Inside Office 2003

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Office 2003 and Your Workgroup

Microsoft is clearly stressing the new functions for workgroups and enterprises, envisioning Office 2003 as improving how you handle tasks within your organization that are susceptible to delays or inaccuracy due to old information, such as product brochures and customer-service reports. How well this works in practice depends largely on you and your colleagues, of course.

The Professional and Professional Enterprise versions of Word and Excel let you create schemas, which are the "extensible" elements in XML, allowing users to give detailed and customized descriptions of the data they're entering. Using XML in Office apps could give the people who share the documents more accurate data automatically. For instance, it could connect sales and presentation files so that when someone doing a presentation brings up a slide with sales data, the slide always shows the latest numbers.

InfoPath, which ships only with the Professional Enterprise Edition ($199 separately), lets you design forms to interact with information residing in databases or in other back-end systems. Microsoft expects the program to accelerate the processing of data from human resources and inventory systems, for example.

New features in Office 2003's SharePoint 2 server could improve a team's efficiency by providing a shared workspace. Currently team members likely exchange via e-mail the Word and Excel documents that make up, say, a marketing report.

For many corporations, the good news is that Office 2003 could help groups work together better. For individuals, though, the good news is that you can save your money: Aside from Outlook, and a few tricks added to Word and Excel, there's not much new in this Office.

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