Product Review: Office 2000: making life easier for IT, end users

Microsoft's Office 2000, scheduled to be released to volume licence customers next week, is a major step up from Office 97. Its many enhancements should ease IT administration headaches, reduce overall ownership costs, and improve the workgroup collaboration experience. For companies that are already standardised on Versions 95 or 97 of Microsoft Office, the move to Office 2000 should be a no-brainer. And even for those who are not familiar with previous versions, moving to Office 2000 offers some compelling benefits.

Based on my testing of Office 2000, I can safely say Microsoft has learned many lessons from its problem-strewn rollout of Office 97. As someone who was responsible for rolling out Office 97 to more than 100 users when it was first released, I can testify to this. The major hurdles I faced with Office 97 -- namely lack of file format compatibility and installation headaches -- have been addressed with Office 2000. All the applications in Office 2000, except for Access, use the exact same file formats as their Office 97 counterparts. The Access file format has been changed for Unicode compliance, which lets it support the new multilingual capabilities of Office 2000. File converters are included with Access 2000.

Office 2000's new Install on Demand feature saves time spent installing the suite. For example, when users need access to a particular application not installed by default, say PowerPoint 2000, they will simply click on the appropriate icon and the program will be automatically installed. This, combined with the Office Custom Installation Wizard, makes it easy for IT administrators to deploy a customised Office environment to their users.

Microsoft has also included new Web functionality in Office 2000 designed to improve workgroup collaboration and end-user access to data. By using Web components in conjunction with any Microsoft FrontPage-enabled Web server, Office 2000 users can manipulate documents, spreadsheets, and even Pivot Charts -- charts based on an Excel pivot table -- inside their browsers. Of course, like much of the new functionality that Office 2000 offers, Internet Explorer is required to access these features.

All of the applications in Office 2000 now support HTML as a file format. With Word 2000, for example, a user can create a document and save it to the intranet in HTML format. Someone else can then open that document in Word and make any changes they like.

I was impressed with the new features and functionality of Office 2000. Although I do not necessarily agree with how Microsoft continues to tie all of its software into the operating system and to Internet Explorer, the advantages for companies that are standardised on Microsoft platforms cannot be ignored. If your company depends on Microsoft Office right now, you will benefit from Office 2000, even if you don't implement the Web collaboration features.

For the full review of Office 2000, visit our Web site at www.infoworld.com.

Kevin Railsback (kevin_railsback@infoworld.com) is a technology analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center. He wishes Office 2000 was available for Linux.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Microsoft Office 2000

With its many enhanced collaboration features, the upgrade costs of moving to Office 2000 will easily be repaid by increases in user productivity. To get the most from Office 2000, you will need to standardize on Microsoft OSes.

Pros: Strong collaboration tools; smooth migration; lower ownership costs.

Cons: Much of the new functionality tied to Internet Explorer and Windows operating systems.www.microsoft.com.

Price: Standard and Small Business Edition: US$499, $209 upgrade; Professional Edition: $599, $309 upgrade; Premium Edition: $799, $399 upgrade.

Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0.

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