Office 2001 for Mac delivers suite help

Office 2001 for Mac delivers suite help

Apps in Microsoft product bring key improvements, but there's still no Access database manager

By Joel Sparks

Special to GCN

Microsoft Office 2001 for the Macintosh is one sweet suite.

The new suite's functions, some of which do not yet exist for users of Office for Microsoft Windows, are well thought-out and don't make nuisances of themselves.

Integration across all four applications'Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage'is logical and powerful. And compatibility remains good with previous versions, Windows counterparts and other applications.

Like most Microsoft Corp. products, Office installs when you drag the folder from the CD-ROM to the hard drive. It takes up about 175M of storage, much more than Office 98. Install a few selections from the included Value Pack, such as Visual Basic for Applications, Microsoft Query, and various fonts, templates and clip art, and your disk consumption easily exceeds 200M. But disks come cheap these days.

In terms of RAM, the Office 2001 components are not significantly hungrier than their Office 98 counterparts. Word 2001, for example, asks for 10M of memory; Word 98 wanted 9M.

The CD includes Internet Explorer 5, a GCN Lab recommendation for the Mac [GCN, May 22, Page 29]. If Explorer is installed, some of its functions integrate with Office.

Three of the Office 2001 apps are returning favorites: Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets and PowerPoint for presentations. But there's still no Access database manager for the Mac. FileMaker Pro from FileMaker Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., still dominates on the Mac platform [GCN, April 24, Page 29].

The fourth app in Office 2001 is a new one called Entourage. Billed as a personal information manager, Entourage comprises an e-mail client, a news reader, a calendar and a task manager. It tracks tasks and events that link to documents created by the other three apps.

All four apps in Office 2001 share common characteristics. They sport an attractive platinum color and the familiar Mac interface. Menu palettes and buttons are numerous. The small icons are sometimes hard to interpret, but the Tool Tips that pop up for each button generally make the function clear.

Extra help

Likewise, help balloons are available for nearly every function, and most of them are concise and well-written. Only a few fall into the trap of repeating a function's name instead of spelling out what it does.

The full Help application is fairly useful, although it could use a glossary. For example, the user might wonder how the terms project and task differ. It turns out that a project is the process of creating a single document; a task is anything whose deadline is tracked by Entourage.

The Project Gallery displays templates to let users manage their data, from to-do lists and letters to Web pages and presentations.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which all create documents, share some new features that don't apply to Entourage. First and most important, their file formats are the same as in Office 98.

For example, there is no Word 2001 format; Word 2001 saves files as Word 98 documents and opens them without conversion. Even though some new features won't show up, Word 98 opens the documents just fine. This alone is an improvement in compatibility over the typical upgrade, which tends to insert annoying conversion dialog boxes to prompt people to move to the latest version. Furthermore, not introducing a new format means continued easy file exchange with Office 2000, the current Windows version.

Opening any of the four Office apps reveals a menu of projects, or templates, for a variety of common documents. Only a few samples load with the basic installation, but many more projects come in the Value Pack. Most project files have limited content, such as shopping lists. Experienced users will soon click the box marked 'Do not show at startup.'

Each app recognizes all Office 2001 documents and projects. Word and Excel can open each other's files. Otherwise, Office simply opens the appropriate application.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint share new graphics and Hypertext Markup Language abilities. To insert a picture into a document, the user can import graphics in many standard formats or use some of the extensive clip-art libraries in the Value Pack. For those who want to make their own art, the basic drawing tools are better than in previous Office versions. And Office 2001 can accept input directly from a scanner or digital camera.

PowerPoint makes good use of Office 2001's Photoshop-like image tools and the package's new access to scanners and cameras.

Once placed, a picture can be manipulated in a variety of ways using the pop-up Picture palette. It controls formatting, drop shadows, and transparency and Adobe Photoshop-like effects.

In fact, Office seems to be making a fair bid to eliminate the typical user's need for powerful image software such as Photoshop. It's now possible to go from scanning to red-eye removal and stylized brushstrokes without ever leaving Office 2001.

Further evidence of the one-stop-shopping mindset is Office 2001's ability to save documents as Web pages. Word, Excel and PowerPoint all let the user paste in hyperlinks, automatically accessing not only the Favorites list from Internet Explorer but also the browsing history.

Hyperlinks can be given pop-up screen tips and can even open documents stored on the computer in other applications. Saving an Office document as a Web page offers a number of good options, such as specifying the expected screen size of the viewer's system and the maximum graphics resolution. A Web page preview is built in. It launches Explorer.

Web basics

The HTML formatting is quite basic. For example, indents and outlining in Word are ignored, although there are at least three simple ways to replicate them in HTML. Experienced Web authors won't choose Office to build their pages. They want more control over things such as storage of linked files and the Extensible Markup Language tags that Office automatically inserts. But Office 2001 makes it easy for a beginner to stay under the Office tent.

Common functions in Word, Excel and PowerPoint have all moved from the top toolbar to the floating Formatting Palette. This forces a slight usability adjustment, but the new location has advantages. Font formatting buttons such as boldface and indents are at the user's fingertips, plus a few common menus. Each additional menu in the Formatting Palette appears as a single collapsed line and is quickly opened and shut with the little hierarchy triangle familiar to Mac OS users.

The palette automatically adjusts to save screen space. It's unobtrusively context-sensitive, adding collapsed menus appropriate to the task. When the user draws a table, for example, the Table Cells menu quietly appears; when the user clicks back to typing body text, it goes away.

The contextual pop-up menu is another place to find needed functions quickly.

Typing Ctrl-click brings up not just cut-and-paste commands but also the menu of items for formatting, hyperlinking and other functions the user is likely to want quickly.

One small but good improvement is a new way to draw tables. The user selects Draw Table, then simply sketches out a box of the desired size. Drawing lines across and down splits the table into rows and columns with quick swipes of the mouse. Erasing a line by Shift-click merges the cells. Drawing is fast, even fun, and the usual array of formatting options is available.

All of the apps included in Microsoft Office 2001 for the Macintosh recognize each other's documents.

Office 2001's thoughtful new version of Word really shines. The Officewide hyperlink, table drawing and address book functions are at their most powerful in Word. Many new functions appear but do not interfere with the familiar look and feel of Word 98. The most common tools are accessible in the Formatting Palette, the contextual pop-up menu or the slightly inscrutable buttons of the main toolbar.

Other tools are harder to find. There is a total of 19 specialized toolbars for art, reviewing and versioning of shared documents, creating and importing databases, and changing a document background to a color or even a graphic. The toolbars are all tucked away under the View menu to reduce screen clutter. The user can customize which ones appear.

Live word count

Ctrl-click on a word brings up the contextual pop-up menu with a list of synonyms and the dictionary definition. The dictionary window has no scrollbars, which is inconvenient given the length of some definitions, but speed of access via the contextual menu is fast.

A tiny but welcome advance: Live word count is finally present, an important addition for report writers and those who must follow strict length guidelines.

Excel 2001's structure looks very much like previous versions' grid and worksheets gathered into workbooks. The few changes are mostly improvements. Cell borders are fast to create with the new table-drawing mechanism discussed above. Like Word, Excel has a floating Formatting Palette and a useful contextual pop-up menu.

Import capabilities are good, too. In some cases, as with FileMaker Pro, Excel launches the other application to extract data. It walks the user through the process smoothly, but if the original application is unavailable, things get much more complicated.

Keyboard shortcuts have been standardized to work more like those in Word. This consistency is long overdue to make Office an integrated Mac work environment, but for experienced Excel users, the new commands take some getting used to. For example, Apple-I now means italic, not insert.

The List and Name functions are handy, especially for working with large spreadsheets. Using the List Wizard, the user can turn a block of data into a list with distinct header rows'tables within a worksheet. Clicking on a header sorts the whole list by that column, a great improvement over the previous inefficient sorting processes.

Excel treats the list as a single object for layout purposes, preserving data relationships and formatting when it's moved or copied. The Name function lets the user apply a simple name to a complex calculation, which can then be called up from elsewhere in the workbook. It's a programminglike option that advanced users will enjoy.

The popular PowerPoint presentation software ties nicely into the whole Office package. PowerPoint makes good use of the Photoshop-like image tools and the new access to scanners and cameras. It can import Word and Excel documents, plus contacts from the address book. The information comes through intact though not attractively formatted. Making pretty slides out of Excel data still takes work.

PowerPoint has a number of predefined themes, each of which has a suggested color scheme. A wide assortment of animations and sound effects is available, although a few don't work well cross-platform. The user can import multimedia files, including Apple QuickTime movies. A finished slide presentation can be saved as a QuickTime movie complete with custom sound track and credits. The user can distribute the movie over the Internet, e-mail it for viewing on systems without PowerPoint or set it to run in a kiosk.

Unifying force

Entourage ties together tasks that use the other Office applications, managing the user's contacts list and keeping a calendar of events. It can synchronize with Palm OS handheld devices.

A quick new way to make tables is simply drawing rules where you want them.

I found Entourage fairly customizable. It suggests entering name, address, phone number, e-mail address and so on for all contacts. It easily imports addresses, messages and other settings from programs such as Eudora from Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego, Microsoft Outlook and recent versions of Netscape Navigator. The address book is then available from anywhere in Office.

For example, in Word, it takes just a few mouse clicks to place a complete address block for someone in the contacts list. Double-click on the e-mail address, and Entourage launches, ready to send a message. The user has the option of sending from an e-mail program instead.

Calendar events in Entourage also tie to the contacts. The user can define an event, such as a meeting, and then send an invitation to people in the address book. If the recipients also use Entourage, they can drop the event information onto their own calendars, and the sender's Entourage keeps track of responses.

Task creation sets up a deadline and scheduled reminders. Any Office document can be made a task by choosing Flag for Follow-up in the appropriate Office app. A window of current reminders pops up each time an Office app is opened. The user can dismiss a reminder, which won't return until the next time Office is launched, or use the snooze feature to send it away for a set period.

The reminders would be more effective if Microsoft had built in a small background application to track tasks when Office is closed. And double-clicking a document in the reminder dialog box opens the deadline schedule, not the document that needs working on.

Entourage goes further to organize the user's life. Contacts, events and e-mail messages can be placed into customizable categories, such as Work or Family. When the user receives a message from someone categorized under Friends, for example, the message itself can automatically go into the same category. This makes it easy to sort out work messages from personal ones, for example. Plus, individual links can be created among documents, events and contacts.

Word's numerous cursors keep the user busy learning their exact functions.

At its most thorough, Entourage makes possible this scenario: The user sends several colleagues an invitation to a scheduled meeting. The meeting appears on the user's and recipients' personal calendars. Periodic reminders pop up to prompt the sender to work on the agenda. Replies from colleagues generate a list of who will attend. And when a message from the boss arrives with agenda suggestions, the user double-clicks on the agenda document in the Entourage links window, opening the agenda in Word for the suggested changes.

If workers are willing to hand their lives over to Entourage, it will do a pretty good job of keeping things straight without too long a learning curve.

All four applications occasionally ran slowly on my 266-MHz G3 test system. Opening and closing windows felt poky, and there were delays of up to 30 seconds when launching a new function for the first time'even something as simple as making bullets.

The annoying little animated assistant, Max the dancing Mac, pops up whenever Office judges that the user needs help. It then sticks around, using up processor time to do distracting backflips in the corner of the screen. There should be an option to have no anthropomorphic assistant at all and get help purely in the form of functional text.

Microsoft's built-in Find File offers detailed options like those of the pre-Sherlock Mac OS, but a hard drive search is shockingly slow. It's much easier simply to go to Finder for file searches. Oddly, Entourage does exactly that, sending the user to Sherlock when searching for attachments.

Box Score
Microsoft Office 2001

Office Suite for Mac

Microsoft Corp.; Redmond, Wash.;

tel. 800-426-9400;

Price: $426 or $255 upgrade

+ Many thoughtful improvements, some still Mac-only

+ Highly compatible with past versions, Office 2000 for Windows and other Mac programs

+ Very customizable

' Sometimes slow or confusing

Real-life requirements:

Mac OS 8.1 or higher version, 120-MHz or faster PowerPC processor, 48M of RAM, 175M of free storage, CD-ROM drive

Office 2001 has a number of known compatibility issues, detailed in the five Read Me files that accompany it. Users of third-party enhancements to Navigation Services should note that Office's Open and Save dialogs cause numerous memory-related crashes until the Action Files utility is disabled for Office. Word is incompatible with RAM Doubler from Connectix Corp. of San Mateo, Calif., prior to Version 9.

E-mail messages imported from a Eudora client lose their attachments. Some advanced FileMaker fields don't import cleanly. As noted above, some fancy PowerPoint animations work poorly or not at all cross-platform, and HTML output from Office still doesn't match that of a true Web authoring program.

The sheer number of functions can be confusing. Word alone has nine different cursors to master. The four programs sometimes overlap'the Help information contains notes on things such as deciding whether to use Excel or Word when making tables.

Mac power users should note that Office 2001 is not 'carbonized' or designed to take advantage of the upcoming Mac OS X operating system, but must run in the Classic environment. Watch for a review of OS X in an upcoming issue of GCN.

Entourage asks for a fair amount of personal information that the documentation says might be needed for things such as map directions'not an Office function. Given current Internet privacy concerns, and Office 2001's tight integration with Internet Explorer, Microsoft needs to disclose more about how the privacy of Office users will be protected.

Overall, though, the new Office is a welcome improvement for Mac users, and further evidence that Microsoft continues to take the Mac platform very seriously indeed.


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