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Microsoft Office 12 Beta 1

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November 19, 2005


It seems like yesterday when Microsoft released Office 2003 and here we are, reviewing the latest release of Microsoft Office. The new Microsoft Office 12 ("Office 12" is a codename and it will be renamed just before the public release) is expected to be released to the public in late 2006. Microsoft has released the first private beta version of Office 12 to 10,000 customers and partners for testing and bug detecting. We were lucky enough to get our hands on the Office 12 beta
version to see what has changed from previous Office versions. Overall, there has not been many changes to features and the way Office works, but there has been huge changes to the interface and layout of many of the Office 12 applications.

Some of the new features to Office 12 include XML-based file formats (there is an "x" added to every Office file format now), a "ribbon" at the top replacing tradition drop-down menus and improved workflow between Office applications. Without a doubt, the most apparent change to Office is the ribbon-style menu at the top of most Office 12 programs. The old drop-down menus that included File, Edit, View and so on are gone from Office 12 and they are not even available as an interface option if you wanted them. At first we were a bit confused and baffled at how the ribbon menu worked, but with a few uses, we were able to get the hang of it.

Microsoft Office 12 Ribbon-Style Menu
Microsoft Office 12's new ribbon-style menu

The new Office XML format is universal and open-source, which means it can be opened by
previous Microsoft Office versions and other word processing applications without a problem. Because of the new XML file format, the file-extensions for Office 12 files have changed. For example, Word's old ".doc" files are now ".docx" and Excel's ".xsl" files are now ".xslx" files. You can still save Office 12 files in old file formats, such as the ones mentioned above, for even more backwards compatibility.
Microsoft Office 12 Screenshots

Word 12- The only really big improvement to Word 12 is the ribbon menu at the top, which plays a huge role in the usability and functionality of Word because it is the only way to access most of Words tools and formatting options. The tabs on the ribbon for Word are labeled write, insert, page layout, references, mailings, and review. The write tab contains all of your font styling and paragraph options. The new default font for Word is no longer Times New Roman, but rather Calibri. We like the new font a lot compared the the old Times New Roman, because
Calibri looks very smooth, rounded, and professional. The insert tab contains ways to add graphs, clip art, links, Word Art, tables, and more. Page layout handles things like page margins, size, and background colors. The references tab is especially neat for people who have to type essays and papers for school or work and have to include their sources. This tab includes many ways to add footnotes, MLA-formatted bibliography and sources page,
table of contents, and captions. The mailings tab holds wizards for creating envelopes and labels. Finally, the last tab, review, contains editor notes, proofing tools (spell check, grammar, and thesaurus). Also, in the font area, you can now see what each font looks like in the drop-down menu without having to apply it to the document. Overall, Microsoft Word 12 works almost identically to previous versions of it, but it's interface is dramatically changed to make things more streamlined and easy.

Excel 12- As with Word 12, the only real change to Excel 12 is the interface. As with all other Office 12 products, the ribbon menu appears at the top to replace the drop-down menus. Microsoft has made all of the features and options in Excel right at your fingertips with this ribbon menu. All of these features and neatly organized into seven tabs on the ribbon. These tabs are labeled
sheet, insert, page layout, formulas, data, review, and add-ons. The "sheet" tab is basically like
the "write" tab in Word, it contains all of your styling options. Worksheets are now huge in Excel as they can contain 1 million rows and 16,000 columns. As in the rest of the suite, the view features are moved to the status bar, and a slider lets you zoom in and out of a spreadsheet to your liking instead of using the preset zoom percentages of earlier versions.

The new zoom slider replaces the preset zoom percentages

Outlook 12- Of all the Office 12 application, Outlook 12 is probably the one that has not changed that much in terms of design and functionality. Outlook 12 does not have the ribbon-style menu that all of the other Office 12 programs have. Instead, it has the traditional drop-down menus that we are all used to. The biggest change to Outlook 12, is the new "To-Do Bar." It is very similar to the task pane in Word or Excel because it appears to the far right of the screen. The To-Do Bar displays flagged messages, today's Outlook tasks, and any meetings or jobs assigned to you in Access, OneNote, and SharePoint Services. Any tasks that are not marked as done or completed are automatically carried over to the next day for you procrastinators out there. A few other new features in Outlook 12 are pretty well-hidden until you look for them. One neat addition is the ability to send a calendar page or a request to share a Microsoft Exchange calendar. And new SharePoint integration capabilities let you modify shared calendars without leaving Outlook. A new RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader can display subscribed feeds within the message Inbox, eliminating the need for third-party RSS reader. Outlook's newsfeeds can even be synchronized to your smart phone or handheld to go with you.

PowerPoint 12- The ribbon-style menu, in our opinion, is the most useful in PowerPoint 12 because it combines all of PowerPoint's powerful presentation abilities into one neatly organized area. PowerPoint 12's graphics abilities are also greatly improved making them more dynamic and flexible. For example, you can now convert a bulleted list into a diagram with one click on the
ribbon menu and then continue to modify the diagram with options that appear automatically on the same ribbon tab. Some other new features in PowerPoint 12 are the ability to save custom layouts and new text effects with the soft-edge and outer glow effect seen in Excel's charts and graphs.

Overall, Microsoft Office 12 beta 1 is a huge visual and workflow improvement over previous versions of Office. Like we said before, this update isn't much about new functionality, but rather improving interface quirks and making the suite more easy to use on a day-to-day basis. The new ribbon menu reduces confusing menus and dialog boxes, but at the cost of some screen space. System performance with Office 12 was not too bad. The first time we opened the programs right after the install, they did open up a little slow, but after that they were fine. Microsoft isn't forcing users to have a top of the line computer to run Office 12 either. They say that Office 12 will
require Windows XP SP1 or 2003 and will need a minimum of 256MB of RAM and a 512MHz processor. However, we say that you may want an even more powerful system to multitask with the graphics-intensive Office 12.

The tabbed layout of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint may be a much needed change if you are sick of clicking through the plethora of drop-down menus, because Microsoft hopes that the new layout
will be more intuitive and relaxing. In the next beta 2 test rollout of Office 12 (expected next spring), Microsoft plans to reveal more about its server work flows for businesses. Take a look at the changes in Microsoft Office 12 by looking at our image gallery full of screenshots from all of
the Office 12 applications.

Product Pictures


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