Windows Vista will present a learning curve and some frustration when it begins shipping next week, but I’m wondering whether the new version of Microsoft Office might take even more heat than Vista from confused users.

Many things are changed about Vista but it’s visually appealing and a surprising number of things can be done exactly the same way as in Windows XP.

That’s not true with Microsoft Office 2007. The revamped interface is completely different than your current version of Word and Excel; nothing will be in a familiar place. This article from the New York Times is similar to Walter Mossberg’s writeup in the Wall Street Journal and several other recent articles about the suite.

“This Office bears very little resemblance to the one you may have spent years learning. Virtually everything has been moved around or renamed. Count on a couple of weeks of frustration as you play the free bonus game called Find the Feature.”

There’s a report from Forrester Research claiming that most business users will require two to three hours of formal training, followed by a two- to four-week period of decreased efficiency while they get used to working with the new user interface. That might be pessimistic but it gives you an idea of what lies ahead.

To make it worse, Microsoft Word has changed its default file format for the first time in many years. There are advantages to the new file format – it’s more crash-resistant, it’s based on open standards, it creates smaller files – but users with Word 2003 or earlier versions will have to install a file converter to open your files, or you will have to locate the setting to return to the familiar .DOC format.

People are aware that Vista will mean some onscreen changes, but I’m not sure if anyone is ready for a weeks-long learning curve with Office just to be able to use Word easily again. For what it’s worth, most reviewers conclude that the new version is logically designed and easier to use once the learning curve is finished. Are all you old dogs ready to learn new tricks?

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