The startup screen isn’t much-that’s for sure. I thought I’d begin with that one little grievance, not only because it’s the first thing that I saw, but because it’s the converse of everything else in the new Office 2001 suite of products. Microsoft has really done an excellent job at streamlining the four programs: Entourage (e-mail and PIM), PowerPoint (presentations), Word (word processing), and Excel (spreadsheets). Each one is easy to use, and captures the new Mac “look-and-feel”-that being the striped pillow embossed lines seen in Aqua and Internet Explorer 5.
Unlike older versions of Office, which struggled to keep up with the PC version, Office 2001 sports many new features that are, as Kevin Browne (general manager of Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit) said during the Macworld Keynote “available only on the Mac.”
I’ll only dive into the details of Entourage (pronounced: on-too-rahj) today. It’s a relatively small piece of the application suite (consisting of over 4,000 files and 300 MB in all) but packs a powerful punch. Many sites are quoting Entourage as a brand new “addition” to the lineup, but it’s not. Not really. Take Outlook Express and combine it with Outlook and you’ve got Entourage-plain and simple.
“Start me up, I’ll never stop”
On first run, it poked around my hard drive, installed some Office extensions and helpers that do who knows what, and managed to grab my Outlook Express mail database as well as contact, task, and calendar information from Palm Desktop. Entourage is capable of handling most mail formats, including FileMaker databases, and the Unix mbox format (used by Mailsmith). It will also copy account settings, mail filtering rules, signatures, and addresses from Now Contact, Eudora, Claris Emailer, Now Contact, and Netscape Messenger.
Be prepared to start using the PIM features. Entourage throws you right into it after you enter all your contact information, birthday, and phone numbers. One of the things about integration is how you can’t easily disassemble things. So I gave into it, and happily started “linking” e-mails and contact information together, color-coordinating categories, and matching up anniversary dates with the new calendar.
And, yes, Microsoft Bob has indeed infiltrated your e-mail program. Remember those distracting assistants from the other Office programs? Like Max, the Mac Classic, that always jumps out at you for misspelling something? Well…they’re all back.
You can display information in a number of ways by creating custom views. After you create a custom view, you can save it and then return to it at any time. For example, you can create a custom view that displays a list of items in the “Family” category that were received within three days and contain “reunion” in the body. When you perform a search, you can also save your search criteria as a custom view so that you can easily perform the same search again. One thing that I noticed was how the search function was re-done. It matches the Rules layout and looks a bit like Sherlock in the way that it has the choice for more options and criterion. I’ve only been using Office a couple of days, but so far, Entourage seems more responsive than the two Outlook programs. It certainly searches faster.
It Knows What You’re Thinking, NOT!
A new feature in Office 2001 is the dictionary. A dictionary! Can you believe it? Luckily, Microsoft opted not to write definitions for some of the more prominent proper nouns. IBM is defined as “Abbr of intercontinental ballistic missile.” Thank goodness. You can access this from the Tools menu in every program. As with Outlook, Entourage uses Word’s spell-checking, auto-correction, and grammar libraries. For example, type, “MicroSloth ripped off teh Mac” and you’ll end up with “Microsoft procured the mace.” So if you don’t like Microsoft to make up your mind for you, just uncheck the option in the preferences.
The address book is a container for contacts, actual people you know. By defining standard fields like “Phone Number” you can build a database of all your acquaintances. These, in turn, are linked to each e-mail you send and every note and task you enter. Entourage also allows you to enter up to ten custom definable fields. You don’t have to enter in every detail about a person but doing so will enable actions like having birthdays show up on the calendar, getting driving directions to and from a contact’s location, and niceties such as magnifying a phone number so that you can see it across the room if the telephone is not by the computer and being able to conveniently send “vCards” to people you know so that they can automatically enter your personal data (including a picture) into their own address books. The address book is a shared feature with Word. If you change something in one of the other Office Programs it is updated in Entourage.