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Microsoft Office XP Review, Part 1: Installation

Microsoft Office 10 Beta 2 requires Windows 98, 98 SE, Millennium Edition (Me), NT 4.0 with SP6a or higher, or Windows 2000. It will not install on Windows 95, 3.x, or NT 3.x, and is not currently supported on Windows XP ("Whistler"), though this will change by the final release, of course. Microsoft specifies a minimum of a Pentium 90 with 32 MB of RAM, but this is fairly ludicrous: I recommend nothing less than a 500 MHz processor (Celeron, Pentium III or equivalent) and 128 MB of RAM. The program requires 350 MB of hard disk space.

If you meet the minimum hardware and software requirements, you can install Office XP, which now supports two licensing modes, normal and subscription. A normal installation of Office XP closely resembles the way we install Office 2000 today: You enter your product key, choose the options you want, and use Office for all eternity if you so desire. With a subscription license, however, you must enter an Office Subscription Product Key, which will activate a one-month Office subscription. After this period of time ends, you can reactivate the product and extend the subscription. Subscription renewals can be completed over the Internet or by telephone. Regardless of the type of licensing mode you choose, if the product key is entered incorrectly, not entered at all, or the subscription license period expires, Office slips into a "reduced functionality mode," which allows you to view documents but not create new ones, or save changes to existing documents.

The Office Setup application supports a number of new options, including an improved user interface, smarter upgrade capabilities for users of previous versions of Office, and more flexible configuration and customization tools. And the Office Setup routine is now less reliant on newer system components, eliminating a painful reboot before the product can be installed. And like new versions of Windows and Internet Explorer, Office Setup includes a reporting tool that lets you easily notify Microsoft when there are problems.

New and improved Setup tools include the Custom Installation Wizard (CIW), Custom Maintenance Wizard (CMW), and the Save My Settings Wizard. The Office XP CIW will likely ship with the Office Resource Kit, as it does with the current version of the product. This tool allows you to customize Office for corporate deployments (See my showcase on this topic), and the new version adds security settings, numerous new Outlook profile configuration settings, and more. The CMW allows administrators to customize Office installation after they've been deployed, and this new version offers a host of new features when compared to the one that ships with Office 2000. New to Office XP, the Save My Settings Wizard allows users to save all of their custom Office settings to a file that can be imported on other computers.

Additionally, Office XP can be installed remotely from a Web or FTP server using an administrative installation image created with the CIW. This feature requires IE 5 or later.

I will be covering most of these tools and features in a future part of this review.

Interactive Setup
Office XP Setup vaguely resembles the interactive setup for Office 2000, though this version utilizes a newer version of the Microsoft Installer and offers a number of improvements over its predecessor. You are guided through the installation by the Microsoft Office Installation Wizard (Figure), which presents a familiar multi-dialog setup routine. After the initial preparation, the User information dialog (Figure) provides a place to input your user information and 25-character Product Key. Depending on the type of Office product you've purchased, you will have a normal, unlimited Product Key or a Subscription Key, which will enable the product for one year.

Next up is the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), which is a bit more restrictive than previous versions of Office (Figure), in that you are now expressly forbidden to install Office on more than one machine. Given the product's online registration capabilities, you're probably well served to observe this particular limitation.

In the next step, you can choose to "Install Now," which will install the most commonly used features (read: The components that Microsoft wants you to install, not the features most-often used by actual users), or choose a complete or custom installation (Figure). You also get to choose the path of installation, which is C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office by default. Honestly, individuals are best served by choosing the custom install, which can save hundreds of megabytes of drive space, though it's fairly monotonous. But administrators will, of course, want to use the Setup Wizard in the Office Resource Kit to create automated installs with custom feature-sets. I'll cover this capability in a future part of this review.

I chose "Install Now" for purposes of the review (Figure), though as I mentioned previously, I would never do this on my day-to-day machine, preferring to choose the exact components I wish to install. Once you've determined what you want to install, sit back and relax: Office will install onto your machine, but it's going to take a while (Figure). The Beta 2 release required a full 10 minutes to install the recommended feature-set.

After Office is installed, you'll be greeted with the familiar collection of icons in your Start Menu (Figure). Why Microsoft insists on polluting the Start Menu like this is beyond me, and it's high time that Office got its own group in the Start Menu like every other Windows application.

Activating Microsoft Office XP
Once Office XP is installed, you get to "activate" the product, a new mandatory registration process that is designed to prevent piracy. This activation process can be launched manually with the Activate Product link in the Microsoft Office Tools group in the Start Menu, but you'll also see it raise its annoying digital head the first time you launch any Office application. In either case, the Activation Wizard appears (Figure) and you can choose to activate the product or not. If you choose not to, you will be able to launch Office applications 50 times before the entire suite ratchets down to restricted mode. And each of those 50 times, the Activation Wizard will appear before you can use the applications. In other words, it's best to get this activation process out of the way as quickly as possible.

Activation can occur via Internet or telephone (Figure) and I've tried both. I can tell you right now that you don't want to have to do this on the telephone, as it will require waiting on hold, reading a 25-digit alpha-numeric Product Key to a customer service representative, and then carefully recording and entering an even longer key back. And CS will wait while you enter it into the Wizard to make sure it worked. Trust me, the Internet version is easier. A lot easier.

When you choose the Internet Activation option (Figure), your Product Key information is posted to Microsoft, eternally tying this number to your name (if you supply it) and the machine ID of the PC you're using. What's nice about this process, to be honest, is that only your country/region information is required: Microsoft won't harangue you about anything else unless you're interested in providing that information (Figure). Once the information is posted, the annoying Activation Wizard will disappear for good (unless of course you bought the Subscription License, in which case you can expect another visit in about a year) and you're free to use Office XP without any distractions.


The Office XP Installation Wizard guies you through setup.

Most people will want a custom install, not Microsoft's preferences, which are shown here.

Like its predecessors, Office XP spews icons all over the Start Menu.

Don't want to register Office? Sorry, you're out of luck.

Good news privacy fans: Microsoft doesn't even require your name during registration.

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