RealTime IT News

Redmond to Tackle Office 'Overload'

LOS ANGELES -- Before Microsoft began work on the next version of Office, it asked users what they would like to see in the workhorse suite. The answers were at once frustrating and encouraging.

"Nine times out of 10 they named something that's already in the product -- they just couldn't find it," Chris Capossela, Microsoft's vice president of information workers, said at the company's Professional Developers Conference today.

Capossela said some users complained of "overload," given all the options loaded up in the tools. Given that feedback, developers spent much of the last two years improving the look and feel of the suite's Excel, PowerPoint and Word programs.

Galleries in Office
Galleries give users a clear look at their Office documents.
Source: Microsoft

In the first public demonstration of Office 12, Capossela showed the new look and several new features that will be in this year's beta and next year's final version.

Some general changes include replacing drop-down menus with navigation tabs, integrating the search box throughout applications and standarizing on XML to facilitate interoperability and address concerns of public sector customers who are calling for open standards.

In Excel, Microsoft made it easier to perform common tasks with one click, add color and graphical representations of data and trends and preview different views of data in a "gallery" page.

PowerPoint received a similar interface make-over. It also gained new tools to help turn text in PowerPoint slides into graphics and add animation and other flourishes to presentations.

Word probably provides the best example of the users' complaints of buried commands. Word 1.0 has 100 commands; Word 2003 has more than 1,500, Capossela said.

The Office 12 version of Word will be familiar to users, but it also offers new organization to save time. For example, a user can mouse-over the font list and a preview window shows what a document would look like in that font or and size.

Editing tools have also been enhanced to allow for easier editing, viewing and collaboration.

What wasn't a part of Capossela's demo was any example of integration of acquired communications technologies.

For example, in March, Microsoft acquired peer-to-peer business collaboration software maker Groove Networks and last month it purchased Voice over Internet Protocol specialist Teleo.

CommandTabs in Office
Microsoft replaced the standard menus and toolbars with Command Tabs.
Source: Microsoft

Office 12 will enter beta this fall and is slated for formal release in 2006 -- around the same time as Windows Vista, the next version of the company's operating system.

That's no accident, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, said in his opening keynote. He views the offerings as a powerful one-two punch that will convince corporate decision-makers to upgrade from current versions.

The launches will be supported by the largest marketing push in the company's history, Gates said.

"The two releases are very synergistic," Gates said in his keynote. "We want corporation to say, 'Let's get that out to our desktops."