Business in Vancouver- ISSUE 606- June 5 2001
The high-tech office
Microsoft's Office XP is
fine, but not a show-stopper
by ALAN ZISMAN
Statistics suggest that the vast majority of
run one version or another of Microsoft Office. The package,
the MS Word word processor, Excel spreadsheet, Powerpoint presentation
package, and more, accounts for 90 per cent or so of the market and
much of the cash flow that keeps the Microsoft juggernaut running.
While the new-style name of Office XP, released May
31, suggests a revolutionary
product, the new version is more of a subtle change of emphasis from
predecessor. It aims mostly to help users learn to make more use of
that have been long built into Office.
Office XP's biggest new feature is built-in speech
version isn't installed by default, however, and is not up to the
of programs from IBM or Dragon Systems, which are
with some versions of competitors' office suites.
Users can save Office documents to Web space on
Microsoft Network (MSN)
Communities, setting their work as either public or private. This is a
small step toward the company's .Net strategy and, while free for now,
may evolve into a paid service in the future.
This version does an improved job of saving and
in the event of an application or system crash. An Open and Repair menu
item tries to extract as much as possible of the contents from corrupt
Like earlier versions, XP relies on Visual Basic for
powerful macro language, however, has been misused by hackers to create
Office-based viruses. Now it can be turned off, either by individuals
across an entire corporate network.
Also new to Office -- though a longtime feature of Lotus's
Smartsuite, for example -- are collaboration features. XP users can now
send documents for review by colleagues, who can make comments in the
Changes in multiple versions can be merged into a final version.
Sharepoint services can be accessed by members of a team or workgroup.
Another new feature is what's not there: Clippy, the
which offered comments (helpful or annoying) in Office 97 and 2000, is
gone, though still available through a custom installation. By default,
the cartoon character has been replaced by a toolbar strip labelled
a question for help." Thankfully, it stays out of the way until wanted.
Other new help features are also available. Office now
pops up Task
Panes -- panels beside your documents -- in response to many menu
I just clicked to open a new document, for example. A Task Pane popped
up offering a list of my most recently saved documents, choices for a
Word document or Web Page, or a choice of templates. Other Task Panes
up with search options, to set formatting options or to view clipboard
contents. These make it much easier to choose among up to 24 items that
can be stored in the Office Clipboard.
Many users, however, have complained that Word and the
applications can be too helpful. Type the number "1" followed by some
and press enter, and Word assumes you want a numbered list and
places the number "2." Frustrated users will be pleased that, in the
version, they get a little box beside the number. This is a Smart Tag.
Clicking it brings up a chance to turn off the auto-numbering this
time, turn it off entirely or bring up the dialogue box to set
features. Other Smart Tags appear when Excel users make mistakes
a formula or when pasting information. One Smart Tag offers handy
of retaining the original formatting or changing the formatting of
text to match the new location.
Microsoft hopes that both Task Panes and Smart Tags
will make many of
Office's lesser-used features more accessible.
The verdict? Some nice improvements, but no real
deciding, however, read next week's column on the politics of XP. What?
You didn't think software had politics? Economics, too