CeePrompt! Computer Connection

It's time again to bring your Office up to date 

by Cathi Schuler

Change is inevitable in life ... but does it have to happen so quickly when it comes to our computer programs? Just when a comfort level is finally visible on the horizon, a software upgrade slides users right back to a kindergarten level. The human learning curve, it seems, just can't keep pace with the breakneck speed of software upgrades. But despite the frustration, upgrades are generally timely and good. Microsoft Office, the most popular business-software application, is no exception.

Microsoft, like time, stands still for no one. Slated for a January 16th retail release, Microsoft Office 97 is much more than your run-of-the-mill product upgrade. After three years in development, the Office 97 suite promises to deliver tools that will streamline and revolutionize how companies do business.

While the term "Internet" is practically a household word, the term "intranet" may be less familiar at present. Companies are rapidly turning to Internet technologies as a means of internal communication and networking; hence the term "intranet." Using the same navigational tools that drive the World Wide Web, businesses can cut costs and make information easily available companywide.

Companies such as Ford Motor Co., Levi Strauss & Co., Genentech, Pacific Bell, Xerox Co. and Eli Lily are among the well-known businesses alreadyusing intranets. Industry analysts estimate that by 1998, more than half the Fortune 1,000 companies will have intranets built into their workplaces. Ease of use and affordability are the obvious reasons for the rise in business intranets.

Since intranets utilize the Internet TCP/IP protocols, companies can save on hardware costs by using a variety of existing platforms such as Macintosh, PC or UNIX without compatibility problems. Intranets also use existing Internet connectivity, thereby eliminating the need for expensive wide-area networking and proprietary software. Company files and documents are coded in standard HTML Web formatting for ease in navigating and updating.

So what do Internet/intranets and Office 97 have to do with each other? Everything! Microsoft has targeted these exploding new markets with its new product enhancements. Each Office component -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access -- allows the easy saving of files in HTML formatting with a simple mouse click. Additionally, hyperlinks can be added to all documents that reference files on the local hard drive or Web servers across the globe.

A new Web tool bar is available in all applications that allow easy transitions and navigation between your documents and the World Wide Web. You can search the Web, for example, from your Word document with an Internet connection. Word 97 also contains 10 Web page Wizards in a variety of styles for ease in creating your own HTML documents.

If you're not an Internet or intranet user, don't feel left out. There are plenty of features in the new Office 97 suite that are true enhancements. The improved graphic capabilities alone are a long-awaited improvement. Finally, there's a graphics tool bar in Word, similar to the one in WordPerfect, that enables shading, watermarks and vastly improved wrapping options. The AutoShapes from PowerPoint are now built directly into the Word drawing tool bar as well as WordArt.

Office 95 Word users were introduced to the "on the fly" spell checker, and now Office 97 integrates an "on the fly" grammar checker as well into the spell-check utility. Microsoft's IntelliSense technology provides you with an "assistant" to guide you through your various Office chores. An animated Albert Einstein appears on my screen whenever help is needed, and he intuitively goes away once a task is mastered.

Excel users will find features such as multiple undo, cell merging, text rotation and enhanced graphics capabilities a welcome improvement. A formula palette makes it easier to create formulas by automatically correcting common mistakes, and natural-language formulas allow you to use column and row headings in formulas, rather than cell references or range names.

Microsoft Outlook is the newest member of the Office family. Replacing Schedule+ and Microsoft Exchange, Outlook is described as the "messaging and groupware glue" for the Office suite of products. With Outlook as your desktop information manager, you can organize and integrate e-mail, documents, tasks, contacts and your calendar all from one application.

Whether you're building your own Internet pages, building an intranet or simply upgrading your business software, you'll find plenty of power and pizzazz in the new Office 97 suite. It's another winner for Microsoft.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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