Office 2000: For heavy Web users only

The latest version of Microsoft Corp.'s Office, the most popular office suite in the federal market, is all about the World Wide Web. In fact, it is tough to tell where Office 2000's Windows applications end and the Web begins.

The beta version of Office 2000, which shipped this month, is a necessary upgrade only for federal users who require advanced Web capabilities.

If your shop does not work extensively in Hypertext Markup Language, and if you do not need the special collaborative features in Office 2000's new Web server extensions, you can get by without spending money and time on this upgrade.

And because Word 2000 files can be opened in Word 97, administrators should consider only upgrading users who really need the Web enhancements.

The single most significant enhancement in Office 2000 is direct support for HTML files. Word has been turned into a full-fledged HTML editor. You can open and save files in HTML or other document formats. In addition, Word supports Extensible Markup Language (XML), which lets you store data that cannot be displayed in HTML, such as document summaries, so that the data is available when you reopen the document in Word. XML also supports tools for employing frames. The end result is that from Word you can create HTML documents with nearly the same formatting capabilities as with Word's native format, and you can save the documents locally or directly to Web sites.

Word now also offers automatic link checking during saves and a Web Preview feature that works just like Print Preview, provided that you have a Web browser installed on the system. Word even supports HTML as a clipboard format for copying and pasting text.

Other Office applications also are more Web-friendly. While they do not offer the full set of HTML tools you will find in Word, both Excel and PowerPoint open and save files in HTML format. And Word and PowerPoint offer an extensive set of "themes," which are pre-formatted templates designed for attractive Web presentation. The new version of Access— included in the Professional and Premium versions of Office 2000— can be a data server for Web pages, and the program includes wizards for configuring this integration.

These enhancements mean that it's not just publishing to the Web that agencies will find easier with Office 2000. The suite also facilitates workgroup collaboration over the Web in new ways.

If you install the new Office Server Extensions on your Hypertext Transfer Protocol server, Office users can jointly view documents and carry on discussions on a page. User comments can be placed within the text or in a discussion panel at the bottom of the page. Users can participate in the discussion group by employing an Office 2000 application or a Web browser.

Users also can subscribe to documents stored on the Web server. After doing so, they will receive notification by e-mail when the document is changed or deleted.

The new version also makes it easy for users to manage files on the Web server because it all can be done using Windows Explorer, just as if the files were local. Users can create folders and drag and drop files into them.

Bear in mind, however, that Office's Web collaboration tools require you to use Microsoft's Internet Information Server and Internet Explorer to get full functionality.

Easier to Use

In addition to improved Web integration, Office 2000 promises dozens of major functionality and ease-of-use enhancements to the suite.

For starters, the applications share a new File Open/Save dialog box with a navigation panel that lets you quickly access your desktop, local drives, Web folders and recently opened files. The dialog box also offers improved display of files, including preview displays and access to search tools.

The applications also sport new menu operations. When you select a menu, you'll find that it only has the most frequently used options displayed. If you leave your pointer in place for a moment, or if you click on the Expand arrow at the bottom of the menu, the menu will expand to show all options.

We also liked the new Office Clipboard. If you copy two or more selections to the clipboard without pasting, the Office Clipboard will pop up, displaying an icon for each selection. Hover the mouse pointer over an icon and it will display the first several words of the selection. Pasting, however, does not work as expected because you cannot simply drag and drop the piece you want. Instead, you place your cursor where you want to insert text, then double click on the appropriate item in the clipboard. Also, while you can clear all items from the clipboard, you can't clear just selected items.

Office 2000 also provides many application-specific enhancements. Word users, for example, will find much improvement in the program's table handling. You can now nest tables as well as place them side by side, and you also can flow text around tables. Excel users will find improved PivotTables as well as the ability to drag table data from a Web site directly to a worksheet, as long as the Web browser is Internet Explorer. Administration Aids

Some of the improvements in Office 2000 will appeal more to administrators than to end users. At the top of the list is a new Windows Installer that allows the administrator to decide where each Office component will reside: on the local desktop, on a network server or on a terminal server. Administrators can even distribute applications for "Install on Demand." With this option, icons are placed on the local desktop to show the user what applications are available but not yet installed. When selected, these applications are automatically downloaded across the network and installed.

Another nifty feature is the self-repair utility. Activated at launch time, the utility checks for missing files and missing or corrupt registry entries. If it finds any problems, the utility often can correct them without the user even knowing.

Office 2000 also makes it easier for administrators to manage roaming users thanks to Roaming User Profiles and a new profile wizard that makes it easy to transfer custom installations to a new machine.The final version of Office 2000 will be available to large customers during the first quarter of 1999 and to the general public during the second quarter. The Standard version of Office 2000 will include Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. A Professional version will include the major applications listed above plus Access. And the Premium version will include all of the above plus the FrontPage Web page designer and PhotoDraw, an image editing program.

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