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The biggest single change to Word is the introduction of the Ribbon, but other innovations also make it an improved tool for most kinds of writing. Simple improvements include Live Preview, which shows your whole document with a new style or font, just by hovering your cursor over an option in the ribbon.
Word’s new Themes are similar to slide themes in PowerPoint and owe something to paragraph styles, where typographical and format settings are packaged together, and colour schemes, which provide designer-co-ordinated colour sets for use in documents – Publisher has offered colour schemes for years. Themes combine heading and body font choices with colours for highlights and hyperlinks and are applied to the template of a document. There are a dozen or so built in, more are available online and you can create and save your own.
Themes, like many of the options in Word, are presented in Galleries, which show a series of thumbnails rather than complex dialogs full of options. For quick and simple selection of fonts, styles, clip-art and SmartArt they’re a lot easier to use and you can still get at the dialogs if you need a greater degree of control.
While we’re on SmartArt, this graph and chart applet has been revamped, with more chart types and improved styles. If you’re used to inserting diagrams into Word documents, you’ll like SmartArt, which takes The Insert Diagram option of Word 2003 and updates it for the Vista generation. For example, the rather basic organisation charts of the earlier application are replaced by more Visio-style diagrams, with fountain fills and drop-shadows. Surprisingly though, SmartArt is still not as intuitive to use as Visio. Connectors aren’t as easy to manipulate and objects are more awkward to resize.
There are a few handy little innovations in Word 2007, like the journo’s delight, a continuous word count. Not only do you not have to dive into the menus to see how far off finishing your 4,000 word review of Office 2007 you are, but when you highlight text, it shows the count of the highlighted words and the total, both in the status bar at the bottom of the screen. Now that’s exciting.
Perhaps of more general use is contextual spell checking. Many of the most common typographical errors, like ‘their’ for ‘there’ or ‘its’ for ‘it’s’ are trapped by the spell checker, based on their (not there) use in a sentence. This is particularly useful for those who dictate via speech recognition, where this type of homophonic mistake is more common.
Word 2007 can add digital signatures to your documents and these signatures can contain metadata about the document version that’s been signed and the date of signature. They can be hidden from view, but still embedded in the document file, or combined with a scanned version of your handwritten signature. This is a useful facility for companies that need to authorise contracts or legal documents electronically.
One final plus for Word is direct support of PDF documents. As well as saving in XML, you can create PDF without the need for an Acrobat or PDF Converter plug-in. It's not included on the Office 2007 disc though and has to be downloaded separately from the Microsoft site – apparently to comply with Adobe's wishes.