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.
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.
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.
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.