Microsoft Office 2003 Professional
The Microsoft Office package has dominated the office productivity market for so long now that when a new iteration is released it takes quite a bit of convincing before people choose to upgrade. The focus in the 2003 edition is not just on productivity, but also on connectivity between users and integration with other programs in the suite.
Microsoft Outlook in particular has received quite a facelift, and it's a welcome change. The side by side view of the past has been replaced with a very handy reading pane, inbox list and task pane configuration. The task pane lists your folders on the left, the middle column displays the contents of the selected folder, while the rest of the screen shows the selected email. It is superior to the old design as you can read the whole email in one hit. Flagging emails now makes more sense too with new searchable groupings. You can also label the flag types so you can search for a list of all applicable emails under a certain group and have exactly what you want returned to you.
Outlook also contains a nifty junk email screener that prohibits items in emails that require additional connection to the internet to be viewed. This eliminates one route for viruses to access your hard drive and can be turned off if desired. Images from the net are automatically disallowed and replaced with a button asking permission to download the images. It can get a little annoying if you just want to see the pictures without additional clicks but we believe that the security benefits outweigh the inconvenience.
Microsoft Word has undergone some changes as well, with the addition of the research pane and reading layout view. Reading layout is particularly useful for people who are reading other people's work as it lays the pages out in an easy to read configuration, while the research pane instantly connects Word to various information sources from the internet designed to help find information quickly and easily. Some information sources require a subscription, but for those that will use them, the cost isn't too prohibitive.
Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access and Microsoft PowerPoint are all almost identical to their predecessors except for the XML integration and various other group productivity improvements. It is worth noting that PowerPoint can now support .avi. mpg and other video formats in full screen during a presentation. Additionally, Access databases can now be saved while working on them - a small change but a much needed addition. Sharing files between users is more stable than ever and rights management and file protection has been integrated as well. When setting rights management across the whole suite you can set passwords and also expiration dates. This means that you can make a certain document available for a limited period of time to protect it from unintended use.
Microsoft Office Professional 2003 is easily the best office suite on the market and also the most widely used. However, the decision to upgrade from a previous version should be based on what you need to use the package for. Home users and students on a tight budget may not get the most out of the new features as they are targeted at office productivity. Home users longing for the user-friendly Outlook but not wanting to fork out the cash for this suite may find Mozilla's Thunderbird email client useful as it is very similar to Microsoft Outlook and completely free. However, the stability, the XML integration and Rights Management are suited perfectly for corporate use and can be used as justification for upgrade.
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