October 12th, 2001
[Update: A Microsoft employee working in the Mac Business Unit responded to our criticism of the HTML conversion abilities in Word 2001 by pointing out a way of getting a cleaner conversion (you can see his public comments in the comments below). We have updated our review in the section on Word to include this information.]
Not quite three years after renewing its commitment to the Mac with Office 98, Microsoft released the second version of its industry dominating productivity suite, Office 2001. In anticipation of our upcoming review of Office v.X, the Mac OS X version of Office that will be released in November, we thought it was high time to publish our review of Office 2001, Microsoft's Classic Mac OS offering. Office 2001 is built on the success of Office 98, the first Mac-like release from Microsoft in years, and adds many new features and the new application named Entourage.
2001 comes in a new type of box, a sturdy plastic case that has surprised many Mac users. At first sight, it looks like a toy, but it resists physical shocks well and can store four additional CDs. As with Office 98, the way to install Office is to drag the folder to your hard disk drive and place it wherever you want.
In short, Office is this:
Despite the fact that Office is a powerhouse and requires a lot of learning to use to the fullest, Microsoft insists that its studies justify its decision to dump the full printed manual in exchange for online tutorials and the help system that Office installs on your hard disk drive. The help system nicely answers basic questions and cover general topics, but the lack of printed documentation makes it harder to leave the computer and really learn. Reading on-screen help is simply not as good as having a real document. The tutorials on Microsoft's site are nice, but what if you need to find a tutorial while not around an Internet connection? Not acceptable, especially given the price of the software.
The good news: compatibility is strong. We worked with our Office 98 documents (with all the applications) without a problem; documents keep the same internal format. We also exchanged all types of files with versions 97 and 2000 of the PC flavour, without major problems. In some cases, we experienced issues such as incorrect font size when opening PC files, but this is the extent of our negative experiences with file exchanges. Other formats such as Text and RTF are also supported.
Microsoft improved Office's interface. You can select the Office 2001 Appearance, which looks a lot like Classic's Platinum appearance, or a 100% Appearance Manager compliant interface. The good news with the second option is that from now on, Kaleidoscope users can finally see their color schemes taking over Office's interface; hitherto, version 98 imposed a Platinum grey instead of simply playing nicely with the Appearance Manager.
New features across the board
Microsoft has used the three-year period to add plenty of functionality to Office. The "Flag for follow-up" feature is now available across the suite, which is definitely a plus. When putting it to the test, we set up a flag for a Word document and then went to read and write e-mail for a while. At the specified time, Entourage popped an alert as a reminder, with buttons to open the document, snooze the alert or to dismiss it. Great. This is only one of the functions of this feature, and there are plenty.
The Project Gallery, probably the best Office addition, allows you to peruse the templates (in all their categories) to create new documents. With their previews, you can easily see all the types of templates available, and go from there... a time saver. The templates and wizards are now improved. There are more of them and they facilitate customization as well as creation. From labels to the letter wizard, software such as Word will assist you in your work.
The Formatting Palette is one of the best ideas coming out of Redmond in years, since it reduces toolbar clutter, saves time and works nicely alongside the Word, Excel and PowerPoint windows.
The integration of identities with Mac OS 9 is helpful for different setups, especially for e-mail.
The clip art gallery is very complete and there are picture tools to import and edit graphics. For people working on newsletters, business letters, announcements, letters to home, simple spreadsheets, work presentations, and the other mundane tasks that comprise most Mac users' Office usage, these tools were work fine. It's far from Photoshop, but still, such basics can help and save time without purchasing the Ferrari of photo editing.
Microsoft has added the Encarta dictionary that allows users to look up and grab definitions of words when reading or writing, which is nice in Word and especially Entourage. Finally, the Collect And Paste feature acts as a large multiple clipboard to take information from different Office documents and applications and allowing to paste by dragging and dropping.
This e-mail and personal information manager is very powerful. Think of it as a beefed up Outlook Express. It is faster and it offers more features than OE. From a calendar to notes, to-do list and a comprehensive address book, Entourage really answered our needs, replacing Outlook Express and Palm Desktop on our setup. It imports mail and contacts without a problem, and it does this for the most used Macintosh e-mail and PIM competitors.
It supports standard features such as filtering, HTML mail, multiple accounts (including Mac OS 9 identities), multiple and random signatures, flags, as well as message priorities compatible with Eudora and PowerMail. Like Eudora, Entourage underlines mistakes as you type and allows you to use the AutoCorrect features, just as Word does.
Its integration with the Office suite allows you to exchange information with other applications, use multiple languages and its own database integration allows the user, for example, to link a task to a message, files on the hard disk, and a note.
Entourage has an awful lot to offer, to pro and novice users alike. Its simple all-in-one window interface and the features included give a user a great deal of power, without the complexity of many competing products.
Word is now more simple and powerful. With the Data Merge Manager and access to the Entourage address book, it is simpler to do data merges. It is also easier to add contact information in documents with the new contact toolbar that accesses the Entourage address book. Writing documents is simple and easy, but the vast array of more complex tools lie a few clicks away for those who want them. Tracking changes, formatting, auto-correction, spell-checking, indexing, and literally dozens of other tools are available if you want. What makes Word 2001 the best version of Word for the Mac yet is that these features don't get in the way for those wanting a simple word processor.
Lastly, Word is better integrated with Internet features of the Microsoft Office suite, from hyperlinks to Web page building. On the negative side, Word uses proprietary and unnecessary coding to convert Word documents to HTML when you "Save As Web Page." In the default mode for "Save as Web page," which is labeled as "Save entire file into HTML," non-standard CSS coding is used to precisely mimic the document's Word layout. Rather than follow HTML standards and recognize that HTML is simply not capable of the kinds of formatting that Word is capable of, this mode offers HTML code that will not render properly in anything other than Internet Explorer. It also makes Web pages unnecessarily large files. This is the usual attempt from Microsoft to artificially tie users of one of its products to another product, and serves no other useful purpose.
Gerald Pogue of Microsoft's Mac Business Unit pointed out to us in an e-mail that there is way of getting cleaner HTML conversions (you can also read his comments in the comment section below). Under "Save as Web page," there is an option labeled "Save only display information into HTML." This option does indeed offer much cleaner code though it is still not as clean as we would like to see. The following code comes from a Word document saved in the default Web page mode:
That's just silly. There is useless code, there is proprietary code, and it's just plain bad. Had there been any extra styling such as italics, bold letters, or (heaven forbid) colored letters, it would be even worse. This next bit of HTML is the same passage saved with the "Save only display information into HTML" option:
The <span> and <class> information is not needed and are not standard HTML. In our opinion, this option should save only using strict HTML standards. That said, this version is cleaner, and it will work in a variety of browsers (more or less: there is a ton of CSS code that is included in the headers to make this work, and CSS support is not the same on all browsers).
Word is a very powerful word processor, and Word 2001 offers many new features that will be welcomed. While we don't recommend making a Web page with it, everyone else will likely enjoy it.
Excel brings improvements of its own. The new List Manager detects your moves and will convert cells into lists. A window will pop up and ask you if you wish to create a list out of your items. The List AutoFill adds to this when continuing your formatting for you as you build lists.
Among other features and improvements:
Last but not least, PowerPoint offers solid improvements. The new tri-pane view allows you to view your slides, outline and notes at the same time. This all-in-one window was great for us when working jointly on a PowerPoint presentation to see and add notes on the fly.
The new multi-masters helped us to use different designs and parts to really separate segments of a presentation. This is neat. Bullets are also handled better: while you can now use pictures, PowerPoint will format and number characters automatically.
With good QuickTime integration, PowerPoint can save your slides as a QT movie - a great feature, but we noticed that the movies were very large - and let you use QuickTime transitions to cook better presentations.
The last notable addition is the ability to build tables in the same way that you would with Word. This helps to use the same features across the Office suite and it improves the possibilities of PowerPoint.
We definitely liked PowerPoint 2001 when sharing the workload with colleagues for joint presentations. They were working with PowerPoint 2000 for Windows, and the only glitch we could find was a font size problem.
Mac OS X Compatibility
Office 2001 is not a Carbonized app, so if you want to run it in Mac OS X, you have to do so in the Classic environment. Fortunately, it works well within Classic, and is quite snappy. Everything we have discussed so far holds true in the Mac OS X Classic environment itself. A Mac OS X native version called Office v.X will be released in November of 2001.
At suggested prices of US$499 for the full version and $299 for the upgrade, we find Office 2001 a tad expensive for the home user. The Word and Entourage package released by Microsoft earlier this year is much better suited for the home consumer, unless they are happily using AppleWorks. With all its power and internal integration, we believe that Office 2001 is best suited to business users and professionals (freelance included) who need plenty of power to get their work done. Office 2001 is likely to be the last version of Office for Classic Mac OS, and as such will have a long life span. There are many Mac users that won't move to Mac OS X for years, and there are many more who have shelled out the bucks for Office 2001 already and will be happy to run it within Classic in Mac OS X. Those people will find Office 2001 a very serviceable productivity suite.
Office 2001 stands as a strong product upgrade, and a must buy if your business productivity depends on its power.