Office 2000 is worth the upgrade
(IDG) -- Microsoft's Office 2000, scheduled to be released to volume-license customers this week, is a major step up from Office 97. Its many enhancements should ease IT administration headaches, reduce overall ownership costs, and improve the workgroup collaboration experience. For companies who are already standardized on the 95 or 97 versions of Microsoft Office, the move to Office 2000 should be a no-brainer. And even for those who are not, moving to Office 2000 offers some compelling benefits.
Rolling out a new version of Microsoft Office, or any other large productivity suite, has long been a major source of stress for corporate IT departments. Worries about backward compatibility, increased training costs, and the need for hardware upgrades have kept many companies from upgrading to new suites for months or even years. As someone who was responsible for rolling out Office 97 to more than 100 users when it was first released, I can attest to this.
Based on my testing of Office 2000, I can safely say that Microsoft has learned many lessons from its problem-strewn rollout of Office 97. The major hurdles I faced with Office 97 -- namely lack of file-format compatibility and installation headaches -- have been addressed with Office 2000. All of the applications in Office 2000, except for Access, use the exact same file formats as their Office 97 counterparts. The Access file format changed for Unicode compliance, which lets it support the new multilingual capabilities of Office 2000, but file converters are included with Access 2000.
Office 2000's new Install on Demand feature saves on the time spent installing the suite. For example, when users need access to a particular application that was not installed by default -- say, PowerPoint 2000 -- they simply click on the appropriate icon and the program is automatically installed. This, combined with the Office Custom Installation Wizard, makes it easy for IT administrators to deploy a customized Office environment to their users.
Microsoft has included new Web functionality in the Office 2000 suite designed to improve workgroup collaboration and end-user access to data. By using Web components in conjunction with any FrontPage-enabled Web server (Internet Information Server, Apache, etc.), Office 2000 users can manipulate documents, spreadsheets, and even Pivot Charts (charts based on an Excel pivot table) inside their browsers. Of course, like much of the new functionality that Office 2000 offers, Internet Explorer is required to access these features.
I installed Office 2000 on a wide range of systems ranging from a Pentium 120 with 32MB of RAM running Windows 95 up to a shiny new Pentium III 500Mhz system with 128MB of RAM running Windows NT. Overall, I found the performance similar to that of Office 97 on the same machines. Frankly, I was expecting Office 2000 to run like molasses on the Pentium 120 system, given Microsoft's reputation for adding in more and more CPU-hogging features in each successive version. But I was happy to find otherwise.
For my server on the test network, I used an HP NetServer E60 (dual Pentium III 500Mhz, 128MB RAM, Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 4). Installing the Office Server Extensions was easy, with a simple setup and configuration wizard to get me up and running. The Office Server Extensions expand the capabilities of Internet Information Server, allowing real-time collaboration and commenting from within actual documents on the Web.
Once I had the Office Server Extensions set up on my server, anyone on my intranet could save documents there using the Web server as a file server. In addition, real-time discussions and even online document editing was available to Office 2000 users who had IE installed. This new functionality should finally make intranets a more useful part of the corporate network by allowing easy collaboration and simple updating of information.
All of the applications in Office 2000 now support HTML as a file format. With Word 2000, for example, a user can create a document and save it out to the intranet in HTML format. Someone else can then open that document in Word and make any changes they need to. Since Word uses Extensible Markup Language to save all of the extra information about the document that cannot be represented in HTML, every aspect of the original Word document is preserved.
Unfortunately, some of the benefits that Office 2000 offers cannot be realized without the addition of Windows 2000. With Windows 2000, Microsoft's Zero Administration Windows will finally become a reality. Zero Administration Windows will greatly reduce the cost of configuring and maintaining Windows desktop machines. Of course, if your company has no plans to go to Windows 2000 whenever it is finally released, this will not be of any benefit.
I was impressed with the new features and functionality of Office 2000. Although I do not necessarily agree with how Microsoft continues to tie all of its software into the operating system and to Internet Explorer, the benefits to companies that are standardized on Microsoft platforms cannot be ignored. If your company depends on Microsoft Office right now, you will benefit from Office 2000 even if you do not implement the Web-collaboration features.
Kevin Railsback wishes Office 2000 was available for Linux. He is a Technology Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center and can be reached at email@example.com.
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