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Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Microsoft Updates Office

Speaking at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, Gates showed off the next version of Office, codenamed Office 12. The new Office is "thoroughly redesigned, featuring a results-oriented user interface", that aims to allow users to focus on what they want to do rather than how they do it.

Coupled with Microsft's next-generation OS Windows Vista, new Office will be the most significant release of the software since Office 95 a decade ago, according to Gates. Office 12 is scheduled for release at the same time as Vista in the second half of 2006.

Packed into Office, the software suite that includes Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and Excel.

The new user interface (UI) is the most visible change to the way the core Office 12 applications work.

Microsoft has changed the UI of Office in order to have Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint look very similar to each other. Over time, Microsoft has added more and more features, getting it harder for users to find the things they want to do with the product. For example, Word 1.0 had only about 100 commands, and user could go through the menus and see everything he could do. But Word 2003 has over 1,500 commands, many of which are harder to find.

There are many new features on the Office 12. The main part of the user experience is code-named the "ribbon." It's the one place user go to find the commands that are all about creating a document or presentation. Microsoft has removed the stack of task panes and menus and toolbars to look through. There's just one place to look for commands.

Another feature is "galleries." Galleries gives user a visual representation of the kinds of formatting choices he can make in your document without needing to set a number of individual elements to achieve it. For example, if you want your margins to be wide or narrow or short or tall, you can go to a gallery for a visual image of what that would look like all at once instead of needing to changes several items in a dialog box. The galleries also offer "live previews" in many instances, so you can see exactly what the document is going to look like before you make the choice, which makes it easier to experiment.

Another feature code-named "Super Tooltips" integrates Help topics into the product in a new way. Super Tooltips are integrated Help tips that provide quick access to information about a command directly from the command?s location in the ribbon. The tooltip itself will usually give user enough information about what that feature does so that he can use it.

Another feature is the "Quick Launch Toolbar," which allows users to customize the UI by adding as many commands as you like to a toolbar. It's a place where the user can collect the specific set of commands they use frequently.

There's also a feature code-named "Floatie" which is a formatting tool that presents the most common text formatting features on a tool panel that "floats" over the selected text. So, for instance, if you're in the picture tools and you notice that your heading needs to be bold, the Floatie means you don't have to switch all the way to another tab just to make that change.

A new function could also route a document to three successive people, allowing each person to automatically receive the most recently edited version when the last person was finished.

Julie Larson-Green, group program manager for the Office User Experience at Microsoft said: "It's not a replacement for menus and toolbars for all applications. There's nothing wrong with menus and toolbars. It's just that our powerful authoring applications have lots of commands, so we needed a different model - a higher-level way of presenting commands".

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