A Technical Look at Office 12

By Colin C. Haley | Posted November 18, 2005

Amid growing threats from well-heeled Internet rivals and others, Microsoft has made the technical beta of Office 12 available to 10,000 of its key customers and partners.

The testers' feedback about the suite — which includes the popular Excel, PowerPoint and Word programs — will be used to tweak the broader beta release this spring and the general launch in the second half of 2006.

"The next version of Office is the most significant release in more than 10 years and includes new technologies designed to allow information workers to drive greater business success," Chris Capossela, the Microsoft vice president overseeing the launch, said in a statement.

The progression of Office comes at a time when the Redmond, Wash., giant faces increasing pressure from rivals who are looking to chip away at Microsoft's workplace dominance.

For example, Google recently announced a partnership that could advance the concept of providing Office-like productivity tools online even further.

Microsoft itself is looking to deliver more software online and announced a Web-based version of Office earlier this month.

A week later, Bill Gates implored his senior managers to focus on Internet services.

As for the development of the Office 12 technical beta, streamlining the interface has been the guiding principle. Microsoft acknowledged that some people have complained of "overload," due to all the options loaded in the tools. Given that, developers spent much of the last two years improving the look and feel of the suite's programs.

Some general changes include replacing drop-down menus with navigation tabs, integrating the search box throughout applications and standardizing 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 makeover. 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 customer 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, but it also offers new organization to save time.

For example, you can mouse-over the font list and a preview window shows what a document would look like in each particular font style and size. Editing tools have also been enhanced to allow for easier editing, viewing and collaboration.

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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