Today, Microsoft will publicly release a 'technical refresh' designed to fix the niggling problems left in the new version of its Office suite. The refresh will be available free to the 3.5 million people who are running Beta 2.0 already.
Ironically, the Office suite beta, which I've been running for a few months, seemed pretty well cooked even before this refresh – it's stable and feels fairly finished in terms of format and features. It's a sharp contrast with Windows Vista, which Microsoft says is already a release candidate but feels much more like a beta, with lots of stability problems and a general feeling of rough edges.
The huge change with this version of Office is not features, but the interface. Microsoft has replaced most drop-down menus with what they call the Ribbon, a thick stripe at the top of the window that shows, mostly graphically, the options you have when you're in certain phases of creating a document.
If you're working on the page layout of a word doc, for instance, you'll see options for creating columns, changing the indent or adding a watermark.
I'm a fan of the Ribbon. It exposes useful features I never knew Office had. But it's certain to be the most controversial part of the new version. Some people will understandably feel that they know how to use Office as is and won't want to learn a new interface. And some will complain that the Ribbon takes up too much screen space.
Microsoft has steadfastly refused to add a 'classic view' with the traditional drop-down menus. But the technical refresh does throw a bone to those who complain about the size of the new Ribbon by making it easier to minimise the feature. Now if you double-click on a tab like Page Layout, the Ribbon will disappear.
Click on the tab again and the Ribbon will appear as a toolbar that floats over the top inch or so of your document.
As long as you're not working on that top inch at the moment it could be a reasonable compromise for people who need the new Office but yearn for the old UI.
Microsoft has gone into full-on marketing mode for Office, so there are lots of materials available online. The best place to start is here, where you can see a video about the new UI and, as of today, download the beta.