Office 2003: A guided tour

TORONTO — The word “”suite”” doesn’t do justice to the breadth of product packed into Microsoft‘s latest set of productivity tools, the company said Tuesday.

Office 2003 will retain desktop staples such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint

and Access, said Mike Bulmer, product manager for Microsoft Office in Canada, but will add more collaboration and document sharing. This includes SharePoint Services and Portal Server, Exchange 2003, Live Meeting (specifically for setting up and handling meetings), InfoPath (an information gathering program), OneNote (a note-taking program) and Project/Project Server. Publisher, FrontPage, Visio and Outlook, were all added in previous release.

“”It is about working together and the system reference tightly integrates with collaboration to the back end,”” he said.

Evans Research analyst Michelle Warren suggested that Office 2003 might be able to ride a wave of PC upgrades starting in 2004. Jupiter Research’s Joe Wilcox said in a research note that Microsoft’s stiffest competition may come from Microsoft. Is there anything compelling in the latest version of Office to entice the raft of existing users? Many may wait until the next Microsoft operating system, Longhorn, sees the light of day, he said. spoke to customers, partners and the competition on whether the door is open to Office.

Enterprise     Government     Partner     Competitor     

The enterprise office:

One customer already using Office 2003 said this version of the software productivity package has changed the way it operates.

Brian Ranger, general manager, systems and technology, for PCL Contractors Inc., an Edmonton-based construction company, said the software was particularly useful in transforming the company’s field operation overnight.

In the past, PCL was unable to house an onsite IT facility. With Office 2003, especially with its collaboration tools, PCL can implement an IT operation that can help schedule work for the crane operator, the bricklayers and carpenters, among other parts of the business.

“”This is not primarily for the corporation,”” Ranger said about his company’s 1,600-plus seat implementation of Office 2003. “”It is all about the field. They have to go to a job site and set up an IT system along with the crane and everything else. We needed a plug-and-play system that snaps into place,”” Ranger said.


The government office:

James Orobko, director, information services for the Fraser Health Authority in Surrey, B.C., said Office 2003 is a lot more than a tool for sending e-mails and making presentations.

He’s hoping to use the collaborative features built into Office such as SharePoint and InfoPath to enable intelligent workflow and to be used for mission-critical documents all the way from project proposals to electronic health care records to reports filed by home care nurses.

“”Going paperless is one thing, it’s also about connecting all kinds of users,”” said Orobko. Fraser Health intends to roll out Office Systems first amongst 50 key people, then move it to 2,000 of its knowledge workers and eventually to all 20,000 employees.

Martin Blum, manager of communications and client services, at the Alberta Cancer Board (ACB) in Edmonton, said his organization started using the first version of SharePoint Services in the IT department mainly to collect information on its systems and to monitor downed servers. It then migrated to version 2.0, he said.

ACB co-ordinates cancer research prevention and treatment with nine regional health authorities, two cancer treatment facilities, four associate cancer centres and 11 community cancer centres in Alberta.

SharePoint Services is also being used with the ACB’s experimental oncology team as a way to make sure doctors have the most up-to-date information and research possible so they can communicate treatment options to new cancer patients.


The partner’s office:

For the channel, Microsoft has developed a new program called Solution Accelerator for Office 2003.

The program offers VARs templates for building solutions around Office 2003. For example, a human resources department may need a new form for recruiting. With Solution Accelerator templates, VARs can set it up with interview questions, personnel data forms and a rating system.

Tim Peterson, senior consultant for Compugen Inc. of Toronto, said people may think this is just another Office release, but it will help partners build solutions. Office System includes Visual Studio Tools, which can now build custom solutions right into Excel or Word. These solutions can also integrate with a company’s data and Web services.

Compugen has eight early adopters of Office 2003 in Canada, Peterson said. There are about 45,000 Canadian beta testers for Office 2003. “”I do not think Office 2003 will be about the points (margin) you can make. It will be about the customized solutions you can build,”” Peterson said.


The competitor’s office:

Corel fully acknowledges that Microsoft is the company to beat in the enterprise office productivity space — which is why it’s not going to try.

“”Pretty bluntly, we understand that Microsoft is very integrated into lots of these larger enterprises,”” said the Ottawa company’s director for office productivity Richard Carriere. “”Obviously we’re not going to run the risk of . . . being slapped like a fly on the wall by Microsoft.””

Where the firm will compete is on price — Corel will price its productivity tools about 25 per cent below that of Microsoft — and with customers that would sooner buy something from someone other than Gates and company.

“”We’re in the process of trying to revise the brand significantly and let the market know we have a great alternative to Microsoft for whoever is looking for an alternative to the product, which is an increasing number of people,”” said Carriere.

There may be significant opportunities in small and medium enterprises, he added, as well as government customers — many of which may include cost-conscious agencies in Europe and the U.S.


— Reported by Paolo Del Nibletto, Kathleen Sibley, Martin Slofstra and Neil Sutton


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