My confession is that I’ve only recently installed Office 2007. I’ve had access to it for a while now, but never had the time to install or use it. I downloaded beta2 a few days after it was made public, but it just sat on my hard drive until this weekend. I still don’t have any free time, but I have a couple of projects that require the latest version, so I will be getting up to speed on it very quickly.
Installing it was no walk in the park. I wasn’t going to install a beta on my production machine because of all the bad things that can happen. That leaves me with a couple of options. I could use another machine or use Microsoft Virtual PC on my production machine. I chose the latter because the spare computers I have laying around are pretty old and slow, and they’re not nearly as convenient as my Latitude D810.
I lamented going through this installation for a couple of weeks before I actually did it. First I had to find my VPC disks. Finding disks around my house is usually quite a chore. I get so many disks from my MSDN subscription and many of them contain programs that I’ve never heard of and would know what to do with anyway. So I don’t really organize those disks, I just throw them in a box. Then, a couple of times every year, I get to dig through the box. I found the disk and installed VPC without issue.
Next I had to dig through the box to find a Windows XP disk that I could install. I found one but it was pre-SP2. “Who need SP2?”, I said. Well, apparently I do. The beta wouldn’t install without it. Seven hours later, my version of XP was up-to-date and ready for an Office installation.
Now the easy part. I downloaded the beta bits from a link on j-walkblog.com. I had this big executable on my hard drive, but it wasn’t on the virtual hard drive inside the virtual PC and the virtual machine wasn’t connected to the network. No prob’, I’ll just burn it to a CD. Errr, prob’. I can’t copy it from the CD to the virtual machine hard drive without getting an I/O error.
Okay, I’ve got an executable that I can’t get to the virtual machine and I’ve got a virtual machine that I can’t figure out how to connect to the Internet. Fortunately, MSDN just sent me a disk that looks like Office 2007 Beta 2, although it has some other stuff on there that makes me suspicious. I pop in the DVD and get something to the tune of “Your windows version isn’t new enough”. At this point I start the afformentioned seven hour journey of patching and rebooting. Once patched, the DVD will still not install. I didn’t get an error messages or anything, it just froze up on the install.
The next day, I decide to give it another go. I browse around the DVD to make sure I’m trying to install the correct thing (I suspect I wasn’t). I clicked on some web page and Internet Explorer opened. I clicked on a hyperlink and was taken to a page on Microsoft’s site telling me that I’m not a beta participant. But wait! This page isn’t local, which can only mean I’m on the Internet. How exactly I got connected to the Internet, I don’t know. But I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I proceeded to MS’s beta area, logged in, and started downloading. I was already registered by virtue of being an MVP, so that was a nice benefit. Finally, I installed Office without issue and started playing around.
Before I installed Office, but after I patched XP, I backed up everything that has anything to do with Virtual PC. My understanding is that if Office totally hoses my virtual machine, I can get back to that state by restoring the files. I hope I’m right about that. Really, I hope I never have to find out.
Now I’d like to share my first impressions with Excel 2007. I haven’t looked at any of the other Office components and probably won’t. As of right now, I have no intention of upgrading from 2003, but I am certainly open to the possibility that my opinion may change. I don’t hold that opinion because I have some problem with O07, only because I’ve traditionally been a late adopter. I used O2000 until last January and switched to O2003 only because I use it at work. Maybe O07 will be so nifty that I just can’t resist. We’ll see.
I’ll start on a positive note. I love the little keyboard helpers that appear above the menus. When I press Alt, a little ‘F’ appears above the file menu, a little ‘H’ appears above the Home tab, etc. For a keyboard guy, such that I am, it seems like a great improvement over past versions.
One thing that I don’t like is that I can’t find anything. It’s not just so-called power users that will have trouble adjusting, it’s anyone who’s used Excel for more than about 15 minutes. I will adjust, I simply don’t yet know if it’s worth it. The purpose of the Ribbon is to make features more discoverable. It certainly does not do that, as far as I can see. There’s nothing about that Ribbon that’s going to make someone try Data Validation that’s never heard of it before. I like the idea that everything is in one place, I just don’t know if it’s as valuable as it seems in theory. I purposefully didn’t use any aides to help me find where the buttons were because I wanted to see how intuitive it was. My success rate was about 50%, success being defined as finding the button before I said “WTF?”.
I really don’t like the fact that they’ve called the first tab “Home”. Home gives me no information about what’s on that tab. I’m guessing it’s such a hodge podge of functions that they couldn’t decide on a name. The other tabs seem to be somewhat functionally related, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t extend that theme. Is it because they wanted the most used buttons on the first tab regardless of function? Maybe, although that certainly contradicts the discoverability objective.
If there’s one stupid thing that’s so great it will convince me to upgrade, it’s the keyboard access to the Ribbon. Pre-O07, if I want to change the font face without my mouse, I had to Cntl+1, Cntl+Tab zero or more times, Tab to the font face box, and arrow down. Roughly speaking. Now I can Alt+h+ff and Alt+down and I’m set. If there was a way to get into the font dropdown on the toolbar pre-O07, I sure never heard of it. I can see myself never opening the Format dialog box again.
I’m having trouble with the File menu, if that is its real name. Why would they make that an office logo icon instead of something that normal people might think is a menu? Why have a menu at all? Why didn’t they make a File tab on the Ribbon with all those functions? Nothing about the File menu make sense to me, but the recently used file list r00lz, as the kids say.
Excel Options is an abomination unto the Excel god. Okay, that may be a little harsh. It is a little easier to read and I found everything I wanted in fairly short order. However, all they did is turn Tools > Options on it’s side. Tabs on the left isn’t groundbreaking, people. It’s just like tabs across the top when you’re lying on the couch. There’s nothing lost here, but there was a lot of opportunity for improvement that, at first glance, appears to have been passed over. My idea, although I don’t know if I ever verbalized it, was for tabs across the top and down the side. The options you’d see would be those that were at the intersection of the top and side tabs. The top tabs would be functionally oriented and the side tabs would be scope oriented. Both top and side would include an “All” tab, well, maybe just side. If you wanted to see options that had to do with calculation and only affected the current workbook, you’d select the “Calc” tab on the top and the “Workbook” tab on the side. Oh well, it’s not a fully formed idea.
One of the first things I did was to check out the real-time formatting, or whatever they call it. I inserted a shape onto the worksheet and started applying 3-D, shadows, perspective, and a host of other stuff. I hover over the button and the shape shows me what it will look like if I select it. I don’t know who came up with this at Microsoft, but they deserve a foosball table in their office. This isn’t just eye-candy. It will drastically reduce the time I spend formatting shapes. Or maybe formatting shapes will be such a joy that I’ll do it more. Either way, it’s a good feature.
I’m pretty excited to have my first 67,000 line text file that I want to import, but it hasn’t happened yet. The first thing I need to do with all these cells is to shrink them down to pixel size and create some artwork. Talk about tedious, but someone will do it.
There’s my first impressions. Feel free to comment on them or on anything else O07. If you have an opinion on Trusted Zones, I’d be interested to hear it. It seems pretty cool to me, but I’ve only barely touched on it. Also, the file format choices seem a little over the top, but I want to reserve judgment on that. If you have an opinion on it, please share it.