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Office 12 Enters First Major Beta Test

Microsoft on Tuesday released Beta 1 of Office 12 to technical beta testers. The nearly 600MB code release is the first widespread preview of the next version of its widely used business application suite.

Code-named Microsoft Office 12, it features a significantly redesigned user interface, many new server- and client-based functionalities, and the default use of XML-based file formats for all its applications.

One of the most noticeable changes in Office 12 is the new user interface. The customizable toolbar functionality introduced in Office back in the early 1990s is gone. Toolbars are being replaced by a single large bar, called the "Ribbon," which consists of a row of "tabs" and "groups," stretching across the top of the program.

One of the most noticeable changes in Office 12 is the Ribbon that replaces the previous versions' customizable toolbar. (Click to enlarge image)

The new groups are made up of clusters of clickable icons; larger, more descriptive images; and labels that describe the most frequently used icons from the old toolbars. The Ribbon provides a way for Office 12 to expose the most often-used functions from a large number of groups (what used to be toolbars) simultaneously. According to Microsoft's Jacob Jaffe, Group Product Manager, Microsoft Office, the Ribbon delivers the 60 to 70 percent most commonly clicked Office functions while using 13 percent less screen real estate than the default Office 2003 toolbar arrangement.

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