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Do you need Office XP?

Think twice and do some research before upgrading. Windows Advisor hed: Do you need Office XP? dek: think twice and do some research before upgrading. dek: Office XP isn’t much different from Office 2000. by Joe DeRouen

Despite the name, Office XP has about as much to do with Windows XP as Office 2000 had to do with Windows 2000: none. You don’t need Windows XP to run Office, and in fact, having the XP OS will neither increase the functionality of the suite nor have much if any positive (or negative) affect on it at all.

So what incentive do you have to upgrade Office 2000 to Office XP? More important, what issues might you face if you do decide to upgrade?

While not as major an upgrade as the new XP designation might have you believe, the new version of Office does add some pretty nifty features to the suite, including Smart Tags (small icons that appear within Office documents in response to certain actions such as pasting), Task Panes (panels that appear on the right side of Office application windows, providing quick access to commonly-needed functionality), and speech and handwriting recognition.

There are other, less drastic changes to Office, and some kinks have been worked out (the help system, while still not as helpful as you might like, has been noticeably improved), but all in all there aren’t that many differences between Office 2000 and Office XP.

I still want to upgrade

First–and this is important–you need even more RAM and a bigger hard drive than you needed when upgrading from Office 98 to Office 2000. Office 2000 required a 75MHz or higher Pentium PC, 32MB of RAM, and over 520MB of available hard-drive space to install the entire Office 2000 Premium package. Who were they fooling? Of course, just about everyone knows that, if installed on a system described as above, the suite would run slowly.

With Office XP, Microsoft decided to get a little more honest by requiring a 133MHz Pentium PC (Pentium III recommended), 64MB of RAM (128 recommended), and just about the same hard drive space (around 500MB) to install everything on Office XP Professional.

Though these numbers are more honest, they still aren’t accurate. Just try running the suite on a 133MHz PC and see what happens. To its credit, Microsoft does offer the caveat of recommending at least a 400MHz Pentium III PC to run accelerated video and voice recognition features, but I’d recommend not running Office XP at all unless you have at least a 500MHz Pentium III system with at least 256MB of RAM and at least 1GB of space to play around with. This version of Office eats up space like none of its predecessors, and if you can’t make your hard drive Office’s private playground, you’re going to run into some problems.

Getting past the installation

Once you’ve determined that you have the power to make Office XP run, you shouldn’t really have any problems installing it. There are, however, a few issues that might pop up once you have the suite running on your PC.

In Word, you’ll notice some significant changes: the annoying paper-clip helper guy is gone and “multiple selection” (a new feature that allows you to apply changes to multiple blocks of text at once) has been added, just to name two. Most of the changes are for the better, but with change comes the opportunity for trouble, and unfortunately that’s what’s happened in at least a couple of areas of Word.

If you’re running Outlook, look out! Microsoft has made Word the default e-mail editor for Outlook, which, considering the sheer amount of memory the program takes, just doesn’t make sense. Using Word for e-mail is overkill. Fortunately, this problem can be avoided by doing a custom install of Office XP. When doing the custom install, Office XP allows you to specify your own choice for default editor in Outlook. If you take advantage of the option during install, you’ll save yourself major headaches later.

In another snafu, Word also doesn’t remember the default view settings. If, for example, you want to use Word in Print Layout all the time, but want to remove the white space between pages, you’ll have to change the view setting each and every time you open Word. There’s no quick fix for this one, but Microsoft has promised to address the problem in a future Service Release update.

These problems notwithstanding, the Office XP version of Word is a nice improvement over Word 2000. The new features are useful and obvious without changing the overall look and feel you’ve grown used to in previous incarnations of the word-processing program.

The outlook is cloudy

Despite the aforementioned problem of being forced to use Word as your default e-mail editor, Outlook has few new problems, though it still has a couple of old ones. Inexplicably, though, Outlook Express (the free version of Outlook) still has some features that its big brother doesn’t, including an integrated newsreader.

One new addition to Outlook: support for Hotmail and other Web-based e-mail services. Web-based accounts are handled differently than in POP and Exchange accounts, in the sense that users have separate local and remote stores. But Outlook does out-do its free little brother in one way: Unlike with Outlook Express, you don’t have to look at banner ads when you access Hotmail. Also, Outlook users can now easily choose which account they’d like mail sent from, a necessity that has been a long time coming.

One change that didn’t need to take place is the way in which you create and modify e-mail accounts. In Outlook 2000, you simply choose Tools, then Accounts, and you’re presented with a very simple window for configuring e-mail accounts. In the new version of Outlook, something called the Accounts Wizard comes up instead, creating all sorts of unnecessary headaches.

Using the wizard, you can choose to create, view, or edit a new or existing account or directory. The resulting windows are so confusing that it can take forever to configure an account that requires SMTP authentication. (Here’s how to do it: Tools/Options/View or change existing e-mail accounts/Next/ choose the account/Change/More Settings/Outgoing Server. Then check the option titled My outgoing server (SMTP) requires authentication). In both Outlook Express and the previous version of Outlook, this same setting can be found much easier and without nearly as much searching. Microsoft really dropped the ball on this one.

Should i buy it?

Office XP is a worthy descendant of all the Office suites that came before it (like, last year’s version). Every program included (see next month’s column for reviews of Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and FrontPage) has improvements from the last release. Unfortunately, there are also a few drawbacks, such as the SMTP authentication issue with Outlook.

If you want (for the most part) an Office suite that’s easier to configure and use and offers new features like Smart Tags and Task Panes, it’s probably worth the price to move on to Office XP. If, however, you have your current version of Office just how you want it and don’t need the extras, there’s probably no real need to switch. After all, once you get comfortable with the new Office, Microsoft will just introduce a new version a year later. Next month, we’ll take a look at the new versions of Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and FrontPage.

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