Office 2000 SR-1 problems, questions, and issues arise

Since breaking the news about Office 2000 SR-1, the first service release for Microsoft's popular Office suite, I've been deluged by questions about the new update. And now that SR-1 is actually in the hands of real users, all kinds of problems are starting to crop up. Most of the blame goes to Microsoft, of course: Office accounts for over 50% of the company's revenue and the Office team has been allowed to run as an almost-independent subsidiary that doesn't need to follow the standard user interface guidelines, programming practices, or beta schedules that Microsoft's other products are subject to. And Microsoft's public statements about Office don't help the matter: Once again, the announcement for SR-1, the company noted that Office is the second most popular development platform in the world, behind Windows. One can imagine then that the Office team sometimes views Windows simply as a vehicle for delivering Office to the masses. The signs are everywhere, from the icons that Office tosses haphazardly all over the Windows Start menu, to the user interface features that appear in Office months before they are part of the underlying operating system. And with SR-1, it's happening again.

Can you imagine any other product that requires such a hefty Internet-based installation--Office 2000 SR-1 weighs in at 26-40 MB for individual installs, more for corporate versions--not having a "download only" option? No, of course not. But SR-1 does just that, leaving modem users wondering whether to wait for the CD version (with its corresponding 6-8 week wait) or just leave their system on all night and hope for the best.

How can such a thing happen, you ask? Contrary to Microsoft's public statements about learning its lessons from the Office 97 SR-1 fiasco, where the update did more harm than good, requiring a re-release, a patch to fix the update, and eventually even a brand new service release, Office 2000 SR-1 was pushed right out the door without proper testing. A tester I talked with, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told me that they had received a release candidate build of SR-1 only a month ago, which was the first build to incorporate this Internet installation feature. They never saw another build and when the final version was released to the public, SR-1 testers were forced to download it from public servers, along with the rest of the world.

On the other hand, we might attribute this problem to a lack of communication, because there is actually a way you can download SR-1 without installing it. You can't use the Internet-based installer, however: Instead, head on over to the Office Resource Kit Toolbox site and download O2ksr1dl.exe, which weighs in at a hefty 52 MB. However, this download will allow you to retain a local copy of the SR-1 setup files. If you're a system administrator or just curious about deploying Office 2000 and SR-1 in a more streamlined manner, you might want to look around the new SR-1 files that were just added to the Toolbox. There's some good stuff in there. Why Microsoft can't offer a similar "download only" feature for normal users is beyond me.

Another problem with SR-1 is already cropping up, and I've received enough email about this that I started to get nervous until I heard about the solution: Many people are reporting that they've been able to install SR-1 on their systems, but when they reboot, none of the Office applications will run properly. Microsoft tells me that this problem is not as serious as it first sounds, and the company will soon release a Knowledge Base article (#Q255503) that explains the snafu. It turns out that this issue is caused by using an invalid product key to install Office 2000. The solution, sadly, is to edit the Registry to fix the offending Product Key. Stay tuned for the official Microsoft explanation: It looks difficult and I don't want to be responsible for errant Registry hacking. I've also heard that this problem may in fact be a feature that Microsoft built into SR-1 to battle piracy, which sounds plausible.

And no discussion of Office 2000 SR-1 would be complete without a mention of the Hotmail add-on for Outlook 2000, about which I've received numerous emails. This new feature will likely be included on the SR-1 CD-ROM and via a separate download from the Office Update Web site at a later time. During the SR-1 beta, the Hotmail add-on was supplied on the single CD-ROM-based beta that the testers received. Since it's not a bug fix, but a new feature, it doesn't make sense for Microsoft to force this product into the downloadable version, which is already humongous. On the other hand, if Microsoft had made SR-1 truly componentized, users might have been able to choose which features to download, as they can with Internet Explorer. But this goes back to the general attitude of the Office team: Remember, they do things their way. But the Hotmail add-on does exist; the only question is when it's going to see the light of day.

In the end, SR-1 is a must-have upgrade, if only because it fixes hundreds of bugs in such an important product. How you obtain the update is up to you, of course, but hopefully this will better explain your options. The amount of email I've gotten this week demonstrates clearly that Microsoft isn't doing such a great job of explaining this. And if you're waiting for that massive install/download to complete, head on over to my review of Office 2000 SR-1 on the SuperSite; I discuss the download process and supply a text-based list of all of the bugs that this update fixes

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