Office 2000 Review

November 1, 1999

Martin Riseley works for Cadence Europress Ltd, a developer oflegal software. He is available for consulting and development work. He can becontacted on 0171 274 5957.

Several years ago Microsoft had the, then, novel idea of selling its wordprocessor, spreadsheet and database applications as a single bundled package; asuite of applications they called’Office’. The idea proved successful andthe Office series went on to become, as it is today, Microsoft’s largestrevenue earner. Other companies copied the idea, notably Novell and Lotus, butneither achieved (anything like) the market share now enjoyed by Microsoft(approximately 95%). Where once Word Perfect 5.1 was the de facto standard foroffice document interchange, now it is Microsoft Word. Given its success anddominant position, Office 97 is a hard act to follow. And for many people thequestion is:’Is Office 2000 a worthwhile upgrade?’ I hope that this articlewill go some way towards answering that question.

Office 2000 is the successor to Office 97, it is a suite of’office’applications sold as a single package. And what you get in the box depends onhow much you pay. It comes in five flavours: Standard, Small Business,Professional, Premium and Developer (see the table below for details). Thisallows you to buy, to an extent, as much or as little as you need.

First Impression

The first impression a new application makes is normally visual or possiblytechnical. The first impression Microsoft Office makes, however, is its sheercost. Priced between £439 and £663, it is too expensive. For a small firmwishing to replace its existing computer systems a starting point of £439 (incVAT) per user is too much. And on a purely technical basis, it is worthremembering that Office 2000 contains a fraction of the complexity containedwithin the Windows 98 operating system – despite selling for five or six timesthe price.


The installation of Office 2000 is done a little differently from Office 97.The default installation implements only a basic Office feature set but stilldisplays the’missing’ advanced features on menus within Officeapplications. Subsequent attempts to use a’missing’ feature, by selectingits menu item, result in the user being prompted for the installation CD andthat feature being installed. Microsoft call this Install On Demand.


Following installation, and upon scrutiny of both the product andaccompanying Reviewers’ Notes, it is clear that changes to this version ofOffice are essentially suite wide changes rather than application specificchanges.

With the exception of Access, all applications use the same binary fileformat as was used in Office 97, ie a Word document created in Office 2000 canbe opened in Office 97. For network/system administrators this is welcome news.Microsoft caused such problems with Office 97 and its (false) claims ofbackwards compatibility with Office 95 that it was forced to offer free revisedOffice 97 disks. However, in addition to Office’s native file formats, userscan save data in a’companion’ file format – HTML (Access excepted). Thisfeature allows Office documents to be viewed on a company intranet, or even onthe Internet, ie they can be viewed in Web browsers. However, whilst theresulting document is an HTML document, it contains a great deal of XML code. Inpractice therefore, non-XML compliant browsers will ignore this code and displaythe file’s content in what is a visual approximation of the original document.The other drawback of this feature is that the HTML document, for practicalpurposes, is read-only. Most HTML editors and most office workers are notfamiliar with XML.

Language issues

Producing and managing different language version of Office, or indeed anyapplication, has always been a significant issue for manufacturers. This versionof Office is essentially a’single binary’ product, ie nearly all countriesare provided with the same version of Office and the language of the userinterface chosen when it is installed. In theory a colleague visiting from Japancan change the user interface to Japanese, use Office in the same way in whichhe is familiar and have it revert to the English interface when he has finished.This potentially useful facility does, however, require the purchase of theOffice 2000 Multi-Language Pack.

A slightly different language feature new to this version is LanguageAuto-Detect. Word will spell-check your sentences using whichever language youhappen to be writing in (subject to the dictionaries being installed). The UKversion of Office has English, French and Spanish dictionaries pre-installed,you can therefore write a single document using a mix of all of these languagesand Word will detect the language in which you are writing and underlinespelling mistakes as they are made.


The user interface appears, at first sight, little changed, however, severalchanges have been introduced. Most significantly in the way that multipledocuments are displayed. Microsoft has always used the Multiple DocumentInterface (MDI) approach. For example, if you were working on two Word documentsat the same time they would both be contained within the Word applicationwindow. With the latest version of Word, each time a document is opened it iscreated within its own instance of Word, ie two Word applications appear onscreen and two buttons appear on the task bar. Microsoft states that the change,called Single Document Interface (SDI), has been made in response to users beingconfused by the standard MDI approach. Problems arise, however, when say, sixdocuments are open; six buttons appear on the task bar and six instances of Wordare shown. The taskbar buttons reduce in width as their number increases therebytruncating, and sometimes hiding, the name of the document they represent.

Excel uses a MDI/SDI hybrid; multiple work books are still contained withinthe Excel application window (MDI), but a button for each workbook appears onthe taskbar. Access goes further still, creating a taskbar button for eachtable, form, query or report within the database.

This change seems to represent another small shift in the concept ofpresenting information in a document centric manner rather than an applicationcentric manner. It has been implemented inconsistently in Office 2000, but Ifeel that the real problem lies with the Windows user interface that has evolvedpartly as a function of the underlying hardware rather than as a direct responseto user need.

Another user interface’improvement’ is the behaviour of long menus. Inthe first instance, they drop-down and show only some of their content. Thebottom item, however, is a downwards pointing arrow; click on it and the menuextends to its full extent. Now for the clever(?) bit: any item selected fromthe extended menu will reappear in the shortened version of the menu next timeit is used, ie the menu items you use most frequently always appear. Quitehandy, but a real problem for the Help desk trying to talk users through aproblem.

The Windows operating system clipboard – that invisible store of all thingscopied, has been supplemented with an Office specific clipboard. It can be usedonly within the Office environment but is a multi-item clipboard and can storeup to 12 items. It can be used in a variety of ways, but most obviously as atemporary scrapbook when editing many or long documents.


At the centre of any office suite is the word processor. Word is now the defacto standard for the interchange of word processing documents between computerusers and in many ways it is not difficult to see why. It has long contained ahost of features that allow it to function as anything from e-mail editor, htmleditor to newsletter publisher. This version does not contain many new featuresbut probably the most useful of them is the little’click n type’ facility.Click anywhere within a document and you can start typing immediately. Preciseplacement of text in this way is very handy. Previously, the document had to bepadded with line-breaks and tab stops.


Like Word, Excel sports few new features. Its .xls file format remainsunchanged from that in Office 97, but in common with Word it can save files inHTML format. Pivot tables are now easier to use and can be used with data from awider range of sources. A pivot table allows data in a worksheet to be‘rotated’ so that the same data is presented in a different way. Forexample, a worksheet containing a list of a firm’s fee-earners income overtime could be’rotated’ using a pivot table to show a list of income byfee-earners. The range of data sources from which a pivot table can now derivedata has been widened to include SQL Server, an OLP server or an OLE DB.


As Word is to word processors, so Access is to databases (the most commonlyused examples of each application type). However, whilst it is a popular‘front-end’ for users, it is a complex product with which to design adatabase. This release endeavours, partly, to address this issue and does so intwo ways:

  • database components can now be grouped rationally as well as just physically, ie tables, forms and queries relating to customer orders can be grouped separately from tables, forms and queries relating to suppliers
  • increased use of’wizards’ allow considerably more database tasks to be carried out without programming.

Connectivity with Microsoft’s SQL Server is improved; using OLE DB, Accesswill now connect directly to it, and’wizards’ can also be used directly onthe data. And a new type of Access project allows Access to act solely as a’front-end’ for SQL Server tables. Finally, and perhaps most significantly,Access gets the same programming interface as the rest of the Office suite,Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). Now at version 6.0 it is both a programmingenvironment in its own right and an interface with which other applications canexert control on VBA enabled applications.


As a reviewer, Microsoft sent me the Premium edition of Office 2000. As youcan see from the accompanying table this includes nine applications. Space (ortime) does not permit a consideration of all of these applications, so I shallchoose one more to review: Outlook. This occupies a curious position in theOffice suite. For many people it is simply an e-mail client. For Microsoft it isthe heart of the suite, the application that integrates every other officeapplication in a way that matches the way you work.

So, what is Outlook really about? Essentially, it is an e-mail client and PIM(Personal Information Manager). As an e-mail client it is little changed fromOutlook ’98; it can host multiple e-mail accounts, is fully compatible withcurrent Internet e-mail standards, POP3, MIME, vCards etc. As a PIM it can beused:

  • to store contact details, names, addresses, telephone numbers etc.
  • to act as a scheduling client within a workgroup, ie appointments and meetings can be entered into a shared diary/calendar system.

In addition to the core functionality, Outlook contains several otherfeatures; the Task view which can be used to record work-based tasks againsttime, ie a personal project management tool. You can describe the task and thenassign various properties to it; status, owner, due date etc. The Journal viewcan be used to record how much time you spend on, for example, writing a letteror talking to a client on the telephone.

Changes in this version of Outlook are many and varied but only of a detailedkind. For example, if you have multiple e-mail accounts, receive an e-mail onone account and want to reply on another, you can now simply select the accountfrom the Send button.

Outlook is an excellent product but, ultimately, fails in its aim to be atthe heart of Office. Why? Because as a PIM it is geared towards timebased/collaborative group working practices that the vast majority of officeworkers do not use. And for those that do, it is a complex product that canserve only after a determined investment on the part of the user.

Overall Rating

Stepping back and looking at the suite as a whole, it is clear that Office2000 does not represent a major jump in office suite productivity orfunctionality. Perhaps the most significant development in this release is theability of Office applications to save data as HTML files. This provides theopportunity for simple and effective sharing of documents within a company usingan intranet. However, and notwithstanding HTML compatibility, as an upgrade itis not a cost-effective proposition. But, compared with the competition it isstill the best.

Version Standard Small Business Professional Premium Developer
Internet Explorer
Photo Draw
Small Business Tools
Development Tools
Price (inc. VAT) £374 £374 £484 £596 £663