Microsoft Office 2007 Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

Each new release of Microsoft Office Suite has traditionally offered many new features. While MS Office 2007 is similarly packed with new bells and whistles, it’s different in a way that completely changes the way users navigate the software. MS Office 2003 and earlier versions’ way of getting at features were through fixed menus and hierarchical toolbars. In MS Office 2007, these are gone and are replaced with what is called “The Ribbon” — which users either intuitively get right away or struggle with.

“Businesses making the transition need to factor in a period of adjustment when switching over to MS Office 2007,” says Bill McClung, IT program director for Corporate College.

Smart Business spoke with McClung about the benefits to switching over to Office 2007 and the challenges that come with it.

If a business is happy with MS Office 2003 or 1997, why should businesses care about transitioning to MS Office 2007?

The majority of businesses today have MS Office 2003. They can try and keep their old version as long as they can, but, eventually, they will have to upgrade since MS Office 2007 will become the business standard. Businesses are naturally reluctant to upgrade because they don’t see the benefit — either in productivity gains or because of the extra cost. But, while this recent upgrade comes with a learning curve, it is well worth it.

If employees can take advantage of the extensive improvements in MS Office 2007, businesses will see direct impacts on their bottom lines. Microsoft has taken steps to reduce the numerous headaches that continually plague users of previous versions. Plus, MS Office 2007 is sharper and faster, and the reduced file sizes can create efficiencies for your office network.

What is different about MS Office 2007?

The most significant change that users will notice immediately is the new ribbon interface utilized throughout the suite. This modifies the existing version of the file menu that previous MS Office users have become accustomed to. Microsoft intended to make the appearance more intuitive to the end user, and it has a distinctly different feel than previous versions of the product. Users who have a comfort level in the more traditional Microsoft interface might be challenged to navigate it initially because it is so different.

What are the benefits to changing over?

Even though the ‘ribbon’ represents change, the idea behind it is to make all of MS Office more visual and more intuitive. Once you learn how it works, you can get more done faster because other processes are done ‘behind the scenes.’ There is also a feature that prevents files from being corrupted and unusable — a headache that has plagued previous versions. Excel sheets are bigger with more features. Files saved in MS Office 2007 are smaller, which means more room on the computer. While these behind-the-scenes changes may not be as sexy as the ribbon, they provide tangible benefits to a business.

What challenges have you seen from businesses that have upgraded?

Because of the change in appearance, there has been a challenge for employees to learn the new system. Training is very important to maximize the ROI of a company’s investment. Without it, the transition will be counterproductive in the short term because users will become frustrated when they can’t navigate as they do traditionally. In the long term, the frustration may fade, but, without training, companies will not realize the full benefit of the transition. Another challenge that has cropped up is the incompatibility of documents produced with the new version with computers that still have older versions of MS Office. Microsoft has addressed this problem with a converter, which can be downloaded from the Microsoft site.

How would you suggest someone learn to navigate the differences in this product?

There are a variety of MS Office 2007 training options available, including day training sessions designed specifically to address only the new features associated with MS Office 2007. This is a cost-effective way for businesses to provide training for their employees without a large investment of their time or retraining them about areas they already know.

How would someone decide on whether or not he or she should upgrade?

Frankly, if businesses don’t use MS Office all that much — they write a letter once in awhile or use a spreadsheet occasionally — it’s probably OK to continue using the older version. But, companies that use MS Office as an integral part of everyday business need to look into upgrading. There are ways to test out the software before you put the expense into it. That said, I think it’s important to realize why Microsoft has decided to change its user interface. A lot of users only access a small percentage of the MS Office software’s features. The idea behind this new version is to make the interface more visual to encourage people to leave their comfort zone and experiment more with the esoteric features that could help a business.

BILL MCCLUNG is the IT program director at Corporate College, www.corporatecollege.com, which offers employers custom-designed training programs to enhance future workforce development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach him at (216) 987-5806 or william.mcclung@tri-c.edu.