- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

Last week's hoopla either did or didn't wow the nation: Bill Gates in New York, no doubt beaming over the new arrival; television ads, promotional parties in the D.C. area and other towns far and wide, in short, the usual Microsoft Corp. cavalcade of events aimed at convincing you that Microsoft Corp.'s new Office XP is worth your time, interest and money.

Early reports carried by the Associated Press indicate that some computer industry analysts are lukewarm about the new software, claiming it doesn't offer that much in the way of improvements. To others, it's a source of concern that Microsoft is asking corporations and other enterprises for what amounts to a continuing "subscription" fee in order to get continued updates of the new product.

Neither claim does much for me, frankly. In two columns published here in April, I suggested that the new Office XP is indeed worth all three, since it delivers so much more for users of Microsoft Word, Excel and, particularly, Outlook. The new features and fun bits of the suite the ability to cut and paste from the Internet with or without retaining the original format, the "smart tags" that can look up names in your address book or stock quotes on the Internet are to me worth the effort of putting up with any migration.

As to the subscription package marketed to "enterprise" users, it appears that this may be where software is headed for such groups, and perhaps for consumers at some point.

There's good and bad to this: if the updates are regular and worth the price then fine. If the cost is deemed too high by users, it's possible the market will respond with an alternative. But the fact remains that there still is no such thing as a free lunch in technology anymore, as the demise of so many dot-com offers should illustrate. As they say on many sitcoms, deal with it.

For those willing to take the plunge, some free advice on how to make it easier:

First, get all the RAM you can. Although the base requirements for Office XP seem reasonable 24 MB of RAM for those using Windows 98, 32 MB for Windows ME or Windows NT, plus 8 MB for each open Office application the need for memory can jump when using the Windows 2000 Professional operating system (64 MB RAM plus 8 MB for each application). It's also a good idea to have additional RAM if you're working on large documents, or ones with a lot of graphics or illustrations.

The good news: RAM is far cheaper than, say, electricity in California these days. Firms such as Crucial Technologies (www.crucial.com), noted here before, can outfit you with what you need at low cost, and with great speed.

Second, back up everything. By this I mean your documents, your templates, your e-mail messages, your database files, your Quicken files, whatever. Installing a major software upgrade and that's what Office XP is, no doubt about it does mean taking a calculated risk. Something might go wrong, your hard disk could get trashed, and the more you have backed up, the better. Believe me on this one.

Having said that, I should emphasize that for the vast majority of users, there should be no problem in upgrading to Office XP. All the same, a good backup is always a good idea. If your PC has a CD writer, so much the better, since those discs can hold 650 MB of data quite easily.

Third, go slow. Take time to discover the new features of the product and use those features to your advantage. SmartTags, for example, are one feature in which you can feel your way. With other features, you can experiment and always hit the "undo" key combination (Control-Z) if need be.

Essential here, in my view, is having a reliable guide. One such is a new book, "Using Microsoft Office XP Special Edition" from Que, written by authors Ed Bott and Woody Leonhard, the latter publisher of the free online newsletter, "Woody's Office Watch," (www.woodyswatch.com).

There's precious little in Office XP that isn't covered by this book, and it's written in a very informative, helpful style. The book's index, by the way, covers 76 pages, so you can probably find an entry to correspond to your exact need.

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