Microsoft Office 2007: Any Questions?

Office 2007Office productivity software such as Microsoft Office is a key component for non profit organisations in undertaking many of  their crucial day-to-day tasks. In this context decision makers in such organisations wonder if they should upgrade to a later (or rather the latest) version of Office. Questions that arise frequently focus on the software's new features, potential impact on the organisation's budget, and whether upgrading now makes sense.

A decision to upgrade can have serious implications at the best of times and should be taken carefully. We have attempted to address a few frequently asked questions which may be of relevance and assist in making that decision.

What are the differences among the various versions of Office 2007?

It may surprise you to find that Microsoft has released eight different versions of Office 2007, ranging from a simple edition containing just three applications to an advanced edition packaged with ten applications.

The eight versions of Office 2007 are the following:

  • Basic (only available to original equipment manufacturers and not to the general public)
  • Home & Student
  • Standard
  • Business
  • Professional
  • Ultimate
  • Professional Plus, and
  • Enterprise

All of the above include Word and Excel.

Basic, Standard, Professional Plus, and Enterprise include Microsoft's Outlook email client. PowerPoint is available on all editions except Basic.

Microsoft has also added two new applications called Groove and OneNote to some of the Office 2007 editions.

Groove is a peer-to-peer collaboration tool, available only in the high-end Ultimate and Enterprise editions. The note-taking program OneNote, which was previously only available as a standalone product, can now be found in the Home and Student, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions. Other applications included in Office 2007 vary according to the edition. Detailed information can be found at the official Office system suite comparison chart at the Microsoft web site.

What are the new features in Office 2007?

Perhaps the biggest and most noticeable change is the radical new user interface. Microsoft has abandoned the traditional menu found in past Office applications in favor of a design scheme it calls the ribbon. Rather than requiring the user to browse through several menu trees, the blue ribbon interface (which can be changed to either black or silver) arranges all of its options under a few basic tabs; clicking a tab brings up a selection of related tools. For instance, in Excel 2007, choosing the Insert tab brings up a toolbar containing all available tools, such as those for inserting columns, charts links, and graphics.

The ribbon interface also lets you preview a change before making it. For example, in Word 2007, users can see how certain styles, fonts, and text sizes will look in their document simply by clicking the Change Styles icon and browsing through a list.

A screenshot of Office 2007.
The new ribbon interface as seen in Microsoft Word 2007.

Certain toolbars pop up intuitively when the application thinks you might need them. For instance, when you highlight a block of text in Word 2007, a small formatting toolbar automatically appears with options for changing font styles and applying italics and bold to text.

Though the user interface is the most obvious change, a number of less noticeable but useful features have been added. One of these is an option to save in the portable document (PDF) format. Acknowledging user demand, Microsoft has enabled this new feature which allows all Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access files to be saved as PDF documents. Word also contains a feature that allows immediate publishing to several blogging platforms, such as Blogger.

For a comprehensive look at the new features found in each Office application, see Microsoft's What's New in the 2007 Release page and select the relevant application.

Since certain Office 2007 applications have radically redesigned interfaces, you may want to consider what kind of impact upgrading will have on your staff in terms of training required to become proficient with the new applications. Organisations that have staff members with less technology experience may need to conduct formalized training workshops or create job aids to help users learn their way around the new programs.


Are Office 2007 files compatible with older versions of Office or competing productivity editions?

Backward compatibility is an essential consideration when upgrading. This essentially means that other users, such as your donors, stakeholders or colleagues, who have not yet upgraded should still be able to access, and if necessary, edit your files created in Office 2007.

Certain Office 2007 applications — including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — have a new file format, apparently designed to help keep file sizes small. This new format adds the letter "X" onto the end of Microsoft's existing file format extensions. So while a document created in Word 2003 might be called "fundraising_goals.doc", the same document created in Word 2007 would be called "fundraising_goals.docx."

By default, Office will save your documents in this new file format. If someone else needs to open or edit the file using a previous version of the Office application, they will have to install a special piece of software in order to do so.

However, you can get around this potential inconvenience by choosing the Save As option in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint 2007 and saving the file in an older version of the Office application released between the years 1997 and 2003. Saving the file in an older format might also be necessary if some of your staffers use another productivity suite, such as the free, open-source Open Office.

How much does Office 2007 cost?

As is the case with Microsoft's recently released Vista OS, price tags on Office 2007 vary according to the edition purchased. Costs also depend on whether it is an upgrade or a brand new purchase.

If you want to upgrade an older Office suite the only available options are the Standard, Small Business, Professional, or Ultimate editions. Upgrades start at R1,707 per license for the Standard edition and go all the way up to R3,850 for the Ultimate edition.

Organizations that are purchasing a Microsoft Office package for the first time or want a version that doesn't support upgrades can expect to pay anywhere from R2,850 for the Standard edition to R4,850 per license for the Ultimate edition. Note that if you want to buy a number of Office 2007 licenses for use on multiple computers, you'll need to contact Microsoft for pricing details for Professional Plus and Enterprise editions.

If your organization doesn't need all the applications found in one of Office 2007 editions, you can also upgrade or purchase individual applications. For a complete Office 2007 pricing list, visit the official 2007 Microsoft Office System Pricing page.

Office 2007 Professional Plus is available to qualifying organisations for a R145 administration fee from SANGOTeCH.

What are the system requirements for Office 2007?

All editions of the productivity suite will require computers running a Windows XP Service Pack 2 operating system or later, regardless of if its an upgrade or a new purchase. All editions of Office 2007 also require computers with at least a 500-MHz processor and 256 MB of RAM.

Depending on the edition of Office 2007, your computers will need between 1.5 GB and 3 GB of free hard drive space. For a complete list of system requirements for the various editions of Office 2007, visit the official 2007 Microsoft Office Release System Requirements page.

Can I try Office 2007 before I decide if it's right for my organization?

Microsoft provides users with several ways to evaluate Office 2007 applications. If you want to take a cursory look at Office 2007's new interface and features, you can try out each new application via an interactive online demo by visiting Microsoft's Test Drive the 2007 Microsoft Office Release page. In order to check out the online demo, you'll need to create an account with Microsoft and download a small Internet Explorer browser plug-in.

If, on the other hand, you want to get a more realistic feel for how Microsoft Office 2007 will run on your organisation's systems, you can download a free, fully functional 60-day trial version of several different editions of the suite.

Although installing the trial version of Office 2007 won't overwrite any older version of Office installed on your computer, you might still want to be sure that you have the older version's original installation disk — just in case something goes wrong. Also, it's probably a safe bet to back up your computer's data before installing the trial version, in case unforeseen problems or conflicts occur.

What support options does Microsoft offer for Office 2007?

Microsoft will provide free tech support for the Office 2007 suite and individual Office 2007 applications for the first 90 days after registering the product. Once that 90-day period has passed, Microsoft will charge for each Office support request, though the company will address problems caused by viruses or other security threats for free. For more information on technical support as it pertains to Office 2007, visit this Microsoft Help and Support page.

Will Microsoft still provide support for older Office applications?

Microsoft still provides technical support for previously released Office applications, including those from 2000 and 2003, according to information posted on its web site. Depending on what product you need help with, you can receive support via telephone, email, or live chat from Microsoft. For a list of applications Microsoft still officially supports, visit this Microsoft Help and Support page.

Productivity editions such as Office 2007 can be integral to an organisation's day-to-day operations; knowing a bit more about Microsoft's new applications can give you a better idea of whether you want to upgrade soon, wait a while, or consider an alternative product. Since technology upgrades are often time-consuming and expensive, making a smart initial buying decision is the best possible first step you can take.

Adapted by By Joseph George based on an article by Brian Satterfield, Tech Soup.