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Office 2003

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This is not an actual review of Microsoft Office 2003. If this were an actual review, I would have used the product on my own, tested its functions, and made my own impressions.

However, I’m like the vast majority of Office users. The new features in Office 2003 won’t deliver anywhere near the benefits that would outweigh the rather hefty cost of upgrading from Office 2000. If you are an individual user of Office 2000, Office XP, and probably Office 97, you don’t need to upgrade. Here’s why.

The primary new features of Office 2003 are behind the scenes. The new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access now use XML technology that lets users collaborate and share data more easily. However, this sharing and collaboration will only happen with others who are also using Office 2003, and on a Windows Server 2003 network. If you are using Office in a small office/home office, you probably won’t be able to enjoy those benefits.

One of the few places an ordinary user would see improvement would be in Outlook 2003, which is supposed to be more secure and more useful. But again, most of the benefits to Outlook come from being in a Microsoft Exchange Server environment. In fact, the people who will be making the decision to upgrade will be corporate IT managers. If you want to see the kinds of reviews aimed at them, you can go over to eWeek or InfoWorld.

Still want a new office suite? Remember that there are choices other than Microsoft, and these choices are far cheaper. Sun will be releasing StarOffice 7 at the end of the month. It is an office suite that probably has 90 percent of the features of MS Office, for about ten percent of the price. There is an open-source version of StarOffice, called OpenOffice that is free for downloading. The new release of OpenOffice is version 1.1, and probably has all the features that regular users of word processors and spreadsheets need.

If you work on your own, and don’t need to exchange lots of files with others, you should consider these alternatives. Even if you do sometimes share files with others, you may still be all right. These other office suites can import and export MS Office files. There are almost no problems with simple documents, and more complex documents generally only have a few mistakes. I looked at the export/import process last year at (the now-deceased) BugNet, if you want to see some examples.

Of course, if you do upgrade, there’s going to be bugs in the programs. (After all, they come from Microsoft.) The BugBlog will cover these bugs as they crawl out into the open.

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About Bruce Kratofil

  • I actually played around with Open Office for a while and it is really great for Word and Excel files. The only trouble I really had was that bastion of Microsoft proprietary mentality, PowerPoint. Those don’t import/export as well. Certainly worth the FREE pricetag though.

  • Yeah, my import/export tests showed problems with highly formatted, heavily animated PowerPoint presentations.

    But you probably shouldn’t be making those anyway.

    However, if you are making them from scratch, there may not be that many problems.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Bruce, always practical and important information.

  • In short, not having used Office 2003 doesn’t really qualify you to judge the usefulness of an upgrade does it?

    For users of Outlook and Front Page this is a significant upgrade in terms of features and functionality. I’ve been told that Access is much improved, but I don’t use it too much so I’ll not comment on that. Word and Excel offer only minor improvements.

    FrontPage gains handling for DTML, templates, abilities to work with Dreamweaver template (as I recall), full DIV support, cleaner HTML code, the ability to strip out FrontPage codes, split screen editing, etc… If you are a current FrontPage user this is a version is a must have.

    Outlook’s new features include a new look, flagging options, HTML blocking, search folders, etc. and are available to all users. In addition a add-on called contact management piece is available as well. There are actually only a few new features for Exchange server users only.

    I know all this because I was a beta tester. And yes, I’ve upgraded because I use Outlook and FrontPage extensively.

  • In short, not having used Office 2003 doesn’t really qualify you to judge the usefulness of an upgrade does it?

    since the word ‘Microsoft’ is a part of the conversation, the odds are in Bruce’s favor…whether he has played with the software or not.

  • Kevin — that’s why I had my disclaimer up front. But if you go to the other reviews I’ve linked to, or Microsoft’s own feature comparisons at
    you’ll see that there is not much for the average standalone user.

    I cited Outlook — but not FrontPage; what editions of Office 2003 include FrontPage? Are the improvements in those two worth the price?

  • Does anyone know what this ‘trusted email’ stuff means for those of us that don’t use Outlook 2003?

    Will we all start receiving emails from Outlook 2003 users in some encrypted proprietry binary format that our existing mail programmes won’t be able to read?

    I’ve been searching the web for info on this, and so far haven’t been able to find any.

  • One of the things being touted by MS bloggers is vastly improved handling of intermittent connectivity. That’s nice, and points to a shift in priorities from adding features to removing annoyances.

    I think it’ll take until Longhorn and WinFS for them to fix the highly annoying “search” function. That’s 2006 for the architecture to be there, and unspecified additional time for the client to get fitted with the new gear.

    Outlook is coasting on 2 things. Truly superior integrated group calendaring and it’s place as the default client for Exchange. The former could be beaten (Lotus Notes used to beat it here), but the latter is a high hurdle.

  • Michael —
    In terms of Outlook and group calendering, that’s what is so interesting about Mitch Kapor’s open source project, Chandler

    Usable versions of this are probably at least a year away, unfortunately.