Microsoft's Office Professional 2003 is a bundle of essential desktop applications: Office Word2003 for word processing, Office Excel 2003 for spreadsheets, Office PowerPoint 2003 for presentations, and Office Outlook 2003 for e-mail and personal information. This Professional edition also includes the Office Access 2003 database manager along with Office Publisher 2003, an easy-to-use desktop publishing application. Office applications share a common look and feel, and also benefits from shared components, such as the drawing tools which let you create charts, diagrams and text effects. Another strong point is the integrated Visual Basic for Applications, enabling anything from simple macros to complete custom solutions.
Office has been a highly capable product for years, making it hard for Microsoft to come up with compelling new features. One of the most interesting is Information Rights Management, which lets you restrict document access to specific individuals. This requires a Rights Management Server and is not for casual use, but will be attractive to those with sensitive data. Office Professional 2003 is also underpinned by strong XML support, a powerful feature though mainly of interest to developers. Another aspect is great integration with SharePoint Services running on Windows Server 2003, allowing users to save documents to an internal web site with features like update notification, task lists, and version control. Tablet PC users get built-in support for Ink, letting you add handwritten notes and drawings to Office documents. Those with always-on Internet access will like the updated Task Pane, offering online help and potentially third-party services direct from the Internet. Outlook has been reworked in this edition, with a better interface and more secure email reading. Office Word 2003 is enhanced with a new Reading view, using ClearType technology and automatic page sizing for ease in reading online documents.
Office deserves its position as the leading productivity suite. It's an excellent deal, but makes less sense as an upgrade unless you have a Tablet PC or will make use of the new collaboration, XML or rights-management features. --Tim Anderson
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