If your nonprofit relies on Microsoft Office for crucial day-to-day tasks, you may be wondering about the recently released Office 2007 suite's new features, potential impact on your budget, and whether upgrading now makes sense.
To help you decide whether moving to Office 2007 is right for your organization, we've answered a handful of frequently asked questions. You may want to use our answers to assess the potential pros and cons of upgrading to Vista at your own organization.
What are the differences among the various versions of Office 2007?
Microsoft has released eight different versions of Office 2007, ranging from a simple edition containing just three applications to an advanced packaged that contains 10 applications.
The eight versions of Office 2007 — Basic, Home & Student, Standard, Small Business, Professional, Ultimate, Professional Plus, and Enterprise — all include Word and Excel. (Note that the simplest edition of Office 2007, Basic, is only available to equipment manufacturers and not to the general public.)
Basic, Standard, Professional Plus, and Enterprise include Microsoft's Outlook email client. PowerPoint has been omitted from the Basic edition only.
Microsoft has also added two new applications to some of the Office 2007 suites. Groove, a peer-to-peer collaboration tool, is available only in the high-end Ultimate and Enterprise editions. Meanwhile, note-taking program OneNote — which was previously only available as a standalone product — can now be found in the Home and Student, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions. Otherwise, the applications included in Office 2007 vary according to the package you select.
For a comprehensive look at which applications are bundled in the various editions, see Microsoft's official Office system suite comparison chart.
What are the new features in Office 2007?
While Groove and OneNote are the only two new applications that have been added to the Office 2007 suites, Microsoft has made significant changes and added new features to a number of other Office programs.
The biggest and most noticeable change concerns the user interface. Microsoft has abandoned the traditional menu found in past Office applications in favor of a design scheme it calls the ribbon. Rather than requiring the user to browse through several menu trees, the blue ribbon interface (which can be changed to either black or silver) arranges all of its options under a few basic tabs; clicking a tab brings up a selection of related tools. For instance, in Excel 2007, choosing the Insert tab brings up a toolbar containing all available tools, such as those for inserting columns, charts links, and graphics.
The ribbon interface lets you preview a change before making it. For example, in Word 2007, users can see how certain styles, fonts, and text sizes will look in their document simply by clicking the Change Styles icon and browsing through a list.
The ribbon interface also pops up certain toolbars when it thinks you might need them. For instance, when you highlight a block of text in Word 2007, a small formatting toolbar will appear with options for changing font styles and applying italics and bold to text.
Though the user interface is the most obvious change in certain Office 2007 applications, Microsoft has also added a variety of less noticeable features. For instance, you can now save Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access files as PDF documents. Word also contains a feature that lets you immediately publish a document to several blogging platforms, such as Blogger and WordPress.
For a comprehensive look at the new features found in each Office application, see Microsoft's What's New in the 2007 Release page and click the program you have questions about.
Keep in mind that since certain Office 2007 applications have radically redesigned interfaces, you may want to consider what kind of impact upgrading will have on your staff in terms of how much training they'll need to become proficient with the new applications. Nonprofits that have staff members with less technology experience may want to conduct formalized training workshops or create job aids to help users learn their way around the new programs.
The new ribbon interface as seen in Microsoft Word 2007.
Are Office 2007 files compatible with older versions of Office or competing productivity suites?
In the 2007 versions of certain Office applications — including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — Microsoft has introduced a new file format that's designed to help keep file sizes small. This new format adds the letter "X" onto the end of Microsoft's existing file format extensions. So while a document created in Word 2003 might be called "fundraising_goals.doc", the same document created in Word 2007 would be called "fundraising_goals.docx."
By default, Office will save your documents in this new file format. If someone else needs to open or edit the file using a previous version of the Office application, they will have to install a special piece of software in order to do so.
However, you can get around this potential inconvenience by choosing the Save As option in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint 2007 and saving the file in an older version of the Office application released between the years 1997 and 2003. Saving the file in an older format might also be necessary if some of your staffers use another productivity suite, such as the free, open-source Open Office.
How much does Office 2007 cost?
As is the case with Microsoft's recently released Vista OS, price tags on Office 2007 vary according to the edition you're purchasing. Costs also depend on whether you're upgrading from a previous version or buying Office 2007 new.
If you want to upgrade an older Office suite to 2007, you can only choose from the Standard, Small Business, Professional, or Ultimate editions, as Microsoft does not offer upgrades for the other four editions. Upgrades start at $239 per license for the Standard edition and go all the way up to $539 for the Ultimate edition.
Organizations that are purchasing a Microsoft Office package for the first time or want a version that doesn't support upgrades can expect to pay anywhere from $399 for the Standard edition to $679 per license for the Ultimate edition. Note that if you want to buy a number of Office 2007 licenses for use on multiple computers, you'll need to contact Microsoft for pricing details for Professional Plus and Enterprise editions.
If your organization doesn't need all the applications found in one of Office 2007 suites, you can also upgrade or purchase individual applications. For a complete Office 2007 pricing list, visit the official 2007 Microsoft Office System Pricing page.
Office Professional Plus 2007 (Includes Software Assurance) is also available to qualifying nonprofits for a $20 administration fee from TechSoup Stock.
What are the system requirements for Office 2007?
Whether your organization is upgrading to Office 2007 from an older version or purchasing it new, all editions of the productivity suite will require you to have computers running a Windows XP Service Pack 2 operating system or later. All editions of Office 2007 also require computers with at least a 500-MHz processor and 256 MB of RAM.
Depending on which edition of Office 2007 you're interested in, your computers will also need between 1.5 GB and 3 GB of free hard drive space. For a complete list of system requirements for the various editions of Office 2007, visit the official 2007 Microsoft Office Release System Requirements page.
Can I try Office 2007 before I decide if it's right for my organization?
Microsoft provides users with several ways to evaluate Office 2007 applications. If you want to take a cursory look at Office 2007's new interface and features, you can try out each new application via an interactive online demo by visiting Microsoft's Test Drive the 2007 Microsoft Office Release page. In order to check out the online demo, you'll need to create an account with Microsoft and download a small Internet Explorer browser plug-in.
If, on the other hand, you want to get a more realistic feel for how Microsoft Office 2007 will run on your nonprofit's systems, you can download a free, fully functional 60-day trial version of several different editions of the suite.
Although installing the trial version of Office 2007 won't overwrite any older version of Office installed on your computer, you might still want to be sure that you have the older version's original installation disk — just in case something goes wrong. Also, if you do decide to purchase the full version of Office 2007 at any point during your trial period, be sure to uninstall the demo before you install the version you bought. Finally, it's probably a safe bet to back up your computer's data before installing the trial version, in case unforeseen problems or conflicts occur.
What support options does Microsoft offer for Office 2007?
Microsoft will provide free tech support for the Office 2007 suite and individual Office 2007 applications for the first 90 days after registering the product. Once that 90-day period has passed, Microsoft will charge $49 for each Office tech-support request, though the company will address problems caused by viruses or other security threats for free. For more information on tech support as it pertains to Office 2007, visit this Microsoft Help and Support page.
Will Microsoft still provide support for older Office applications?
According to information found on its Web site, Microsoft still provides technical support for previously released Office applications, including those from 2000 and 2003. Depending on what product you need help with, you can receive support via telephone, email, or live chat; most support requests will cost your organization $49 per incident, though the company may charge more for certain products. For a list of applications Microsoft still officially supports, visit this Microsoft Help and Support page.
Productivity suites such as Office 2007 can be integral to your organization's day-to-day operations; knowing a bit more about Microsoft's new applications can give you a better idea of whether you want to upgrade soon, wait a while, or consider an alternative product. Since technology upgrades are often time-consuming and expensive, making a smart initial buying decision is the best possible first step you can take.