Office 2004: First Look

Although Microsoft's Office 2004 won't be on store shelves until the middle of this year, we got a sneak peek at its new features. And these additions -- from a command center for related correspondence, calendars, and files, to an audio recorder that gives your typing fingers a rest -- made quite an impression. Come take a look at the next version of one of the most important program suites for the Mac.

Project Center

The biggest addition in Office 2004 -- an organizational tool called Project Center -- resides in Entourage. But there's more to Project Center than e-mail. It reaches across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, providing a single place from which to jump to documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and e-mail messages scattered across your hard drive. Project Center is at the heart of Microsoft's efforts to make organizing and managing information with Office easier.

Project Center extends existing features, combining Entourage's PIM capabilities -- contact information, calendars, and to-do lists -- with direct access to important files. And it links related items: you can see e-mails about a specific project alongside a calendar listing meetings, appointments, tasks, and due dates for that project. You can set up automatic rules that link projects to new e-mail messages as they hit your in-box. And you can share projects with other Entourage 2004 users.

Getting Started

The New Project Wizard's four screens walk you through setting up a project. In the first screen, you name the project, set due dates, and enter notes to yourself. You also assign a color and an icon to your project, making it easier to identify visually. In the second screen, you create Project Watch Folders and import items into the project folder. The third screen helps you set rules for automatically adding related e-mail messages to a project folder as they arrive in your in-box. The final screen is a summary pane with help information.

Just a Click Away

Even when you're working in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, Project Center is within reach. A Project Toolbox appears in the other Office applications (you access it via the View menu or by clicking on an icon in the toolbar). It features nearly all the information you get from Project Center's Overview tab -- a daily schedule, a task list, a notes window, and a list of new and recent e-mail. A button at the bottom of the toolbar lets you jump directly to Project Center.

The Big Picture

Project Center's Overview tab gives you the status of many aspects of a project. A seven-day calendar displays related appointments and meetings for any week. Two columns at the bottom of the screen offer quick, customizable access to everything from e-mail to past-due tasks.

Project Center Home The Project Center button is where the Custom Views button used to be. But Custom Views isn't gone altogether; it's part of the preview pane on the left side of the Entourage window.

Color Coordinated Each project in Project Center gets its own color. Anything that belongs to that project sports a dot of that hue.

Custom Views You can control the kinds of information Project Center displays -- for example, Recent Items, Due This Week, Past Due, Categories, New Mail, New & Recent Mail, Important Contacts, MSN Messenger Contacts, Recent Notes, and Recent Files.

Picture ID Assigning a logo or an image to your project helps you identify the project quickly when it appears in places such as a Project Toolbox.

Share Your Work Just click on the Share button to let other Entourage 2004 users look at e-mail messages, calendars, tasks, files, clippings, contacts, and notes via a network server. If you don't want to share a part of your project, just deselect that item. Only invited users can see your shared material.

The Final Countdown Project Center keeps a running count of how many days remain until a project is due.

Save Your Work The Backup button lets you back up and archive projects -- a very useful feature once something is completed. You can archive finished projects to a separate database file and then remove them from Entourage.

Easy Addition Click on the Add button to import files into a project -- even non-Office files. Click on the Remove button to keep a file on your hard drive but take it out of a project.

Property Management Here's where you change a project's due date or icon.

Make a Note of It Use this window to jot down reminders and memos.

Keep Watch Watch Folders, represented by icons in the lower right corner of Project Center, let you keep an eye on important e-mail and documents. The Entourage Watch Folder -- its icon sports the Entourage logo -- is a folder in Entourage's Mail view that's created with each project you start. Filing an e-mail message in your Entourage Watch Folder connects it to a specific project. The Project Watch Folder bears a Finder logo and links to a folder on your hard drive where you store all project-related files. (These files also appear in Project Center's Files view.) When you start a project, you can either automatically create a Watch Folder or select an existing one anywhere on your hard drive.

Other Views

In addition to Overview, Project Center sports six other tabs that let you see specific information about your projects. You can use these tabs to stay on top of those small details that can make a big difference in your work.

Schedule This tab gives you a more in-depth project calendar, with the option of daily, weekly, or monthly views. You can also display all calendar events or only those associated with a project. Schedule also has a task list, where you can cross out tasks as you complete them.

Mail Go to this tab to see all the e-mail correspondence associated with a project. As in your Entourage in-box, you can read e-mail messages, respond to them, and forward them.

Files In this tab, you'll see lists of the assorted documents you've imported into a project, their modification dates, and their file types. The Files tab has its own Share, Add, and Remove buttons, along with a Send button that attaches a selected file to an e-mail message and sends it, so you don't have to create a new message and attach the document.

Contacts This tab resembles Entourage's Address Book but lists only project-specific contacts. Integration with MSN Messenger lets you chat with contacts via Microsoft's instant-messaging client.

Clippings The Clippings tab is where items from the Scrapbook -- a new feature of Office -- are contained. This tab gives you quick access to all the text and graphics clippings that you've saved.

Notes This tab gives you access to project-related sticky notes created with Entourage's Notes feature.

Notebook Layout View

Most of us dread meetings -- especially meetings in which we have to take notes. It's not that we're lazy. It's just that we almost always neglect to write down something important, and we need a cryptologist to decipher our own scrawls.

Word 2004 aims to alleviate "meeting-phobia" with its new Notebook Layout view. Essentially a beefed-up Outline view, Notebook Layout view turns your laptop into a note-taking machine by letting you embed an audio stream of a meeting or lecture in an open Word document. As you type, Word links your notes to what is being recorded at that time. Later, when you forget whether you're supposed to call Bill or bill Carl, you can click on the audio icon next to the Bill entry and jump directly to that part of the meeting.

Audio Notes Toolbar The Audio Notes toolbar, accessible only in Word's Notebook Layout view, contains controls for embedding audio in your document. You can start, stop, and pause the recording, adjust the input volume, and play back audio.

From this toolbar, you can also monitor a file's size. According to Microsoft, a 60-minute recording in MPEG-4 format adds roughly 6MB to a Word document. (You can also save audio in AIFF or WAV.) You can export recorded audio as a separate file or delete it completely to get a slimmed-down version of the document.

Quick Search Type a word in the Quick Search box and press enter, and Word highlights all instances of that term in the outline.

Recording Markers To jump to a specific place in recorded audio, click on the speaker icon next to the relevant note. Word plays back the audio from the point at which you entered the note.

Just One Click Access the Notebook Layout view by clicking on the Notebook Layout View button at the bottom of the window or by selecting Notebook Layout from the View menu.

Note Flags You can jot down reminders in page margins. While you type, use the Formatting palette's Note Flags to link text to tasks: mark important points, add follow-up questions, create a to-do, link tasks to your Entourage calendar, and so on.

Section Tabs The Section Tabs feature lets you divide notes into related topics. For instance, a student could keep a semester's worth of history lectures in one document and create a new tab at the beginning of each class. Then, when studying for a test, she could quickly jump to the relevant lecture. To create a new section tab, click on the plus sign (+).

Tabs appear only in the Notebook Layout view. When you switch back to the Normal view, tabbed sections appear sequentially, divided by section breaks.

Expanded Formatting

In the Notebook Layout view, you'll notice a few new headings under the traditional Formatting palette: Note Flags for marking follow-up text, settings for the document's notebook rules, and sorting options for outline items. You'll also find many of the organizational commands from the old Outlining toolbar.

Note Levels To make the Notebook Layout view truly useful, you need to get used to the way outlines organize text hierarchically. The Formatting palette's Note Levels section offers easy access to important outlining functions: promoting and demoting outline topics, creating numbered or bulleted lists, and more. (You can also use the traditional keyboard commands for these tasks.) As you reorganize items, any associated audio moves with them.

Page Layout View in Excel

Excel's new Page Layout view, which debuts on the Mac, lets you view your Excel files in the same detail you're used to seeing in Word's Page Layout view.

Marginal Improvements You can quickly edit your document's margins and see how changes will alter your printout.

From Header to Footer You can preview and edit your document's headers and footers in the page layout.

A Better View In the Page Layout view, the Formatting palette includes settings previously available only in the Page Setup dialog box. Now you can quickly switch between portrait and landscape modes, scale your document to fit on a fixed number of pages or to print at a particular percentage, and turn grid lines and headings on and off.

Scrapbook

In OS 9, the Scrapbook utility functioned as a permanent clipboard -- you could add almost any item to the Scrapbook and then, later, retrieve it for use elsewhere.

Office 2004 goes old-school with its new Scrapbook feature, available via the new Toolbox palette. You can store text and graphic tidbits in the Scrapbook by dragging them in from any Office application. Once you've put an item in the Scrapbook, it's always there when you need it -- for example, if you've placed a photo in PowerPoint but now need to reuse it in Word.

In and Out Move items into and out of the Scrapbook in a flash with these buttons, which let you add a selected item to the Scrapbook, paste a Scrapbook item into your document, and delete items from the Scrapbook.

Sort and Search Office 2004's Scrapbook does the old Apple Scrapbook one better by allowing sorting and searching. You can assign keywords to items and assign items to categories and projects. Using the two pop-up menus, you can view a Scrapbook item by creation date, keyword, title, size, creation application, and project.

Stay Organized The Organize section turns the Scrapbook into a miniature media database. Attaching keywords, categories, and projects to your Scrapbook items makes them easier to find later.

Know Your Rights

In the Windows version of Office 2003, Microsoft introduced Information Rights Management (IRM). The company touted IRM as a way to restrict printing, forwarding, and copying of e-mail messages and Office documents. Mac users couldn't create or access IRM-protected files, and that's still the case. And some people who run Office on Windows are out of the loop, too. To create the secure files, Windows users must have either the Professional or the Professional Enterprise version of the 2003 suite. To view IRM-protected files, Windows users must have Office 2003 or a Microsoft-supplied viewer.

Price Protection

Office 2004 will cost the same as the previous version of the suite, across all three editions introduced by Microsoft last fall.

The Standard Edition of Office 2004 -- which includes all four Office applications -- sells for $399. The $499 Professional Edition includes the same programs, as well as the latest version of Virtual PC with Windows XP Professional. The cost of the Student and Teacher Edition remains $149, with users still able to install the suite on as many as three Macs.

If you buy Office v. X before June 30, 2004, Office 2004 will cost you little or nothing. Upgrading to the same edition is free; upgrading from the v. X Standard Edition to the 2004 Professional Edition costs $90. If you have the academic edition of v. X, upgrading to the 2004 Standard Edition is $90 and upgrading to the Professional Edition is $129. Upgrade pricing for registered users of Office 98 remains unchanged: $329 for the Professional Edition and $239 for the Standard Edition.

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