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Office XP: mostly eye candy

Despite some interesting interfaces and fixes, XP launches to cool reviews. 6/01/01 ReleVents hed: Office XP: mostly eye candy dek: Despite some interesting interfaces and fixes, XP launches to cool reviews. By James Mathewson

One of the most interesting aspects of the Microsoft trial is the way the company dealt with it. As I will explore in much more depth in the June 11 Newsletter, Microsoft’s developers basically ignored the antitrust ruling and went right along on the course Gates charted in his book, “The Road Ahead”– a road that leads toward total domination of the desktop and Internet markets. Integral to this are several product announcements slated for this summer and early fall, which will extend Microsoft’s OS monopoly into the Internet. The first of these happened yesterday, when Redmond released Office XP, the latest upgrade of its productivity software package and the biggest breadwinner in its entire product line.

Despite the fact that this is the most significant product Microsoft has released since Office 2000 (which it released about 18 months ago), reviews range from cynical to lukewarm. I have yet to find a whole-hearted endorsement. Even those who like the product are looking for ulterior motives in the timing of the release, as a news story on our site today describes. There seems to be a hesitance in the industry as it waits for the appeals process to conclude in about a month. No one wants to get too excited about Microsoft until after the ruling, despite the fact that it is without question the strongest company in the tech sector, and growing stronger every day.

Setting aside antitrust apprehension, the product deserves its less-than-enthusiastic greeting. It offers users only one notable enhancement, which is really just a bug fix. The most annoying aspect of all Office versions is the lack of control over autoformatting features. My biggest pet peeve is having to perform several separate operations to deactivate URLs. Even with all the appropriate check boxes unchecked, I still am forced to save some documents I receive as text, close out of them, and open them again in Word to remove autoformatting. Office XP has a feature called “smart tags,” which will allow users to have much more control over the program’s “intelligent” features, and to do so in a much easier way.

Aside from smart tags, Office XP does not increase the number of things users can do, it just makes it easier to do those things (after training, of course). So many reviewers find the $239 upgrade price, plus $100 for Access XP, to be too stiff. And as most IT managers know, the actual cost of new software only begins with price. Considering it just launched a new Office version less than two years ago, Microsoft should not be vexed by a lukewarm reception. It should expect it. And it probably does expect it. When you spend $4.2 billion on R&D a year, you naturally develop products faster than the market can consume them.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com.

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