I have been using the Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 2 release now since the day it was released. I have to say that it is by far the best Office release I have ever seen. Now, not everything is perfect but overall I give it two big thumbs up.

Here are some of the features I have found to be most valuable.

Tabbed Menus
The first thing I noticed when I started using the new version of Word was the tabbed menu. I have to say I was not trilled about it when I first saw it, it seemed clunky and I could not find anything I was looking for. After a while I started to get the hang of the new menu and it grew on me. Now I fly around the menu and accomplish task quite quickly. It is one of thoughts changes that you need to get used to but once you do it is actually more efficient than the traditional drop down menu style.

Floating Format Window
Another addition to Word is the floating format window. Now don’t quote me on the term, I am sure that is not actually what they are called. Basically if you select a section of text and hover the mouse pointer over it you will be presented with a window containing common tasks. Things like text formatting, indenting, highlighting, bullets and more.

Change Preview
This enhancement is so simple that you wonder why it has not been done before. Now when you want to make a change to your document you can actually preview the change within the document before you commit it. For example, if you want to change the look of your table you can hover the mouse over the different table styles and it will show you what it will look like before you click the style and commit the change. You can quickly try out many different styles and commit the one that looks the best. So simple, so effective.

Smart Art
If you did not know any better you would have to believe I became a graphic artist over night! Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a bit but the new Smart Art in PowerPoint is awesome. I am able to make professional looking graphics within my presentations within seconds now. No more spending too much precious time in Visio trying to create that process diagram.

Presenter View
The presenter view in the previous version of PowerPoint was great and the new version is just icing on the cake. The changes here are subtle and completely esthetic but make for a more pleasurable experience. Items have been rearranged and the notes section is much easier to read.

There are so many changes to Outlook that it gets its own section. I have to say that Outlook is one of the applications I spend most of my day in. It is the application I continually have wish lists for and this release of Outlook has heard my prayers.

They have split the coloured flags of Office 2003 into two separate objects. Now they have coloured customizable categories and time sensitive flags. I love it! You can create all the categories you want and assign it any colour you choose. You can also assign a category to an email in the summary view, just like you could with flags. The flags no longer have colours but they are far more valuable. They have due dates assigned to them and act like tasks. You can flag an email from the summary view as well and mark it for follow up today, tomorrow, this week and so on.

Search as been built directly into Outlook now. You can search for content directly from any open folder or quickly search the entire store with a single click. The key words that you have searched for are highlighted not only within the message it self but also on the summary view. Greatest of all the search is quick and accurate.

Organization and Search folders are even more useful now thanks to the coloured categories and time sensitive flags. You can organize, search and retrieve messages based on these new features. Great time savers.

The To-Do Bar. This has to be the single greatest addition to the entire Office Suite. At a glance you can see the current month (with bolded dates that have appointments), your next 3 upcoming appointments (showing title, date & time and location), and your tasks arranged by due date (sort order is customizable). Appointments and Tasks also display the coloured categorization.

Now there are so many more subtle features in all the products but these are the ones I found most useful. Of course, as I stated at the beginning of this post not all the new features are perfect.

RSS Reader
I was overjoyed and exhilarated when I found out that Outlook 2007 would include a built in RSS Reader. It would be integrated with the reader built into Internet Explorer 7 as well, perfect! Well not quite. I get the feeling that the reader was a last minute thought and thrown in at the last minute.

First off, when you import your OPML you loose the entire directory structure you had setup. All your feeds are flattened out into a single folder.

Second, it adds your feeds to your default mailbox. This is a problem because if you are using an Exchange Server it stores all your retrieved message posts on the server. If you have a subscription list like mine your available space on the server fills up quickly. You can change the location of the feeds but you have to change each one separately and you can not change the default location. I also attempted to setup archiving on the feed list to no avail.

Finally, Outlook adds all your feeds to the default send/receive group. So when you start up Outlook don’t plan to be able to use your machine for a while it synchronizes all your feeds. Again you can change this but you have to create a new send/receive group and remove/add each feed one by one.

Outlook RSS Reader …. Great Idea …. Poorly executed. I am going to stick with my Omea Reader until they come out with an update.