This is a common question for all of the Microsoft Office applications, but particularly so for Word. It's a close relative to the question, "Aren't you finished with Word yet?"

Recently one of my nephews visited from Oklahoma. After seeing the Microsoft Visitor Center and playing with the Xboxes there, he joked that I must spend a lot of time playing games there "since you've been done with Word for long time." Okay, so I didn't think the joke was really that funny, but I did let him know that he'd be eating his words when the next version was released.

Seriously, haven't we been done with word processing for a long time now? What else can we possibly add? Weren't the red squiggles the last really useful feature added to Word?

The answer to most of these questions is yes and no. Yes, Word already has a lot of features. No, most people can't use them very effectively. Yes, the red squiggles (background spelling) and other improvements in spell checking (such as auto-correct) were important innovations. But we've added tons of other useful features, if you can find them. :-)

At the start of the Office “12” project the Word team created a document collection of over 700,000 documents. We know from evaluating our document collection that users struggle to use Word to its full potential. Even if we thought we had already included every possible feature anyone would ever want (yeah, right), even if the underlying architecture was perfect, it is obvious we still have tons of room for improvement because people have trouble finding, let alone using, the features we have.

The new Office “12” user interface is a big step forward toward making our feature easier to find and easier to use. You can read all about it on Jensen Harris' blog. It's been very exciting working with Jensen and his team.

But, the new UI is only the means to an end. The end is moving the state of documents forward in a significant way. With Word “12” you will be able to create documents quickly and with significantly improved results. Let's face it, even though we've add a ton of features to the Office applications over the past 15 years, the look, contents and effectiveness of the documents we create haven't changed that much. Our goal is to enable you to create a new generation of qualitatively better documents.

So how will these next generation documents be better than those we create today? Over the next few days I'd like to describe what makes a document a next generation document. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. Also it is important to point out that Office “12” is just at the beginning of the journey to create next generation documents. More tomorrow…