Microsoft Office 2007: A Worthy Upgrade
Microsoft Word 2007PCWorld Rating
Microsoft Excel 2007PCWorld Rating
Microsoft PowerPoint 2007PCWorld Rating
Microsoft Outlook 2007PCWorld Rating
Microsoft Access 2007PCWorld Rating
If you've followed Microsoft Office through its succession of lackluster upgrades in recent years, you might be excused for yawning at the prospect of the 2007 version. Well, wake up: The 2007 Office System is by no means just another collection of incremental tweaks to the world's most widely used productivity suite. What does that mean for users who already live and work in older versions of Office? Like any software that undergoes significant interface changes, the 2007 apps impose a more-demanding learning curve than their predecessors did. But we've found the adjustment worthwhile: This is clearly the most compelling Office upgrade we've seen in recent years. You can download the suite from a special page of the Microsoft Office Online site and check it out for yourself--free for 60 days.
In this review, we've evaluated and assigned PCW ratings to the whole suite and the individual core applications--Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access. In determining the overall suite's PCW rating, we used the $399 version (Microsoft Office Standard 2007), which bundles all of the reviewed applications except Access. We weighted the price component slightly lower than design, features, and performance, since we figure that people who need Microsoft Office will end up buying it despite its hefty cost. Also, in gauging the PCW ratings of individual applications, we assumed that buyers would purchase them as part of a suite, so we used a neutral price rating rather than the application's stand-alone price. For more information on the eight different Office 2007 suite configurations (five are sold in stores), the apps they contain, and how much each one costs, visit Microsoft Office Online. For more information on PCW Ratings, see "A Guide to PC World Ratings."
The applications we reviewed sport both a dramatic new look and new underpinnings in the form of XML-based default file formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The changes have a collective purpose: The redesigned interface makes finding and using these applications' powerful features much easier, and it is especially useful if you want to make your documents look their best. The XML file formats reduce file size, let corporate users easily transfer information between applications, and automate formatting and other changes across huge libraries of documents. Since they're based on an open Microsoft spec, rival productivity apps should eventually be able to duplicate and work with Office documents faithfully.
For network-connected workers, the suite provides more tools than ever, including the new Office Groove collaboration app, and support for wikis and blog posts. These features become even more useful for enterprises that invest in Office server products, such as SharePoint Server or Groove Server.
A Whole New Look
The sweeping design changes in Office 2007 can be unsettling. Instead of depending on myriad cascading text menus and skinny taskbars, most of the action in Office now takes place in a fat band or "ribbon." It appears where the taskbars used to be and graphically displays features that change as you click the different menu bar tabs.
You may have to scramble at first to find the new locations of familiar options (Microsoft provides extensive online help). But the ribbon may also introduce you to tools and commands you never knew existed. In addition it supports a useful new feature called live preview: Select all or a portion of your document, hover your mouse over a formatting option (a new font, for example), and you'll see how it changes the actual document's appearance. If you like how it looks, click to apply the change; if not, move on to another option. This feature makes experimenting with style changes easier and more fun than ever.
In case you miss having a few frequently used commands always at hand, the Quick Launch toolbar gives you a place to pin commands from any of the application's ribbons. It's not perfect: I miss being able to add boilerplate text with a single mouse click on one of the AutoText toolbar buttons I created. But by default, the Quick Launch toolbar includes some highly useful commands, including Undo and Save buttons.
XML Marks the Spot
Microsoft's decision to use its new Open XML file formats (distinguishable from the old formats by the addition of the letter x to the file extension--.docx, .xlsx, or .pptx) as the defaults in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint is likely to irritate people who don't have the 2007 versions of these apps and receive documents from people who do
Microsoft has tried to minimize the pain by quietly shipping Office 2007 awareness patches to Office XP and 2003 users who keep their suite current--by using Windows Update, for example. People who've received the patch and try to open an Open XML file within Office XP or 2003 will get a pop-up window informing them that they need to get a 2007 Office Compatibility Pack--a free, 27MB download. With the Compatibility Pack installed, Office XP and 2003 users will be able to open, edit, and save to the new Open XML format.
Unfortunately, people who try to open Open XML documents in older versions of Office or other productivity suites will encounter messages saying that the application can't open the file. Your odds of reaching the Compatibility Pack improve if, instead of launching an older productivity application, you click on a file to let Windows try to open it. The OS will still tell you that it doesn't recognize the file type, but you'll have the option of letting Windows go online to find an application that can open it--and that way you'll get to the Compatibility Pack. With the Compatibility Pack installed, Office 2000 users gain limited functionality in the XML formats; and all other users will be able to convert Open XML documents to Office 97 formats and back again from Windows, though the process isn't particularly intuitive. See "Using New Microsoft Office 2007 Files with Older Office Suites" for more on opening Open XML files in older applications.
Basically, Microsoft's Open XML formats sort the various components of a document--content, formatting, comments, and so on--into different files that the software then zips into a single Open XML file. (You can check this out by changing any Office XML file's extension to .zip and then opening the file with any zip utility.) Using zip compression makes files smaller; separating content from other attributes enables you to change those attributes without changing the content. A corporate user could, for example, change the look of a series of documents by swapping out the formatting files
In the end, you may decide that your current productivity apps are all you need. But if you'd like to get the most out of Office applications, this upgrade can help you do it.
Microsoft Office Standard 2007
Significant revamp provides more applications and many design improvements, though these take time to learn.
$399 ($239 upgrade)
Current prices (if available)
Word 2007: Smarter and Loaded With New Features
Interface and internet elements shine in this revamped word-processing application.
Microsoft Word is the most frequently used application in the Office suite, so the major interface changes will likely affect most Office users. But whether you'll call these changes improvements or productivity busters will depend on how fast you complete the unavoidable relearning curve. Ultimately, Microsoft's well-executed Help structure, along with a legion of formatting, collaboration, and integrated online tools, make Word 2007 a welcome upgrade.
The most conspicuous switcheroo in Word 2007, the ribbon toolbar, does enhance productivity once you figure out where various commands have been relocated. For example, Drop Cap resided intuitively within the Format menu in Word 2003, but it appears on the Insert toolbar in 2007. To aid Word veterans in finding commands, Microsoft has posted the indispensible (but online-only) Interactive Word 2003 to Word 2007 Command Reference Guide. Without the guide, hunting for Drop Cap would be like engaging in an impromptu game of Where's Waldo. The extensive interactive online help (like the limited off-line help) is full of screenshots and video, so you'll need a broadband connection to view it.
Better Mail Merge
The ribbon toolbar's Mailings tab improves on the formerly arcane mail-merge process by walking you step-by-step through choosing a project, selecting recipients (which you can import from Outlook), and writing and inserting mail-merge fields.
Office 2007's other design improvements work nicely in Word. If you highlight text, open the drop-down font selector, and hover over a font, Office's live preview will show you how the highlighted text looks in that font. Word themes--which set colors, fonts (including heading and body text options), and effects (including lines and fills)--reside in the Page Layout ribbon and employ live preview to its fullest advantage. The themes let you jazz up an entire document with one mouse click. Highlighting text in your document brings up a shadow toolbar composed of formatting functions; but if you select a formatting option here, you won't be able to see an on-the-fly preview.
Word Goes Online
Microsoft obviously designed Office 2007 with the Internet in mind, and you'll need to go online to take advantage of some of the suite's features. Selecting New*Blank Document from the Office button menu brings up a panel that offers a copious array of templates (invoices, business cards, flyers, and so on), most of them located at Microsoft Office Online. If you highlight a word in your document while pressing the ALT key, Word will search the Web to find references, definitions, and more. If you use one of six major blog services (such as Blogger), you can create, publish, and update blog entries directly from Word by typing in your account name and password; if you use something else, you can do the same things after entering a little more information (such as blog feed format and URL). Pressing Publish from the Office button menu will send your document to a blog, a Website, or a document server.
Microsoft has packed Word 2007 with an ocean of old and new features, commands, and tools--and thanks to its new interface, you might actually find and use them. Its improved formatting and page layout functions, together with its tight integration of Web functions, are reason enough to upgrade to Office 2007. Of course Word 2007's $229 stand-alone price ($110 upgrade) and its migration issues with previous versions might give some upgraders pause. But the software's productivity-enhancing improvements are enough to overcome these drawbacks.
--Michael S. Lasky
Microsoft Word 2007
Office's ribbon and live preview features integrate well; some help and document templates are online-only.
$229 ($110 upgrade)
Current prices (if available)
Excel 2007: Spreadsheets Get Easier to Use
Charts undergo a facelift; spreadsheets get bigger.
Though the new Office ribbon is the most obvious innovation in the new Office suite, Excel 2007 has some major changes under the hood as well. For a decade, Excel users have been stuck with the same limits on spreadsheet size: 65,536 rows and 256 columns. Excel 2007 blows past these limits to offer a mind-boggling 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns--enough to permit users to crunch data from a gigantic relational database that an SQL Server might use.
The new limits aren't the only tune-ups. Excel now accommodates lengthier text values in cells, allows formulas with more layers, and divides calculations among multiple processors in dual-core CPUs (if you have them) to perform complex calculations even faster. All of these improvements will keep demanding number crunchers happy, though they probably won't make much difference to a typical home user.
Previous versions of Excel had considerable charting muscle, but you'd never have known it by looking at the dated graphics. As part of Microsoft's work to give Office a new drawing engine, charts take a dramatic jump into the future. If you're not graphically inclined, pick from preset styles to get harmonious color combinations and effects such as shadows, beveled edges, and three-dimensional shapes.
The only disappointment is that Excel 2007 doesn't add new chart types. For years Excel users have been requesting inclusion of box charts, bullet charts, dot plots, trellis displays, and other popular chart varieties, to no avail; presented with another opportunity to broaden the range of options, Excel 2007 merely embellishes the existing chart types.
Easily the most improved Excel feature is conditional formatting, which lets you add formatting to values that meet certain criteria. When you create a conditional formatting rule (such as "display all the prices over $100 with a red background"), Excel will automatically apply it to all the cells you specify. Conditional formatting has been in Excel for many years, but using it was too much of a hassle for most people.
In Excel 2007, the feature is easier to use; in many instances you can choose a preset option right out of the ribbon. It's more powerful, too, enabling you to mix and match as many formatting rules as you want (previously there was a limit). But the real excitement in conditional formatting comes from two new features: data bars and icon sets. Data bars permit you to add a shaded bar behind every cell you identify--the bigger the bar, the bigger the number. Icon sets add different icons (tiny pictures) next to various numbers. For example, if you're creating a grading spreadsheet, you can tell Excel to give failing marks a red X and passing marks a green check mark, so you can distinguish them at a glance. You're limited to the icon sets included with Excel, but they're quite good.
Excel also packs in a slew of minor refinements, including better Formula AutoComplete, which works with functions. (Functions are number-processing tools in Excel. They examine some data you supply, and then they perform a calculation and provide the result.) Formula AutoComplete has always been able to inform you of the data you need to supply for a function, but now it can also suggest possible function names and named ranges on your worksheet as you type in a few letters. This small improvement will save people who use Excel day-in and day-out a lot of time.
Excel 2007 seems sure to remain king of the spreadsheet world, and it's not cheap at the top. Excel costs $299 as a stand-alone application ($110 as an upgrade). But if you create spreadsheets regularly of if you're a current Excel user, this is an improved version you'll want to consider.
Microsoft Excel 2007
This redesigned spreadsheet program incorporates beefed-up graphics and harnesses the processing power of dual-core CPUs
$229 ($110 upgrade)
Current prices (if available)
PowerPoint 2007: More Presentation Pizzazz, Less Work
Better, easier graphics make this a winning upgrade.
Of all the Office 2007 applications, the new PowerPoint is the most focused on helping people who aren't graphics gurus create documents that show a little style. So it's not surprising that PowerPoint 2007 benefits hugely from Office 2007's highly visual ribbon interface and new design tools. There's still room for improvement in some features, such as multimedia support, but the new elements add up to the meatiest PowerPoint update in many years--one that lets you produce slicker shows more quickly and with less expertise.
PowerPoint 2007's graphical improvements begin with its new themes--sophisticated, predesigned layouts that improve markedly on PowerPoint 2003's cheesy Templates, though they still fall far short of the stylish ones that Mac users get with Apple's Keynote program. Themes include preset color choices to prevent you from creating ugly presentations, but the multitude of color combinations available will probably seem limitless. If you do feel boxed in, you can modify the colors and layout of a Theme, and then save for later use. Since themes and color selections are also available in Word and Excel, you can apply a consistent look across all your Office 2007 documents.
SmartArt Adds Style
Also new (and available in Word and Excel, too) is SmartArt, a drawing tool for creating graphics that show relationships--for example, organizational charts, pyramids, and cycles. You can add SmartArt elements to a presentation and change their style with a few clicks, and you have to make a real effort to produce one that doesn't look polished and professional.
Adventuresome presenters who don't want to rely on canned elements will like PowerPoint 2007's improved effects--which include drop shadows, perspective, beveling, reflections, and glows. You can apply almost every effect to both text and graphics (including charts and SmartArt) directly from the ribbon, and in almost every case you can see how the change will affect your presentation before you actually apply it.
PowerPoint 2007 includes some worthwhile nondesign improvements, too. Tables, long a headache to work with, are easy to manipulate and style; and moving data between Excel and PowerPoint, complete with formatting, is finally the cakewalk it should have been all along.
Though most of what's noteworthy in this upgrade relates to slide design, other areas have a few worthwhile improvements, too. For instance, a presentation file can now contain subsets of itself that don't include all the slides, making it easier to wrangle variants of a presentation for different scenarios. Also, dual-monitor support is more sophisticated, allowing you to blank out the presentation display temporarily if you need to do something on your laptop that you don't want projected to your audience.
What Still Needs Work
PowerPoint's new look sets the bar so high that the few weak spots in the interface are downright jarring. One involves the new charting engine, which produces much handsomer graphics than earlier versions, but uses a chart type selector that hides your slides and doesn't offer a live preview of what its results will look like. And I can't figure out why PowerPoint--unlike Word and Excel--doesn't show a Theme's name unless you hover your mouse pointer on it.
Cutting-edge presenters may be disappointed that PowerPoint 2007 is still ultimately a tool for creating traditional slide shows, not rich-media extravaganzas or browser-based presentations. Features for adding video, audio, animation, and transitions to a presentation remain pretty basic; and output for the Web still looks so shabby in non-Microsoft browsers that Firefox and Safari users who try to open your presentations will get a message warning them that it may not work. (PowerPoint 2003's ability to broadcast presentations over the Internet is gone altogether--not a huge loss, since it never worked very well anyway.)
A PowerPoint that unfailingly delivered on the new interface's promise and that packed additional multimedia and Web panache would be even more impressive. But PowerPoint 2007 is a winner as is. If you buy it on its own, it costs $229 ($110 as an upgrade); but if you're using any previous version and care about how your presentations look, you need this updated version.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2007
This presentaion graphics software looks great and is easy to use, though it could use a bit more multimedia panache.
$229 ($110 upgrade)
Current prices (if available)
Outlook 2007: A Partial Makeover
Apart from the new interface, there's not much new in Office's e-mail and calendar app.
The improvements in Office Outlook 2007 amount to a touch-up rather than a retooling. Still, after surmounting a few glitches in the conversion from Outlook 2003, I came to appreciate the interface enhancements in the program's message, compose, and other windows. If you want to integrate instant messaging and otherwise collaborate (apart from sharing calendars on the Internet), you'll need to have Windows Sharepoint Services running on a Microsoft Exchange server. Because it still lacks easy links to non-Microsoft messaging and collaboration tools, Outlook remains less integrated than you might expect a communications program to be.
Ribbon Is a Winner
The new ribbon interface appears in Outlook 2007 when you open a message or compose mail, and when you open a calendar or task entry. This sleek new look--which replaces the toolbars at the top of the screen with a set of tabbed categories of functions--makes the task of composing messages more like using a word processor than it is in any other e-mail program I've used. I also like the "ghost" menu that appears when you highlight an item. This menu lets you make on-the-fly format changes.
Another appealing new interface touch is the To-Do Bar, which appears along the right side of the screen (you have to click the double chevron to open it if it's not in view). It provides a snapshot of your calendar appointments for the day and quick summary of your most pressing tasks. To open it you have to double-click a task or calendar entry.
The first time you open Outlook 2007, you'll be prompted to import mail from old accounts. My mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks imported without a hitch from Outlook 2003, but I hit a snag when the program asked me to download and install the Instant Search component. First, I had to let Windows Genuine Advantage validate my PC. After Microsoft decided that my PC was okay, I downloaded the 4.5MB Windows Desktop Search 3 (I was already using the Windows Desktop Search beta). When I tried to install Windows Desktop Search, a message informed me that the program couldn't install because Terminal Services weren't active. Unfortunately, the setup instructions didn't explain how to activate the service. (If you encounter the same message, you can correct the problem as follows: Select Control Panel*Administrative Tools*Services, and double-click Terminal Services in the list of Local Services; then, in the resulting Properties window, choose Automatic (instead of 'Disabled') from the Startup Type pop-up menu.)
Once I got Terminal Services rolling on my PC, Outlook 2007's Instant Search box appeared just above the message headers in my inbox. A search box is an overdue addition to the Outlook inbox, but I don't think I gained much from it because previously I could search Outlook 2003's mail, attachments, calendar entries, and tasks using the Windows Desktop Search box next to my system tray--and Instant Search uses the same search engine.
In Outlook 2007 you can preview image, text, and other files via a thumbnail before opening them. When I attempted to preview a PDF file, however, the program prompted me to retrieve a plug-in; and when I checked the Microsoft download site, no plug-in for PDFs was available. Microsoft says that it will not ship a PDF previewer for Outlook, but Adobe and third- party vendors are expected to create one. Microsoft does offer an add-in that lets users convert documents to PDF in eight other 2007 Microsoft Office programs, but not in Outlook.
I encountered one other glitch: I had set Outlook 2003 to import mail from my Gmail account, but Outlook 2007 couldn't access the account the first time it tried. To reactivate my Web mail access, I had to open the Account Settings and click Repair. Afterward it worked just fine.
Outlook 2007's new ribbon and other interface enhancements are tangible improvements, but otherwise the program is much like its predecessor. And though most people get Outlook in an Office suite, it's one of the cheaper Office applications at $110 (no upgrade price). As e-mail, instant messaging, and other forms of communication become more enmeshed, most of us will need programs that link easily to any type of network. Unfortunately, when it comes to accessibility, Outlook 2007 remains very much an outpost in the Microsoft gulag.
Microsoft Outlook 2007
Microsoft's revised e-mail program offers design improvements but doesn't interface well with other communication programs.
$110 (no upgrade price)
Current prices (if available)
Access 2007: A New Lease on Life
Redesigned database program has better window management and security measures.
In recent years, Access users have started to wonder about the fate of their favorite database program. Will Microsoft keep Access around and still pack in new features? Or will it eventually replace Access with some version of SQL Server that has a few fancy design tools?
For now, the speculation is on hold. Access 2007 constitutes a major overhaul of the aging database app, adding significant new features and streamlining the interface. For people who manage data in Access regularly, it's a worthwhile upgrade.
Access Tames Its Windows
Previous versions of Access have forced users to deal with a dozen floating windows at once. Access 2007 removes the clutter and organizes its windows into neat tabs. At the left, a navigation pane lets users choose the database object they want to work with. The pane is permanently visible, but you can collapse it into a narrow bar if you want more workspace on your screen. The difference is dramatic: Working in the less congested new interface is much easier and more enjoyable.
Fortunately, Microsoft hasn't forgotten about old-school Access users. A buried setting lets you bring back the overlapping windows, which are still useful if you want to see several database objects at a time. Access 2007 handles databases created in previous versions of the program without a hitch, though the new display environment and code security settings will force long-time users to adjust a bit.
Put Files in Your Database
One of the niftiest new features in Access is the Attachment data type, which permits you to embed entire files in your database. It's a great way to store pictures, documents, and other files alongside a related record. But the program's 2GB database size limit means that you can forget about using Access to store movies, music, and other rich-media files.
Interestingly, an attachment field can hold as many files as you want, which makes it an all-purpose container for extra bits of information. For example, if you have a table of employees, you can throw in a personal picture, a recent resume, and whatever else you want.
A Simpler Security Model
Great databases use code, and code can do bad things. Previous versions of Access handled buggy code by popping up a stream of warning messages that users had to click through every time they opened a database.
Access 2007 uses a simpler approach. When you open a database, the program quietly disables all potentially unsafe macro actions and code. A slim security message then appears at the top of the window, informing you that your database has been restricted. You can switch your code back on with a couple of clicks, or you can place your database in a folder that you specifically designate as a trusted location. Once you've done the latter, you'll never see an unnecessary security warning again.
Easy-to-Design Forms and Reports
Designing data-entry forms and reports in Access can be a bit tedious. To get the exact arrangement of information you want, you have to drag each piece of information to the right place individually. Access 2007 improves this situation dramatically with a feature called layouts, which keeps information together in neat columns or tables.
Best of all, layouts are a breeze to work with because Access includes a new WYSIWYG form designer and report designer. Using these tools, you can apply formatting and see the results immediately--a feature that previous versions of Access sorely lacked.
Changes like these make the $229 ($110 as an upgrade) Access 2007 a solid revision for long-time users, and a tempting choice for anyone who needs to manage a large amount of information in a desktop environment.
Microsoft Access 2007
Streamlined interface and code management will enhance productivity.
$229 ($110 upgrade)
Current prices (if available)
Yardena Arar is a senior editor, Dennis O'Reilly is a senior associate editors, and Harry McCracken is editor in chief at PC World. Michael S. Lasky is a freelance writer and PC consultant in San Francisco. Matthew MacDonald is the author of Access 2007: The Missing Manual and Excel 2007: The Missing Manual (O'Reilly Media).
Using New Microsoft Office 2007 Files With Older Office Suites
Don't like Office 2007's new default Open XML file formats? Here's how to change the defaults back to the formats you're more familiar with--and how to handle the new ones if you're on the receiving end.
The new Open XML default file formats that the 2007 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint use by default have great potential. But for 2007 Microsoft Office users living in a mostly Office 2003, Office XP, or earlier world, they may be a source of endless complaints from colleagues who can't open them. Complicating matters further, users of the different suites have different options for opening and editing the files
Fortunately, it's easy to change an application's XML default back to the (more nearly) universally compatible Office 97-2003 format. Start by clicking the Office button on the upper left-hand corner of the application, the Options button beneath the list of recent documents, and Save in the left pane of the Options window. Then open the drop-down 'Save files in this format' menu, and choose the 97-2003 format from it.
Of course, you can't preserve every Office 2007 feature in functional form in the older formats. For example, saving a Word 2007 document with SmartArt (stylish, editable chart graphics) as a Word 97-2003 document brings up a message saying that SmartArt graphics can't be edited in previous versions of Word. But at least you won't lose the underlying graphics: If you save the Word 97-2003 document as a .docx file in Word 2007, the SmartArt will reappear.
Handling Open XML Documents
If you receive an Open XML document and don't have the appropriate 2007 Office application, one of several things will happen. Assuming that you are a diligent Office 2003 or Office XP user and have kept your suite current--through Microsoft Update, for example--you will have received code (which Microsoft has been quietly shipping through software updates) that makes these versions of the suite Office 2007-aware. This is the best-case scenario, needless to say.
When such users try to open an Open XML document from within the updated Word, Excel, or PowerPoint 2003 or XP program, they'll get a pop-up window informing them that they need to obtain the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats--a free, 27MB download from Microsoft's Web site. After installing the Compatibility Pack, you'll be able to open, edit, and save Office 2007 XML files in Office 2003 or XP.
Older Offices Offer Little Help
The situation is very different if you try to open an Open XML file from within the 2000 edition or an older version of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. In that case, you basically get no help whatsoever--just a message saying that the application cannot handle the file type.
In fact, you'll be better off if you don't launch your older version of Office at all, but instead double-click the file in Windows Explorer. Windows will respond with an unknown-file-type message, but it will offer to check online for an application that can handle the file--and if you let it, you'll be directed to the Compatibility Pack.
Limited Office 2000 Help
For users of Microsoft Office 2000, the Compatibility Pack supports Open XML files to a limited extent.
With the Compatibility Pack installed, Word 2000 users can open, edit, and save the .docx files directly. In contrast, Excel and PowerPoint 2000 users can't edit Open XML files directly; but they can open, view, and save them to their respective older file format, and then work on them. After finishing their work, users can save the file back to the Open XML format.
If you use an older version of Office--or any non-Microsoft productivity app--you cannot open Open XML files at all. But with the Compatibility Pack installed, you can convert Open XML files to their Office 97 counterparts directly from the Windows XP or Vista operating system. Right-click a .docx, .xlsx, or .pptx file, and you'll see a new 'Save as...' menu item; click it, and you'll get a window containing a field for the file name and a drop-down format menu showing the Office 97 format.
When you've edited and saved the file, you can right-click again to return to the 'Save as...' window; this time, the drop-down format menu will have the Open XML option for saving your file.
Old Commands, New Locations
In the likely event that you need help finding the new locations of old Office 2003 tools and commands, you'll be relieved to know that Microsoft offers handy animated Web-based guides to its new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Opening a guide brings up a Web page with the old 2003 interface; clicking a pull-down menu command within that page brings up the command's 2007 equivalent, highlighted on the new interface.
Do you have any tips for easing the transition between Office 2003 and Office 2007 or for using the new suite? Share them with the group in the PCWorld.com Office & Business Forum.