Product Review: MS Office 2000 shows off a new outlook

The rich may or may not be getting richer, but it is certain that already fat application suites are getting fatter. I just looked at the second beta release of Microsoft Office 2000; its six CDs consumed 216Mbytes of my drive -- and I did not even load every application.

However, not everyone will need the bulk of these applications, so I was glad to see Microsoft's comprehensive suite re-packaging, which will give your organisation more choices to suit the needs and size of your business. You can browse these options at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/chooseoffice.

Other than the addition of four applications -- Outlook 2000, Internet Explorer 5, FrontPage 2000, and PhotoDraw 2000 -- Microsoft Office 2000, Beta Release 2 sports only bug fixes and performance and usability improvements. (You can find our reviews of Internet Explorer 5, beta; FrontPage 2000, beta; and PhotoDraw 2000 at http://www.infoworld.com/printlinks.)There is one other notable item: The first beta version went out to just 25,000 customers, but Microsoft opened this beta release program to all.

The competition -- Lotus' Web-enabled SmartSuite, Corel's WordPerfect Suite 8, and Star Division's Star Office -- have a lot of similar applications and features that are designed to function well in a workgroup; yet they have not taken over much of the market.

Although I found them very stable, some of the Office applications seem to be farther back in the development cycle than others; this makes me wonder whether the suite will ship in the first quarter of 1999. For example, FrontPage 2000 and Outlook 2000 were not part of the Beta Release 1, and even with Release 2, FrontPage is missing components such as Adaptive Menus -- common throughout Office 2000 applications -- which adapt to the way an end-user selects application features.

The greatest changes are in Outlook 2000, which has tonnes of enhancements and additional features. As with other Office applications, Outlook has Adaptive Menus, improved Personalised Menu Bars, and Quick Customised Tool Bars. I was pleased to discover QuickFind Contact, a tool located on the toolbar in all of Outlook's views. It let me look up contacts from anywhere in the program. I also found it easier to send links to an Exchange Server folder; that was a cumbersome process in the past.

The Outlook experience has also improved with simple things such as contrasting colors to mark busy from free time, and ScreenTip, which shows off the subjects and details of appointments when the mouse pointer hovers over a calendar item.

The only notable annoyance I found is that after entering a task or an appointment I could not simply hit the return key to save and close the item; instead I had to use my mouse and press the save and exit button.

Microsoft Office 2000, Beta Release 2 spruced up the Installer utility with a slightly different user interface, although the functionality remains the same. As I clicked through the outline-style interface, I could choose one of four options for each of the Office components. Core features are marked Run and are installed on the hard disk. Features that are less common are marked Run from the CD or Install on First Use, which copies files to the PC when you need them.

Based on my early experiences with Office 2000, it looks like a pretty darn good suite. It should help businesses extend their productivity to the Web and streamline the way people work and collaborate in a corporate environment.

Technology Analyst Andre Kvitka has worked at the Test Centre for nine years. You can reach him at andre_kvitka@infoworld.com.

Countdown to Office 2000

Here are the main elements of Microsoft's latest office suite: Access; Excel; FrontPage; Internet Explorer; Outlook; PhotoDraw; PowerPoint; Publisher; and Word.

The bottom line

Microsoft Office 2000, Beta Release 2

The second beta release of Office 2000 adds a number of applications that did not make it into the first cut. FrontPage 2000, Outlook 2000, and Internet Explorer 5 join an already stout release that grows plumper with the addition of PhotoDraw 2000, a simple image-editing application. Although rather bulky, the Premium version of this suite will certainly meet the needs of most business users.

Pros: Usability improvements in Outlook 2000: QuickFind, calendar background colours, pop-up screen tips for appointments, private appointment security in a group environment.

Cons: Large footprint when all applications are installed.

Price: Not announced.

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

Ship date: First quarter 1999.

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