Microsoft Office 2000 to open on the Web
August 11, 1998
by Eric Bender
(IDG) -- If you have any lingering doubts about how thoroughly Microsoft has adopted the Web, the first beta of Microsoft Office 2000 should answer them. Its biggest enhancements are all about exploiting HTML and other Internet standards to help you work more effectively with colleagues. The veteran applications get much-improved abilities to speak HTML--with Microsoft's own special twists, of course. Many solid improvements are based on programs that weren't even part of the suite a few years back: Internet Explorer, Outlook, NetMeeting, and FrontPage.
Suite new Web features
Among the highlights are the adoption of HTML-based file formats that aim to be just as functional as native file formats, integrated Web-based discussions and real-time conferencing, a zillion usability changes (some more usable than others), and some welcome advances in manageability.
The plan for the new HTML/XML-based file formats is that you can post Office documents to the Internet or an intranet and view them there in any browser with formatting reasonably intact--then pluck them down and edit them again. Quick tests with the betas of Word and Excel show that this works all right, as long as you stick with Internet Explorer for your browser. Documents with images and fancy text formatting can get pretty scrambled in Communicator. This problem isn't strictly due to Office, but to the familiar incompatibilities between browsers. With that caveat, Office 2000 does make it considerably easier to create, post, and manage high-quality Web pages.
Office 2000 also lets you hold Web-based discussions of documents from within Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or a browser. The documents must be on a Web server running Office Server Extensions (based on FrontPage extensions). This works pretty well on Microsoft's reviewer demonstration site except for some substantial glitches working within Communicator. You can accomplish many of the same results with revision features in existing application suites, of course; the main advantage here is the ability to do it within browsers at an easily accessible location. Additionally, you can instantly launch Microsoft NetMeeting to work on the documents immediately with your colleagues. And Office 2000 lets you "subscribe" to documents on a Web server and get notifications via e-mail when they are updated.
The good, the bad, and the assistants
Microsoft has skipped this year's hottest (if not always most helpful) user interface feature: voice recognition. Office 2000 does add menus and toolbars that track how you use them and modify themselves accordingly, the ability to collect multiple clips on the Windows clipboard, tighter e-mail integration, and File Open and File Save dialog boxes that show more files. These dialog boxes now make it easier to navigate among your files and Web servers; but it takes longer to launch text searches. Office 2000 also can show each open document on the Windows taskbar to speed file switching--unless you keep as many files open as I do, in which case it makes things worse because you can't read any document titles. And the controversial Assistants take less screen space and (best of all) are easier to turn off.
On the manageability front, Office 2000 comes with more intelligent installation and upgrade features, coexists more happily with earlier Office versions, and automatically repairs critical files and (with some help from you) fonts and templates. And a new Office Profile Wizard will help you read or write all Office 2000 settings and preferences in a single file.
The beta software installed and ran with very few bugs. Microsoft says it's too early to predict performance or disk requirements, but machine requirements should be similar to those for Office 97. A second beta is expected this fall; Microsoft won't say when it expects to ship the suite.
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