Powerful Web features enhance the suite

Microsoft Office 2000 is available in four versions: Premium, Professional, Small Business, and Standard. The Premium suite is all-inclusive and contains nine applications—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Small Business Tools, FrontPage, PhotoDraw, and Outlook. The Professional version includes everything in the Premium suite except FrontPage and PhotoDraw. The Small Business version includes everything in the Professional version except Access and PowerPoint. The Standard version includes only Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. The Premium and Professional versions also include Office Server Extensions (OSE).

Office 2000 delivers Web technology and Web-publishing tools to end users. If you haven't tried the suite yet, be prepared for a moderately steep learning curve. The number of new features is almost overwhelming. Although I've been working with the Premium suite for several months, I still discover enticing new features on a weekly basis. Word 2000 has the most comprehensive set of Web-enabled tools, which makes sense because Web documents are primarily text-based. PowerPoint, Excel, Access, and Publisher also deliver Web-ready documents, complete with interactive elements such as slide navigation, spreadsheet calculations, and database queries. Office 2000 includes OSE, which is a feature you might want to use for browser-based discussions, content subscriptions, and Web searches. For specific Microsoft information and white papers about Office 2000, see "Office 2000 White Papers," page 70.

Installation Improvements
The Office 2000 installation procedure is a breeze because of the graphical interface of selectable components. During installation, Office 2000 Setup displays the application and component list that Screen 1 shows. You can select from four installation options for each component: don't install, install locally, run from CD-ROM, or install on first use. To install all of a component's features in the same manner, select the installation option for the top item in the component's menu subtree. To limit the number of features you install, select different installation options for individual components. To test Office 2000's installation options, I selected install on first use for the Themes feature under Office Tools. (Word Themes are similar to PowerPoint's design templates.) The first time I selected Themes from the Format menu, Word paused and prompted me to install the missing themes. If you plan to deploy install on first use features in a production environment, you need immediate access to the installation files.

I'm delighted to report that Office 2000 doesn't install the Office Assistant by default. In addition, you can permanently disable the Office Assistant so that it doesn't sneak in when you load a new Office 2000 application—this improvement is my favorite. However, Office 2000 menu items appear even for features you don't install. Thus, Office Assistant appears on Word 2000's Help menu even if you don't install the feature. But when you select Office Assistant, nothing happens. The lack of a message telling you that the feature is unavailable might confuse novice users.

Office 2000 delivers an impressive new self-healing feature based on Windows Installer technology, along with a Detect and Repair option on the Help menu. The self-healing feature, which corrects major problems with installed components, is automatic. You must manually initiate Detect and Repair to find and correct problems with noncrucial files (e.g., fonts, templates). Theoretically, these two improvements eliminate the need to search for lost .dll files.

Web-Enabled Capabilities
Office 2000's new Web-enabled features are even better than the suite's installation procedure improvements. Microsoft made every application in the Premium package Web-enabled and tightly integrated all the components with one another and with HTML and FTP protocols. Microsoft built 15 new functions around Office 2000's support for HTML as a native file format. This native-mode treatment of Web pages ensures that your documents don't lose format or content information as you alternate between native and Web-page versions. You can preview an Office document in a browser before you save the document as a Web page, and you can use the built-in Web page design templates (i.e., Word Themes) to format existing or new documents. You can save documents as Web pages in local folders or on a Windows 9x personal Web server, corporate Web server, or Internet server. Word 2000 also includes the Web Page Wizard, which helps you create new Web sites in the location of your choice.

The suite handles hyperlinks quickly and cleanly, and it automatically repairs links when you save or publish a document. Microsoft extended the clipboard to support HTML and to let you cut and paste as many as 12 selected items, single items, and groups. I had no problems pasting HTML text straight from my browser into a Word document. The clipboard pops up every time you cut and paste more than one item; I found this constant interruption somewhat annoying. For instructions about how to permanently disable the clipboard pop-up, see the Microsoft article "OFF2000: Preventing the Office Clipboard Toolbar from Appearing" (http://support.microsoft.com/ support/kb/articles/q207/4/38.asp).

I'd like to see Office 2000 support a menu for recently used documents that includes a 64-character file specification. The recently used documents' File menu isn't wide enough to display the full path to a document, and I have trouble deciphering pathnames when I save deeply nested documents.

Using the new Word toolbars. In Word, three new toolbars complement the Web-enabled features: Web, Frame, and Web Tools. The Web and Frame toolbars are above the document, and the Web Tools Toolbar is below the document, as Screen 2 shows.

When you enable the Web Toolbar, the familiar Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) icons (e.g., Back, Forward, Stop, Refresh, Home, Favorites) appear below the formatting toolbar. If you click the IE icon or a Favorites link, Word opens a Web view of the link you requested. You can then copy references from the Web site, click the Back arrow to return to Word, and paste your references into a new or existing document.

The Frame Toolbar lets you insert frames in a document. Removing frames is a bit more complicated than inserting them. The Edit menu doesn't let you reverse the insert operation. To remove a frame, you must place the cursor in the frame and select Format, Frame, Delete Frame. When I inserted a frame in a document and deleted the frame, Word lost the document's name. I'm not sure whether a feature or a bug caused this occurrence. Word creates numerous temporary files when you use frames, but the program removes the files when you close the document.

The Web Tools Toolbar includes icons for creating interactive documents with a variety of built-in controls. Many of these controls are similar to FrontPage's Web bot components.

Saving and loading documents as Web pages. Office 2000 lets you instantly save any Microsoft document type (e.g., Word document, Excel spreadsheet or chart, PowerPoint presentation, Publisher document) as a Web page. Select File, Save As, then in the Save As dialog box, select Web Page from the Save as type drop-down menu, which Screen 3 shows.

This dialog box has a toolbar at the top, with a Tools drop-down menu on the right. Select Web Options from the Tools menu to open the Web Options dialog box. In this dialog box, you can customize your documents before you publish them as Web pages. With the exception of the General tab, the selections are the same in most Office 2000 products. In Word, you select the level of browser compatibility on the General tab, as Screen 4 shows. In PowerPoint, the General tab gives you the option to include or exclude slide navigation controls and animation and to resize graphics to fit the browser window when someone views your presentation as a Web page. In both products, you can select a default browser screen resolution on the Pictures tab. When you save your document as a Web page, these Office 2000 products generate the appropriate HTML or Extensible Markup Language (XML) code to implement the options you select.

Using the Publish option. PowerPoint's Save As dialog box and Excel's and Access' Save As Web Page dialog box have a Publish option that lets you further customize a document before you save it as a Web page. This option isn't available in Word 2000. In PowerPoint 2000, the Publish option lets you select one slide, a group of slides, or all slides; enable or disable the display of your speaker notes; select the level of browser compatibility; change the HTML page title; and change the HTML file's name. When you save your presentation as a Web page, PowerPoint generates the HTML and XML code that implements these options. In Excel and Access, Microsoft similarly tailored Publish options for features unique to spreadsheets and database operations.

Using the File, Open; File, Save; and File, Save As dialog boxes. File, Open; File, Save; and File, Save As work equally well with local or mapped network drives and with URLs on your corporate intranet or the Internet. You can also save files to and open files from an internal or Internet FTP site. As with local and network drives, you must have permission to access the Web or FTP directories you select.

Using the Places toolbar. The File, Open and File, Save As dialog boxes have a Places toolbar running down the left side. This toolbar is similar to Outlook 98's Places toolbar. Office 2000's Places toolbar lets you save or open a document from your recently viewed documents, personal folder, desktop, or IE Favorites list. The bottom icon on the Places toolbar is Web Folders. Web Folders are shortcuts to Web sites. This option works only if you install OSE.

Formatting Web pages. If the idea of built-in Web page templates appeals to you, you'll want to install Themes from the Office Tools collection. When you click Themes on the Format menu, you can select from 70 simple but colorful layouts for basic Web-page design. To modify the page's appearance or behavior, you can select vivid or muted colors, enable or disable active graphics, and include or exclude background images. On multiframe Web pages, you can apply a different theme to each frame. As on PowerPoint templates, you can adjust the graphical elements (e.g., images, fonts, colors) to achieve the look you want. When you save your document as a Web page, all the format changes save with the document as well. Although Word Themes don't match the caliber of professional Web-hosting templates, they're an easy-to-use tool that lets you get started with Web publishing.

Creating Web sites. The easiest method to create a new Web site is to use the Web Page Wizard, which gives you step-by-step instructions. This tool, which Screen 5 shows, is available only in Word 2000. To access the wizard, select File, New, click the Web Pages tab, and double-click the Web Page Wizard. To start, you provide a location and name for your Web site. You can enter any location that makes sense (e.g., a local or network directory, a personal Web server, a directory on the Internet or your company's intranet). The wizard walks you through the setup process, and you can go backward and forward until you're satisfied with the new site's specifications. In the last step of the wizard process, called Visual Theme, you can select one of the built-in themes to establish your baseline page format and style.

I created a Web site in my home directory to test Office 2000's Web-enabled features. I started the Web Page Wizard, answered all the questions, and waited while the wizard created a full directory structure and blank pages based on my specifications. Then, I loaded and saved several PowerPoint presentations as Web pages. In about 2 hours, I had a home page with links to six presentations. The Web versions of my presentations were outstanding (except for screen shot quality). The presentations were complete with navigation bars and selectable options for backward browser compatibility, sound, Internet broadcasting, and the color of navigation controls. Using the Web Page Wizard to create a new Web site is much easier than using a combination of Word, an HTML editor, and a browser.

Round-tripping. A new technology called round-tripping makes Office 2000's Web-enabled features possible. Round-tripping maintains what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) compatibility between the document's native format and its Web representation. When you save a document as a Web page and use a browser to view the document, the Web version looks identical to the original document, which is a significant improvement over earlier versions of Office.

To preserve a document's original format, the round-trip process stores detailed information about the document's content and nontext elements in a combination of supporting files. When you save a document as a Web page, the main page contains HTML. Word and PowerPoint create a separate file for each embedded graphic, and each program stores nonformatting content (e.g., file properties, OfficeArt, chart data format) in an XML file. A combination of HTML, cascading style sheets, XML, and graphic (e.g., bitmap, JPEG) files is necessary to accurately represent a document, spreadsheet, or presentation. PowerPoint and Excel use a set of scripts stored in supporting Dynamic HTML (DHTML) files to implement interactive behavior such as slide navigation controls and spreadsheet calculations.

Most Office 2000 applications store these supporting files in a subdirectory or URL you specify as the location to save the document. For example, if you save a presentation called Registry as a Web page, PowerPoint creates a subdirectory called Registry files and stores all the supporting files in this subdirectory. Every time you browse or edit the Web version (document, spreadsheet, or presentation), Office 2000 applications dynamically combine these files to reassemble the document. When I saved one PowerPoint presentation with 34 slides, PowerPoint 2000 created 76 separate files to represent the presentation as a Web page.

The best part of Office 2000's compatibility between native and Web formats is that when you edit the HTML version, the document looks exactly the same as it did in the original version—it loses none of the formatting. I saved this article as a Web page to test round-tripping, and the Web page looked just like the original. However, the embedded screen shots (which I created at 800 ¥ 600 resolution and saved as .gif files) lost so much detail that I could barely read them, even in full-screen mode. Increasing the screen resolution to 1024 ¥ 768 and recreating the screen shots didn't produce much better results. If you use a lot of graphics, I recommend that you use high-quality originals to avoid this problem.

Office Server Extensions
OSE is a group of applications that let you use browser-based discussion groups, content subscriptions, and Web Folders to facilitate team-based collaboration. Before you can install OSE, you must install several applications from the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack. Although you can use Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0 to implement basic OSE functionality, you need IIS 4.0 to take advantage of the program's collaboration and content-management features. When you install OSE on your server (by launching setupse.exe from disk 3 of Office 2000 Premium or disk 1 of Office 2000 Professional), the OSE autodetect feature upgrades existing components to the required level before it loads the OSE core code, which includes a new Microsoft SQL Server 7.0-compliant database. When the installation completes, you have a new program group called Microsoft Office Server Extensions, with three entries: Office Server Extensions Administration, OSE Start Page, and Server Extensions Administrator. The Office Server Extensions Administration, which Screen 6 shows, is the HTML-based utility you run to define and modify discussion groups and content subscriptions.

Web Folders are user-friendly shortcuts to Web sites. Although Web Folders are similar to file or print shares, their shortcuts refer to URLs instead of drives or directories. When you install OSE, the Web Folders icon appears in the Windows Explorer view of your local computer, as well as in the File menu's Open and Save As dialog boxes. Before you can create a new Web folder, you must define a new Web site that will use OSE on your IIS server. You'll experience a noticeable delay between when you define the new Web site and when the Web Folders shortcut is available. If you forget to install the server extensions, the Web Folders Add a Web Folder wizard option will fail. When you create a new Web folder, you must enter a complete URL (e.g., http://server/engineering). You can't create a Web folder that refers to an FTP site. If you don't know a Web site's URL, you can browse for it, but this operation is clumsy. The Browse button opens an IE view of your home page, and you must still enter a URL. When you locate the correct URL and close IE, the URL appears in the Web Folders' link field.

Although OSE applications are appealing, my experience with them was unpleasant, and my results were unreliable and fragile at best. On several occasions, I encountered recurring and difficult-to-diagnose problems with IIS 4.0, Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), server extensions, and Web Folders. As I was finishing this article, the Add a Web Folder wizard disappeared from Web Folders in the File menu's Save As dialog box, but the wizard was present and functional in Windows Explorer. I couldn't correct the problem even after reinstalling IE 4.0 Service Pack 2 (SP2), NT SP5, Office 2000, and OSE. My advice is that you apply all available updates and test your systems thoroughly before you spend time fine-tuning Web Folders, discussion groups, and content subscriptions.

Potential Problems
While testing OSE, I removed and reinstalled IE 4.0 SP2, NT SP5, IIS 4.0, the Microsoft Management Console (MMC), MTS, the Option Pack, SQL Server database, and Office 2000 multiple times. Twice, Word lost its ability to manage hyperlinks. When I entered a hyperlink, Word popped up with a Windows Explorer view of the system root, waited 60 seconds, and informed me that an internal error had occurred. After experimenting with various reinstallation combinations, I reinstalled IE 4.0 SP2 and NT SP5, respectively, to solve the problem. After I upgraded IIS 3.0 to IIS 4.0, I was unable to run the IIS administrator from the MMC on several occasions.

The precarious and fragile performance of the Option Pack applications rules out deploying OSE in production mode. When Microsoft releases the Option Pack with current versions of all the required products, including service packs and hotfixes, and cross-tests all the applications with one another singly and in combination, I might be willing to install and test OSE again. In the meantime, I'll use Microsoft Exchange Server's robust and reliable features to fill my collaboration requirements.

According to Microsoft, because Office 2000 leverages the Windows Installer technology, the software can install, remove, and self-heal with no residual problems. However, my experience with the July 1999 version of Office 2000 doesn't support Microsoft's claim. When you remove this initial release, you must run a utility called eraser2k.exe to purge all remaining Office 2000 references from the Registry. For information about downloading this utility, see the Microsoft article "OFF2000: Utility to Completely Remove Remaining Office Files and Registry Entries" (http://support.microsoft.com/ support/kb/articles/q239/9/38.asp).

Final Thoughts
With the exception of OSE, Office 2000's seamless management of native and Web formats is impressive. Creating and modifying documents is easy—so easy, in fact, that several times I inadvertently modified the HTML version of a Word document because the Web and native .doc versions of the file appeared identical. When I loaded the native .doc file, I was pleasantly surprised to see all the changes I made to the HTML file preserved in the .doc file as well.

Office 2000 has something for everyone: end users, project teams, and overworked Web administrators. You can create individual or group Web sites on a personal or corporate Web server. A tangible side benefit is that you no longer have to wait months for your corporate IT group to create a Web site—Office 2000 lets you launch your own site in a few hours. Moreover, you can reach all your Internet servers without exiting the Office application you're working in. Although Office 2000's Web-enabling features are powerful, they're too new and too limited for me to recommend them to Web-hosting professionals.

Office 2000 White Papers
"OFFICE FOR ORGANIZATIONS"
http://www.microsoft.com/office/enterprise/default.htm
"WHAT'S NEW IN OFFICE 2000"
http://www.microsoft.com/office/enterprise/prodinfo/whatsnew.htm
"MICROSOFT OFFICE 2000 AND HTML"
http://www.microsoft.com/office/enterprise/prodinfo/applhtml.htm
"MICROSOFT OFFICE SERVER EXTENSIONS"
http://www.microsoft.com/office/enterprise/prodinfo/osewhtp.htm
"THE POWER OF INTRANETS: CREATING WORKGROUP WEB SITES WITH OFFICE 2000"
http://www.microsoft.com/office/intranet/pwrintra.htm