With the March 2006 release of the Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 1 Tech Refresh (TR), we're finally getting a hands-on look at the final user interface for this version of Office. Microsoft says the new UI is designed to make the overall software experience easier, reduce design clutter, increase feature and capability discovery, and support the creation of great-looking documents. "Based on detailed usability studies and extensive customer research, Microsoft consistently heard that the existing [menu and toolbar] UI model hides features under the top-level menu structure and has too many places for people to go to find functionality," a document the accompanied the Beta 1 TR code reads. "Customer input helped make it clear that a new user interface was needed to empower people to work more productively with the powerful Office tools at their disposal.

At PDC 2005 (see my review), I saw the new Office 2007 user interface for the first time, and I've documented its evolution in a few screenshot galleries (Pre-Beta and Beta 1). Now, with Beta 1 TR, we can start working with the final UI and discover new UI paradigms like the Ribbon, the Office button--found in the top left corner of each Office 2007 application and designed to emulate and mirror the Windows Vista Start button, Live Previews, and other unique new Office 2007 features. In a future write-up, I'll examine how successful these features are. But for now, enjoy a look at the new user interface.