Microsoft Office 2007 is certainly bigger than any previous version of the best-selling productivity suite. Whether it is better is a subject of some controversy.
The Ribbon isn't the only change. There are a large number of new features (and a few old ones that have been dropped). The very structure of the files have been changed to allow for the Open XML file formats. And, of course, the suite has been optimized to work with Microsoft's new Vista operating system.
Office 2007 expands on the "family of products" idea to include a number of increasingly distant cousins, as well. The Office brand has been extended to include a number of server and client applications that spread the focus of Office 2007 beyond personal productivity (i.e. Word/Excel/Powerpoint) to network-based collaboration with Groove, InfoPath, and SharePoint Designer. The sheer volume of code means that Microsoft has had to offer more versions of Office 2007 as a way of tailoring it to its various markets.
According to Microsoft, the new version will go to OEMs on November 30th for inclusion with new PCs, and appear on retail shelves on January 30, 2007. It will be interesting to see how long it takes users of past versions to warm up to this one. Some accommodations, like options to save files in the existing file formats -- .DOC, .XSL, .PPT -- will cushion the blow. But because Word 2007 will be the only version available for Vista, and Vista within a very few years will be the only supported version of Windows, reluctant holdouts will sooner or later be forced to upgrade.
Eight Flavors Of Office
Microsoft Office 2007 makes more applications available in more variations -- eight altogether -- than ever before. These will range from the bargain-basement OEM-only version of Office, which will offer only Word, Excel, and Outlook, to the application-complete Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007, which will include Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, Access, InfoPath, Communicator, Groove, and various integrated solution capabilities -- and which will only be available through volume licensing.
Between these extremes there are a variety of combinations. Some of the choices for which apps go with which groups are a bit puzzling: For example, the $149 Home and Student version includes Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint (under the assumption, presumably, that parents do a lot of presentations), but leaves out Outlook. The next version up, Office Standard, exchanges OneNote for Outlook and costs $250 more.
Confused yet? Microsoft has dedicated part of its site to trying to explain what apps will be in what suites, and how much it will cost you. It will be interesting to see which versions actually succeed, both with enterprise and with the public.