Office 2001 Arrives

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Microsoft began shipping Office 2001 today, which features new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as a new application -- Entourage -- designed to handle e-mail, addresses, and other personal information.

So what's special about this latest update to Office? Microsoft has made it simple, easier, and more personal. By adding Entourage, reworking some existing features, and adding a smart sprinkling of new features to existing programs, they've made it possible for you to get your work done more efficiently, and the entire suite gives you the tools to be more organized. The continued growth of the Web affects Office 2001, too; there are a number of new or improved features that let you work more collaboratively via the Internet.

Part of what makes Office 2001 better and easier to use than its predecessor is the new and improved features that are shared by all (or in some cases most) of the programs in the suite.

Shared Templates When you start up any of the Office 2001 programs, you'll see the new Project Gallery, a kind of super-Open dialog. The Project Gallery presents templates for creating any of the many blank Office document types, or you can start with any of Office 2001's extensive collection of templates. Allowing you to create any sort of Office document from any of the programs in the suite blurs the distinction between the programs, making it feel as though you're working in Office World, rather than discrete applications.

Multiple Clipboards You can cut, copy, and paste (even drag and drop) multiple items of text or graphics to and from the Office Clipboard. You can even use the Paste All button to dump all of the items you've been collecting into a new document. Even after a restart, your items remain on the Office Clipboard.

Easier Formatting The Formatting tool bar has disappeared from the top of the screen in Office applications, and transformed into the Formatting Palette. In Excel, however, this palette just seems to get in the way when you're scrolling around a spreadsheet -- but fear not, you can still reactivate the Formatting toolbar if you like.

Improved Dictionary The whole Office suite shares the new Encarta World English Dictionary, unavailable in previous versions. Just highlight a word and choose Dictionary from the Tools menu (or control-click on the word and choose Define from the Contextual menu) and up pops a window with the definition highlighted.

Familiar Formats Happily, you won't have to worry about file format compatibility between Office 2001 and Office 98: Office 2001 can save all files in Office 98 format, and it is fully compatibile with Office 2000 for Windows files.

Here's a look at each of the applications in Office 2001:

Entourage 2001 What's New What's Better

If at first glance Entourage seems strangely familiar, that's because it's built upon Outlook Express 5.0, Microsoft's free e-mail program. Keeping all of Outlook Express 5's excellent e-mail features, Microsoft has improved the Address Book by turning it into a true contact manager with added modules for a calendar, a tasks list for your to-dos, and a section for notes.

The PIM features (the Calendar, Tasks List, and Notes List) bring time management to Office 2001, and reminders that appear when you open an Office program make it easier to keep projects on track. Entourage can also synchronize its calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes (but not e-mail) to your Palm handheld computer -- a lifesaver if your work often takes you away from your Mac.

Entourage is the hub around which all of your work revolves. You'll use Entourage's e-mail for communication, and the PIM features to schedule personal time and tasks. The other Office programs use Entourage, too; from within Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, you can send the document you're working on to a friend or colleague as an e-mail attachment. The other programs also have a new button on their main tool bars, Flag for Follow Up, which creates a reminder in Entourage's Calendar. The reminder pops up in any Office program when it comes due. This integration of time and tasks with your working documents keeps projects on time.

In terms of e-mail, the Address Book is the most noticeable difference between Entourage and Outlook Express 5.0. Instead of the limited address book found in OE 5, Entourage sports a full-featured contact manager with all the fields for personal data that you might want, plus a number of customizable fields.

Another nice touch is that you can export mail folders from Entourage just by dragging them to the desktop; they end up as a text file in the standard MBOX format, readable in word processors or importable into other e-mail programs.

Entourage's major failing, however, is that it is a single user program. You can't share your calendar and contacts with your colleagues over a network.

Word 2001 What's New What's Better

Office's word processor has always been the core of the suite and is the application most people turn to for written communication -- but there are plenty of new goodies that will make it quicker and easier for you to work.

If you've ever tried to center a headline on a title page, you know what a hassle it is, especially if you add more text above or below it later. The new Click and Type feature lets you double-click anywhere on a page and start typing. Word automatically adds paragraph alignments, tabs, or any other formatting to get your text to go where you want it to. A related feature is that you no longer have to show the header or footer from the View menu before you change them; just click where the header or footer would be on your page, and start typing.

You can do much more with tables in Word 2001. For example, you can now create nested tables (tables within tables), which also translate well to the Web. Header rows can automatically repeat at the top of each page. You also have better control over table positioning; tables can be moved around the page, or have text flow around them.

Doing a mail merge in previous versions of Word was a process best described as tortuous. The new Data Merge Manager doesn't make mail merging crystal-clear, but it does a much better job of stepping you through the process in a logical fashion.

A small new feature sure to gladden the hearts of writers everywhere sits at the bottom of each document window. Live Word Count shows you the total number of words in the document and also shows you at what point in the document the cursor is resting.

Word 2001's new Contacts toolbar is a vast improvement to Word 98's Adress Book, drawing upon Entourage's Address Book. Using it, you can insert a contact's name, address, phone, or e-mail information into your Word document or select a name and address in a letter and add it to the Address Book.

The spelling checker and thesaurus are new in Word 2001, as is the grammar checker. I found that words that Word 98 flagged as incorrect were recognized correctly in Word 2001, and I was offered a better selection of synonyms.

Excel 2001 What's New What's Better

How do you go about improving the best spreadsheet in the world? By making Excel do things the way you want them to, rather than how a software designer in Redmond thinks you should work. As a result, Excel has new features that make it easier for novices and pros to use.

For all its number crunching capabilities, most people primarily use Excel for handling simple lists. List management is usually the job of a database program, but Microsoft has wisely decided to help us out by adding the new List Wizard and the List Manager. The List Wizard helps you create lists; the List Manager allows you to sort the list on any of the columns and filter the data to show the information you want.

Maybe one of the reasons people use Excel for lists more than as a spreadsheet is that they're intimidated by creating formulas -- Excel's new Calculator helps you do just that. It's really just a Stupid Interface Trick; as you click the buttons on the familiar-looking Calculator, Excel builds the formula. When you're done, Excel inserts the formula into the cell that you've been working in.

Excel 2001 now includes the FileMaker Pro Import Wizard, a useful utility for importing data from FileMaker Pro into Excel. When you drag a FileMaker Pro database onto an Excel worksheet, the Import Wizard starts up and lets you specify the database fields that you wish to import. This makes it easier to apply Excel's superb analysis tools to your databases.

Excel is also smarter about handling tabular data -- data that are already formatted in rows and columns -- from other applications. You can drag and drop or copy and paste tables from Word or a Web browser, and the information goes neatly into Excel's columns -- with little cleanup needed. This allows you, for example, to drag over stock prices from a Web site for further number crunching.

PowerPoint 2001 What's New What's Better

In years past, Office's presentation program has been the neglected child of the suite, never getting the attention lavished on the other programs. This time around, PowerPoint has benefited from the package's ease-of-use makeover.

Unlike PowerPoint 98's separate Outline and Notes views, PowerPoint 2001 introduces the three-pane view, in which resizable panes of the document window simultaneously show you the outline, the current slide, and the notes for that slide. This makes it much more natural to compose the presentation in the outline instead of on the slides. Having an area for speaker notes visible while you're building the presentation, you're encouraged to add notes as you go, rather than going back and frantically inserting them in the hours before your presentation.

Increased focus on presentation content doesn't mean that there aren't new ways to add flash to your slide shows. Bullet points can now be numbered automatically, and instead of just text-based bullets, you can now use images as your bullets -- some are even included in several new PowerPoint templates.

Also, tables in PowerPoint 98 were a bit of a pain; you had to create and import your tables from Word or Excel. PowerPoint 2001 contains a subset of the same easy-to-use table drawing tools found in Word. Using a pencil tool, you just click and drag to draw table boundaries and cells.

Fitting text to a slide so that the text doesn't overflow the slide has always been one of the most maddening PowerPoint tasks. No longer. Turn on AutoFit Text in PowerPoint's preferences, and PowerPoint automatically changes the line spacing, font size, or both in order to make the text fit in its placeholder, saving you a ton of time.

Office 98's PowerPoint Viewer, a program that would let you run presentations without requiring you to have Office installed, has been ditched in favor of a better (and more widespread) technology: QuickTime. You can now save your presentations as cross-platform QuickTime movies, viewable by anyone with the free QT Player.

Office 2001 shows the right way to improve even the most popular Mac software: make it easy, make it elegant, make it efficient, and make it work even more like a Mac. With Entourage as your schedule's traffic cop, it will be easier to juggle your appointments and to-dos. The Internet is vital to most of us, and Office's intelligent embrace of the medium means better communication with coworkers and friends. The new features and improvements in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will shave minutes off of completing everyday tasks, and that time adds up. This is one software upgrade that can buy you the most precious commodity of all: more time.

Contributing Editor TOM NEGRINO is the author of Microsoft Office 2001 for Macs for Dummies (IDG Books, 2000).

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