Small Business 2007 help system: "The new [normal.dotm] template uses fonts that were designed with readability in mind. According to a blog that was active during Word 2007 development, the new fonts used in Word are based on the ClearType technology that provides a crisper, more easily read display of the fonts on most modern monitors. Calibri is the new default font for body text, and to complement the look of Calibri, Cambria was selected for use in headings. The default template for creating new documents in Word 2007 also uses looser line spacing and introduces extra space between paragraphs. The looser line spacing is actually only 15 percent greater than single spacing (it is not double spacing, or even 1.5 line spacing). Its purpose is to introduce more white space in blocks of text, which makes the text easier to read. Because many Word users press ENTER twice after every paragraph, the Word 2007 default settings build in that extra space. Customers need to press ENTER only one time to add space between paragraphs."




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