Among the multiple exciting announcements at todayis keynote was that Microsoft would be updating their Office suite for 2004. Until this announcement, we were concerned that, like some other Mac software from Microsoft, Office would stagnate and fall behind its Windows cousin. Fortunately, this will not be the case with Office. We had a chance to sit down with Tim McDonough, Director of Marketing, Macintosh Business Unit, to receive an up-close demonstration of the new features that will be available in this new Office suite.
Tim first gave us some background on what went into the development of Office 2004. They interviewed around 6,400 users of the current version of the suite, in order to find out what would be most important to them in the next version. They also utilized their in-house usability experts, and have subjected Office 2004 to over 4000 hours of usability testing.
The newest feature in Office 2004 is the Project Center. Since most project require one to keep track of multiple types of media, the Project Center lets you associate tasks, e-mails, files, contacts and schedule information in one convenient place. Using the Project Center Wizard, you can define a watch folder to look in for project material, and also define email addresses or subject line information to include in a project. One can also share the project using .mac, as well as backup a project to other media.
Word has received an update in the form of a Notebook Layout view. This view offers such benefits as a tabbed multi-document interface, improved searching and tagging of important information, and even a spiffy voice annotation feature. We can imagine the fun or mischief one could cause with the ability to record what is happening during a meeting.
Excel sports a new Page Layout view, so that you donit have to discover, until it is too late, that your spreadsheet wonit print out in quite the way that you want. Plus, the graphs that we saw were very nice visually, attributed to Quartz, we were told.
There are also some nice tools available across the entire Office suite. One is a Compatability Report, which allows you to specify the target Office version and platform of any recipients. The report will flag any version or platform specific features which may impact portability, and even try to fix them if possible. Thereis also a global Office Scrapbook, which allows you to access commonly used images and other information from any Office program.
Office 2004 will be available in the first half of 2004. Pricing was unavailable as of this writing, but for those who purchase the current Microsoft Office v. X product now, they will be protected under the Microsoftis Technology Guarantee, and receive Office 2004 for free.