Microsoft Word redone

If you're ready to let go of old habits from previous versions of Word and want to make sleeker-looking documents, Microsoft Word 2007 is worth the upgrade. However, less expensive alternatives handle its core features without the clutter.

Microsoft Word 2007's document types, interface, and some features--very nearly every aspect of this word processor--have changed. With this update, Microsoft Word 2007 becomes a more image-conscious application. New picture-editing tools help you deck out documents and play with fancy fonts. Bloggers and researchers may also benefit. It's easier to get a handle on document security, but those who only need basic typing features may not want to relearn the interface or deal with the new file formats.

Our installation of various Office suites on Windows XP computers took between 10 and 20 minutes, which was quicker than prior editions of Office. You'll have to be online to access services later, such as Help and How-To as well as Clip Art and document templates. Our reviews of Microsoft Office 2007 detail the installation process and the ingredients of each edition.


Word 2007 will operate in Compatibility Mode, shutting off some of the new graphics-rich features, should you, for example, open a Word 2003 DOC file without converting it to the new DOCX format.

Interface
Once you have Word 2007 running, you will notice a completely redesigned toolbar, now known as the Ribbon, with many familiar commands in new places. Instead of the old, gray drop-down menus atop the page, Microsoft's new and very colorful Ribbon clumps common features into tabs: Home, Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View. Some tabs don't show up until you might need them; for example, you must select a picture to bring up its formatting tab. At first, you'll need to wander around to find what's moved from prior versions of Word. Clicking the Office 2007 logo in the upper-left corner drops down a menu of staple functions--such as opening, saving, and printing files--that were under Word 2003's File menu. We had the hardest time locating commands from Word 2003's Editing and Tools menus. To insert a comment in Word 2007, for instance, you must look under the Review tab instead of the Insert tab. Prepare to relearn Word. Alas, there is no "classic" view to help you make the transition to the 2007 version.

While it's a challenge to upgrade, those learning Word for the first time may find its features easier to stumble upon than they would have with Word 2003. For instance, the new interface better presents page view options that used to be a hassle to get to. From the View tab, now you can simply check a box to see a ruler or gridlines, or click the Arrange All button to stack various open Word documents atop each other. Although we sometimes mixed up the placement of commands within the Review and References tabs, those features were still easier to find than in Word 2003.

Microsoft placed a lot of emphasis on the wow factor of Office's galleries of graphics, which share the Aero look of Windows Vista and are found throughout the Office applications. Pull-down menus of fonts, color themes, and images let you preview changes on the page before making them. And thankfully, Microsoft killed Clippy, the cartoonish helper. Now a less-intrusive quick formatting toolbar shows up near your cursor. Keyboard shortcuts remain the same; pressing the Alt key displays the corresponding quick key for each Ribbon command. A running word count is always present in the lower-left corner, and the new slider bar for zooming in and out is a terrific, no-brainer improvement, particularly for the vision impaired.

Features
Aside from the interface, the other radical change in Word 2007 is its new file type. For the first time in a decade, Microsoft foists a new file format upon users, and old Word DOC files make way for the new DOCX type of Word 2007. Microsoft has taken steps to ease this transition, but we anticipate that it will not be smooth for many users.


Word 2007's new Picture Tools options let you hover over galleries of changes to preview how they'll look. In the past, you may have applied a change out of curiosity, then hit Undo when it didn't meet your expectations.

What happens when you're sharing work with people who use an older version of Word? Word 2003 and 2000 are supposed to detect when you first try to open a DOCX file, then prompt you to download and install an Office 2007 Compatibility Pack. After you've done this, the older Word should convert your Word 2007 files and remove incompatible features. When you reopen that same DOCX file again in Word 2007, the file's original elements are supposed to stay intact. On the other hand, if you open an older DOC file within Word 2007, it will also run in Compatibility Mode, shutting off access to some of the newer program features, which explains why two documents within Word 2007 may display different formatting options.

Among the small tweaks in Word 2007 that make formatting easier, rollover style galleries let you preview the changes. However, the constant shape-shifting of the galleries can be distracting. And some options, such as for adjusting margins, use an older-style dialog box rather than the live preview menus.

Still, it takes just a couple of clicks to insert a JPEG, a GIF, a BMP, a PNG, or another image type. Click the graphic, and the Picture Tools Format tab lets you tweak the brightness, the color mode, and the contrast of a picture. You can also rotate it, crop it, skew its angle, add 3D effects and shadows to its borders, and convert it to all manner of shapes, such as a thought bubble, an arrow, or a star. Options for positioning an image and wrapping text around it are also front and center, which should be helpful for creating professional-looking business documents, as well as casual party invitations. You don't get nearly the amount of control offered by Microsoft Publisher, QuarkXPress, or Adobe InDesign, but Word 2007 may do the trick for ultrabasic desktop-publishing needs.

For those who don't need all the formatting choices, we're glad that Word 2007 doesn't apply a complex style to our text by default. In Word 2003, we'd have to highlight all the text, and then Clear Formatting to remove unwanted indentations and bold letters. In Word 2007, Calibri, a crisp, default font, replaces the standard Times New Roman from Word 2003. You can choose from galleries of text styles, such as Emphasis, Strong, or Book Title, and easily create your own styles and set them as a default.


The Prepare menu offers choices for inspecting, encrypting, and restricting access to your Word files in addition to checking to see how its elements will appear in older versions of Word.

While Corel WordPerfect has traditionally offered better features for managing longer documents, Microsoft Word 2007 has improved a bit in this regard. For those working on a dissertation or book report, the References tab lets you manage citations and bibliographies in styles from APA to Turabian. Just click Next Footnote, and the cursor takes you there. However, the Table of Contents feature still isn't easy to figure out.

Editors who collaborate on documents with others can make use of the Review tab. The new Compare pull-down menu lets you look at two versions of the same document side by side, as well as merge changes from several authors and editors into one file. Administrative assistants and those charged with mass-mailing tasks should find those features much easier to access than in Word 2003. Bloggers can now compose and post entries to their Web sites without leaving Word.

If you deal with sensitive information--in a private diary entry, a resume, or a company financial statement, for example--Word 2007 allows more control over buried data, such as the original author's name or your supervisor's cursing comments. Office 2007's Prepare options step you through inspecting that metadata, as well as adding a digital signature and encrypting a file. You'll also find some of these options under the Review tab's Protect button. However, should you plan to black out text, you'll have to turn to Adobe Acrobat 8 to make secure redactions (highlighting the font in black within Word won't do it).

As integration has improved throughout Office 2007, you can click Send from the Office logo menu to attach a Word document to an e-mail message through Outlook's composition window. A message recipient using Outlook 2007 can preview that Word document within the e-mail message pane. And if you paste an Excel 2007 chart into a Word 2007 file, just right-click the chart and select Edit Data to launch Excel in split-pane view. When you change the source data within Excel, the chart adjusts in Word.

Unfortunately, Microsoft isn't providing an option for storing or editing Word files online to most users who buy below the $679 Ultimate edition of Office, and there's no browser-based version of Word. Need to collaborate on a file with specific people or take work on the road? At this time, you may have to e-mail those documents. Alternately, you could upload a Word file into one of the many free, Web-based word processors served up by other companies, including Zoho Writer, which offers a free upload add-in for Word 2007.


Options for blogging include an editing interface that lets you insert art and charts and lets you post entries without leaving Word.

Service and support
Boxed editions of Microsoft Office 2007 include a decent, 174-page Getting Started guide. During the first 90 days, you can contact tech support for free, and help at any time with any security-related or virus problems also costs nothing. Beyond that, paid support costs a painfully high $49 per telephone or e-mail incident. Luckily, Microsoft's online help is excellent, although we're displeased that Microsoft and other software makers are increasingly promoting do-it-yourself assistance. We especially like the Command Reference Guide for Word, which walks you through where commands have moved since Office 2003. You can also pose questions to the large community of Microsoft Office users via free support forums and chats. Microsoft Office Diagnostics tool, included with the Office 2007 suites, is also designed to detect and repair problems if something goes haywire.

Conclusion
Is Word 2007 worth the upgrade? If you primarily work with plain text and don't need to pretty up reports and newsletters and the like, then it might not be right for you. For our purposes as editors, for instance, Word 2007 doesn't introduce must-have goodies, although commenting commands are within easier reach. At the same time, Word 2007 handily presents options for footnotes and citations under its References tab, which researchers should appreciate. Mail-merge functions are also easier to reach. Bloggers might use Word's posting tools in a pinch, but we found Word 2007's rebuilt HTML to be clunky still. Above all, Microsoft's new word processor is most upgrade-worthy if you want to play with pictures, charts, and diagrams in addition to text.

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