There’s little realistic hope that in a review of this size we can possibly get across the intricacies and details of Microsoft’s latest edition of its hugely successful Office suite. And, being perfectly truthful, there’s a good chance that the improvements this time around won’t mean the world to the majority of users anyway, with much more focus on background workings than drawing squiggly lines under a misspelt word.
That’s always been the case of course – not for nothing is it said that 80 percent of Office users utilise just 20 percent of its features – and it’s also the reason why, with each consecutive update, Microsoft has a tougher job persuading us all to upgrade.
After all, you can reasonably argue, since the time of Office 97 the software has been happily tackling the work most of us need it to do with minimal effort. It’s that old ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach, and also the reluctance to fork out another few hundred quid for what many perceive as a slightly better package that still delivers the same results.
And yet, there’s little doubt that Office 2003 (and it’s the Professional Edition we’ve been poking our nose into) is the best Office suite Mr Gates and his chums have produced to date.
As well as a slight aesthetic change, XML support has been integrated into the suite. The upshot is that the software can collect information and data from wherever you need it to, which, when putting together the likes of a spreadsheet that brings in information from various sources, is a genuine help (you can’t imagine this being hugely useful in a home office or SME environment, mind you).
Another helpful inclusion is that you have a tighter control than before over the sharing of information. The idea is that groups of individuals can set up a location where they can locate and share the same files and, crucially, set what specifically can be shared and what can’t (to the point where you can control whether an e-mail can be forwarded on or not!). It’s all very easy to use and set up.
The applications themselves integrate a little more tightly, although with the exception of Outlook they’ve had a good polish rather than anything more substantial. The whole suite is effectively backwards compatible, something which has been less than true in the past.
The new Outlook looks different to the XP edition, has quite an effective spam filter built in and allows you to manage incoming messages without having to keep switching back to the main Outlook window. This is a good thing.
The whole Office cake is then iced with a selection of small but useful extra features, a handy research library, lots of templates and tools and a commitment to continual online updates.
However, unless you’re looking to invest in Office for a large business, the compelling reasons to upgrade simply aren’t here. Sure, everything seems nicer, works well and does the job, but given the asking price, that’s the least you’d expect. Note, too, that the required specs rule out Windows ME users and those who aren’t running Windows 2000 or XP.
And something new has happened since the last Office suite launch; OpenOffice.org, a good, solid Office suite that does the basics as well as Microsoft’s version, yet is a free download (we’ll be reviewing it soon). In short, there’s little question that Office 2003 is an excellent piece of software. There’s a bigger question over whether it’s worth the money.
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