This column is devoted to issues related to technology at the University of St. Thomas. It is a joint effort of Computing and Communication Services, Instructional Support Services and the university libraries. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Naomi Kritzer,
Computing and Communication Services
You’ve probably heard that Microsoft has released a new Microsoft Office suite, Office 2000. You may have even used it on your personal computer (or at a friend’s house). Computing and Communication Services recently announced plans to upgrade PCs to Office 2000 in most of the student labs on campus; plans to upgrade staff and faculty office PCs are under development, and a pilot project to test the suite is scheduled to start soon. (Office 2000 for the Macintosh has not yet been released by Microsoft, nor have they publicized a date. Once we have a release date for this upgrade, we will start planning the upgrade process for the Macs on campus.)
If you use Office 2000 at home, you’re probably accustomed to the new features and eager to get the application on your work computer. However, if you haven’t used the new applications yet, you may be apprehensive. How difficult will it be to learn to use the new applications? Will there be any problems transferring files back and forth between Office 2000 and Office 97? And what features in the new Office make this switch worthwhile?
The short answers to those question are, “Not very,” “No,” and “Lots — but especially the new Clipboard.”
In many ways, Office 2000 is indistinguishable from Office 97. You still will find “Open,” “Print,” and “Save” on the File menu, for instance. Keyboard shortcuts are the same. The applications still will act basically the way you expect — in fact, in some ways, they’ll act more like you would expect. (For example, if you tell the Office Assistant — you know, the animated paperclip — to go away, it really will go away, instead of continuing to pop up sporadically until you shut it off in every single Office application.) It may take you some time to get used to the new features, but you will not have to learn a whole new set of applications. (Also, as you use the Office 2000 applications, over time, they adapt to you and your work habits — more on this later.)
File formats between versions of Microsoft Office software should not be a problem. Office 2000 is fully compatible with Office 97. Not only can Word 2000 open files created in Word 97 without difficulty, Word 97 can open files created in Word 2000.
Most of the new features are just subtle enhancements. For example, all the Office 2000 applications come with a command that lets you e-mail the current document — not as an attachment, but as the content of a message — in a single step. Excel 2000 has some significant enhancements to the PivotTables feature. FrontPage is now part of the Office suite, and FrontPage 2000 now allows you to create and adapt your own themes; it also comes with a “hands off my code” feature if you created your pages in hard HTML and don’t want FrontPage to try to “improve” it. Documents created in any Office 2000 application are more easily published to the Web; the Save as HTML feature has been improved to make documents convert more easily. Also, if you copy data from Internet Explorer and paste it into Word, it appears fully formatted as it did on the web page — no more garbage formatting to clean up.
The changes you probably will notice the most are the new Open and Save dialog boxes, the “collect and paste” feature, and the personalized menus.
The open and save dialog boxes
The File Open and File Save dialog boxes are the most commonly used dialog boxes in Office. Microsoft added immediate access to the folders they think you will use most often, and a command bar to let you do some file management tasks (such as copying, moving and deleting files).
The “Favorites” folder is probably familiar to you (it exists in the current version of Office). The “Personal” folder is what NT calls the folder formerly known as “My Documents.” “History” provides you with quick access to the folders you’ve accessed most recently (sort of like your Recently Used Files list on the File menu in Word 97); “Desktop” provides you with quick access to your desktop; and “Web Folders” provides quick access to web folders you’d like to be able to publish to.
Using the Views button and the Tools button, you still can list all the file details; sort the list by date modified, file name, or size; add something to your Favorites folder; view a file’s properties or a preview of the file; and search for files using Find.
Collect and paste
You probably use the Copy (or Cut) and Paste commands frequently. One of the perennial annoyances of this feature, though, is that the Clipboard holds only one item at a time. If you cut a bit piece of text to move it, and then copy something else (even by accident) it wipes out whatever else was on the Clipboard.
Under Office 2000, the Clipboard has been significantly improved. The second time you cut or copy something, a Clipboard toolbar appears to help you track the data you’re copying. The new Office Clipboard will hold up to twelve chunks of data (text, pictures, or anything else you can cut and copy). You can paste individually (the Paste command will default paste the most recent item cut, or you can click individual items to paste them) or you can click the Paste All button.
The multi-item Clipboard is only available in Microsoft Office; other applications will only allow you to paste the most recent item copied. However, you can continue to add items to the Clipboard from other applications, and they will be available to you when you return to your Office application.
Let’s face it: how often do you use “Master Document” view in Word? The “Properties” command? The Letter Wizard? The “Format Drop Cap” feature? All of these commands are on the default menus — taking up space.
The idea of personalized menus is to initially present just the most frequently used commands. With personalized men
us, if you click on the Format menu in Word, the only commands that immediately appear are Font, Paragraph, Bullets and Numbering, Borders and Shading, Theme, Style, and Format AutoShape/Picture. If you pause for a few seconds (or point the mouse at the little arrows pointing down), the menu will expand to also show the commands Columns, Tabs, Drop Cap, Text Direction, Change Case, Background, Frames, and AutoFormat.
If you frequently use one of the commands that Microsoft decided wasn’t critical, this may initially be a nuisance. As you continue to use the menus, however, Office automatically adjusts them so that the commands you use a lot are “promoted” to the default menus, while commands you never use are suppressed so that they don’t take up space. Once you’ve used Office for a while, you’ll have a fully customized version of the applications you frequently use — and you won’t have had to do anything to customize them except use them for a while.
If you find this feature more annoying than helpful, however, you can simply turn it off.
Here is a compressed Excel menu, shown next to a fully expanded menu, so you can see the difference:
Over time, if you frequently used the “Save Workspace” feature shown here on the expanded Excel menu, it would appear on the personalized menu where you could access it easily.
A few more things
Office 2000 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access (for PC users only), Outlook, and FrontPage. St. Thomas has an agreement with Microsoft that allows full-time faculty and staff to take the Office applications home for personal use, as well. More information will be available in the fall for those who want to take advantage of this option.
Again, PCs in most of the labs are scheduled to be upgraded to Office 2000 over the summer. The rollout for faculty and staff office computers is still in the planning stages; we expect to be able to announce a rollout timeline by mid-May. Microsoft has not yet released a Macintosh version of Office 2000; once they have a release date, we will start planning the Macintosh rollout.
As always, if you have any questions, you can call the CCS Help Desk at (651) 962-6230.