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ISSUE 507: BRIEFS- July 13 1999

The high-tech office


Microsoft's market-leading
Office 2000 update
offers real improvements

Two weeks ago we looked at Corel's new Word Perfect Office 2000 suite offering new versions of that venerable word processor, along with a spreadsheet, presentation graphics, database and more.

Now, market leader Microsoft is ready for your business. They followed Corel by just a few weeks, releasing a host of different versions of Microsoft Office 2000, the latest version of the product found on a large majority of business desk-
tops. (By some measures, Microsoft owns as much as 90 per cent of the market.)

Among the new features offered in the latest Microsoft Office software is the ability to produce Web-friendly HTML files from any of the suite's core products and to use them interchangeably with files saved in the programs' standard file formats.

In the past, products such as Office's Microsoft Word and Excel could save files as HTML, but the resulting files lost a lot in the translation.

They were pretty dull and boring Web documents, and if, for instance, you saved an Excel spreadsheet that way, it no longer functioned as a spreadsheet. It was just a table of numbers.

With this version, the Office programs add hidden code to the saved Web pages.

The result is pages that display in a Web browser more like the original Office document. And if opened again in Word or Excel, they work just like the original -- that spreadsheet can still be used to manipulate numbers.

This makes the programs much more usable for companies wanting to publish large amounts of information, either directly to an Internet site or internally using an intranet on the corporate network. You can even publish your calendar from Outlook to the Web. (No surprise -- these documents look better in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser than when viewed in other Web browsers.)

Office 2000 programs continue
to save files in their regular file formats as well. These formats are unchanged from the previous versions (unlike Office 97, which happily produced documents that were unreadable by users of older versions of Office).

Some other nice features:

* While many programs offer menus that can be set as simple or advanced, Office does it automatically. More frequently used features migrate towards the more noticeable top of the menus. Open a menu and a short version appears, but leave it open for more than few seconds and the advanced menu items pop up. (If you prefer your menus to appear the same way, once and for all, you can set it up that way.)

* On Setup, users can select options to be installed on first use. Do you really use the thesaurus? If you like, you can have it appear in the menu, but not actually be installed on your hard drive. If you ever decide to use it, choosing it from the menu will prompt you to insert the CD, at which time it will be installed.

* Network managers will like the way they can customize a standard setup for users across the network.

* A dedicated Office clipboard can hold multiple items, rather than the single item limitation of the standard Windows or Mac clipboard. This clipboard is shared across all Office programs.

* Open multiple documents and each appears as a button in the Windows taskbar, making it easier to move from one to another.

* Like last year's Macintosh Office 98, this new PC version claims to be "self-repairing." On program startup, if any required files are damaged or missing, users will be prompted to insert the CD and the program can fix itself without requiring a complete reinstallation.

With multiple versions of Office, Microsoft recognizes that one size doesn't fit all, but hopes to have something in its product lineup for everyone.

The Standard version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, with the upgrade priced at $329 (after a $60 rebate).

For the same price, the Small Business edition replaces PowerPoint with the Publisher 2000 desktop publishing program and adds a pack of small business tools: templates for customer tracking, business planning (including content from five reference books), financial management and direct mail management.

The Professional version (upgrade pricing of $479 after rebate) combines the Standard and Small Business editions and adds the Access database.

The Premium version (upgrade is $624 after rebate) takes all that and adds Microsoft's FrontPage 2000 Web site creation and management tool and PhotoDraw 2000 business graphics program.

Finally, there's a Developer version (about $900 to upgrade), which adds a host of development tools to the Premium edition to encourage the creation of custom solutions built around the core Office products.

Database developers will especially appreciate the ability to create Access database applications that can run even if Access is not installed, making it possible for companies to put their databases on employees' desks without the added cost or complexity of providing each user with the Premium edition.

The new Office is powerful, but expensive.

Competing products such as Corel's now offer good compatibility with Office documents for less money. And many companies may decide that Office's improved Web features and other improvements are more than they need, at least right now. Microsoft may find that its biggest competitor is its installed base of Office 95 and 97 users. *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan