Almost a year after the release of Office 2000 (see my review), Microsoft has finally issued the first service release for the product, imaginatively dubbed Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR-1). SR-1 includes a number of bug fixes to the popular Office suite, including some previously available fixes. Microsoft recommends that all Office 2000 users update their systems to SR-1 and I agree; the company is even changing the retail Office products to include the SR-1 updates. And because this upgrade is free and fixes a host of bugs, its a no-brainer.

In this review, I take a look at the changes you can expect in Office 2000 SR-1 and, in particular, the experience you're likely to have performing the upgrade.

What's new in Office 2000 SR-1
All of the changes in Office 2000 SR-1 fix existing bugs or are designed to make it easier to deploy Office, especially in a Windows 2000 environment. As such, all of the system components in Office are upgraded to Windows 2000 levels in SR-1, including Internet Explorer, which is upgraded to version 5.01 if required. This isn't a perfect situation, of course: IE 5.01 includes a lame advertisement window in Outlook Express that will bedevil Hotmail users, for example. And because Hotmail support was inexplicably removed from SR-1 during the beta, Hotmail users are going to be stuck with OE or the normal, limited Web-based interface for the foreseeable future.

But SR-1 isn't really about overt new features, it's about bug fixes. Because the list of fixed bugs is so long, I'm providing it via a separate text file here if you're interested in some light reading. Virtually all of the Office products are updated in some way, including Access, Excel, FrontPage, the FrontPage Server Extensions, Office Setup and common components, Office Server Extensions, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Word. You might be noticing that PhotoDraw is conspicuously absent from that list. If you are an existing Office 2000 Premium Edition or PhotoDraw 2000 customer, you can upgrade to the latest version of PhotoDraw, the even more cunningly named PhotoDraw 2000 Version 2, free of charge through May 2000. Head on over to the Microsoft Web site for details.

Installing Office 2000 SR-1
So how do you get Office 2000 SR-1? If you're an existing Office 2000 customer, you can grab the Internet-based installation program from the Office Update Web site. This little wonder works in a manner similar to the Internet Explorer installation programs, though you're not able to specify what components to install; it's an all or nothing proposition. And "all" is going to cost you unless you're connected with a cable modem: Windows 2000 users are looking at a 26 MB download while other Windows users could face up to 40 MB depending on what version of Internet Explorer you're using.

If the thought of a 40 MB download is too terrifying, Microsoft is also offering the SR-1 update on CD for free to users in the United States and Canada. And if you haven't yet purchased Office 2000, hold off until May 2000 when a new retail boxed version of the product will ship with SR-1 and PhotoDraw Version 2 included. You'll be able to tell the new version from the original by checking out the back of the box, which will contain "new version" text and an explanation of the differences.

For the purposes of this review, however, I'm dealing primarily with the downloadable version and since I'm running Windows 2000 across the board, all three of the systems that I upgraded required the 26 MB download. The first step, then, is to obtain the 133 KB installation program, which is available on the Office Update Web site. If you choose the "Install Now" button in the Office Update Installation Wizard, the install program will download and run automatically.

There aren't many choices in the installation program. You're required to accept the terms of the license agreement and are then presented with choices to update Windows or update Office. If you're running Windows 2000, the "Update Windows" choice will be grayed out because your system components, primarily IE, are already up-to-date. Choosing "Update Office" will begin the download and installation of the core Office 2000 R-1 files.

The file download and install are fairly straightforward except for two details: First, the download could take a long, long time depending on your connection (I grabbed it in a fairly slow 15 minutes on a cable modem, but this was during the first day of availability so the slow download was somewhat expected). More importantly, your Office 2000 installation CD (or network-based install share) must be available during installation of Office 2000 SR-1. On two of the installs I performed, Office had been installed via an Active Directory-based package, so the network share containing the installation set was simply accessed quietly. But on a CD-ROM-based install, Setup paused and asked me to insert the first Office 2000 CD-ROM. There is no way to get around this, so you must have the appropriate media available, or SR-1 will not install. When the installation is complete, setup will prompt you to reboot your system.

So now what?
After Windows reboots, there isn't a lot happening to suggest that your system has changed in a profound way, so the first thing I did was check to see that the upgrade had been applied. This is most easily done by checking the version number of any Office product in its Help | About dialog box. The SR-1 version number is 9.0.3821 and the text "SR-1" should appear in the dialog as well.

Once this was verified, I attempted to set up my Hotmail account in Outlook 2000 only to be surprised by this feature's disappearance: During the SR-1 beta, Hotmail support on Outlook was one of the planned features and I have even used it myself on an earlier build. But it was apparently taken out for the final release, which was a major disappointment.

SR-1 also did a number on my file associations in a typically arrogant fashion: I use a third party image viewer to view GIF and JPG files, but these files types, though previously registered for this program, reverted to the default Office settings after the upgrade. I'm tired of Office's attempts at taking over my system and I wish the Office team was forced to code its suite to be more considerate of the user, like the rest of the industry. Office has its hooks into Windows in a way that no other company would ever attempt.

Overall, however, the upgrade was smooth and uneventful. In other words, it's just what you'd expect out of a massive bug fix release such as SR-1.

Conclusions
Overall, there isn't much to say about Office 2000 SR-1: It's a must-have upgrade for any user of Office 2000. If you can handle the download, go for it: The new Office Update Web site, which resembles a much spiffier version of the Windows Update Web site that we're all so used to, is a fine addition to Microsoft's current lineup of Internet-based system upgrades. If not, contact Microsoft and grab the CD; expect a 6-8 week wait, however.

I'm not terribly excited by some general Office issues, but those don't reflect on SR-1 specifically and they aren't very serious compared to some of the bugs that are fixed in SR-1. Hopefully, this first Office 2000 service release won't cause the type of problems that occurred with Office 97 SR-1: That update required a massive patch, a re-release, and a second service release to fully correct the problems. Microsoft says that it has learned its lesson and that Office 2000 SR-1 is extremely high quality. I hope they're correct, of course, but the first impressions are good overall.

Screenshots

A spiffy new Office Update Web site is used to launch the SR-1 installation.



 The Office Update Installation Wizard in action.



You've got to agree to the EULA if you want to install SR-1.



 Windows 2000 users don't need to update their system files.



 164 minutes? I downloaded SR-1 in about 15.



 First, you download...



 ... then you install.



 When you're done, all of your Office components will be updated to SR-1.