Home Office: Office 2003 Is Here, Plus the New ExplorerPlus

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I have a copy of the Small Business Edition of Microsoft Office 2003 sitting on my shelf and I've been staring at it for a week. I've finally decided what I'm planning to do with it: Upgrade Outlook and ditch the rest. In this week's newsletter, I'll pass along a few stories that helped me make my decision. And I have some great news: The successor to PowerDesk, my favorite file manager, is now available--and it's a first-class winner. More on that in a sec.

Listening to Office Users

Now that people have started using Office 2003, there are opinions flying around the Internet about it. In "First Office 2003 Users Weigh In," Liane Cassavoy talked to late beta testers about their experience with the suite, and heard mixed reviews. For instance, some folks couldn't get comfortable with Outlook's new three-paneled vertical view. One guy said he preferred Outlook's previous interface, while another person needed no adjustment time and fell in love with the new look.

One consideration of upgrading is the cost, especially if you're in a home office or small business. Take a look at "The Hidden Cost of Office 2003 Upgrades." The story paints a picture of higher licensing fees--from 10 to 40 percent over XP--and higher prices, especially if you want to use Office's collaboration features. You'll also learn about how Microsoft's moving Office into the corner with server products, and pushing corporate users into more expensive upgrades. (And it might make you yearn for the simple days of Ami Pro, Wordstar and Zywrite.)

Dig This: If you're thinking of upgrading to Office 2003, there's an oh-so-very compelling, LOL article you really have to read. [With thanks to Todd.]

U-Turn to Outlook

I want to backtrack a little. In a newsletter a few weeks ago, I mentioned a PCWorld.com story about upgrading to Office 2003 (see "Inside Office 2003").

I know the author, Laurianne McLaughlin, and trust her implicitly. In the article, she advised only upgrading Outlook for a one-person office. The changes in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint "aren't worth the money." She elaborated on the phone and told me about some of Outlook's nifty features.

I installed Outlook 2003 and agree with Laurie; it's an improvement. For instance, I've always had trouble moving through the calendar--I thought it was awkward. That's changed, primarily because of the left-hand panel with monthly calendars, perfect for navigating through the days and months.

I'm delighted with the new version's handy way of saving searches in folders. Small things are also better, such as having Outlook minimize to the system tray rather than the taskbar. Laurie goes into greater detail in "Outlook's New Look."

BTW, Outlook 2003 can be purchased separately; it runs a little under $100. Check the PCWorld.com Product Finder for current pricing.

Sticking With What You've Got

Okay, so you say you're going to save your money and stay with your current version of Office? That's cool. I have some things for you, too.

Start by reading the "Optimize Office" section of "Time-Saving Tips from the Pros." Check out "Show Paragraph Marks and Tabs in Word," and "Override Outlook's Draconian E-Mail Security Update," two of my favorite tips. The author is the prolific and bright Woody Leonhard of WOPR (Woody's Office Power Pack) fame.

If you plan to continue with the current iteration of Outlook (2000 or XP), grab a trial copy of Nelson Email Organizer, a $40 Outlook add-on that, IMHO, was where Microsoft got many of its ideas for Outlook 2003. Read more about NEO in "Great Software for Your Home Office" (scroll to the second item).

My friend Tom Lenzo, a technical writer by trade, told me about Bullfighter from Deloitte Consulting. It's a free add-on for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (2000 and XP) running under Windows 2000 or XP. The program searches out the bull in my documents. Think of it as a grammar checker that checks for readability, jargon, and BS. Tom likes it because it's free; I like the fact that I can add phrases and terms.

Dig This: Have you flown SkyHigh Airlines recently? I haven't, but you might after spending some time with its down-to-earth advertising campaign, which consists of promotions such as "challenge seating" and "SkyHigh Airlines Super Scrimper Fares." My favorite is the "Airport Overnighter Tips" page. [Note to confused editor: It's a satire; there is no such airline.]

Dig This, Too: I'm a little over six feet tall. Flying's tough when the doofus in front of me reclines his seat, pushing my knees into my chest. But now I've got a $15 gizmo that stops most airline seats from reclining. It's so cool, I bought a set for myself and a tall buddy. I can't tell how many fights this will eliminate. Just insert the Knee Defenders behind the seat's pull-down tray and play dumb. When the passenger in front of you tries reclining, and they turn around and say something, reply with: "Huh? It won't recline? Hmmm, it must be broken. Lemme see if I can help! [insert forceful pushing sound here] Nope, guess the seat's stuck in the upright position. Well, sorry 'bout that, but at least we tried, eh?"

PowerDesk Transforms Into ExplorerPlus

Remember PowerDesk, the file manager that put Windows Explorer to shame? It's history. The replacement is ExplorerPlus, a brilliant makeover of PowerDesk, created by Mike Kronenberg and the team who wrote the original product. Yes, ExplorerPlus looks like PowerDesk; but it was written from the ground up with plenty of cool features, including:

  • Multi-panes. I always have ExplorerPlus open to side-to-side views, but you can set it up with top/bottom panels, or no panels, just like Windows Explorer.
  • Layouts. I set up dual panes for seeing two folders I use often--the files for this newsletter and for my Home Office column. Then I save it as a layout. I have another layout for the user group folder, another for my book, and about eight other layouts. I can instantly switch among the layouts by clicking a tab near the ExplorerPlus toolbar. This, folks, is very cool.
  • Viewers. The built-in viewer lets you preview practically any file, document, multimedia file, or image.
  • File Management Tools. Including copy and move, renaming multiple files, and syncing folders.
  • FastFind. Lets you save searches, preview found files, and search within Zip files.
  • FTP. A built-in client for transferring files to your Web server.

Even if you love PowerDesk, ExplorerPlus has tons more to get excited about. And unlike PowerDesk and its multitude of bugs and problems, ExplorerPlus was thoroughly beta tested; based on tests at Bass International's labs, it's substantially freer of bugs than PowerDesk ever was.

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