Life has a funny symmetry, don't you think? When you're born, you're short, toothless and bald. You spend the first part of your life gaining height, teeth and hair--and the last part losing them again.
Microsoft spent the first dozen years of Office's life piling on new features. Over time, the humble word processor called Word became a photo editor, a Web-design program and a dessert topping. Not one person in a hundred used those extra features. Still, we kept buying the upgrades, thanks to our innate fondness for unnecessary power (see also: SUVs).
Eventually, however, Microsoft Office developed a reputation for bloat and complexity. It was fully grown: tall, hairy and toothy.
So what did Microsoft do then? It began shrinking Microsoft Office. In fact, the chief sales point of Office 2007 (for Windows XP or Vista), which arrives on Jan. 30, is that it's simpler, it's more streamlined and its documents take up far less disk space.
After a radical redesign, Word, Excel and PowerPoint are almost totally new programs. There are no more floating toolbars; very few tasks require opening dialog boxes, and even the menu bar itself is gone. (Evidently, even Microsoft saw the need for a major feature purge. "We had some options in there that literally did nothing," said Paul Coleman, a product manager.)