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Word update will mess with your head

First Inqpressions Microsoft Word 2007
Tue Jun 27 2006, 11:49
TODAY, WE'RE examining Word 2007 in more detail, after our preliminary overview of the new Microsoft Office suite that appeared on yesterday's pages.

Microsoft chooses to update its word processor every couple of years. It feels it needs to so that we all keep buying the new versions. Stuff that isn't broke gets broken so that it can be fixed again. Or so it seems.

Something that struck us immediately on typing within Word was the handling of whitespace, including both normal sentence and paragraph spacing - it seems this has been significantly changed from previous versions of Microsoft's word-processing offering.

Pressing enter will automatically create a space between your paragraphs, whereas pressing shift-enter will move the cursor to the next line - the opposite to what usually occurs. Ctrl-backspace to remove a word will remove the space immediately preceding it - something that isn't usually the case. Double clicking a word will select the word as normal, but also selecting the space immediately after it so that removal doesn't require further user-interaction.

These things may sound very trivial, but for experienced users they take some time to adjust to - and if like us you use other external text editors (also consider web-based mail or forum-entries etc), it then takes further time to re-adjust when not using Word 2007.

The default font within the suite has been changed from the ubiquitous Times New Roman, to the new rising-star known as Calibri. This joins five other fonts that utilise Microsoft's 'Cleartype' technology - Cambria, Consolas, Candara, Corbel, and Constantia. Allegedly Calibri was selected as the default font for Word because of its modern look and its appropriateness for onscreen documents.

Although Times New Roman had a few irksome qualities, we're still getting to grips with some of the oddities of Calibri and the new Cleartype technology. Some letter combinations seem to have much larger gaps between them, along with some letters/numbers looking much larger than others, depending on the line the combinations appear in - check the screen shot below for some examples. This tends to make the document formatting appear pretty random and inconsistent. For now we find it slightly irritating - but we're hoping we can get used to it over time, if it truly does deliver the end-user benefits that Microsoft assures us it does.


Document properties, comments, and reviewing options are much more apparent within Word 2007 than in any previous version. An entire section within the new ribbon-based interface under the header 'Review' allows for this section of document meta-data to be edited and viewed. Word 2003's tracking and reviewing system was an accomplished implementation and 2007 seems to expand and compliment the previous functionality with a much more prominent, clearer, easier-to-use ribbon-based interface.


On the subject of ribbons, there are complete sections for both 'References' and 'Mailings'. References contains a whole raft of options for your bibliography, footnotes, sources, captions and various tabulated sources of information. Mailings contains options for envelopes, labels, mail merges, address blocks, etc. These two sections seem less-overwhelmed with properties than the 'Home' and 'Insert' ribbons, which have a deluge of options for formatting, searching, insertion of images, links, headers/footers, text design and symbol options. The page-layout ribbon seems to be fairly redundant considering the similar-performing quick-use buttons at the bottom right of the Word 2007 window frame, albeit it does contain the newly added 'Themes' function which allows you to mouse-over a theme and preview your current document in the newly selected font and style - a quick, effective means of previewing a complete stylistic transformation of your document. This seems more naturally at home next to the document font styles within the (admittedly crowded) 'Home' ribbon.


Although the 'Ribbon' appears to be a much better interface, not everything is as intuitive as it could be. Because some ribbons have a deluge of options, some functionality that would naturally appear alongside each other sometimes appears in other ribbons. At the end of the day it's a trade-off between too many options on one ribbon - possibly overwhelming a user - and similarly relating functionality appearing on different bars. Generally it seems Microsoft has got the trade-off right, functionality that you're looking for never seems too far away and is always quickly found, if not immediately available.

Overall we're fairly happy with these ribbon-centric interface changes and hope to get used to the various alterations to the whitespace and font handling.

However one point of contention that has come to our attention as the review process has gone on (and readers who have emailed us since the overview article was posted), is the amount of real-estate the ribbon interface insists on using. This isn't immediately distracting until you start using the suite on a small-screened laptop or low-res monitor. We can't help but feel that the ribbon menu couldn't have been compressed further, by replacing the silly 'anonymous office button' with a ribbon entry of its own and the usual window title appearing alongside the usual ribbon headers - like most existing Windows applications. µ


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