November 1997 - Page 7
An Overview of Office 97 Professional
Written by: Joe Pasquini, N2NOU
Office 97 Professional is Microsoft's latest release of their highly successful office productivity suite.  This new compilation of software products is available in several versions with the most widely used being Office Professional.  The professional version includes Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Outlook and a "lite" version of Bookshelf.  While Office 97 has a multitude of new features and benefits over previous versions of Office, there are also some concerns of which potential users should be aware.

This latest version of Office is Internet aware out of the box. You no longer need the Internet Assistant programs. You do need to be sure to install the Internet publishing option when you install Office 97; otherwise your applications won't be fully "Internet-enabled."  All the programs except Outlook have Web toolbars that look just like browsers, so you could actually use Word 97 as a browser (although I wouldn't really recommend it - Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator are much better at it). You can also put HTML files into a spreadsheet, for example, and Excel will enter data from the URL site on your Intranet or the Internet.  If you do that, the spreadsheet will look to a source on the Internet/Intranet for the data that is needed in that cell of your spreadsheet. In Word 97, you can link a graphic on the Internet/Intranet into your publication, thereby saving storage space on your hard disk.

One of the strengths in Office has been the basic integration among its native programs. That means they share a fairly common look in their menus and toolbars.  The Office 97 programs are well integrated; in fact, the code used to display a toolbar serves all the programs, so if you run more than one program at a time, the toolbar code only gets loaded once. Of course, there must be some differences to reflect different program functions. One of Microsoft's goals for Office 97 was to share as much code as possible. Also, functions like the Undo command now operate more consistently in each program. 

To help you traverse the learning curve, Office 97 has added an Office Assistant. Represented by an animated graphic, Office Assistant pops up spontaneously when you invoke the Help function.  He's really a Wizard who offers various sorts of help, including a response to a "How do I. . . ?" question.  Another way to turn on Office Assistant is to invoke a Wizard.  The help that Office Assistant provides is OK.  But when you have gotten the help you want, Office Assistant stays on the screen, making occasional noises and going through periodic animated sequences that distract me.  To be honest, the Office Assistant can be annoying at times, but it does serve a purpose for users just learning an Office application.

Gone are the individual discrete buttons in the toolbars, replaced instead with seamless buttons that look like those in Internet Explorer 3.0.  The toolbars reminded me a lot of the buttons found in WordPerfect 6.1. 

Program Highlights

Word 97 

It's easier than ever to make changes to your toolbar icons to set it up just the way you like it. You can put any menu command on the toolbar, and of course, your own macros.  And you can still remove icons you don't use from the toolbar by holding down the Alt button, clicking on the icon, and dragging downward off the toolbar.

Word 97 adds a background grammar checker, which underlines grammatical errors with a gray-green jagged line. 

Word 97 still doesn't equal WordPerfect's ability to easily create a watermark. This is somewhat of a big deal in my book.  You can create a watermark of sorts, it's just a lot harder than it should be.

Another new feature that strikes me as really useful is the Document Map. Displayed as a separate pane on the left side of the screen, the document map is an outline of the document structure.  It lets you browse the document by clicking on the desired section. This is useful when reading long documents. A toolbar icon lets you toggle the document map on and off.

I found the AutoText feature to be very useful. You can use it to rapidly build documents with lots of boilerplate. Previously, you would have had to insert AutoText, not difficult, but this is even easier.

Another new feature is AutoSummarize, which builds a summary of your document automatically. Well, that is what it's supposed to do anyway.  While it does create a summary of a document, I've found that the summaries always need work and sometimes don't make much sense at all.  This feature is a good idea, but it needs work.

One of Word's most useful features, Tables, is much stronger in Word 97.  A new Tables and Borders icon opens up a new toolbar that lets you actually draw a table just the way you want it to look. Even the Insert Table command has been enhanced; you can now merge cells both vertically and horizontally.  To use the Tables and Borders command, click on the icon and then draw the outline of the table you want to construct. Don't worry, you can resize it if you need to. Then draw the internal lines, which will snap into place.  If you want to change your mind, an eraser tool removes lines you have drawn. When you have the table laid out like you want it, just start entering data. 

I have found Word 97's web page authoring abilities to be decent for a word processor.  Personally, I've always liked working with raw HTML tags (call me crazy - it must be my Assembler programming days).  However, I have used Word 97 to create some really nice looking lengthy document-based web pages in a short period of time.  Word 97 doesn't let you create frames (which I would prefer to avoid, anyhow) or a few other advanced effects, but for straightforward, interesting, and informative Web pages, it may well be all you need. 
Finally, I have to report on my biggest complaint with Word 97.  In it's first version, Word 97 wasn't really backwards compatible with Word 6/95.  Microsoft lauded this as intentional; the new file format was designed to take advantage of Word 97's newest features.  However, as we know, the vast majority of users only use about 20-30% of any feature set in a word processor.  So, such a decision impacted virtually everybody.  There were workarounds, but Microsoft acknowledged the heated complaints and recently released Service Pack 1 for Office 97.  The biggest thing that SR-1 fixes is the file format problem.  Once SR-1 is installed, Word 97 files are compatible  with Word 6/95.  The Service Pack CD is available for free from Microsoft to registered Office 97 users and via download from their web site (again for registered users). 

Excel 97 

The Excel 97 spreadsheet has gained some neat new features. It now shares some of Word's more convenient features.  AutoCorrect now works in Excel, and Undo and Redo have grown to equal Word's 99 levels.  And AutoCorrect now corrects errors in writing formulas. 

A small but welcome touch is that when you double-click on a cell that contains a formula, Excel highlights the cells that are referenced in the formula. That makes it much easier to troubleshoot a formula. 

Formatting a cell is easier than ever, with a custom formatting option that lets you start with a set format and then customize it to meet your specific needs.

Excel 97 makes charting much easier with a new chart wizard and with improved object-oriented formatting even if you don't use the Wizard.  Just right-click on any part of the chart and a context-sensitive menu pops up and tells you how you can alter the appearance of that section.  There is a new cone chart, plus cylinder charts and pyramid charts; stock charts showing highs, lows, and closing values; and bubble charts.

Printing spreadsheets has become easier, too.  Previous versions of Excel required you to switch to Print Preview mode to see just what would print out and where the page breaks would fall.  Now Print Preview shows a Page Break preview that is clearer where the page breaks fall, and even lets you adjust the page breaks by dragging it to another cell. 

PowerPoint 97 

PowerPoint 97 has some useful enhancements, including considerably better multimedia controls that have been long overdo.

Microsoft beefed up PowerPoint's AutoContent Wizard, a feature that actually composes a presentation for you. You just tell it what type of presentation you want to make and it offers 23 different templates to base the presentation on. AutoContent not only helps you decide how to design the appearance of your presentation, but also what the presentation should say! For someone new to presentations, this is a great advantage!

Speaking of PowerPoint's outline view, when you enter that mode, you will see a small but neat enhancement where a thumbnail sketch of the selected slide appears on the right side of the screen, giving you a preview of what to expect.  For those who are not familiar with PowerPoint, the outline view is a view that makes entering and editing text easy, especially if you want to move text from one slide to another. But before PowerPoint 97, you had to switch to slide view to see what the slides would actually look like.

PowerPoint 97 has beefed up its animation capability. You now have more control over animation effects, although they could be simpler to find.

Outlook 97 

This is the new program in the suite, and it looks like it. Far less integrated into the suite than the other programs, Outlook 97 looks and acts differently. Outlook 97's various functions are accessed by first clicking on an icon in the Outlook Bar on the left side of the screen, then using the toolbar or the menu to perform tasks in that functional area. Outlook performs the following functions:  * E-mail program  * Personal calendar and group scheduling  * Contact lists * Task lists

The Outlook 97 Inbox lets you preview the first four lines of each incoming e-mail message.  This preview helps screen out the junk mail.  You can edit incoming e-mail and save it to a folder, essential for paring off advertising and keeping the essential part of mailing list messages. Unlike Microsoft's earlier e-mail programs, Outlook 97 lets you click on the From address of an incoming message and add it to your personal phone book, a real timesaving feature.

The centerpiece of a personal information manager (PIM) is its calendar, which displays your daily schedule and helps you manage your time. Like many other PIM's, Outlook 97 displays appointments, tasks, and small calendars that let you click on a date to view the appointments for the day. You can set the calendar to display weekly or monthly views of your appointments. 

You can schedule meetings with the calendar and have it invite, online, other attendees who are listed in your contact list. Calendar lets you schedule recurring appointments, meetings, and events; where an appointment involves only you, a meeting involves you and others and a meeting location, and an event is a full-day or longer activity like a birthday or anniversary. Events are shown as banners across the calendar. The calendar provides alarms to alert you to impending appointments, and you can set the warning time to provide you enough time to get ready.

Outlook 97 can also print your appointment lists in various formats, including some that fit in a planner/organizer. That's great when you travel and don't want to drag along a laptop. Outlook's printed calendars look good and are easy to read.  However, they don't wrap text within a cell on the monthly view.

The Tasks list is a computerized "to-do" list. You can check off a task once it is done. If you don't accomplish a task, Outlook will remind you at intervals until you tell it to stop. Past tasks are kept in an archive for review at a later time. Having used several other PIM's versions of task lists, I would rate Outlook 97's as one of the best.

One of the new features in Outlook 97 is a Journal. Unique in my experience, the Journal lets you keep track of information that flows through your computer. That means incoming and outgoing e-mail, documents sent or received, and phone calls made through Outlook. A Journal tab appears on the Contact list, so you can immediately see all communications you have had with a contact. That feature could be very useful when you are on the phone with a client. Once an item is listed in the journal, double clicking on it will display that item.

Outlook 97's includes a very nice Contact list. The standard fields are very well chosen, and you can add other custom fields that fit your needs. The Contact list can be used as a mail-merge source for mailings, and if you do that, the mail will be recorded in the Journal. And finally, there are e-mail address fields on the form.

The only thing I miss is the ability to customize the Outlook 97 toolbars. The most annoying aspect of Outlook 97 is the long time it takes to load and unload.  If resources allow, you may want to consider placing a shortcut to Outlook in the Startup Folder.

Access 97

 Access 97 New Wizards make it easier to create a database, with 20 predefined types available. Other improvements in Access 97 are query wizards, table analyzer wizards, "filter by form or selection," and improved form and report wizards.  If you are already an Access database user or designer, you will appreciate these features. 

Office 97 is a significant upgrade to Microsoft's Office 
suite. Most of its changes are improvements, although some seem to be changes to improve the logical location of a feature rather than improving the feature itself.  Overall, though, it is a fairly well done upgrade.  One does have to question, though, if all of these features are worth the price of storage and performance.  Office 97 places a heavy load upon system resources, so I would strongly suggest having at least 16Mb of Ram and plenty of room on your hard drive.  Office 97 Professional requires up to 191 MB of disk space, with 121 MB cited as typical. A CD-ROM is also required.  For purchasing or upgrade information, check out the Microsoft web site at or check out one of the local software retailers or wholesale clubs. 

Editor's Note: We hope you have enjoyed this complete overview of Office 97 by Joe, N2NOU. If you have any additional information you'd like to share with us or if you'd like to submit an article of your own, please contact us.