Congratulations to Microsoft Office team for finally biting the bullet and building a completely new UI shell for Microsoft Office 2007 (Windows). Unless you worked on Office it’s very difficult to understand just what a major project this must have been and the amount of momentum that was needed to push these changes through both technically and politically.
Jensen Harris has a great blog which has documented the process of designing a new UI for Office on his blog and has posted a screenshot gallery of the recently unveiled final look for this product. I got to know Jensen when I worked at Microsoft as he was one of the people responsible for the Mac Outlook (Exchange) client. With limited resources they managed to create a very successful product which made it possible for Macs to be used on corporate networks where full Exchange support was critical. It was clear then that they were a very dedicated team and extremely focused on doing their best to satisfy their customers.
I’m curious now to see what the MacBU decides to do with Office 12 for Mac OS X. First, they have the burden of moving from CodeWarrior to Xcode which is non-trivial, then they have to handle the PowerPC to x86 transition, and finally they will need to implement the necessary changes to support Mac OS X v10.5 (Leopard). After all of this, they will then need to support the new Office 2007 file formats and consider what UI changes are necessary. My guess is that this effort is at least as difficult as the transition to Mac OS X from the Classic Mac OS, which was a massive engineering effort.