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Office 2003 targets power users

Businesses that want their Office applications to be more than a one-trick pony are going to like Office 2003, experts say. Find out what this means for administrators.

Moving from an older version of Office to Office 2003 apparently requires little work on the part of the IT administrator -- unless, of course, a company wants to use some of the application's most highly touted features.

The latest version of Office, which began shipping in October, added information rights management and XML support, as well as an overhauled Outlook interface. But none of these features needs to be activated. If they are, they require server-side upgrades, too.

Experienced users say that there can be some pitfalls migrating from an older version of Office to a new one, including formatting issues and quirks that prevent some users from gaining access to certain databases.

"Usually, we found the features and functions from one version of Access to another didn't work," said Jim Harings, an IT administrator with a Milwaukee-based manufacturer. Harings said that he never experienced problems migrating between the other Office components, such as Word and Excel.

Improved Outlook interface

If customers just stick with the same basic Office features they use today -- omitting integration with Exchange -- there is little or nothing to consider when upgrading to Office 2003, said John Robbins, an application developer at Wintellect, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based training and consulting firm. "What you will notice when you move to Office 2003 is the upgrade to Outlook," he said. "It's a massively improved UI [user interface] and spam filter."

Other functions are quite useful when they are tied into digital rights management servers, Robbins said. For example, digital rights management lets companies restrict access to sensitive documents.

"Our company is virtual, and it gives me a queasy feeling to send out e-mail with financial information," Robbins said. To protect its data, Wintellect set up the digital rights server, and each time someone opens a document, the activity is noted.

The other big benefit to Office 2003 involves using Exchange 2003 to activate a feature in Outlook that lets end users log on to e-mail systems over HTTP instead of requiring a VPN connection.

Web service calls from Office

Some of the other changes in Office 2003 include the use of XML as a means of sharing data. There is an application called InfoPath that lets developers create XML-based forms. "What's really different now is the ability to make Web service calls," Robbins said. "You can get .NET components into an application, and that opens up a world of possibilities."

If an enterprise is moving to Office 2003, and plans to be creating Web services applications from Office, it will help to have the .NET common language runtime on each PC. This is code that users need to have on their computers before they can use .NET applications. A runtime can't be installed by default. It must be coordinated with the development side of the enterprise, Robbins said.

For Harings, the biggest advantages of moving to Office 2003 are too much for his company to tackle anytime soon, so it's likely that his company will forego an upgrade. "It would take a massive effort to make Office 2003 work for us," he said. "So we are planning with the next version of Office in mind."


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