SHCC WYSIWYG Article from October 2001

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This article appeared in the October 2001 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Review of Office XP

by Rick Schummer

In June, Microsoft released its latest and greatest MS Office. So, is   Office XP worth the price of the upgrade? Is it a painless upgrade? Do you need Windows XP to run Office XP?

To answer the last question first, no, Office XP will run on Windows 98/Me/NT/W2K and XP (but not Windows 95). You will need a Pentium 133 (I would guess that this is a bit slow), around 300-500MG of free disk space depending on the configuration, a CD-ROM drive, and run in VGA 800x600 with 256K colors with a mouse or other pointing device.

Almost every person that I have talked to about Office XP has asked about the stupid Clippit the Paperclip Office Assistant that allegedly is there to help you use the products. Most people hate this and Microsoft, a company not afraid to make fun of itself, decided to wage a campaign (publicity stunt) against the animated characters. They marketed that Clippit was out of a job. Wrong, but he is shut off by default (and now I am wondering why I referred to it as "he"? <g>). Personally I liked Einstein, and he is gone from the Office Assistants installed.

More details on feature sets and requirements of Office can be found at Microsoft's Office Site.

Installation

I've upgrade from Office 2000 Premium to Office XP Professional with FrontPage. I had no issues other than the installation loading an image editor. This image editor remapped the file association for JPG and GIF files from Internet Explorer to this new applet. It was a pain to undo it. I changed it in the registry and it still changed it back. I ended up tracking it down and uninstalling the useless applet.

Things I Like

Backward compatibility: the files created in other versions of Office open in XP and the files created in Office XP open in previous versions. This is especially important with MS Access databases, which was not the case in the past except through importing and exporting. It is common to pass around Word documents and Excel spreadsheets as well, and it is nice to know that the files created by a friend at home on a newer version can be read on that old clunky version still at the office.

Office Clipboard: Office apps still integrate with the Windows Clipboard, and have an added capability of the Office's Clipboard, which retains the clippings of the last 24 things cut or copied. You can also paste things from any of the 24 slots, rearrange them, and paste multiple items. 

Recovery: Office apps have been pretty good at recovering items not saved when the PC crashed. The recovery capability seems more sophisticated in Office XP and definitely makes it easier to determine if you want to recover a specific item or several items. 

Smart Tags: This feature has gotten some bad press, but I find it quite useful. Smart tags are an extension of the spelling/grammar recognition (green squiggles under words misspelled) from past versions. The squiggles indicate something wrong and allow you to right-click for specific options. Smart Tags (purple squiggles) extend this to recognizing items like mail addresses, emails, websites, a recent pasted item from the clipboard, and other things. You click on the tag and get options on the item that is highlighted. These Smart Tags can be customized by you or others to extend features of the Office app. This is way cool. 

Outlook: One of the nicest things in Outlook is the easier management of Contact Folders and the auto-complete on names when entered in the To, CC, and BCC. This feature is similar to the auto-complete in the Internet Explorer URL address. I also like     colorized appointments and ability to dismiss multiple reminders (from to do tasks) at one time. 

Word: How much more can one add to a feature complete word processor? The single most important feature added is related to Smart Tags. If I paste text into one Word document from another I automatically got the formatting (fonts, bold, style) from the original document. This still happens, but a clipboard Smart Tag shows up and there is a menu option associated with it that allows me to have the current document style formats applied. This saves me tons of time. 

FrontPage: Many user interface improvements that make page management and editing easier. 

Crash Reporting: Each application that crashes fatally now gives you the option of sending messages to Microsoft with details of the crash (see Dot-Oh bugs in section below). While some people might be nervous that they are sending important personal information, it gives one great pleasure to tell Microsoft that the app crashed (at least I get some pleasure). I send a copy of every problem. The nice thing is that Microsoft gets needed information to fix recurring problems. If something you report has a fix, or a workaround, or is recognized as a problem, reporting it will get a response to a website with a white paper of details. This requires an Internet connection. 

Things I Dislike

The Dot-Oh bugs: Oh yes they do   exist. I can regularly crash Outlook by generating an email from the Contact Folder. Word occasionally crashes for no apparent reason, but thanks to the improved recovery functionality I rarely lose anything in the process of getting crushed. The biggest headache is opening a document for the first time and having the Open dialog going behind the application and not being the active dialog. This works fine when used for the second time and later.

Fast Search: This feature was automatically loaded...argh. Basically this feature indexes every single file on the hard drive so you can use the built in Fast Search within Office. I don't use this feature; I use a nice search capability in PowerDesk. The app starts up the indexing when the machine is idle for a minute as long as it is not running on batteries. I found this quite annoying and killing every task on the machine (including all System Tray apps) did not stop it. The indexer never registers itself as a task. Fortunately this can be shut off in the     Option dialog in Word. This took me six weeks to figure it out. 

Installation Activation: This is suffering for others cheating. Basically it stops the installation of the same CD on multiple computers. You can load it on a desktop and laptop, but anything after that will be questioned. The registration is linked to Microsoft via the web or a phone call. Entering all these numbers is a bit much and I understand the need to curb piracy, but make it easier on those that do not cheat and harder on those that do.  

Speech Recognition: It is cool, but still needs a lot of work. I played with the training section a number of times and I cannot get it to work for a complete sentence. Probably a user problem <g>. 

Email Security: Tighter security with Outlook causes legitimate email automation to display a message that delays the actual sending. It is nice to stop viruses, but a pain for developers automating email for our customers from their custom applications. Seriously broke the nicest thing in Outlook from an application developer standpoint. 

Worth It?

In my opinion, yes. While some of the dislikes are painful, I have found that the new features that I have grown  accustom to are no longer luxuries, but are now necessities of day to day workings with my computer.

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