Why shell out $150 to $700 per seat for Microsoft Office 2007 when there are a bunch of free “productivity suites” already available? For starters, it's the best “office system” there is. I've been using Office 2007 for six months and feel I've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with it.

New user interface: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and — to a lesser extent — Outlook sport a new interface feature called the “ribbon,” which replaces most menus and toolbars. No more buried commands. Everything is right there on the ribbon, making it easier for newbies and occasional users to be productive. And most “power users” will like it, too.

Working in the cloud: How many times have you e-mailed the wrong file, or lost data on a laptop? Coupled with SharePoint (Microsoft's password-protected collaboration service), Office 2007 erases the line between your hard drive and the Internet “cloud,” so you can create, open, edit, and save files to your online SharePoint site from within Office without opening a Web browser. Since SharePoint is hosted, data backup is professionally handled by a data center.

Find out more about SharePoint at my forum at JLC Online. I've set up a link to a sample SharePoint site, complete with resources and examples.

New, improved: Business Contact Manager 2007 will likely be a serious threat to ACT! for customer relationship management (CRM), and Microsoft Small Business Accounting could finally give QuickBooks a run for its money. Not because they're better, but because they're tightly integrated with Office, so purchasing and using them is less hassle. Office 2007 also better integrates OneNote, the “digital legal pad,” and InfoPath, a forms engine that can be used to create dynamic forms such as expense reports and timecards.

See an overview of the entire Office 2007 system, including all the available applications and pricing, at office.microsoft.com.

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions; www.joestoddard.com.