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Series: MS Office 2001
Matt Neuburg examines the latest versions of Word and Excel, plus the brand-new Entourage
Article 1 of 4 in series
It feels odd to start a review by referring to a past article, but quite simply, what I said in my review of Excel 98 still goes: Microsoft Excel, the mighty and venerable spreadsheet program, is completely mature, so it isn't surprising that, in the Office 2001 version, Microsoft has meddled with it very littleShow full article
It feels odd to start a review by referring to a past article, but quite simply, what I said in my review of Excel 98 still goes: Microsoft Excel, the mighty and venerable spreadsheet program, is completely mature, so it isn't surprising that, in the Office 2001 version, Microsoft has meddled with it very little. The interface sports a few tweaks, and a couple of useful new ways of accessing previously hidden or obscure functionality, but is otherwise largely indistinguishable from that of its predecessor. At the same time, Microsoft has done little about genuinely integrating Excel into Office, nor have they granted Macintosh Excel users full compatibility with their Windows counterparts.
Do the Numbers -- My favorite new Excel 2001 feature is the Calculator (it's an odd floating dialog box accessed from the Tools menu), which complements the Formula Palette as a way of constructing a formula and inspecting its outcome. The Calculator hasn't any of the Formula Palette's sophistication - for example, you can't explore the syntax and value of an individual function within a complex formula - but you can construct formulas with the assistance of the Paste Function dialog; and it has the virtue of simplicity, which will encourage beginners. Most important, it makes it much easier to enter a calculated value into a cell or a formula, or to experiment with a formula as a reality check.
The other major innovation is the List Manager. Excel has long had the capability, through commands in the Data menu, to designate an area of a spreadsheet as a list, a kind of flat-file database. Each column could be a field, with the data entered in rows; then you could sort the data, filter it, subtotal it, even modify it through a data entry form. For example, over the course of the year, I record all my tax-related expenditures, showing the date, the amount, and the category; at the end of the year, it's then a simple matter to see just the mortgage payments (and their total) or just the electricity payments (and their total, plus showing them sorted so I can see which months cost the most).
But Microsoft's market research found not only that this feature was too obtuse for most people, but also that making lists was in fact one of the primary uses that normal people had for Excel. The List Manager now watches when you're entering data and offers to create a "list object" when it thinks you're creating a list. A list object is a sort of table within a spreadsheet, containing column headers with pop-up menus that provide direct access to Excel's sorting and filtering options. You can move list objects around the spreadsheet any way you want, breaking free of the preset row/column rigidity of the sheet. List objects can also automatically provide total rows and always provide a new row for additional data, rather than forcing the user to add new rows between the end of the data and the total row. Though a welcome addition, the List Manager is not perfect; for instance, in one spreadsheet, manually assigned borders and fills appeared initially but didn't stick, whereas those assigned by the AutoFormat feature did. Also, some of my favorite advanced features for managing data tables, such as advanced filters, don't work in lists run by the List Manager.
There are a couple of smaller but significant improvements in the intelligence of Excel's behavior. I stumbled on one when I went to record a stock purchase in the worksheet where I track such transactions. I inserted a new row under the existing transactions, and started entering data; I was stunned when one cell of the new row suddenly displayed a value with no prompting from me. Excel had recognized that this new row was intended to be similar to the previous row, and had automatically extended a formula from the cells above! Previously, I had to perform this extension manually. Also, the AutoComplete feature now uses an interface more like Internet Explorer's: as you start to enter a value, you're shown a list of all possible matches from the column above, instead of a single match filling the cell, which you can only accept or reject.
Excel can now display chart labels in large numerical units (for example, 1 and 2 to signify 1000 and 2000), or in hierarchical groups (for example, all dates from 1998 bracketed under "1998", then all dates from 1999 bracketed under "1999"). Text imports are a bit easier, and importing from FileMaker Pro is much easier. You can now draw borders with a pencil tool, analogous to drawing tables in Word, rather than having to select cells and muddle through a dialog. Those are the highlights; you can view the rest of the short new feature list online.
Integration and Differentiation -- I've already covered much of what's new in Excel 2001 in my discussion of Word 2001. Microsoft redesigned Excel's windows and toolbars in the same way, with the status bar removed and docked toolbars no longer wasting space. The new Formatting Palette is present, as is the Office Clipboard. The first item in the File menu is Project Gallery, not New.
The Help window works equally poorly in both applications, and Excel also suffers from the same lack of a printed manual. This lack is perhaps even more acute with Excel than with Word. The primary entity driving an Excel worksheet is the formula, comprising one or more worksheet functions; therefore nothing is so common as a desire to look up a worksheet function in some sort of reference. But you can't look it up in a printed reference because there is none. And you can look it up in the online help only clumsily, by summoning the help, typing the function's name, and doing a search. One would expect that if the cursor was in the name of a function, some keyboard shortcut or contextual menu would allow you to jump instantly to the help on that function - but it doesn't. Indeed, when you're in the Formula Palette or the Paste Function dialog, looking right at a function you'd like to know more about, there's a tantalizing Help button in the palette - but it does nothing at all! This complete lack of contextual help, in a program whose explicit mission statement is to "simplify difficult tasks," is all but unforgivable.
It's disappointing also to see that genuine integration of Excel and Word into a true Office suite remains elusive. Some shared functionality does exist: for instance, changes to the AutoCorrect list in one appear in the other. But mostly, Excel has been made to look like Word without in fact working the same way. Excel has no inline spell checking or access to suggested spelling corrections through the contextual menu, as Word does. Excel can access the new Office-wide definition dictionary, but not through the contextual menu: you must summon the dictionary window and type the word you want defined! The Find dialog interfaces are utterly different in the two applications; they have slightly different sets of drawing tools; and so on. In short, it is clear that Word and Excel remain almost completely separate, their assembly into a common suite being merely a matter of connection via scissors and glue. The best example is how in this version of Excel, Microsoft has changed the menu keyboard shortcuts to be more similar to Word's; that's good for new users, but after all these years dealing with the differences, I find the new shortcuts confusing and inconvenient, an aggravation of the real problem, which is that you still can't customize Excel's keyboard shortcuts!
Finally, compatibility remains an issue. Adam had difficulty opening a worksheet from a Windows Excel user; if it had not opened properly in Excel 98, I would have suspected that it was because the Mac version lacks ActiveX controls. Mapping, the Web Form wizard, and the Access Links add-in are among the other Windows features missing in the Mac version.
Calculating the Total -- Excel is a wonderful and indispensable program, and if you are in the market for a spreadsheet, you can do no better than Excel, especially as part of the full Office suite. But let's face it, most people who need a spreadsheet probably already own the program, given that it has dominated the Macintosh spreadsheet market basically forever (with AppleWorks being the major alternative left standing). The real questions surround upgrades, because Excel 2001, though it introduces no apparent negatives over Excel 98, just isn't sufficiently different to warrant the cost of upgrade on its own.
In our recent poll asking what you most commonly do with your Mac, 30 percent of respondents said that spreadsheet or database work was one of the most common tasks they performed with their Macs. If you're in this group because of spreadsheet work, you're likely a die-hard Excel user, which probably makes the upgrade worthwhile, particularly if you also use Word or PowerPoint. For a serious user, just staying up to date is important, and in fact, when we asked why readers were upgrading to Office 2001, that was the leading reason with 25 percent of the votes.
Spreadsheet neophytes with little experience creating spreadsheets or those who occasionally sum a few columns of numbers should also find the upgrade worthwhile for Excel 2001's improved ease of use and the List Manager. Again, it's difficult to justify the cost of upgrading for Excel alone, but once you include Word, PowerPoint, and Entourage, the decision should become more clear.
If, like many folks, you use a small number of spreadsheets whose underlying structure never changes in significant ways, save your money unless the rest of the Office suite is compelling for other reasons.
In closing, it seems that the kind of interface refinement and attention to surface detail is all you're likely to see in future versions of Excel as well. Quite simply, short of carbonization for Mac OS X and pure experimentation that would anger long-time Excel users, there isn't much of anywhere for Microsoft to go with Excel. It has all the power the vast majority of users need, the spreadsheet interface paradigm is unlikely to change any time soon, and that leaves little but the window trimmings.
Microsoft Excel 2001 requires a PowerPC-based machine with a 120 MHz or faster processor, running Mac OS 8.1 or later. If you have virtual memory on, Microsoft recommends at least 32 MB of RAM (48 MB under Mac OS 9). Microsoft Office 2001 costs $500 or $300 to upgrade from an earlier version (discounts are available from TidBITS sponsors); there's also a $100 rebate if you buy the complete version within 60 days of purchasing a new iMac or iBook. Excel alone costs $400, with upgrades to just Excel at $150.
Article 2 of 4 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Microsoft Word is the cornerstone of Microsoft's Office suite, and the single Office application one is most likely to obtain separately. Spreadsheets are important, presentations are nice, but word processing remains the most common personal and business productivity task on computers, and Microsoft Word has established itself as the industry benchmark in word processing. Those of us who remember Word 4 or Word 5.1 know that Word was once straightforward, intuitive, and compactShow full article
Microsoft Word is the cornerstone of Microsoft's Office suite, and the single Office application one is most likely to obtain separately. Spreadsheets are important, presentations are nice, but word processing remains the most common personal and business productivity task on computers, and Microsoft Word has established itself as the industry benchmark in word processing.
Those of us who remember Word 4 or Word 5.1 know that Word was once straightforward, intuitive, and compact. Word 6 was slow, overwhelming, and looked and acted like a cross-platform port. In response to the highly negative reactions to Word 6, Microsoft gave Word 98 a revised interface and provided a much smoother, more pleasant user experience. Now Word 2001 tries, through yet more interface tweaks, to give users better access to some of the powerful features lurking beneath the surface.
Interface tweaks are almost entirely what's new in this version of Word, and they're laid sporadically on top of a massive core that seems essentially unchanged from the previous version. Considering that Word is a large, complex, mature product, that's understandable, though it makes the upgrade decision significantly more difficult.
Initial Impressions -- Installation was a breeze. You need about 175 MB of free disk space for the full Office suite, but then you can just copy the Office folder from the CD-ROM to your hard disk. (Alternatively, you can use an installer application, but there seems little reason to bother.) The first time I started up Word, it took a minute to install the new shared libraries and to register the various Office components; subsequent startups were instantaneous.
The transition from Word 98 was similarly painless; I barely knew that anything had happened. Word 2001 picked up my old Normal template, including my toolbar settings, menu modifications, and macros, so the environment looked completely familiar. But my other document templates, and my startup documents, had to be transferred manually from the Templates and Office:Startup folders within the main Microsoft Office folder. The one obnoxious feature of the installation is that it adds a dozen new fonts.
Word's demands on memory are significant; under Mac OS 9 with virtual memory off, running Word swelled my system heap by nearly 4 MB, with Word itself occupying another 17 MB. Virtual memory improved things a lot, bringing Word's usage down to 10 MB and the system heap footprint down to 1 MB. If you prefer RAM Doubler to Apple's virtual memory, there's bad news: Word is incompatible with RAM Doubler 9 and earlier; Connectix is reportedly working on an update. Compatibility otherwise appears excellent; for example, Word 2001 now works fine with Power On Software's Action Menus (Word 98 didn't).
The Obvious and the Hidden -- Word 2001's newly polished interface looks almost entirely like Word 98's; one senses only subconsciously that the palette background and many palette icons have been redesigned. Whether you find this prettier is a matter of taste, but I'm happy with the results; for example, the new magnifying glass suggests "Find" to me better than the old binoculars. Gone is Word 98's thoroughly annoying status bar, which occupied the entire bottom of your screen real estate; it's now incorporated into each document window, which is splendid (This change alone makes the update worthwhile to TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan, who constantly needs Word documents on a monitor separate from the one carrying Word 98's status bar). Docked toolbars also no longer waste screen real estate with empty gray regions; instead they occupy only the space necessary.
The most obvious new kid on the interface block is the Formatting Palette. It's a floating window that, unlike a toolbar, you can't customize, resize, or dock, although you can collapse and expand each of its several sections. The sections, which change automatically to match the currently selected text or object, incorporate buttons and fields from various palettes and dialogs. For example, there are typically sections for character font and style, paragraph alignment and spacing, paragraph borders and shading, and document layout. Thus, it brings into one place a lot of essential context-appropriate functionality that many users otherwise might not find. Unfortunately, what's not deemed essential is simply absent and you can't add it, unlike Word's customizable toolbars. I'd describe the Formatting Palette as both comforting and a significant time-saver, but not as helpful as it might have been.
Word 2001 renames the standard New command to New Blank Document and bumps it down in the File menu, encouraging users instead to choose Project Gallery, which is now the first thing in the File Menu. Project Gallery summons a revised dialog for selecting not just a template or wizard, but even a document type from another Office application, such as an Excel workbook or an Entourage calendar event (these open in their proper applications, of course). Microsoft's goal here is to help users get started with a variety of project types; templates and wizards aren't new, but perhaps this dialog will prove a more encouraging front end, as well as giving Office some sense of unity.
The Office Clipboard is a new palette which, while open, accumulates data each time you copy; you can then select any of its data to paste it. It thus implements multiple clipboards. Drag & drop works too, and data in the Office Clipboard survives across restarts and across context switches to other Office applications - the same Office Clipboard appears in Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. In an unsettling oversight, however, it's absent from Entourage (and Internet Explorer), diluting the additional sense of unity the Office Clipboard provides.
Word has long had basic graphics tools; Word 2001 adds to these with Photoshop-like capabilities such as inserting an image directly from a scanner or digital camera; changing brightness, contrast, color balance; and applying effects such as embossing or chrome. Although these features may seem unnecessary feature bloat, digital images are increasingly common, and it's not unreasonable for Microsoft to provide Office users with simple image manipulation tools. What feels awkward is using these tools within Word; one wonders why Microsoft didn't unify and break out all the graphics tools into a separate Office application.
Many other small changes lurk behind the scenes, emerging only when you need them. A brilliant new Find and Replace option lets you search for morphological variants on the same stem: for example, searching for "type", you can also find "types", "typing", and "typed", and replace them with "writes", "writing", and "wrote"! The Data Merge Manager is a palette-based front end to mail-merge, concentrating in one place the steps needed to perform a merge. However, the merge itself is the same old arcane field-based merge, so the Data Merge Manager is like a band-aid plastered over a major wound.
In addition to the spelling dictionary, there is now a definition dictionary (Control-click a word and choose Define), but my first try was almost my last, when I selected "automatically" and got a definition of "automatic drip" (in fact, though it generally works properly, it often matches adverbs incorrectly). AutoCorrect's inline emendations of errors can now come not only from its explicit list, but also from the main spelling dictionary; this feature is not as effective as I could wish, however, since it often does not operate even when there can be little doubt what the error is. For example, Word corrects "misaprehnsions" properly despite it not being in the AutoCorrect list, but it won't automatically correct "typoing", even though the spelling dictionary knows that it's wrong and provides only one suggested replacement.
Tables can finally be nested, as in Word for Windows, and adjacent table cells can also be merged not just horizontally but also vertically, finally allowing Word to mimic HTML tables. In Page view, you can now double-click anywhere on the page, and Word automatically supplies returns and tabs to let you start typing there. The Office Assistant animated sprite is now smoothly resizable and easily banished via the Help menu.
Bugs Fixed and Unfixed -- It's difficult to know exactly which bugs Microsoft fixed. One assumes that changes incorporated into Word 98 through the various updaters released over the years are present here. Thus, for example, I would hope that the bug where umlaut-y suddenly starts replacing all your text is absent, but I can't be sure. I can testify, though, that no longer do Word Work files visibly gum up your hard disk every time you save (they still proliferate, but they're properly hidden in the invisible Temporary Items folder), and that Excel charts with vertical text pasted into Word print correctly.
On the other hand, old bugs and annoyances certainly abound. The character obtained by typing Option-i Shift-e is still invisible, a serious problem when using certain foreign or dingbat fonts. The pop-up Style menu in the Formatting toolbar and in the Formatting Palette is still too short and in an incomprehensible order. Word's drawing tools still differ somewhat from Excel's (why does Word lack Excel's "Connectors" graphic type in the AutoShapes toolbar?).
When "tooltips" pop up near the cursor and then vanish, the covered text is often not restored. When you select a comment or footnote in its own pane, the main text still scrolls so that the comment or footnote marker is at the top of the window, with the bulk of the related text scrolled off the top. Scrolling using the Page Up/Page Down keys still moves the cursor, forcing you to reposition it constantly. In my Word 98 review I described some problems with interdependency of styles, and with the muddy interaction between character styles and paragraph styles; these problems remain.
The interface for numbered lists remains mysterious: when I start a numbered list, I can never guess whether Word will restart numbering or resume it where an earlier list left off; and having created two numbered lists, I pressed the numbered lists button on the Formatting Palette to start a third, and discovered that Word had wrecked the numbering of the first two. In general, trying to perform major edits on large documents consisting entirely of numbering was frustrating; it required creative manipulation of the paragraph marks that contain each paragraph's formatting information to avoid completely screwing up the numbering throughout.
Help of the Helpless -- Learning Word remains a hard task, not least because there is no printed manual at all, not even the slim task-based one that came with Word 98. Regular readers of TidBITS are probably aware that I regard this situation as unconscionable, and Adam has lamented it in a now-famous article, "The Death of Documentation."
Users are thrown back instead upon Word's online help. The good news first: it's better than it was! The Help window is no longer a separate application with its own menu, yet living mysteriously inside Word. It is now a perfectly standard floating window. In addition to the Back button, there is now a Forward button. And the Table of Contents appears as a scrolling panel at the left of the window.
Nevertheless, Help navigation is lame, in part due to Help being a floating window. There are no keyboard shortcuts. The pages have an order and a hierarchy; yet there is no command for navigating to the next page, or upward in the hierarchy. And the contents panel doesn't show where you are in the main panel. (Contrast an Adobe Acrobat document with contents at the left; your current place in the main window is always indicated in the contents.) These problems are particularly acute after a search; you click on a search result to see that page in the help window, and you're instantly lost - at an unknown point of an unknown topic.
The Help content is selective and terse, and sometimes downright incomplete and incorrect. For instance, I couldn't find anything about the Office Clipboard or the Compare Documents feature. And in the entry about the Microsoft Office Resource Kit (an actual paper manual for Word that costs extra from Microsoft Press), the URL to the Web version is wrong (and impossible to select cleanly). Online help, with its brief individual screens, is like a television sound bite - it jogs the user's memory, but can't substitute for continuous, reasoned instruction. This program needs a manual! And at these prices, customers deserve one.
Last Word -- Believe it or not, I like Word 2001. It tries to be all things to all people and succeeds in large measure. It's absolutely packed with useful, powerful features. A complete beginner can write a letter, a novel, a brochure, even a Web page. (HTML export is improved over Word 98, but make sure to switch to "Save only display information into HTML" when saving or suffer truly awful HTML code.) A moderately experienced user can write a paper suitable for submission to a scholarly journal. An expert can write a large complicated document with automatic numbering of figures, tables, and chapters, and an automatically generated table of contents. It's customizable to a fare-thee-well, and contains oodles of shortcuts and automation features, including Visual Basic, one of the best scripting languages in the known universe.
Microsoft has tried hard to make this version of Word easier to use than the previous one, and in many ways they've succeeded. But these surface tweaks have been applied in a haphazard fashion - some aspects of Word are significantly easier to use, whereas others remain accessible only through cryptic toolbar icons or by navigating three layers of dialog. My personal customer research shows that extremely smart people remain befuddled by many features in Word; yet Microsoft claims that your Mom in Altoona can use Word easily. Quick, explain the difference between AutoCorrect, AutoComplete, and AutoText! Describe how to change all underlines to italics! I rest my case.
From a historical point of view, I also find this upgrade disappointing - by now, I would have liked to see Microsoft reaching deep inside Word, rethinking its internals, paring some bloat, unifying the Office applications, but instead, we get still more little pieces glued on round the outside. Still, Word 2001 will surely become the next dominant word processor on the Macintosh (as the latest version of Word has tended to be in the computer industry in general), and it's more elegant and polished than Word 98.
So, should you upgrade? It is far from compulsory; if you're comfortable with Word 98, you may indeed have no reason to do so. Word 98 works reasonably well, thanks to the online updaters. And document compatibility between Word 98 and Word 2001, and with Word 97 and Word 2000 on Windows, seems complete, so you won't miss out on sharing information with others.
However, if you're at all irritated with Word 98 and you don't mind the cost (or can find a good price - I heard from one student who could buy Office 2001 at the campus bookstore for $33), yes, you should upgrade to Word 2001. I can't advise you more specifically, because individual users all have their own priorities. For example, I received an email message yesterday from someone who will upgrade because he wants Word 2001's capability to render footnotes in HTML; others might scoff, but for him, that priority is crystal-clear and perfectly correct.
Microsoft Word 2001 requires a PowerPC-based machine with a 120 MHz or faster processor, running Mac OS 8.1 or later. If you have virtual memory on, Microsoft recommends at least 32 MB of RAM (48 MB under Mac OS 9). Microsoft Office 2001 costs $500 or $300 to upgrade from an earlier version; there's also a $100 rebate if you buy the complete version within 60 days of purchasing a new iMac or iBook. Word alone costs $400, with upgrades to just Word at $150.
Article 3 of 4 in series
by Matt Neuburg
The name suggests you're a traveling nabob surrounded by fawning minions who smooth your path, handle details, wait upon you hand and foot, and keep adoring crowds at bayShow full article
The name suggests you're a traveling nabob surrounded by fawning minions who smooth your path, handle details, wait upon you hand and foot, and keep adoring crowds at bay. Well, Microsoft Entourage won't make any plane reservations, mix any martinis, or siphon any cute groupies into your hotel room. But the newest addition to Microsoft's powerful suite of business productivity applications is certainly a throng of servants, bringing email, a newsreader, contact management, a calendar, a to-do list, reminders, and miscellaneous notes together under one integrated roof, all getting on remarkably well with one another and with the other Office 2001 applications.
Let's Get Physical -- Entourage's main window has, by default, a tripartite structure. A list of mail folders scrolls down the left side; click one, and its messages appear listed in the upper right pane; click a message listing, and the message text appears in the lower right preview pane. I find this way of using Entourage, which I call the "single-click" approach, clumsy and frustrating; I feel like a spectator seated behind a column at the ballet, who must keep shifting from side to side to see even part of the stage.
This, however, is not the only way to use Entourage. First, you can suppress the text preview pane. (You can also suppress the folder list, but this would be foolish because you would then be utterly unable to navigate - Entourage provides no separate folder list window or menu.) Second, just about everything except the folder list can be opened as a separate window. This leads to what I call the "double-click" approach. Widen the folder list so you can comfortably see its full width. To peruse a mail folder, double-click its listing to open a separate message list window. To read a message, double-click its listing to open a separate message window. I favor this more Eudora-like approach; others might favor the first approach, or a mixture. In any case, I find the flexibility delightful.
Mail folders aren't the only thing listed in the mail folder pane. Usenet news servers and subscribed newsgroups appear there; and there are items for your address book, calendar, to-do list (called Tasks), notes, and custom views (saved search criteria). Again, each of these can appear in the right side of the main window or as a separate window.
Neither Rain Nor Snow -- Nothing, not even my word processor, is as crucially and constantly present to my daily activities as email. It was with trepidation that I began my preparation for this review with the ultimate sacrifice: I moved completely from Eudora into Entourage. But my fears were groundless. The move was almost painless; Entourage asked what program to import from, then spent an hour copying all my Eudora messages, signatures, and address book contents into itself, perfectly. Importing personalities was slightly less successful, with some attributes not coming over, and although the basics of filters came through, there were a variety of anomalies that required cleanup (though it was still much easier than recreating them by hand). I'm still a bit nervous about how I would return to Eudora later; some things, such signatures, might require a bit of scripting. But transferring a mail folder is easy: drag it to the desktop, change its type to TEXT, do a simple find-and-replace to give each message the proper introductory line and presto, Eudora sees it as a mailbox.
Once within Entourage, I have found the program astonishingly congenial to my way of working with mail. New incoming messages arrive in the Inbox folder, and rules (filters) can then automatically shunt them off to other folders as desired. I can reply to the sender or to all addressees, forward, or redirect; modifying addressees is easy; quoting is beautifully and flexibly handled. I can send an outgoing message now, store it in the Outbox folder for sending later, or save it in the Drafts folder for subsequent modification. Sent messages go into the Sent Items folder, but can be marked explicitly or by rules for copying elsewhere. Deleted messages go into the Deleted Items folder until explicitly deleted for real. I can mark a read message as unread; I can move messages easily between folders. I can have multiple accounts with different default signatures and outgoing headers. I can see full headers or HTML source if I need to. And Entourage boasts a number of tools for formatting and cleaning up both plain and HTML text. In short, Entourage gives me all the tools I need to keep track of my life's communications without error or impediment.
There are even things about Entourage's mail handling that I like better than Eudora. A message displays its own history; for example, I might see "You replied to this message on such-and-such a date," with a hyperlink to the reply. Any message list can be quick-filtered using a field at the upper right of the list, thus for example instantly restricting my view of my Inbox to messages from Adam Engst. Signatures appear visibly in the outgoing message, so you know what the recipient will see. Rules can include as many criteria as you like, combined with OR or AND, and as many actions as you like. And an action can be an AppleScript, which brings me to the best news of all: Entourage is wonderfully scriptable, as opposed to Eudora which is scriptable in a uniquely quirky, clumsy, limited way that only someone used to compensating for it for years could love. Scripts can appear in the Scripts menu and a message's contextual menu, and you can assign them keyboard shortcuts.
On the other hand, Entourage also has some near-fatal shortcomings. Sorting of message lists is primitive; you can sort on only one column at a time, there's nothing comparable to Eudora's Option-click trick for bringing together similar messages, and threaded sorting (with related subjects brought together hierarchically) is just plain wrong - the threads themselves are arranged alphabetically by subject, not chronologically, making Entourage quite inadequate for mailing lists. Nested mail folders are poorly handled; for instance, in the menu for moving a message, folders are shown by name alone, without regard to hierarchy, and they appear in the menu only after the first time you've chosen Move To Folder and selected the specific folder - and then they appear in an unpredictable order based on most recent use. Searching is a mixed bag: although Entourage doesn't let you search through any arbitrary set of mailboxes like Eudora, it is quite flexible, and you can save search criteria as "custom views" for instant re-use (and selective archiving - drag a custom view to the desktop save it as a text file). However, some searches, such as "any recipient contains 'adam'", are outrageously slow (over a minute on my machine). Finally, Entourage relies on a single database architecture that significantly increases your backup needs (since the entire database changes with the addition of a single message) and that provides a single point of failure in the event of disk or file corruption.
All The News That Fits -- As military music is to music, so are Entourage's abilities as a newsreader to those of a dedicated newsreader: it does indeed read news, but that's all. As already mentioned, Entourage can't even show threads in chronological order; it goes downhill from there. There is no option to download a particular number of the most recent postings. There is no ability to open postings referred to by the current posting. And so forth. If you're serious about reading Usenet news, stick with a real newsreader like one of the NewsWatcher variants. If, on the other hand, you dip into Usenet only sporadically, Entourage will probably suffice.
Who's Who -- Entourage's address book provides two views: a summary view, and a data entry view. The data entry view consists of multiple tabs, each of which offers a plethora of fields: besides name, home address, work address, company name and title, you get as many email addresses as you like (each with your choice of three labels), a wide variety of home and work phone numbers (some with custom labels), birthday, age (calculated automatically from birthday), astrological sign (ditto), anniversary, spouse's and children's names, picture, notes, and eight more text fields and two more date fields to use as you see fit. Naturally, you can build complex searches on all these fields, and you can annoy your friends by sending them an address book entry telling all about yourself, as a vCard (.vcf) attachment to an email message. Few email programs (at least Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Outlook in Windows) support vCards, so use them sparingly. Entourage also includes commands for requesting maps or driving directions for any address.
Integration with the rest of Entourage is slick. For instance, as you are creating a new email and start to type who it's to, Entourage fetches all matching entries from your address book (or from a list of people you've recently sent mail to or received mail from, much like Eudora's History list) and lists them for you to choose from. Also, an address book entry automatically gets a link to every message from or to that person; so to see every message to or from someone, just pick an address book entry and click the window's Links button.
Integration with the rest of Office is good too. For instance, you can open the Entourage address book from within Microsoft Word. What's more, as you start to type someone's name in Word, it consults the Entourage address book and offers to auto-complete the name; such a name is actually a Contact field, and Control-clicking it brings up a contextual menu letting you transfer that person's email, snail mail, or phone information from the address book into the Word document. Also, as you're using Word's Letter Wizard or Envelope Wizard, you can pick an address book entry to slot the addressee's name and address into the proper place in the new document; and the address book contains a Me entry, which you can automatically use as your return address.
On the other hand, the Entourage address book can't rival a dedicated PIM or database program. There is no data merge feature for creating a mass "personalized" email. You can use the address book as a source for Word's mail merge, but you can't intelligently limit this to a subset of the address book to, for instance, print envelopes to those of your friends who get Christmas cards. The address book can't export to the Web, or export a subset at all; your only option is to export the whole address book as a tab-delimited file. It can't even dial the phone. And although you can send people vCards, export tab-delimited files, and synchronize with Palm devices, there's no networking functionality if you're used to sharing an address book with other people over a network.
Taskmaster -- Entourage calls a to-do list item a "task." A task has a checkbox to show when it is completed, possibly a due date, and possibly a reminder date/time. You can make the due date recur in powerful ways such as "every weekday" or "the third Thursday of every other month;" the task can also be set to regenerate itself automatically for some interval after you mark it completed.
You can view tasks in a columnar list analogous to a listing of mail messages; obviously this list can be sorted and searched, and "uncompleted tasks whose due date is in the future" makes a useful custom view. Still, every serious to-do list I've ever used has featured a hierarchical or outline structure that Microsoft would have done better to emulate, difficult though that structure might have been to synchronize down to a Palm device.
A Reminder window will pop up in any Office application (though not at all if no Office applications happen to be running), listing all tasks whose reminder date/time has passed; from here you can open a task, "snooze" its reminder to specify when it should next reappear, or "dismiss" it to kill the reminder altogether. It sounds good in theory, but I find the relationship between tasks and reminders slippery. Dismissing a reminder does not mark a task completed, so you can leave yourself with an incomplete task whose reminder won't reappear. You can just close the whole reminder window, leaving its tasks' reminder status unsettled. Changing a reminder's status within Word apparently doesn't affect the task in Entourage until you quit and restart. It's all very confusing, and unless you proactively search each day for uncompleted tasks, a task can pass unnoticed. That's bad; if to-do items are to be useful, they must remain visibly and insistently pending from creation to completion.
Ides of March -- A calendar event is much like a task: it has a date, possibly a reminder, possibly recurrence. The chief differences are that calendar events lack a completion checkbox, and have a starting and an ending date/time (as opposed to a task's simple due date). You can also have an all-day event that can span multiple days.
Entourage displays calendar events in the calendar window, which is tripartite. In the upper left is a list of tasks and events for today. In the upper right is a mini-calendar interface for specifying a range of time, which can be 1 to 6 days or 1 to 7 weeks. At the bottom, tasks and events for the specified range are displayed in one of three formats: daybook (hourly), for ranges up to a week; calendrical (daily), for multi-week ranges; and list view, which is like the upper-left display repeated for each day in the range that has tasks or events. The calendar window is remarkably good; there's plenty of drag & drop, the handling of multiple-day all-day events as "banners" is particularly fine, and there is very cute export of a calendar to Web pages.
Still, Entourage's calendar won't rival a dedicated calendar program, and its numerous quirks have left me wary and mystified even after weeks of use. An event spanning two days is not shown on the second day. A reminder for a multi-day event won't appear after the first day. Except for list view, tasks don't appear in the calendar window at all in advance of their due date; Microsoft has failed to understand that a task due in the future is pending now and needs to appear now. The interface for date entry in dialogs is clumsy and confusing, with tasks and calendar entries strangely requiring two utterly different date formats. The "recurring" checkbox is checked for all tasks and calendar entries even if they are not recurring. You can search for calendar entries, but you can't limit the calendar display or the exported Web version to the found items. And much like the address book, although you can mail meeting requests to other Entourage users and synchronize with a Palm device, there's no networking capability that would allow you to share a calendar with other users on your network.
Take Note -- An Entourage note is a text snippet. Notes are listed in the Notes window, and can be searched, sorted, and quick-filtered like other items within Entourage. Many Entourage entities have their own notes fields; but a note linked to and commenting on an email message can be useful. There's no outline or hierarchical structure, though, which makes Entourage useful mostly for basic snippet storage rather than more complex note-taking tasks that require organization.
Grand Unified Theory -- Having discussed Entourage's parts, I wish now to describe how it presents itself as a unity. The key here is that every type of entity (email messages, address book entries, calendar events, tasks, and notes) is a first-class citizen. For example, a search or custom view can include any or all of these types, and all found items of whatever type will appear in the results list.
Further, you can assign to any item any number of categories (labels). This can happen automatically; for example, an incoming email message picks up any categories the sender already has in your address book, and rules can trigger further automatic category assignment. You can also assign categories manually at any time. Then you can filter, sort, and search on categories.
Finally, there are links. You can link any entity to any other entity. Again, this can happen automatically; for instance, incoming and outgoing email messages are linked to the sender or recipient in your address book, a message is linked to its reply, a message is linked to a task created from it. You can create a link manually at any time; an item can also be linked to a file on disk. The result is powerful navigation, because, from an item that has links, you see the links in a pop-up menu or a list window, and can instantly open the item at the other end of the link (if it's a file, it opens in the Finder). Thus, jobs involving information from hither and yon can be managed easily and quickly.
My one major criticism here is that there is a complete lack of upward navigation, so it's easy to get lost. For example, I follow a link and an email message opens; but now precisely where am I? The message is in some mail folder, but there is no provision to navigate upward to that folder and see the message in its listing context. Contrast Eudora, where a Finder-like Command-click in a message's title bar shows where it is in the hierarchy and lets you navigate within the hierarchy.
Last Judgment -- If you asked me whether to get Office 2001 just to obtain Entourage, my answer would be "No." Entourage's mail handling is remarkably good, but not unreservedly better than Eudora or Microsoft's free Outlook Express, and other aspects of the program range from merely decent to downright poor in comparison with other, dedicated programs; names like NewsWatcher, Now Up-To-Date & Contact, IN Control, and Idea Keeper spring to mind.
Thus, for those people who will definitely use the other Office 2001 applications, but who already rely heavily on other dedicated programs for email, contact management, scheduling, and note taking, Entourage is mostly a tease. Although its email functionality has few compromises and its integration features are undeniably compelling, the other aspects of the program often aren't sufficiently fleshed-out to make switching from a dedicated program possible. And from there it's downhill, since Entourage's integration and linking become increasingly less compelling as you use fewer of its components.
On the other hand, if you're going to use Office 2001 anyway, and you're hoping Entourage will be something you can live with, I'd encourage you to give it a try. Or, if you're just getting into computers, and own no email, newsreader, or calendar program, Entourage could prove perfectly satisfactory for a long time to come.
With its superb scriptability, its clean, flexible interface, its generous feature set, and its excellent unification through categories and links, Entourage offers a fine integrated system for managing communications, contacts, and time. It's easy to carp at the Microsoft folks for failing to do their homework in some areas, but let's not forget to appreciate how much thought and sweat have gone into making Entourage an eminently useful and valuable program. When the team has had a rest, I hope they'll put some serious thought into improving Entourage's various parts; when they do, the present version will be an excellent foundation on which to build.
Although Office 2001 is available from some retailers now, its official launch date is 11-Oct-00. The full Microsoft Office 2001 suite costs $500 new or $300 for an upgrade (TidBITS sponsor Outpost.com is taking orders for new versions at $440 or upgrades at $270 - see the sponsor area at the top of this issue for links). There's also a $100 rebate if you buy the complete version within 60 days of purchasing a new iMac or iBook. Entourage requires a PowerPC-based Macintosh running at least Mac OS 8.1 (Mac OS 8.5 and a 120 MHz or faster processor recommended) with at least 32 MB of RAM (48 MB under Mac OS 9).
Article 4 of 4 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Entourage Followup -- A postscript to my review of Microsoft Entourage in TidBITS-550: Despite the congeniality of its organizational structure to my working style, I eventually found that, as I had feared, Entourage's speed was a show-stopperShow full article
Entourage Followup -- A postscript to my review of Microsoft Entourage in TidBITS-550: Despite the congeniality of its organizational structure to my working style, I eventually found that, as I had feared, Entourage's speed was a show-stopper. Entourage was taking several minutes to perform and display the results of a search that Eudora can complete in a few seconds, and many seconds to move or delete selected messages, which Eudora can do almost instantly. Even switching between windows was slow. I've now migrated completely back to Eudora. This turned out not to be quite as simple as I stated in the review; the method I suggested works for incoming messages, but not for copies of outgoing messages. Instead, I used a superb AppleScript script, Eudora Export, the combined work of Dan Crevier and R. Shapiro; thanks to it, Eudora users can experiment with Entourage fearlessly. [MAN]