Working With Office 2007’s New Formats

Even if you don't plan to switch from your current Office apps, you'll have to deal with Microsoft's 2007 Office System because the people using it may be sending you files in the upgrade's XML file formats. And if your company is rolling out Office 2007, you'll have to migrate your beloved settings and files from Office 2003, which can be easy, difficult, or impossible (some of your favorites may have been eliminated).

Prep Your 2003 Apps

Regulars at Microsoft's update site have probably already downloaded and installed the company's Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats. The pack lets people using older Office versions open, work on, and save files in the 2007 Office System's native XML formats: .docx for Word, .xlsx for Excel, and .pptx for PowerPoint. Browse to the Microsoft Download Center to download and install the compatibility pack manually. (Downloading the 27MB file may take several minutes.)

Make the Switch to 2007

Before you upgrade, back up your data, including your custom templates, forms, and macros. Then insert your Office 2007 disc; and at the 'Installation You Want' screen choose Upgrade earlier versions. Select Remove all previous versions if you want to delete your 2003 apps while retaining some of your settings, such as Word's custom dictionaries, Excel's custom lists, and Outlook's .pst file.

If you click Keep all previous versions, you'll do just that, Outlook excepted; you can have only one version of that program on your system. To keep Outlook 2003, click the Installation Options tab and set Microsoft Office Outlook to Not Available. To install Outlook 2007 in place of Outlook 2003, select Remove only the following applications and check just the Microsoft Office Outlook box.

Re-Create Your Customizations

In Office 2003 you can easily customize your menus and toolbars. Office 2007 apps are not so accommodating. While tweaking the Quick Access Toolbar is simple, any serious rejiggering of the interface means writing some XML code.

Don't despair: Your custom Office 2003 menus and toolbars will be shunted to Office 2007's Add-Ins tab on the ribbon. Custom menus will appear in the tab's Menu Commands group, and you'll find your custom toolbars in the appropriately named Custom Toolbars group (although using the toolbars is clumsy). If you have just a few commands you want to migrate, put them in the Quick Access Toolbar (see "Rasslin' With Office 2007's New Ribbon Interface," on the next page, for more). If you're determined to create your own ribbon tab, browse to MSDN for Microsoft's instructions, or purchase the $30 RibbonCustomizer utility.

Foolproof File Sharing

The 2007 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can read just about any data file from their ancestors in Offices 97 through 2003, and they can save old files in one of Office's new XML formats. To do so, open the old file, click the Office button, choose Convert, and click OK. A new file will replace the old one. To create an XML version while retaining the older one, click Save As and choose the appropriate XML file type. You may need to close the document (or the Office 2007 app) to finish. Note that some elements (such as charts or embedded pictures) may change size or move around a bit in the converted version of the document.

At present, the only way to convert a bunch of old files to 2007's XML formats in one fell swoop is by using Microsoft's clunky Office Migration Planning Manager, which involves running a batch converter from the command line. Better to avoid the hassle and let your IT department handle the job, or wait for someone to come up with a simpler solution.

Saving Office 2007 files in Office 97 through 2003 formats is a breeze. In Word 2007, for example, click the Office button and choose Save As, Word 97-2003 Document. Note that all Office 2007-specific features will be disabled or hidden in these files. For details, click the Office button and select Prepare, Run Compatibility Checker.

If coworkers and clients insist on sticking with Office 2003 or an older version, you can avoid file-sharing hassles by setting Word, Excel, and/or PowerPoint 2007 to use the older formats by default. For example, to do so in Excel 2007, click the Office button, choose Excel Options, select Save on the left, and under 'Save files in this format', pick Excel 97-2003 Workbook (*.xls).

Next page: Rasslin' with the Ribbon Interface

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