According to this article at heise.de Microsoft learned from a study that 90% of the features users would think as being “nice to have” in a future release are already included in the current application – but just haven’t found by them yet.
There couldn’t be no better proof for the fact that »functionality« is not an aspect connected to the software itself but rather an aspect of usage context. Microsoft is said to completely rework the user interface of MS Office.
Actually there are two important changes:
First they’ve sort of got rid of pull-down menus replaced these with much more visual explication of how the given option might affect the document. Second they work with much more predefined styles from which you pick visually instead of crawling through the dialogs and defining all the details of a style manually.
It is similar to what Apple has begun with Keynote and Pages (“Damn! Cupertino ahead again!?”) with using a tool bar with just the most important often used functions. But Microsoft took it much further by getting rid of the properties inspector almost totally. So the quick summary is: less menus, less typing values, more live previews and tool-tips, more predefined styles.
From what I see from the video, it seems like the first time Microsoft really did not only focus on new features but really tried to come up with a good user interface that stands out and is unique. They’ve been better at ripping UI ideas and mashing things up quickly. I have the feeling that the step Microsoft ist making with Office 12 is at least as important as the release of Windows Vista itself.