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-- by James E. Powell
A few months ago, we removed Microsoft Office 97 from our WinList of recommended products after lengthy, real-world testing turned up a series of problems that had previously gone unnoticed (see The Explorer, June). Since then, Microsoft has been busy developing fixes. As a result, we're reinstating the suite on this month's WinList. Word 97, Excel 97, PowerPoint 97 and Access 97 also earn recommendations as individual applications; Outlook 97 does not. Here's a status report on what now works in the best-selling application suite currently on the market-and what doesn't.
Word 97 Converter
Microsoft has apparently heeded the cries of users (and maybe some reviewers at WINDOWS Magazine), who were distressed to learn that saving a Word 97 document as a Word 95 document actually created an RTF file. Microsoft has released a binary file converter that now uses native Word 6 and Word 95 formats. These are usually significantly smaller than their RTF equivalents, especially where embedded graphics files are involved. The converter can't do everything, but initial testing indicates that it is reliable. It can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/officefreestuff/word/dlpages/wrd6ex32.htm.
Access now has a new Snapshot file format. With this enhancement, you can take a "picture" of an Access report, then send it as an e-mail attachment. Snapshots keep the database secure (only the report, not the underlying data, is transferred) and the file size small. The recipient will have to load the Snapshot Viewer to read these files. At press time, the feature was scheduled to be included in the next release, or check http://www.microsoft.com/access.
While Outlook 97 still has its difficult interface and inflexible behavior, its biggest single problem to date has been its poor coexistence with the Exchange client. That's now been addressed with the E-mail Forms Fix Utility, which can be seen in beta at http://www.microsoft.com/officefreestuff/outlook/dlpages/formfix.htm. However, Microsoft will likely continue to make more fundamental changes to this product.
Word JPEG Graphics Faster
Office SR1 features a significant change for those of you with systems enabled with Intel's MMX technology. OfficeArt, the applet shared by Office 97 components, now includes MMX support. This means that JPEG files will show up on your screen measurably faster than they did before.
PowerPoint Clips Excel's Wings
Though PowerPoint can import Excel spreadsheets, make sure you keep your charts simple-and narrow. When we tried to import a 24-column worksheet, PowerPoint truncated the sheet and gave us no warning message. While it's unlikely you'll import more than 12 columns (the font size alone makes any table with more than six columns difficult to read), PowerPoint doesn't warn you of its unexpected action.
Microsoft is releasing the updates to Office on its site and is also pressing a new Service Release 1 CD for its major accounts (this is the version we tested). The site contains a consolidated patch, which is the recommended approach for current users. It's fast and requires no re-installation of Office 97.