cleardot.gif (43 bytes)
gradient_hd_top.gif (265 bytes)
cleardot.gif (43 bytes) cleardot.gif (43 bytes)
cleardot.gif (43 bytes) cleardot.gif (43 bytes)
cleardot.gif (43 bytes)
gradient_hd_bottom.gif (513 bytes)

Microsoft Office 2000 SBE

October 18, 1999
By Franco Alfieri, B.Com., CGA
Office suites have become the norm during the nineties by offering a bundle of software applications at an affordable price. In today’s business world, "small business" and "small budget" go hand in hand. The key to growing your small business and ensuring its success, in my experience, is to apply the necessary tools that you need. Having the latest technology and spending a fortune on top-of-the-line software is not worth much, if it cannot be utilized to its full capacity. It is absolutely meaningless if it cannot generate business for your establishment. As an accountant, the ability to crunch numbers may give me an edge professionally and financially, but my marketing efforts and relations with my clients determine whether my practice will succeed. These factors apply to any business.

Microsoft Office 2000 is the latest breed of application suites for the millennium. There are five versions available: Standard, Small Business, Professional, Premium and Developer edition. Much has been written about the suite over the past few months, yet the "Small Business Tools" section remains largely overlooked. While I will deliberate on the enhancements provided from its predecessor, Microsoft® Office 97, the focus will be on the Small Business Edition (SBE) and the Small Business Tools, keeping with the theme of the article.

What to expect
While there is no denying its productivity enhancements and new features, if you are expecting a major facelift or breakthrough in technology when you purchase your copy of Office 2000, you might be a little disappointed. The application software market is bombarded with "JoeAverage 2000" products and suites, thus creating a marketing blitz and Himalayan expectations. I am not saying that Office2000 is not a great product or upgrade. My only advice to you, the accountant or consumer, is to become aware that Office2000 has yet to achieve perfection. Now that I have established this opinion, we can analyze Office 2000 objectively.

Office97 vs. Office2000 showdown
Office 97 revolutionized and dominated the market in the past few years. So how does one improve a good thing? For starters, integrate it with the World Wide Web. The emergence of the Internet has changed the concept of business without boundaries or limitations. Office 2000 has the ability to save documents in HTML format without changing its original formatting, allowing other users with a Web browser to share information. This is known as the Companion File Format. Editing capabilities for Web pages are flexible within the Office environment, via the Edit button from Internet Explorer 5 and accesses the program where the HTML document originated, e.g. Word 2000.

Keep a watchful eye! In the July 1999 issue of PC World, Office 2000 was criticized heavily for its lack of file compatibility with other applications. For example, a document created in PowerPoint2000 can be viewed beautifully in Internet Explorer 5, but which comes out looking like garbage in Netscape Navigator. Opening Office 2000 files in other applications such as Lotus SmartSuite displays uneven formatting and source code nightmares. This will not happen in Office 97 or higher versions. Complex data files also slow down performance. The conclusion was that the HTML common file approach was a hindrance to Web page designing, on the basis that not everyone uses a Microsoft browser or related products. Analyze your needs and preferences when considering the upgrade.

The whole objective of the Internet is to open the lines of communication. By utilizing Microsoft Outlook® 5 and Microsoft NetMeeting®, you can schedule online meetings and conferences over the Net. Moreover, files can be saved with the appropriate international text encoding so they can be viewed by any language system throughout the world. Rather than distribute different language versions for various countries, Office 2000 comes readily available as a single worldwide executable application. There is no longer the six months wait for that French version to be available. Multilingual users will appreciate this global enhancement.

Other nifty new features include the multiple-item Copy and Paste function. Up to 12 items can be pasted collectively or individually from its clipboard. Self-repairing utilities are indeed a blessing, as these fix corrupted or deleted files and repair them for smooth maintenance. File menus can be personalized by assessing which commands are accessed by the user, thereby displaying more frequently used commands on top, and hiding the rarely used ones. File Open and File Save contains a Places bar displaying folders such as Favorites, My Documents and History, in browser-like fashion. Documents can be sent via e-mail, which is integrated within Office 2000. For security measures, digital signatures can be added to Office documents. For the IT junkies, programming with Visual Basic® for Applications and Web scripting with the Microsoft® Script Editor should keep the user tickling the ivories with great satisfaction.

The Small Business Edition
Office2000 SBE contains the following applications: Word 2000, Excel 2000, Outlook 2000, Publisher 2000 and the Small Business Tools. I chose to highlight this particular edition because I wanted to focus on the applications that most people use, no matter what type of small business you pursue. My colleagues in the accounting realm (sole practitioners and small accounting practices) mainly use Word or Excel. It is rare to see Access or PowerPoint being used at full capacity, if used at all, so please do not mistake my omission of these applications, including FrontPage2000 and PhotoDraw2000, as a snub. I would also like to point out that every small business struggling to succeed needs the basic tools to get started, even if cost-cutting measures are implemented. Hence, the Small Business Edition is ideal. The following is a synopsis of each application.

Word 2000
Word 2000 stands tall as a word processor. In a technical sense, your writing style may actually improve with the assistance of automation tools, templates and document wizards. Macros can be written and edited for Visual Basic for Applications.

Multilingual capabilities are the icing on the cake. Customizable features allow Word 2000 to support editing and displaying documents in over 80 languages. All language versions can detect more than 20 languages and the English version can easily spell and grammar check English, French and Spanish. Office2000 Proofing Tools (an add-on kit sold separately for additional languages) provides for an amazing multilingual environment by incorporating multiple spelling and grammar checkers, in conjunction with the automatic language detector. By doing so, documents can be written in more than one language and edited accordingly.

Excel 2000
Updates include Euro currency symbol and ISO code standardization. Major advances in HTML file formatting allow Excel files to be published as Web pages by taking advantage of its components (i.e. Spreadsheet, Chart and PivotTable). PivotChart graphically displays data from PivotTable reports. Excel spreadsheets can be e-mailed directly from the program. Importing data is more flexible from other database applications, such as Access 2000, SQL Server and OLAP.

Outlook 2000
Outlook 2000 combines a contact management system with e-mail capabilities. Features include a preview pane, AutoDetect connect, junk e-mail filters and filtered mail merge. For the IT administrators, customizable programming is possible with Visual Basic® for Applications, as well as other component object model add-ins (e.g. C++) to write extensions to Outlook 2000. Trade magazines still rank it behind other notable applications, such as GoldMine or Symantec ACT!, in terms of flexibility and performance. However, for a sole practitioner, such as myself, Outlook 2000 and its counterpart Outlook Express 5 are easy to use and suitable for my practice.

Publisher 2000
For creating professional-looking brochures, newsletters and other marketing materials at a fraction of the cost, Publisher 2000 offers improved templates, wizards and color schemes. Publishing can be done from a desktop printer, commercial-printing services or on the Web. New wizards include Quick Publication and Catalog for product catalogs and single-page documents. There are also sixty customizable color schemes with which to work and commercial printing support (i.e.4-color process separations and spot color). Over 2,000 publication templates, 40 design sets, and a vast assortment of clip art, photographic images and animated GIFs accompany Publisher 2000. While huge strides in innovation have been accomplished since Publisher 98, it is still not as user-friendly as it looks. Personally, I have an easier time creating a newsletter or brochure in Word 2000.

Small Business Tools
This program is the most underrated and overlooked aspect of Office 2000 because not many IT magazines focus on it. Owner/managers (your clients) will be able to keep track of their customers, locate reference information and create financial reports, such as A/R, A/P and cash flow projections. Accountants and consultants can use these tools as a value-added service, especially with components like Business Planner and Buy vs. Lease Wizards to analyze appropriate financing requirements. There are four Small Business Tools categories, which is a vast augmentation from the Office 97 version:

Small Business Customer Manager
Combining data retrieved from Outlook and accounting data, this application manages customer and financial information in a single database. With the assistance of database wizards and import utilities from accounting software, there is no need to retype repetitive permanent information. Security measures include password protection, three levels of permission access and user logons. In addition, certain tasks can be automated by creating Office documents with pre-designed templates, mail merging and e-mail/fax messaging.

Business Planner
The Business Plan Wizard includes articles, visual interviews and detailed outlines for different sections of the business plan. In conjunction with Word and Excel, an effective presentation can be created and modified depending on the target audience (e.g. a financial loan officer or potential investor). Customizable templates and Web links to various business resources complement the program. This tool is a must for any business.

Direct Mail Manager
If your client is heavily involved in high volume sales or wants to market a new product, this tool may come in handy. The Direct Mail Manager can produce direct mailing lists and documents by importing address lists from your system. Printing options can be done in-house, or via links to external third parties that offer these services, some at discounted prices. Notable features include online access to mailing list providers, importing various file formats (e.g. Access, Excel, Word, SQL, Outlook), choice of media type (i.e. envelopes, labels, flyers or postcards) and mail merging.

Small Business Financial Manager
Similar to the Customer Manager, the Small Business Financial Manager uses Excel to create a financial database originating from data imported from accounting software. Reporting wizards lend a great hand to clients who are not well versed in accounting terminology and concepts. Various financial reports include balance sheet, income statement, trial balance, cash flow, sales analysis and ratios. This tool may seem tame to accountants, yet can be a monumental education for your clients by keeping them informed on their financial status. Other reporting functions include industry classifications, key ratio comparisons and growth estimates, as well as assorted wizards (e.g. projection, what-if analysis, buy vs. lease comparisons and customizable charts and graphs). I tried this with Simply Accounting –> v 6.0 files imported nicely, but v 7.0 files were not recognized. It is annoying if Microsoft cannot keep up with the latest versions, so consult the Help function to see if your accounting software data can be imported.

Suite and sour
Overall, Office2000 SBE is a welcome addition to your arsenal of computer software, therefore upgrading makes good sense. As usual, with Microsoft products, there is always a Catch-22 situation. I have two major grievances. The first being the choice of applications and the second is with hardware requirements. Many small businesses use PowerPoint for presentations, therefore omitting it from the Small Business Edition becomes a complete paradox. PowerPoint is included in the Standard Edition, yet Small Business Tools is included in every edition but Standard. My preferred choice would be to combine the Standard and Small Business versions as one comprehensive unit. Secondly, it is of little concern to me as to what specifications are labeled on the package. Should you wish to operate Office 2000 adequately, ensure that the computer in use has sufficient clock-speed and lots of RAM. For pricing information and available versions, visit the Microsoft® Office 2000 website.

Product specifications
Office 2000 has the following hardware requirements:

Operating System Windows 95 or higher
Processor Pentium 75 or higher (a faster processor is recommended)
RAM 16 MB (32 MB recommended)
Hard disk 178 MB (Disk 1 – Word, Excel, Outlook)
182 MB (Disk 2 – Publisher, Small Business Tools)
Modem 14,400 or higher baud recommended
Monitor and Video SVGA or higher resolution monitor recommended


Copyright © 1999 Online Networks Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without the express written permission of Online Networks Inc. is strictly prohibited.