I have been using Office 2007 since the Betas and followed its development extensively (Jensen Harris is a Program Manager in the Office User Experience Team who published a series of Blog posts that gave an incredible amount of detail into the how the new UI came to be, as well as the some valuable history into the evolution of the Office Suite. His Blog can be found here.) I have been quite impressed with the new products. The new XML-based documents allow for some great programmability options, and the Ribbon UI was quite easy to adapt to, and now that I am used to it, I really do feel that my productivity has actually increased (I am looking forward to the integration of the ribbon UI into parts of the upcoming Windows 7 UI.)
All that being said, a lot of people have not made the move, for quite a number of reasons. Sometimes it is organizational / cost related; other times it can be because the transition from memorized menu-command layouts to the Ribbon layout can be daunting. There are actually a few really interesting tools to help bridge some of these gaps, and I will discuss a few below.
Office Compatibility Pack
Microsoft actually released an update for the Office XP and Office 2003 suites that allows Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files written in Office 2007 (docx, xlsx, and pptx extensions respectively) to be opened in these earlier versions of the suite. The Compatibility Pack description and download link can be found here.
Interactive Command Guides
Another tool that was released to help bridge between the two suite versions is an online interactive command guide. The various web apps present the original Office 2003 menus and toolbars. Selecting an item will trigger an animation that shows the corresponding location of that command within the new Office 2007 UI.
Figure 1- File/Save in Word 2003 and Corresponding Save in Word 2007
Links to the Command Guide Follow.
Getting Started Addin
The last compatibility tool I plan to discuss is the Getting Started addin for the Office Suite. Downloading and installing this addin from Microsoft adds a new “Get Started” tab to Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. The new tab includes demo videos, links to the Interactive Compatibility Guides listed above, and other interactive learning materials. Information about the addins and download links can be found here.
Search Commands Addin
Microsoft created a group within the Office team called the Office Labs. As Jensen Harris puts it, the group’s charter is largely to “create concept cars.” One of their efforts has yielded an addin called Search Commands. Installing Search Commands results in a new tab in your Office applications that allows you to enter a term and search for matching commands. The Search Commands ribbon contents are populated with the command buttons that match your search term, and you can select the command directly by selecting one of these buttons. The Search Commands Addin is available here.
Keep in mind that the tools produced by the Office Labs are experimental, and neither support nor continued development is guaranteed.
Figure 2- Searching for Open in Word