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Sunday, 18 January 2009 07:38

Office 14 alpha screenshots show ribbon everywhere

When Microsoft launched Office 2007, it also introduced the new “ribbon” interface, hated by some and loved by others. Screenshots of the Office 14 suite, said to be due for release in 2010, now show the ribbon is everywhere – but will Microsoft update Powerpoint so it matches and betters the “cinema transitions” in Apple’s Keynote?

ArsTechnica has a nice collection of screenshots of the Office 14 “alpha”, with a wider release (perhaps a “pre-beta”) apparently not due until March this year.

Little is known about the true advances of Office 14 beyond the “ribbon everywhere” development, aside from the additional fact that Office 2007 is really known as Office 12, suggesting that Office 14 is being called that because someone at Microsoft is superstitious, or Microsoft is worried that its customers are.

In addition, Office 14 is only a codename: no-one yet publicly knows whether Microsoft will choose to call the suite Office 2010, Office 7 (to match Windows 7), Office 14 or something else.

iTWire colleague Davey Winder has written an article called “Does anyone care about Office 14?” where some additional minor detail is exposed, but given the free availability of Open Office, Google Docs and other office suites, the big question for Microsoft will be whether anyone wants to pay for Office 14 or not.

It’s the same story with Windows 7. While reviews of the beta have largely been fantastic, suggesting Windows 7 will be the success that Windows Vista wasn’t (at least in the eyes of the public and the press), the high cost of Windows and Office will be questioned as never before.

Everyone knows that Windows and Office are the cash cows that have kept Microsoft in massive profit over the past few years, funding everything else from online search adventures to the Xbox, Zune and other initiatives.

Keeping Windows and Office prices low and affordable will discourage piracy, get many more people paying Microsoft rather than reaching for Ubuntu and Open Office (or other distros and office clones) and keep money pouring into Microsoft’s coffers - crucial in a time of “economic crisis”.

For me, the upgrade to Powerpoint will be of particular interest. This is because Powerpoint has really changed little over the years, with Apple’s “Keynote” presentation software blowing Powerpoint out of the water when it comes to “cinematic transitions”.

So, will Microsoft update Powerpoint? What about the "Classic Menus" issue? Will Microsoft ever deliver what its customers want, or will economic issues force it to reconsider? All is continued on page 2 – please read on!

In one sense, transitions are a waste of space – all they do is take you from one slide to the other, with slides being where the actual content is.

Even so, "presentation" IS everything when delivering a presentation, beyond the crucial content itself, of course, and Powerpoint’s slide transitions just look old.

This can be fixed by buying the “CrystalGraphics” PowerPlugs for Powerpoint, delivering a range of transitions that blow Keynote away, but at US $599 for the “PowerPlugs Ultimate Combo 2007” this is a massively expensive upgrade.

It’s something that Microsoft should be delivering as a standard part of the package. Sure, this won’t endear Microsoft to CrystalGraphics, but I don’t care! I’d rather put that US $599 towards buying an actual Mac and the US $99 iWork package, which comes with Keynote.

Powerpoint isn't of interest to everyone, but it's one thing I'll definitely be keeping an eye on, while hopefully Microsoft actually improves Office 14 further - beyond just ribbonising everything, which it should have done in the first place!

And on that note, when Office 14 is released, there will also be those that once again bemoan the lack of “classic menus”.

While the Addintools company has produced the fantastic “Classic Menus for Office 2007”, delivering all of the old menu functionality back for those that want it (and are willing to pay the approx US $30 price for the software), this too is something Microsoft could have easily added if it wanted to.

Presumably Addintools will update its software to work with Office 14 as well, delivering the classic menus that Microsoft won't.

When will software companies start actually delivering what consumers want, rather than delivering what they think is good for the customer? At least give consumers the choice to work the way they want to, while making the “new way” so good consumers will voluntarily give up the old ways to move forward with the new.

I guess it’s a forlorn hope, a bit like expecting Apple to give consumers what they want (copy and paste, removable batteries etc).

Ah well, these companies will just have to learn the hard way, with Linux and Office clones rapidly catching up and making customers wonder why they should pay hundreds of dollars for software when that money can be better spent on bills, the kids, themselves or something else.

We are in an “economic crisis” after all, with everyone predicting “tough times ahead”. If Microsoft doesn’t voluntarily come out with price reductions with its next versions, it will pay the price and will be forced to do so in the future.

Be proactive, Microsoft, and enjoy the positive press and consumers happy to pay you money - rather than reach for ever improving free alternatives!



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