Make a Note of

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2003-03-10 Print this article Print


When Microsoft Corp. releases a new version of its Office productivity suite, the software tends to be somewhat more approachable, functional and Internet-connected than the last. However, when it comes to staving off enterprise defections to open-source alternatives or coaxing stalwarts of previous Office versions to upgrade, pleasant but fundamentally minor advances in Office arent going to get it done.

In eWeek Labs tests of the second beta of Microsofts Office 2003, we indeed found it more polished than Office XP in all the expected places, but what will really set Office 2003 apart when it ships this summer is its suitewide integration of XML. This should enable users and enterprises to work with their information in new, more efficient and creative ways.

In tests, we found it relatively easy to make the core applications of Office 2003 to consume and produce XML data that conformed to a variety of schemas. However, as with the extensibility features in previous versions of Office, the usefulness of Office 2003s XML-based capabilities will depend not so much on their quality but on whether companies choose to use them.

Microsoft is hoping that enterprises will deploy XML-enabled Office applications as rich-client front ends to an all-Microsoft back end, and Office 2003 is definitely designed to make this the path of least resistance.

To be sure, much of new functionality in Office 2003, such as collaboration tie-ins to Microsofts SharePoint Services or content restrictions with its Information Rights Management framework, depends on companies deploying a top-to-bottom Microsoft infrastructure.

However, this need not be so, and thats whats most compelling about this version of Office. Companies can link Office 2003 applications to any back end they choose or even use Offices applications solely as rapid design tools and opt instead for a cross-platform-friendly, Web-based front end.

Speaking of platform support, Office has become more choosy about what its willing to run on—the suite requires Windows XP or Windows 2000 Service Pack 3.

Make a Note of This

One of the more interesting components to be included in the Office 2003 launch—its not clear yet whether it will be part of Office proper or an additional purchase—is OneNote, a relatively simple but well-designed tool for taking free-form notes.

The OneNote interface looks like a notebook, with tabs that represent separate files in which notes are stored in the applications own binary format. We could also export our notes in HTML.

We found OneNote easy to use and flexible. We could type in chunks of text; paste in pictures; and, with a Tablet PC, ink in notes and drawings—all of which we could then move around on the page or organize like a bulleted outline. When we dragged images or pieces of text or images onto a OneNote page from Internet Explorer, the URL of the page from which wed dragged the data appeared below the clipping.

We could also record voice notes with our test notebooks on-board microphone, and the text we typed or the marks we made during the recording were linked to the part of the recording that had been playing when we typed it—a useful feature for searching through recordings of long meetings.

In addition, OneNote includes a nice search facility, with which we could search through handwritten notes as well as typed ones, and we could also search for bits of information wed tagged with the applications Note Flag feature.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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