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.