When I received my copy of Office 10 Beta 2 at Fall COMDEX in November 2000, I did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: I found a (relatively) quiet corner somewhere (in this case, the side of the stage at one of Microsoft's product theaters) and installed it immediately on my laptop. I'm not sure what it is about Office, but this suite of productivity applications has grown over the years from being a loosely coupled grab bag of functionality into the cohesive collection of mission critical applications we all know and love (and sometimes hate) today. Like many of you, I live with the Office suite daily: In my case, Outlook is literally open 24/7, primarily for its email, contact, and calendaring functionality, and as a writer, I use Word often enough to consider myself an expert in the features I need. The other Office apps gets varying degrees of use, but in my case, FrontPage is my third critical Office application, as I use this tool for my personal Web sites, such asThurrott Dot Com. I'm not a big Excel, PowerPoint or Access user personally, but many people are. To say that these applications are widely used and, indeed, required, is an understatement.
So one doesn't undertake a review of a new Office suite lightly. My original goal with the release of Beta 2 was to provide a quick overview of the new features, highlighting the changes users can expect when this new product ships in Q2 2001. But a funny thing happened, though it should have come as no surprise: Because of the size of the thing, and the sheer number of improvements that it offers, a simple review of Office XP Beta 2 just wasn't possible. Simply listing the new features and improvements throughout the suite, and for the individual applications, required some half dozen pages in Word. If I had written the review as originally intended, it would have been a mammoth undertaking, hard to read and digest in one sitting. Furthermore, it would have been disingenuous of me to even consider publishing a review so quickly after receiving the Beta 2 code. Office is just too big for me to genuinely understand all of the changes and then communicate that in a simple review.
Here's what I'm doing. Instead of supplying a "Beta 2" review of Office XP, I'm going to write a multi-part review of Office XP, based on the most recent code available. I'll start with the Beta 2 code and update it with each new release so that it's complete by the time Office XP finally does ship, ensuring that any beta text or images are updated as necessary. And I'll introduce new parts of the review over time. Between the time of this writing (mid-December 2000) and the final release (expected in June 2001), I'll provide the following parts to this review of Office XP: