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ISSUE 596: Zisman- March 27 2001

The high-tech office


Microsoft has learned to value its Mac audience

Apple users have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft. On the one hand, for many Microsoft is the Great Satan, the company that, they believe, made a fortune by copying the look and feel of the Mac and turning it into the uglier, clumsier, but commercially successful Windows.

On the other hand, Microsoft Office is a best-selling Mac application. They may hate the company, but they continue to buy its products.

A few years ago, the relationship almost turned to pure hate. Mac Office version 4.2 (Word 6 and the rest) was designed to look and act just like the Windows version. The result was a product that was slow and clunky and, well... looked and acted just like the Windows version. It did not endear itself to the Mac user community.

Microsoft learned its lesson. Since then, it has created its Mac products independently from the Windows versions. More than 2.5 million copies of Office 98 for the Mac have been sold. And the latest, Office 2001 for the Mac is a real Mac application with some nice features that aren't included in the Windows Office 2000.

First there's the sleeker look. No more multiple rows of toolbars. The formatting toolbar is gone, replaced by a floating palette, leaving more room for your document while keeping the frequently used controls at hand.

Word now lets you click anywhere on a page to add text -- no more needing to press the Return key a dozen or more times to move down the page. Similarly, tables can be moved around the page, with text flowing around them. Mail merges are less painful. And if word counts are important to you (they are to me and my editor!), the number of words typed appears at the bottom of the screen.

While designing the new version of the Excel spreadsheet, Microsoft made a startling discovery. While spreadsheets have always been designed to do complex calculations, much of the time they're used to make lists. So rather than focus on the high-end features (though Excel still has lots of those), they've added a List Wizard and List Manager to simplify the jobs of creating and sorting lists. About time!

Excel's Calculator lets you build a complex formula by clicking on calculator buttons. And new Filemaker Pro compatibility features make it easier to use Excel to analyze database information.

Powerpoint adds a three-paned view, showing the outline, the current slide and the speaker's notes all at once. This is a big improvement, making it easier to work in the outline while seeing how the resulting slide will look and encouraging the user to make speaker's notes at the same time. Powerpoint users can now make tables directly, rather than having to import them from Word or Excel. An Autofit feature adjusts the size of your text so that it all fits in a cell. And when your presentation is done, it can be exported as a Quicktime video, so it can be played on Macs or PCs that don't have Powerpoint installed.

While the last Windows versions added Outlook, a personal information manager, this hasn't been available to Mac users. Instead, Office 2001 gives them a similar, but incompatible program: Entourage. Like Outlook, it builds on the free Outlook Express e-mail program, turning the address book into a useable contact manager and adding a calendar, to-do list and notes. It can be synchronized with Palm handhelds and it's well-integrated into the other Office applications. It lacks the network features of Outlook and other more powerful information managers, however. You can't use it to share your calendar and contacts with your co-workers.

All in all, an elegant upgrade. Not enough new to make it a must for Office 98 users, but if you're still using Office 4.2 and have a new enough Mac, you'll want this one.


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