New Office XPands its Features
Grade Sound Investments?
by Jim Bray
Looking for Microsoft Office XP to be a quantum leap forward?
That's okay, though. MS Office is a very good product, despite bloated
files, security holes and a few other nasty things - so unless they're
going to completely reinvent the wheel there's no reason for Office XP
to be that quantum leap.
All that was required, if anything, was some tweaking and evolutionary
development, and that's what we've been given.
I've been living with Office XP Professional for about a month, and I
Office XP Pro ($579/$329 upgrade price) comes with the Word 2002 word
processor, Excel 2002 spreadsheet, PowerPoint 2002 presentation software,
Outlook 2002 personal information manager/e-mail program, and the Access
2002 database. There's also a lot of extra stuff on the CD ROM's, but
those applications are the heart and soul, as well as being the things
you'll use the most.
The first thing I noticed was that the new installation remembered all
the customization I'd made to my old Office 2000 install. This was great!
I move the buttons around (for example, I move the "print" and "check
spelling" buttons to the right side of Word's toolbar and add a Thesaurus
and word count next to them) and at every previous upgrade I've had to
manually rejig them again later. XP saved me that effort.
Another pleasant touch is that the Office XP files are compatible with
Office 2000. It bugs me when older versions won't read the new versions'
files: it means that if you're using the updated version and are collaborating
with (or transferring files to) someone using an earlier version you have
to deliberately save your files to old versions. This is a real annoyance.
CorelDraw is a particularly vile example of this incompatibility and it
drives me crazy.
Of course, it's only a short drive
I also appreciate Office XP's clean, new interface. It still uses "flat"
buttons, but now when you move your cursor over the buttons their color
changes, which makes for slightly easier use. Likewise, in Excel XP you
can easily tell the active cell because the corresponding row and column
label appear in blue, while the rest are in the old fashioned gray.
Then there are the "Task Panes," little secondary windows that come up
beside the main document window. Task Panes take a bunch of the normal
options (for instance text formatting, templates, styles, etc.) and puts
them more quickly at hand where you can just point and click - rather
than having to mess with drop down menus and the like. Again, it's an
subtle change, but I like it.
What's even better is that you can shut the smart panes down and bring
them back only when you want them.
"Smart Tags" are another reasonable idea, though I find them obtrusive
at times. Smart tags rear their ugly heads right inside the body of your
file, whenever the software thinks you could use a hand. Depending on
the tag, it could offer advice on styles or formatting, pasting, offer
to add a name to your address book or what have you, though some of the
choices are pretty silly (for instance, to reset a misspelled word to
its incorrect version)..
I like it - but the best part, again, is that you can also shut them
off if they get too annoying
This Office seems a tad more bulletproof, and if you have a crash it
recovers your files for you when the system comes back up. Anyone who
has ever lost data due to a Windows crash will like this
New collaboration tools make it easier to have other people put their
grubby fingers all over your masterpiece. Everyone can make their comments
on the one document, which streamlines the editing/ruining process and
keeps everything together.
Updated Web tools let you embed Internet-based information into your
documents, for better or worse. For instance, you can paste Web data into
Excel and Smart Tag offers to periodically check the Web to keep the information
up to date as it changes.
One thing I didn't like was the product activation, which is an annoyance
whereby you have to "turn the product on." Supposedly an anti-piracy method,
it does nothing but annoy legitimate users.
On the whole, however, I think XP is the best MS Office yet.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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