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Product Review: Microsoft Office XP


Many reports have already been written covering the latest release of Microsoft products with much gusto, usually from beta-testers who manage to get copies of these developments and are then eager to be the first to pass on any exciting changes to those of us who are waiting with anticipation to find out what these new products will do for us.

Microsoft have decided upon a new name for their latest Office product, previously called Office 10, they have changed their minds and have now decided to call their latest baby Office XP (meaning experience) - does this mean that they are no longer naming their products relating to the appropriate year of release, so that when deadlines slide, no-one will be any the wiser - or that they will not appear as dated e.g for those users still operating under Windows '95 or even '98 - it is not about time you moved to version 2000?

It appears as though users are no longer being dictated by the latest version number to that extent where they immediately rush out and buy Microsoft's products and they have got wise to that - let's sit back and see how long it takes for this latest version to fall over, wait for a load of fixes to be released and then decide whether the organisation would actually benefit from upgrading, is the strategy that many IT departments are now adopting.

So, is Office XP the tool ready to become the dominant application for use on the web? Apparently, this version is not seen as a major overhaul and is also not seen as the one that many existing Office users are likely to give up their earlier trusty versions in order to gain benefits by making the moving to use this upgrade.

Office XP is due for release in the Summer and has been said that to upgrade a single Office installation can be very time-consuming, therefore Microsoft are using Wizards to help users through the process known as the Custom Installation Wizard (CIW) or the Custom Maintenance Wizard (CMW). The idea of the CIW is that the settings are captured as a default installation and then carried out across a series of workgroups. Changes thereafter are implemented using the CMW.

The applications development takes up more hard disk space, a full installation now requires around 258Mb, given the choice during this process of either owning or renting a copy. File formats remain unchanged to allow compatibility with previous Office versions.

Two new additions that could be of immediate benefit to users are the introduction of the Task pane that provides contextual help and on-screen instruction that would previously have been obtained from the menu system. It starts with offering advice for document creating (does this mean the death of the rather annoying office assistant) and then changes to offer advice about the task in-hand.

Smart Tags which is the newest of the two additions, may need some training to use it effectively. This is part of Microsoft's IntelliSense technology, where in current versions, Word recognises URL and e-mail addresses. This has been extended to Outlook whereby information typed in Word such as names, dates, addresses, etc, users can actually click onto a name and all their information can be entered into that particular document taken from Outlook.

Microsoft still do not appear to have overcome their problems with speech recognition technology and handwriting input, as the beta version does not appear to be coping any better in this area and the graphic tablet or touch-sensitive screen application has not been added to this version, even though it is still being promised for the final release.

If anyone has had the opportunity to review the beta version, TrainingZONE would be interested to receive your additional comments below.


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