ISSUE 445: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE
May 5 - 11, 1998
Microsoft's Mac Office 98 and Publisher 98 prove
the giant can learn from the little people
Those clever Microsoft software gnomes
in Redmond, Washington, keep churning out the upgrades. Here's a look
at two of their recently upgraded releases -- Office 98 for Macs and
Publisher 98 for Windows.
Mac users have for a long time, and with some
justification, felt abandoned by Microsoft. The Macintosh version of
the Office suite was stuck at 1994's version 4.2 during a period when
Windows users were upgraded twice.
And even worse, the version of Word included in that
generation of Office didn't impress. Many users found it slow and
bloated, and more like a Windows program than a Mac application.
The new Microsoft Office 98 for Macintosh, however,
does it right.
While still a hefty application (reserve 80 megs on
your drive for it), it loads much faster than the previous version.
Unlike its unlamented predecessor, however, it sports a Macintosh look
and feel. For example, like Apple's ClarisWorks, the font menu
lists the font names sporting the actual typefaces.
And as is the case with recent generations of Windows
word processors, you finally get my favourite addition -- real-time
As in Windows Office 97, there's an animated Office
Assistant. While the Windows default is a cavorting paper clip, Office
98 offers Max, a personable Mac Classic. In either case, the Assistant
watches your actions, and tries to offer helpful suggestions or answer
questions written in English. Many people will find the Assistant
helpful. If you find it meddlesome, it can be turned off.
While Office 98 includes file format compatibility and
similar features to Office 97 for Windows, it offers a few more
advanced capabilities. If you're happy accepting Microsoft's defaults,
you can install by simply dragging the icon from the CD to your hard
drive. Once installed, the program tries to be self-repairing -- if any
of its support files are missing or damaged, it notices and
automatically reinstalls them.
The package comes with the standard suite components:
the Word word processor, Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation
package, along with the Internet Explorer Web browser and Outlook
Express mail program. There is no Mac version of the Access database
program (included in the Windows Professional suite version).
Microsoft is also aiming goodies at business Windows
Many of us end up having to design our own
newsletters, brochures, and more. Since 1991, Microsoft Publisher has
been aimed at small business users intimidated by the power and
features of high-level desktop publishing software. With the new
Publisher 98 version, the program has been significantly reworked,
focusing more than ever on small business needs.
Publisher has always offered templates and wizards to
help build a basic document. This concept has been expanded. In earlier
versions, you could only use a wizard to start a document; now you can
apply one to an already saved project, making it much easier to change
to a new look.
And when you have a look that you're comfortable with,
Publisher's Design Sets makes it easy to apply a consistent design to
the whole range of business publications, from business cards and
letterhead to brochures, leaflets and newsletters -- even to Web pages.
Publisher now does a reasonable job of converting your existing
brochure into an attractive, multipage Web site.
You can save your company's information -- from name
and address to colour scheme and logo -- as a "profile," ensuring that
future publications remain consistent. Other nice touches include a new
Logo Creation Wizard, and automatic copy fitting -- the font size
automatically changes as needed to make sure that all your text fits
into your design.
Professional designers will sneer at its automation
and lack of precision, but Publisher 98 will make it easier than ever
for those of us without graphic training to create attractive business
documents. The program is available on its own or bundled with Word and
Excel 97 as Microsoft Office Small Business Edition.
It's been popular to dump on Microsoft, attributing
the company's success to a combination of bullying and marketing.
Office 98 for the Mac and Publisher 98 for Windows are evidence that
listening to its customers and producing some first-rate products are
(If you run Microsoft's Excel 95, however, you can
demonstrate that Microsoft is a demonic organization. Open a
new spreadsheet, highlighting the 95th row. Press tab, then, with your
mouse, click on Help, then About Excel. Simultaneously press the Ctrl,
Alt and Shift keys and click on the Tech Support button. You'll see
"The Hall of Tortured Souls," no doubt a place where Mac users are
doomed to run Microsoft's Word 6.0 through eternity. I'm not making