The new Microsoft Office 2007 System is more than just a makeover or a point upgrade of Microsoft Office 2003; it's a complete redesign. Users will notice changes to the interface immediately, but don't worry: All the old tools and commands are still there—along with some spiffy new ones as well; they're just arranged a little differently. The new Microsoft Office Open XML file format is also generating many questions. Here are some answers to general questions about Office 2007 that I've received recently.

What are the new Office 2007 file formats?

Microsoft has switched from using binary file formats (.doc, .xls, and .ppt) to using the Open XML formats (.docx, .xlsx, and .pptx). Each Office application that uses the new file format— Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Office Excel 2007, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007—by default stores most of the document content in the Open XML formats. Other document components, such as embedded code, comments, macros, charts, images, tracked changes, and document metadata, are stored separately within the file. Office 2007 zips each component, then zips the entire document (this process is transparent to the user). The resulting files (i.e., the document file and associated component files) in Open XML format are significantly smaller than their binary ancestors. For more information about the Open XML format, see the Microsoft article “Introducing the Office (2007) Open XML File Formats” (http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms406049.aspx).

What else should I know about the Open XML file formats?

Microsoft Office Word 2003 and earlier versions have always used two file types: one for documents (.doc) and another for templates (.dot). Word 2007 will use four different file types: .docx, .dotx, .docm, and .dotm (the x stands for XML and the m for macro). Word documents and templates no longer contain macros or code, a safety mechanism that prevents an attacker from adding hidden code in a document. So when you save a Word 2007 document that doesn't have associated components (e.g., macros or comments), you'll see a .docx (for a document) and .dotx (for a template) file. However, if you used a macro (or another component), you must save the file as a macro-enabled document or template (i.e., .docm or .dotm), otherwise the macro won't work. To do so, from the Save dialog box, use the Save As Type drop-down list to select the document type.

Developers can programmatically access a document's components to enable data mining, document creation from disparate sources, and document manipulation. For example, you could change a corporate logo in a group of documents by using an XML editor. You can also generate Office 2007 documents on a server without having to install the client applications—a big plus for custom applications (custom app developers will love being able to generate Office documents on-the-fly on servers).

The formats for the new Office 2007 documents will be published and available under the same royalty-free license as the Microsoft Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas. Microsoft provides more information for developers about the technologies used in Office 2007 at http://msdn.microsoft.com/office/future/tools/default.aspx.

Can you use Office 2007 to open files from legacy Office-application versions, and vice versa?

Yes. To save files in the older (binary) file formats, you can use the Save As option in Word 2007, Excel 2007, and PowerPoint 2007. To open files from Office 2003 (and earlier) applications in Office 2007 applications, you can use the Compatibility Mode option. If you want to open, edit, or save Office 2007 files in Office 2003 (and earlier) applications, you can do so by using the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word 2007, Excel 2007, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats, which you can download at http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid= 5754865. The Compatibility Pack won't save pre–Office 2007 documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with the features and formatting new to Office 2007, but it does read, honor, and apply all information rights management (IRM) policies that were applied to the document.

The converter currently supports Office 2003 Service Pack (SP1), Microsoft Office XP SP3, and Office 2000 running on Windows Server 2003, Windows XP SP1, or Windows 2000 SP4. Microsoft has announced that it will provide a converter for Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac but hasn't specified an availability date.

Does Word 2007 provide a facility that lets you print documents to PDF format?

Yes. Microsoft provides a free add-in for Office 2007 that lets you print to a PDF or

XML Paper Specification (XPS) file. XPS is an open-format document standard introduced by Microsoft as a competitor to Adobe Systems' PDF. You can learn more about XPS and download the add-in at http://www.microsoft.com/xps.

What's new in the Ribbon UI, other than just appearance?

Commands are arranged in groups on tabs—that's the Ribbon—and although the arrangement is intuitive, it's quite different than the traditional menu scheme that users are familiar with. There's no Tools menu, for example, and all menu functions have been redistributed to various tabs on the Ribbon.

Some Ribbon tabs are contextual, meaning that they appear only when needed. The Picture Tools tab, for example, appears only when you select a picture in the document. Another example is there's no View, Toolbars menu because this functionality is integrated in the Ribbon, as well as the new view buttons and zoom slider that display in the lower-right corner of the window.

The right-click context menu now contains a subset of formatting commands from the Ribbon so that you can make common changes without having to move the mouse up to the Ribbon. Commands that relate to the document as a whole or to the application's configuration are now found in the menu revealed by the Office button in the upper-left corner of the application window. Look there for many commands in the File and Tools menus in earlier Office versions.

You customize the Ribbon differently than you customized your toolbar in the past. To customize the Ribbon, you customize the Quick Access Toolbar that's located, by default, next to the Office button and is available regardless of which tab or section of the Ribbon you're currently viewing. The Quick Access Toolbar is an ideal location to place commands that you use frequently. The drop-down arrow at the end of the Quick Access Toolbar lets you configure its placement above or below the Ribbon, customize the commands on the toolbar, and minimize or restore the Ribbon. Minimizing the Ribbon lets you free up real estate in the application window.

One of the more eye-catching features of Office 2007 is Live Preview, which dynamically applies changes as you hover over commands, previewing what the document, worksheet, or presentation will look like if you click the command. No more “experimenting” with formatting—it happens in real time!

What are Quick Styles, and how do I use them?

Quick Styles are collections of formatting that you can apply to a document, worksheet, or presentation. For example, if you create a document by using the Modern Quick Style set, then change to the Distinctive Quick Style set, all the styles in the document (such as Heading1 and Normal) change to conform to the new styles. If you're familiar with Web design, changing a Quick Style is analogous to changing to a different style sheet when using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Quick Styles are available for Word 2007, Excel 2007, and PowerPoint 2007, so that you can create a consistent look for documents, regardless of the originating application.