I was at the Millennium Hotel's Hudson Theater in New York on Oct. 21,
attending the launch event for Microsoft Office 2003. Unlike the Windows
XP launch almost exactly two years ago to the day, and on the very same
stage, this event was less flash and more "get down to business"
oriented. Indeed, on this day, Microsoft launched more products than on
any other single day in its storied history.
Rather than trot out the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Regis Philbin, as
was done for the Windows XP launch less than two months after 9-11, this
event consisted mainly of Bill Gates doing much of the demonstrating
Office has undergone a complete transformation. Core products (they're
now referred to as modules) Word, Excel, and PowerPoint mentioned only
in passing. No demos, no discussion of new features. They all read and
write industry-standard clean XML, not the garbage XML that heretofore
made sense only to other products from Microsoft.
The big players at this event were the totally redesigned Outlook,
industrial-strength FrontPage, new applications, er, modules called
OneNote and InfoPath, and the server products, Exchange Server and
Suffice it to say that the power of these offerings is unleashed only
when software running on existing servers is upgraded to these new
The Microsoft Office System, as it's now called, consists of the 2003
versions of the core Office suites and programs; updates to other
information work programs such as Visio, FrontPage, Publisher and
Project; two completely new products, OneNote and InfoPath; and four
servers, including the new Office Live Communications Server 2003 and
Exchange Server 2003.
I've been using these products since February, so I'm quite familiar
with them. So what's worth knowing about? Here's a random top ten list.
-- Outlook is far more powerful, fits 40 percent more in the same amount
of screen space, is much smarter about sorting, displaying, and
categorizing mail. Outlook alone is worth the price of an upgrade.
Outlook 2003 is a monumental upgrade, a complete rethinking of the way
mail and calendaring works.
-- Exchange Server supports the new Outlook Web Access feature, allowing
remote employees to access their mail through a browser, without the
need for an expensive and finicky VPN. Outlook Web Access looks and
works nearly identically to the actual Outlook client program.
-- OneNote is the product most people dismiss - until they use it for
awhile. Simply put, it's a note-taking program, an electronic shoebox
into which you can type or write (on a tablet PC) random thoughts. It's
power is how those can be easily organized, linked, and searched. Users
can be as organized or as haphazard as they like when taking notes. Want
to organize information in separate categories? Create several sections
and folders, each with its own purpose. Have a more freeform style?
OneNote has features that make it easy for you to find notes regardless
of how they are organized. Text, drawings, audio clips, it's all there.
Send notes as e-mail messages, create Outlook tasks, post to a shared
location with Windows SharePoint Services, it's all there. It's
-- InfoPath is the big gun in Office 2003. It enables the creation of
rich, dynamic forms that teams and organizations can use to gather,
share, display, reuse, and manage information. Based on industry
standard XML and requiring SharePoint Services running on Windows Server
2003, collected information can be integrated with a broad range of
business processes. At last, there is a product powerful and
sophisticated enough to put a dent into the paper forms industry. A
salesperson can enter sales call info into a form, an executive can view
aggregated or queried information, process can be automated with full
digital signature control and validation checking, and a whole lot more.
-- XML. It's not a product, but the technology is everywhere. Whether
it's InfoPath creating or extracting database records, FrontPage working
as a powerful Web report writer, or an Excel user sharing a financial
analysis, the key to this near-universal interchange of information is
XML. Gates and VP Jeff Raikes have been extolling the virtues of
industry-standard open XML for months.
-- FrontPage is no longer a tool for hobbyists. That audience has been
largely abandoned. Instead, FrontPage is now a commercial-level platform
that can be used to generate and display up-to-the-second reports. The
display of variable amounts of repetitive data, from a simple corporate
phone book to complex inventory or sales performance reports, is handled
automatically. There's a lot more finesse and control and the generated
code is fully industry standard. For departmental reports, where a
product such as Visual Studio is overkill, this brand new FrontPage is
-- The server products are the key for solutions integrators. None of
the data sharing works without the server products. And it's the server
products that generate the serious revenue. Need I say more?
There's a lot to discuss, and we'll do that from time to time in
upcoming installments. For now, suffice it to say that Office 2003 is
unlike anything that has come before.