I returned to Microsoft (after a 7 year hiatus) in late 2003 just as the Office 2007 effort was getting under way. Landing on the Word team, where I'd spent a couple years in the mid 90s, was pretty exciting for me. After being away from Microsoft for so long (I left the world of software and move to Indonesia and worked in the world of NGOs) I shared the view of many Word users that Word hadn't changed much since Office 97. It seemed to me that there was so much room for improvement. (I'm now ducking to avoid getting pelted by my friends and teammates who labored long hard hours over all those releases!)

Now don't get me wrong, I take no special credit for the great things that are in store for you in Word 2007. The timing of my arrival was completely serendipitous. But it was all very exciting to me none-the-less. The entire Office organization was all excited about creating a mind blowing version of Office that challenged a lot of people's assumptions about what Office could be.

As the project got underway our efforts began to focus on a few key ideas. I'm going to give a quick overview of these below. It's a bit of a tease, but helps set the stage for a more detailed discussion of all the work that has gone into Word 2007. If you're head is spinning at the end and you are wondering if we added/changed [insert your favorite feature addition or change here], just hold on and we'll get to the details in future posts!

Dramatic improvements in document authoring

Let's face it, Word 2003 is too hard for many of us to use. It's powerful and it's complicated. The new user interface in Word 2007 is a vast improvement for us all. I'm sure you're reading Jensen's blog to catch all the details on the new UI. Things that were hard to find before are now discoverable and tasks that used to take you many clicks now take you just a couple. For example, inserting a complex cover page is as simple as selecting one from a visual gallery.

Not only is Word 2007 easier to use, but you can get better looking results too. We have new defaults that create better looking, easier to read documents. We've added wonderful new fonts. Document themes let you get the perfect color, font and effects combinations for your document. Document building blocks (designer created document parts like the cover pages I mentioned above) are built on top of styles & themes so that they always match the document in which you use them.

Lots to talk about here to say the least.

Powerful, easier to create Word templates & solutions

The new Open XML formats alone go a long way to enable more powerful and easier to create (read less code) solutions in Word. Brian is doing a great job of covering all the technical details in his blog. We've added content controls which allow you to structure your solutions/template in a way that helps guide the user as they author a document with the solution. Think of them as super placeholders (for starters). And, finally the Open XML format supports an XML data store. You can bind to data from a variety of sources (SharePoint is one example) and present that data on the document surface.

The power in these new features isn't captured in my one sentence overviews above, but when you combine these new features with those in point #1 you get a lot of muscle for creating good looking, flexible and powerful solutions on top of Word. Oh yeah, and I didn't even mention the new RibbonX extensibility model that comes with our new UI!

Key improvements for our legal and academic customers

Each release of Word provides us the opportunity to focus a bit extra attention on one or two unique groups of Word customers. This release legal and academic customers won the feature lottery. (Of course, it isn't a lottery but it probably feels that way to everyone reading this.) I could list out the features that we've done for each of these customer groups, but I'd rather keep you guessing. I think you'll be pleased. Each is a significant enhancement to Word and, while they are targeted at specific customers, they will be useful for many people.

And…

That's not all. Those are just the major areas. We've improved reading mode, improved our integration with Outlook, added PDF support and a lot more. Next week we'll start jumping in to the details.

Tomorrow look for an interesting post about a feature that will make its debut in the upcoming public beta. Very few people have seen or heard about it.

Oh, and tomorrow will definitely come this time.