Saturday, February 24, 2007

Exploring Outlook 2007

So far, Outlook has been the easiest of the applications to learn how to use; it appears to be very much like earlier versions of Outlook, with some convenience security features like adding a sender to your “safe list.” This lets you download graphics automatically from email that you’ve put on that list. I easily exchanged meeting requests and acceptances between Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003 systems.

There were some quirks and disappointments however. First, my Palm Pilot no longer synchs with Outlook (Palm is said to be working on a Hot Synch upgrade for Office 2007). My Acrobat 8 plug-ins to convert email or email folders to PDF are no longer available. Adobe is working on that.

Although the new office.x file formats are compressed and thus about half the size of the earlier versions like .doc, Outlook's "PST" mail file remains its old bloated self. Not only that, but MS has added a feature to make "search" of email at least marginally useful (it never has been useful IMHO before), but that requires indexing the whole mail box. OK; I'm good with that. But how big is this index file and can you perform periodic maintenance on it to keep it trim (e.g., remove the big gaps in the index from deleting email). I see no information about index maintenance anywhere -- and, for that matter, as of a day later (after admittedly putting the laptop in snooze mode) Outlook hadn't yet finished indexing my email. (My PST file is about 100 MB). If/when it does finish indexing , I'll try to figure out where they hide the index to see how big it is and whether indexing makes email usefully searchable. Not that I now (or ever) have had a choice. Click "search" and you can do nothing until you index the email. The older search by sender/date etc. isn't apparently available anymore.

If you highlight a PDF email attachment, Outlook says it cannot preview the file because there is no previewer installed for it. There is a link to browse for previewers on the Microsoft site, but there wasn’t one for Acrobat. Earlier I’d installed (via a separate download) the PDF export tool for Office, but I have no idea what plug-in is missing here.

So far I am disappointed not to find some truly useful new features or bug fixes:

1) It would be nice if you delete junk mail entries that Outlook would put them onto its junk mail list automatically.

2) I still can't assign tasks to another Outlook user. This never worked for me in Outlook 2003. When I tried assigning a task from an Outlook 2003 user (myself on another system) to myself on the Outlook 2007 system, the assigned task arrived only as email in the assignee’s inbox. This is the same and not-very-useful way it was handled in Office 2003.

Installing Office 2007

In a nutshell: Not as smooth as I’d hoped, with lots of surprises along the way and after installation.

My environment: An HP/Compaq laptop running XP service pack 2, 1.4 Ghz with xxx memory and sufficient disk for the installation. Since Microsoft does not make IE version yy available on Windows 2000, I decided some time ago to standardize on Mozilla Firefox on both the older machine and my laptop where I performed the Office 2007 testing and review.

I specifically requested a custom, limited installation (not an upgrade) so I could keep my Office 2003 applications to develop test documents to test with Office 07, and vice-versa. I selected the default office shared features and office tools (Microsoft Office Graph and Microsoft Document Imaging) although I still am not sure what they are. I was careful to check “do not remove older versions,” although (see below) although they were not removed, they were hidden. Moreover, when

The installation required 1.3 GB and took about 25 minutes to install on a 1.4 Mhz Windows XP laptop. After installation, the system suggested I go to Office Online for updates. After about 5 minutes I thought I was downloading updates when I received a message: I must use Internet Explorer at least version 5.0 (I switched to Mozilla Firefox several months ago). I downloaded “OGAPlugininstall” and installed it from my local machine. NOTE: This automatic download to update Office does not include the ability to save files in Acrobat PDF format. For that you must search, download, and install the “SaveasPDFandXPS” file. I saw no sign of a compatibility plug-in to open and save documents in the OpenOffice document formats.

Before you can install these, however, you must “activate” the Office applications. This took three tries, but when I succeeded I received a “Welcome” message that recommended I also download a file that allows periodic updates to track and solve crashes and other system failures.” I did that.

Microsoft Office lists as a feature about being able to "save to PDF or XPS"... but that facility doesn't come with the Office software package. You have to Google to find it on the MS site, download it, install it separately...

From start to finish, it took me about ¾ hour to install Office, and I got more than I wanted (more about that later).

Office Professional 2007 Installation Notes:

  • Initial total disk space: 20,651,000,000 bytes; after installation 19,346,000,000 bytes – 1.3 Gigabytes taken.
  • I selected the option to install only Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. What I ended up with was those plus Outlook, MS Access, and MS Publisher.

Installation Lessons Learned:

  • Be sure you have at least 1.5 spare gigabytes of storage before you begin. Updating your old copy of Office (replacing the old applications) will reduce the total net storage you will use.
  • Be very careful to select only the components of Office that you want due to compatibility with other systems or devices (e.g., Palm Pilots). I was careful but I didn't get what I expected, and I don't dare "go home again" -- uninstall Outlook 2007 and re-install Outlook 2007, since I expect the format of the .PST file is different (thus the problem with my Palm Pilot synching).
  • Plan about an hour to install Office, and then plan several hours to learn how to use each applications.
  • I seemed to “lose” Word 2003; couldn’t even find it after a search through the whole hard disc for “winword.exe.” Rather than risk uninstalling the unwanted applications and attempting to install their Office 2003 counterparts, I left things as they were. However, when I click on a shortcut for Word 2003, I periodically receive a message about “installing…” and Word 2003 starts up. This isn’t normal behavior. (I didn’t receive the same “installing” message with Excel, at least not yet.)
  • Tried again later to open a “.doc” file with a double-click – assuming I’d managed to retrieve WinWord for Office 2003. Sorry, I received a very long “configuring” message and Word 2007 took control again. Then later when I tried opening the “.doc” file, Word 2003 took over. Later a double-click brought up Word 20003. This was very confusing to say the least.
  • Likewise with Excel 2003 (“office 11”) and old files with the .xls extension. Clicking on them brought up Excel 2007, even after trying again to specifically associate files with extension “.xls” with Excel from Office 2003. Excel 2007 would open the spreadsheet, in “compatibility” mode. Similar issue with .xls files; if I open Excel via its shortcut, I could then open .xls files with it. Lesson: apparently the new Office preempts the old extension names and openes them in "compatibility" mode. That seems reasonable, but I still don't like the occasional "installing..." message nor the time it takes to finish.

Microsoft Office 2007 Review Begins!

Well, I received my review copy of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional, and have begun the long process of installing, learning, and testing it. I am going to post all my unvarnished findings here -- if you read this and think I've gotten something wrong, feel free to tell me. I am also writing a companion Info Insider column exploring the strategic issues involved with selecting a new Office system --whether client side (new or an upgrade to Office 2007), Open Office / StarOffice) or web based (like Google Apps).

So here you'll see my findings as they occur, good, bad, and always honest.