The immediately visible features of the new interface include a large button in the top left corner (the Office Button), a Mini Toolbar extending out to the right from the Office Button, and what looks like a menu bar with new top-line items Home, Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View. Microsoft now refers to the menu bar as the ribbon. When you select a top-line item, it displays a tabbed panel instead of a text list.
Let's take the new features one at a time.
Clicking the Office Button opens a vertical panel with some of the key file-related functions new, open, save previously found in the File menu. Mousing over an item displays a list of further options in the panel to the right. Under Save As, for example, you can choose Word Document, Word Template, Word 97-2003 Document, and Other Formats.
An all-new item, Prepare i.e. prepare documents for distribution gives access to options such as Properties, Inspect Document (for hidden metadata), Encrypt Document, and Add a Digital Signature (another new feature).
Clicking the small Word Options button at the bottom of the Office panel launches a new panel with a vertical list of configuration options of the kind found under Tools/Options in previous versions. Selecting an item (Popular, Display, Proofing, Save, etc.) displays additional choices in the panel to the right, most of them requiring you to check or uncheck a box. A simplified version of the Tools/Customization dialog from earlier Word versions is now accessible via a menu item in Windows Options.
The Mini Toolbar, also referred to as the Quick Access Toolbar, extends along the title bar at the very top of the screen, but can optionally be moved to below the ribbon. In the default configuration, it displays three unlabeled icon buttons: Save, Undo and Redo. The icon buttons are slightly smaller, but otherwise this toolbar looks and works like toolbars in past versions.
You can customize the Quick Access Toolbar using the Word Options/Customize dialog to display any command. This toolbar is the only one of its kind, however. And adding command icons to it is the only substantive toolbar customization that you can do. Word 2003 included many specialized toolbars with thematically grouped buttons e.g. Drawing, E-mail, Web, Mail Merge which you could choose to display or not, and could freely customize. You could also create entirely new custom toolbars. This is all gone in Word 2007.
The boldest and most immediately disorienting stroke is the revamping of the top menu bar (now called the ribbon) and the replacement of vertical drop-down lists of menu options with horizontal panels with icon buttons.
It's not that they don't give you a quick visual grasp of what's available. And it's not that the features and functions aren't well organized into logical groupings. It's just that it's so radically different.
It will take most people days at least before they begin to reap the supposed benefits of easier and faster operation. In the meantime, they'll be groping to find features.
In the default mode, selecting a ribbon item displays a panel. It is possible, however, to "minimize" the ribbon so that only the text headings show and a panel drops down only when you click a heading.
Think of the ribbon panels as multi-layer toolbars. In each one, you'll see a few or several groupings of labeled buttons, with a title identifying the group at the bottom. Groupings in the Home panel, for example, include Clipboard, Font, Paragraph, Styles and Editing. The Font grouping includes a font selector drop-down list and 13 other buttons or objects related to font control.
In the bottom right corner of most groupings, you'll see a small expansion button. When you click it, the button pops up a dialog box, often virtually identical to a dialog box from past versions of the program. Click the expansion button in the bottom right of the Font grouping, for example, and the full Font dialog from Word 2003 appears.
Other top-line items and panel groupings:
Word 2007 includes all or most of the functions and features of past versions of the program they're just organized and presented differently. For a first-time customer, this interface might actually be easier to learn because it is more logical and visual. For the rest of us, it will be a little like learning to type with a new keyboard layout. A period of adjustment will be required. Then you may see some productivity improvements.
More troubling is the loss of customization features. You can no longer change context-sensitive (right-click) menus, for example a feature we took advantage of to add items to the right-click menus we use constantly. You cannot add new (or remove existing) top-line ribbon items, as you could for top-line menu items in past versions.
You also cannot add new (or remove existing) buttons on ribbon tabs. Microsoft insiders say some customization features may be reinstated in future releases, but nothing has been said officially.
If you've invested heavily in writing macros and customizing your current version of Word, think long and hard about whether Word 2007's new features and the possible productivity benefits from a more user-friendly interface are worth the pain of migration. On the other hand, you will eventually have to convert because at some point Microsoft will stop supporting earlier versions.
This article was first published on WinPlanet.com.