Concurrent with last months release of other components of Microsoft Corp.s , the company released a 2003 version of Project that is aimed at improved interaction with mainstream Office tools and data stores.
In eWEEK Labs review of Project 2003, which starts at $599, with upgrade prices beginning at $349, we found an impressive effort to bring powerful time and resource visualization and management aids to the desks of users who dont have "project manager" in their job titles.
For enterprise IT buyers whove not yet seen a compelling case to upgrade from Office 2000, or even from Office 97, the data integration and network resource utilization of Project 2003 may be among the first real demonstrations of what the new Office platform—not to mention the forthcoming "Longhorn" technologies—can deliver (See eWEEK Labs review of "Longhorn.").
Microsoft Project 2003
Merging into the mainstream of the Office 2003 suite, Microsoft Project goes the extra mile to make its time and resource management aids accessible to nonspecialist users. Project 2003 starts at $599, and upgrade prices begin at $349.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
Previous project management tools have often been better at presenting optimistic assumptions or reflecting selective reporting of facts, but Project 2003 is genuinely aimed at working with real-world knowledge and minimizing redundant data collection or data entry effort.
The product offers users continuing context-sensitive guidance from an interactive Project Guide. We found this much more useful than online help that needs to be deliberately summoned and interrupts tasks. The Project Guide is always available and integrated into the tools. Additional help resources are also available.
To function in an everyday environment of differing expectations, Project 2003 users can employ the products capable Baselines monitoring tools that take snapshots of the state of the project at any point to provide either historical notes or reference points for subsequent analysis.
For the many situations in which Project-based reports may lend themselves to spreadsheet analysis, or when Project may rely on data that originates in that form, users will appreciate the ease of importing and exporting Excel files using integrated wizards and hyperlinks within the Project environment. Managers who want to tailor the Project tools and view to their own requirements will find many options for defining customized fields and for specifying rules for their use.
Users who dont like the bars and lines of traditional, diagram-heavy project management tools will probably be more comfortable with the Web portal look and feel that Project 2003 also offers, with its quick drill-down into currently assigned active issues, risks, new tasks or other items that require attention or action.
This Web access mode also encourages adoption of Project as an everyday environment, available anywhere to peripatetic users—in the same way that Outlook Web Client already serves so many modern nomads with simpler task lists and calendars.
It is useful to look at Project 2003 in the context of Microsofts Longhorn technology previews at the Professional Developers Conference held late last month in Los Angeles. Beneath the sizzle of the new user interface, Longhorn is about the substance of much better integration of what are now separate information stores.
The .Net-based, server- platform design of Project 2003 is aimed at giving users plenty of opportunity to identify resource allocation conflicts and to identify other risks to projects; thats the kind of value-add that may encourage enterprise sites to add Project to their Office suites.
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Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.