Office XP: Should You Upgrade or Not?

It's time to start considering XP for your computer. Not in the form of Windows XP, which won't be available until fourth quarter 2001, but Office XP, which had its release to manufacturing (RTM) late last month and should soon be appearing on your software sites' virtual shelves.

I've been running the Office XP RTM code for several weeks now, having upgraded from Office 2000, and I admit I'm a bit torn as to how I feel about it. I spend most of my life in Outlook and Word, so that's where most of my experience has been, so far. Both applications have changed enough to be disconcerting, but not enough to require significant retraining. Microsoft has moved (or removed) some features, changed default settings, and modified the look and feel of the user interface.

You've probably already read about the changes Microsoft made to Outlook to make passing macro viruses more difficult. Users have already started complaining that this feature affects how they perform their jobs. However, Microsoft has added a registry entry to Outlook 2002 to let users customize the list of file attachments that Outlook blocks. Personally, my biggest annoyance is that Outlook 2002 insists on making itself the default email program on my machine, even though I haven't selected that option (I use Outlook only for work-related email. For all other email, I use Eudora). If you'd like to learn more about Outlook 2002, read Sue Mosher's article " The Scoop on Office XP and Outlook 2002."

With Word, my concerns lie mainly with the changed UI. Features don't appear where I expect them, and in some cases (such as Track Changes), the submenus have changed. Having to search for things disrupts my thought process when I sit down to write—but perhaps I'm making too much of little changes. The only way to see how much the changes will affect your life is to sit down with Office XP and find out.

You can check out Office XP without actually investing in a copy of the software. Go to the Office XP Web site and look at the interactive demo. The demo is a marketing tool rather than a training device, but it will give you some idea of the magnitude of changes in Office XP.

Another Office XP evaluation option for US users is to check out the launch event Web site.

Microsoft is holding two kinds of launch events: one for IT folks and one for consumers. If you attend, you'll get the product briefing and a 30-day evaluation of Office XP, so that you can install it and decide for yourself. You'll also get a fully functional free version of MapPoint 2002, which is a pretty cool mapping and trip-routing package. Microsoft also tosses in a few more evaluation products and a $100 rebate on the purchase of Office XP Professional Special Edition.

If you're in the United States or Canada, you can get the Office XP evaluation version by clicking here and ordering the trial software. Users outside of North America can get details about

Office XP availability and demo software by clicking here and checking to see whether their country is one of the 40+ represented there.

As the UI changes become more intimately linked with the way that you work, making a decision to upgrade a crucial piece of your work environment is something that needs to occur on a personal level. Take the time to carefully evaluate how Office XP will affect you and your users.

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