Software Review: Microsoft Office Professional 2003

By Jayne A. Hitchcock

Since I use Microsoft Office for many things - writing articles and books, assisting and grading online assignments for the University of Maryland University College (MUMC), sending out personal and business letters, and more, I was finding that I wished it had more online capability. This is especially true when Iím working on MS Office classes for UMUC and need to go over something with the student in regard to their assignment or collaborating with the instructor Iím assisting. Before upgrading to MS Office Professional 2003 (MSOP2003), I would receive and send the MS Office projects as an attachment via e-mail or posted in that weekís conference on the UMUC web site.

With the upgrade, I can do an ďonline collaborationĒ with a student or instructor via NetMeeting, which was available in previous versions, but was confusing to use. Now itís much simpler, with easy-to-understand instructions for you and whoever you want to work with online.

In fact, all the neat, new tools that were added to Office XP (the previous version), are much easier to use. Maybe itís the new look of the toolbars (the graphics are much better and easily recognizable without having to place your mouse cursor on each one to figure out what it is), or that the darned paperclip guy (the Office Assistant) no longer automatically appears - you have to turn him on if you want to see him, or the much easier to understand instructions for all the programs included, especially Access 2003, which I could never figure out before. Now, Iím working at putting together a database for the online safety organization Iím president of, WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse) to better manage the cases we receive online.

MSOP2003 includes all the programs youíll ever need and probably some youíll never use, but itís a great package and worth the upgrade price of $329 (I got it for $199 - the education discount and frankly, you can find it for a lot less than $329 online or at some retail stores - check around).

Microsoft does offer other MS Office 2003 packages with fewer programs, but MSOP2003 is perfect for the self-employed, small or large business or someone who needs a ďfull-serviceĒ suite of programs.

Frankly, the only program I donít use in this suite is Outlook, because of the well-known security problems/holes. Hackers and virus writers just seem drawn to Outlook like flies to honey and until Microsoft can make Outlook completely safe, Iíll stick with Eudora for my e-mail, thank you very much.

I do use all the other programs, though, especially Word for writing, mailing lists, and schoolwork - I can easily e-mail any document once itís done; PowerPoint for the presentations I make about cybercrimes (I especially like being able to add video and Web site links that I can instantly go to during my presentation - going ďliveĒ seems to keep the audience more interested); Access, which Iíve already mentioned; Excel - I use this to coordinate and calculate WHOAs yearly cyberstalking statistics; Publisher for creating invoices, flyers, business cards and other promotional print items I create, as well as creating Web pages. I have to admit I have a soft spot for Publisher. It has *got* to be one of the niftiest programs to quickly create and publish just about anything you can imagine, then save it as a paper project or as a Web site. You definitely donít have to know HTML to use Publisher and the included clipart is much better than many of the other desktop publishing programs available, not to mention the variety of templates included.

On top of all the programs that come with the retail package, you can also download a lot of online goodies - all of these are free:

All of the above and more are on the official MSOP2003 Web site.

Now for my gripes:
1. I wish Microsoft would fix Outlook, as I mentioned before. I donít know why itís so insecure. It has a lot of features and functionality I would love to take advantage of, but the fear of viruses, trojans or hackers prevents me from installing it
2. Stop putting the year in the title of the software! Even though this is technically Microsoft Office Professional 2003, it didnít start appearing in stores until 2004.
3. Make the upgrade prices lower - even the Standard edition is over $200; thatís a lot of money for most folks and theyíll wait until the next version comes out to get the current one at a cheaper rate
4. Do people really use the Office Assistant/paperclip guy? Canít you just get rid of him?
5. Put some of the add-ins/downloads on the Web site in the program instead of making users go to the Web site to get them or let them know about the nifty things they can add on.

Thatís a short list of gripes and for good reason - Microsoft is finally putting out a product that I can truthfully say is something I need, easy to use *and* understand, and worth the upgrade (if you have the money). I previously used Corels Office suites, but have switched for good to Microsoft Office. I do have a suggestion for Microsoft: My idea of the perfect Microsoft Office would be a custom made version. Make each program available for sale on separate CDs; do the same with templates - not everyone uses the business templates - separate those from the home/fun ones; the same with clipart. Then customers can pick and choose and pay only for what they really want.

Hey, I said it was my dream.

In the meantime, order a trial CD of MSOP2003 today for just $7.95 (you get 30-day trial versions of all the programs in the suite - you can convert the trial into the full version online, which is very nice)

Microsoft Office Professional 2003
Upgrade $329
Full version $499
Educational $199

Office Standard 2003
(Includes Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint & Word)
Upgrade $239
Full version $399
Educational $149


J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at jahitchcock.com.

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