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Desktop Productivity

Desktop Productivity
 Technology with Integrity

By Tim Torian, Torian Group, Inc.


Desktop computers have come a long way. You can now do more on your desktop than you could do with a mainframe 20 years ago.  Office suites – word processor, spreadsheet, Email, presentation, and database software, have been around almost as long as the PC. Microsoft Office now has a 94% share of this market. The Corel Wordperfect Suite is a very distant second. The non-Microsoft alternative is StarOffice, designed to run on Linux.  With the release of Microsoft Office 2003, you are again confronted with the choice of upgrading or not.

Here is what you need to know:

Most people will only want to upgrade Outlook if they have Office XP. ( $110 Retail, no upgrade price. )  Office 2003 only runs on Windows 2000 or Win XP. Files are backward compatible, but as usual, new features will not work in old versions of Office.  Many features require an internet connection, including the new integrated research tool. There is a strong emphasis on web based collaboration, which is the trend with software in general.

There are big changes to Outlook, which is a compelling upgrade. Outlook looks very different, with a preview pane on the right. Enhanced features include: more effective spam filtering, multiple calendar view, more options for organizing email, better security, and integrated Instant Messaging. An Outlook add-on called Business Contact Manager provides very basic Customer Relationship Management for small home/business users. (BCM does not work with Exchange Server.) When combined with Exchange server, Outlook provides greatly enhanced support for mobile users.

There are 2 new products: OneNote, and InfoPath. OneNote manages handwritten notes and drawings, and can convert handwriting to text. It only works fully on tablet pc’s, because it expects a touch screen. InfoPath is a tool for creating XML forms. XML is a way of describing data that is very portable, allowing it to work with all kinds of formerly unrelated applications.

Word, Excel, and Powerpoint have no significant changes for most users.  All the Office products have XML support, which may be compelling for large organizations who will use it to develop integrated solutions that work with data on servers. The XML tools are only available in the Professional edition. 

Many of the best features of Office 2003 require related server products: Exchange 2003 for Outlook, Sharepoint Portal Server or Sharepoint Services for document collaboration on the web.  Digital Rights Management allows you to lock down documents, restrict printing and emailing, and set an expiration date. DRM is not backward compatible with older versions of office, and requires a connection to the DRM server 2003 where the document was created, or to a (fee based) internet service from Microsoft.

Users upgrading to Small Business Server 2003 will have the tools to leverage Office 2003 – upgrading office may make sense in this situation, particularly for companies who want to collaborate on the web. For More information go to the Office 2003 preview site: http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/ (This link will probably be replaced with http://www.microsoft.com/office/  by the time you read this.)

SharePoint Services is a free add-on to Server 2003 that is designed to allow groups of people to collaborate via a web site. The site is very customizable, and includes document management (Check in/out, change management, notification of changes), integration with exchange, and integration with office 2003.  SharePoint Portal Server is a separate product that extends this idea for larger organizations.  For more information see: http://www.microsoft.com/sharepoint

Many have predicted that the desktop computer will disappear in favor of “thin client” computers, which are similar to the terminals of the old days of mainframes. Laptops are replacing some desktops, and now you can get “Tablet” PC’s, that can translate your handwriting into text. There are a confusing array of options, each one requiring your time – to evaluate, implement, and learn how to use.  When making choices, always start with the business process, and look for the “compelling benefit” that justifies an upgrade. Hopefully this will help you make the right choice for your business.

Tim Torian has taught computer networking at the College of Sequoias and Cal Poly Extension. He has a BS in Computer Science, and has been consulting on computer networking for the past 30 Years. His industry certifications include: Cisco CCNA and CCNI, Microsoft MCSE. He was recognized as Entrepreneur of the year for 2008 by the Tulare County EDC. He is president of Torian Group, Inc. which provides a full range of Technology Consulting services to local business, including computer services, networking, web and custom software development. www.toriangroup.com


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