Microsoft Office Ultimate 2007 is the latest release of Microsoft’s new office suite. Just as their recent operating system upgrade, Vista, was originally released in no less than eight different versions, Office Ultimate is the top of the line among five Office releases.
It contains the new versions Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Outlook — which includes a contact management utility called Business Contact Manager and a host of new utilities.
The changes can be roughly put in two categories, ease of use and future proofing. To address both, Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Adobe’s book with its latest Creative Suite, which bought many disparate programs together in one box and standardised them.
Every application in the Office suite now has what’s called the ‘ribbon’ rather than the toolbars you’re used to. The ribbon is the same across the suite and it contains all the commands that used to be buried in a dizzying array of menus, dialogue boxes and palettes. The ribbon also learns as you use it, digging commands up from the thousands possible and putting them in plain sight in response to your most common tasks.
The common interface and command access makes Microsoft Office almost an operating system in itself, standardising everything you do across the suite and letting you do things from syncing your contact information to your accounts software data to posting straight to a blog from Microsoft Word. In that regard, it’s an extension of the philosophy Microsoft’s been pushing for the last few years since the advent of .NET — of enmeshing your operating system and applications into the one amphorous workflow.
The most notable of the new applications in the Ultimate version of the Suite are OneNote, InfoPath and Groove. OneNote is a virtual clipping board where you can collect notes, pictures and all sorts of other information in one place much like a scribbling pad. InfoPath — an electronic form designer — is a curious addition as the only people The West can think of who’d need it are professional web developers, and it’s unlikely they’d be using Microsoft technologies to do their job.
The inclusion of Groove 2007 is most telling about Microsoft’s plan for the future. It’s a workspace manager you can share online or over a network for team collaboration, and seems to be Microsoft’s desktop-based weapon to combat Google Documents in the impending large-scale migration of document and project collaboration online.
If you spend most of your day using Microsoft Office, it’s well worth upgrading to Office 2007, and the Ultimate version will have everything you need and more, the $1,000 price tag more than paying for itself in productivity. Such sweeping changes across the board mean an inherent learning curve — it took several minutes of fruitless searching to even find Outlook’s Business Contact Manager, let alone use it. But as a whole the suite is more intuitive and you’ll soon be glad the commands and tools in the suite have been standardised to the degree they have.