Office 2003: Forget Word and Excel, it's now about collaboration

By Joel Shore, ITworld |  Opinion

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
himself.

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
SharePoint services.

Suffice it to say that the power of these offerings is unleashed only
when software running on existing servers is upgraded to these new
versions.

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.

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