Sure, Microsoft Office 2003 has been out for a long time. In fact, the next version of Office is currently being tested by some users and plans are that this new version will be out later this year. But I recently realized we don't have an article that explains the basics of Office. And I also know that there are many people out there who are confused about Office. This article will help give you a base for understanding what this software is about.
Microsoft Office is a software suite. This means that there are actually several individual software programs within Office. And the fact that it is a suite of various programs, it is generally understood that these programs should "play well together." They are built by the same software company (Microsoft) and they were designed to interact with each other in a fairly seamless way. And in most cases, that is true. Granted, some programs play nicer with others from time to time. But the basis of having a suite, versus buying the individual programs separately, is not only that you save money by purchasing them as a package, but also that they have additional coding that helps them work together better.
In fact, when "Office" first came out, many years ago, it was more of a bundle that, when purchased this way, saved money (a package deal). I believe that version was Office version 3. I didn't start using Office until the next version...version 4. Office version 4, by the way, contained Word version 6, Excel version 4 and PowerPoint version 3! Yes, version numbers were very confusing! To make matters worse, there wasn't any Word 3, 4, or 5. Microsoft jumped from Word 2 to Word 6 to keep up with Word Perfect, which at the time in the mid-90s, had just moved from WP 5 to WP 6. Things got a little less confusing when the next version of Office came out, called Office 95. Then Office 97 for the PC. But Macintosh users had other versions, such as Office 98 and later Office X (2001)...then 2004 for the Mac. But wait! Outlook also came out for the PC in version '98, although there was no PC edition of Office called 98. That was for the Mac! The PC version moved from 97 to 2000. Confused yet?
However, since 2000, Microsoft seems to have gotten control of itself and versions are becoming a bit more reliable in their naming convention. Well, except for 2002, which was officially called Office XP because someone in marketing apparently decided that you needed to feel the 'XPerience!
Yes, all these versions still cause a lot of confusion out in the support world of the Internet, because different versions have different features and do similar tasks, differently. That is why it is important that, when asking for help, you remember to tell people what version you are using.
Which Version Do I Have?
So which version are you using? Find out! Software should always provide you with version information. You can usually find this information easily by clicking Help > About. An About Box will display. Along the top of that dialog you can read the information that shows you what version you are currently using. Below are samples of Word 2000, 2002 and 2003 About Boxes.
You'll also note that they have notations that mention SP and a number. SP stands for Service Pack. These are updates to that version, which can contain bug fixes and other enhancements that help your software work better and more secure. You should always download the free updates to each version to ensure that you have the latest updates applied.
You can find out which updates you may need at this link. Once you arrive, click the Check For Updates link near the top of this page: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/officeupdate/default.aspx
Over the years, more coding has been integrated into the main Office portion of the software to bring together the individual programs better. Each version of Office gets better integration throughout the individual programs. And, in fact, that's why the current version, 2003, is actually called Microsoft Office System versus being a suite. The integration with the individual programs has gotten to the point where they play pretty well together. So Microsoft now considers all the programs as a full system of various applications that you can use to handle all your daily office workload.
Now it depends on the version of Office you get as to what it will have contained in it. Different versions cost different prices and have different components or individual software applications contained within.
Example. If you purchase Microsoft Office 2003 Professional, you will get the base programs of Word, Excel and Outlook, but also get Access and PowerPoint. However, if you purchase the Small Business Edition, you don't get Access, which is the database program. Rather, you get an enhanced client management application within Outlook and you also don't get PowerPoint, but rather, you get Publisher.
The reasoning, most likely, is that small businesses probably won't need to make many big slide presentations to customers, as would a larger corporation. But, whereas a large corporation has a marketing budget, a small company would want to save money on business cards, flyers, and brochures. So they get Publisher in place of PowerPoint to give them the ability to create these types of desktop publishing items right on their computers...saving them money.
This means that you can't just assume that if you have Microsoft Office that you will have all the main applications. You need to check the version you plan to purchase to make sure it has the specific programs you want/need.
So what are all these individual programs that you get with Office and what can they do for you?
Here's a little diagram that I created (in PowerPoint) to help you see what I am talking about.
All versions of Office come with Word, Excel and Outlook. In fact, Microsoft Office Basic version is just that...Word, Excel and Outlook. The Standard edition and the Student/Teacher editions add PowerPoint to that mix. And the Professional version adds Access to the above programs. A few different business editions mix/match these programs with a few other tools.
Below is a small overview of just some of the features each program offers...
Microsoft Word is your word processor. Like a very glorified typewriter, it allows you to process your words in various ways. But, although Word is the text-based program, it can also do other things such as allow you to insert graphics or photos, create charts and graphs, create tables and even do some calculations. But because it handles your words that is what it does best. You can create some great looking documents with professional looking formatting. You can use it to handle your mail merges...one letter to many people. And Word will allow you to create forms that people can complete online (which is my favorite thing to do with Word).
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857991033.aspx
Excel is your spreadsheet program. This is like having an electronic version of an accountant's ledger. You can create individual Workbooks that can contain many individual Worksheets. Within those sheets, you can keep columns of data in rows of clients or inventory. You can do balance sheets to figure out your assets and liabilities. You can also select data from your Workbook to create graphs, charts or run data analysis to track trends for forecasting future sales.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010858001033.aspx
Outlook handles your email, but it's much more than just an email program. Outlook is considered a PIM, Personal Information Management program. Yes, you can pull down email from several accounts off the Internet.
But you can also track appointments in multiple calendars, such as one for the Office and one for home life. You can have reminders display when projects are due and other popups can tell you when it's time to run into another meeting.
Notes allows you to jot down little bits of information or ideas on little text sheets, similar looking to sticky notes, which can be sorted in various ways and within various folders.
The Task feature in Outlook allows you to track your ToDo list and handles some basic project management tasks by allowing you to assign jobs to staff and then track their progress and deadlines.
Contacts is like your electronic Roledex. Keep all kinds of details about friends, colleagues, clients, and customers. From the basics like their name and email address, to multiple phone numbers, addresses, even the name of their secretary.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857931033.aspx
This is a graphical presentation program. Most people use PowerPoint to create overhead presentations that can be displayed electronically from their computers. You can also print transparencies or hand-outs to use with, or instead of, the presentation features. You can also add animation, movies, music, and sounds to create a multimedia presentation. Presentations can be set to advance manually or you can use timing features to make the images change on their own at set intervals. But even if you're not ready for creating slide shows, PowerPoint is great for creating illustrations (as I did above showing you Office). If you have photos or, particularly, graphic clipart, you can make modifications to individual elements as with many graphics only programs.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857971033.aspx
Although you can track data in Excel, such as client data...with a row for each client name and bits of data noted in various columns, like their address, annual sales, phone numbers, zip codes, and such, if you need to do more serious database organization, you'll want to use Access. Excel allows you to create a simple, flat-file database format. But Access is a relational database, meaning you can put separate data into separate tables and link these tables by their relationships.
For example, if you wanted to track each video a customer purchased in your store, using Excel you would have to have one column for every video in your store! If you had 100 videos, each row with a customer's name would have to have all 100 columns, just in case, they purchased a new video in the future. And although this is how databases used to be, it's not very efficient. With a relational database, you can have one table to track all your video data and one table to track all your customers data. Then you would link the customer row from the customer table to the individual video row within the video table...thereby creating a relationship from one to the other. If the same customer purchases another video, you set another link to the new video. Sounds complicated, but it's actually pretty simple in most cases and makes the database very efficient.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857911033.aspx
All In the Family
There are several other programs that are part of the Office family. This means that, in most cases they are not actually part of Office, although in some versions they may be. But overall, they are applications that handle specific tasks that many office employees would need to do, but are not considered part of the core programs. They do, however, also still work in conjunction with the core Office applications.
FrontPage—This is a web design and web management program. Although you can create various types of web pages using the other programs in Office, when it comes to creating a full web site and managing it, FrontPage is the Microsoft software for that job.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010858021033.aspx
Publisher—If you need to create a lot of desktop publishing documents, rather than struggling to get them right with Word, Publisher makes the job easier. Hundreds of templates for flyers, banners, business cards, brochures, stationery and the like, allow you to fairly easily fill in the blanks to create professional looking marketing and business documents.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857941033.aspx
InfoPath—XML (Extended Markup Language) is a coding language that, similar to HTML, allows you to code words in files so they are handled in specific ways by computers. You can create XML documents in many Office programs. But again, if you're serious about creating custom documents and/or workflow processes with data extraction, then InfoPath is the way to handle this job.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857921033.aspx
OneNote—OneNote allows users to take advantage of Pen technologies. If you have a Tablet PC or an electronic Pen that allows you to easily write within software, OneNote has all the tools and features that let you quickly scribble notes that can be left as handwritten items or converted into text characters using sophisticated handwriting recognition. This program can be convenient for the standard PC user who has a lot of notes or ideas that they want to keep organized. But if you have a writing tool, that's when you'll learn just how valuable this program can be.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010858031033.aspx
Visio—Sure, you can draw out illustrations in Word with a little struggling, or use PowerPoint to make the job easier. But if you need to create more intricate diagrams, such as networking, workflow, data mapping or the like, Visio gives you a more sophisticated layout format and many more tools to create these types of illustration and diagramming documents.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857981033.aspx
Project—If you need a serious project management program, Project is Microsoft's solution. Yes, you can track your ToDo list in Outlook, but Project has all the bells and whistles to handle your basic office projects to serious, technical deployments. And for those of you who have been hanging around TechTrax for a time, you've surely seen Microsoft Project MVP, Mike Glen's series on Project. Click our Archives button and check out the articles by Mike. You'll be hard pressed to find better training to learn Project and project management.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857951033.aspx
And so no one accuses me of missing the two other parts of the family, here's a bit more...
Live Meeting—Allows you to hold interactive meetings by having all attendees communicate from their PCs.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010909711033.aspx
Small Business Accounting—provides you with the added tools and features you need to keep your small business running smoothly.
Learn more here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX011956881033.aspx
And there you have it! Everything to run your small business or huge corporation. Well...okay, you will probably need to toss a few servers in there if you're a large corporation. But small businesses can take advantage of the Small Business Edition of Office that comes with some server software, too.
Remember, this is just a very basic overview. There's lots more to learn at the links provided and also within the pages of TechTrax. We've given you many featured tutorials for many of these programs. But now with our new membership model, which launched in January 2006, members will be able to learn more about each of these main Office programs, from the ground up, as we move into more structured training courses within the member pages of TechTrax.