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With release near, Microsoft previews Office 2008

Jim Dalrymple | Jan. 3, 2008
Microsoft Corp. has taken the wraps off the latest version of Office, showcasing its new features and capabilities.

Users who want to create their own formulas can turn to Excel's new Formula Builder, which will walk them through the steps needed to build the right formula. If users aren't sure about a particular function when building a formula, they can check out a description of each one by clicking on it.

Formula AutoComplete is another new feature that presents a drop-down menu of functions as soon as a user starts typing. Excel also includes improvements in charting with 3-D effects, fills and transparencies.

DeSpain said that the maximum size of an Excel spreadsheet has also expanded greatly in 2008. Excel in Office 2004 could hold a total of 17 million cells. In Office 2008, Excel can handle more than 17 billion.

PowerPoint

The updated presentation application includes several new features specific to Mac users. For example, users can now send their presentations to iPhoto and then sync them to an iPod. (The presentations need to be saved as a PNG or JPEG file prior to transfers.)

PowerPoint also takes advantage of the six-button Apple remote that comes with most new Mac systems, allowing users to control their presentations.

Of course, PowerPoint 2008 includes other features like dynamic guides that help users align text and graphics when building presentations. Improved presenter tools, custom views and a thumbnail view round out the new features.

Perhaps of most importance to users who rely on PowerPoint to generate cross-platform presentations, Office 2008 adopts the same version of the OfficeArt graphics engine used in Office 2007 for Windows. As a result, users should be able to move rich PowerPoint files back and forth between the two systems with much greater compatibility than they might have expected with past versions.

Shared and other components

All the programs in the Office 2008 suite support Microsoft's new Open XML File Format, which is the native format of Office 2007 for Windows. Users can also set any of the programs to save by default into formats that are compatible with previous versions of Microsoft Office for Mac.

Users who like to automate or script Microsoft Office will note several major changes. Gone is support for Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications macro language. (Although files containing such macros can be opened and saved, you can't run them from within Office 2008.) In comes a collection of more than 70 Automator actions and several sample Automator workflows that allow Mac users to automate various parts of Office via Apple's built-in automation tool. (Like Exchange support, Automator features are not available in the lower-priced Home and Student edition.)

Throughout, Microsoft Office users will find that the program's user interface looks much more in tune with Apple's current fashions. Office windows now sport a modern set of tool-bar icons, and the programs all feature a more OS X-style set of preference windows for controlling program settings.

 

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