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Software Review: Microsoft Office Professional 2003

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Link-Up Digital

Since I use Microsoft Office for many things—writing articles and books, grading online assignments for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), sending out personal and business letters—I found myself wishing it had more online capability.

This is especially true when I’m working on MS Office classes for UMUC and need to go over something with students in regard to their assignments or when I’m collaborating with an instructor I’m assisting. Before upgrading to MS Office Professional 2003 (MSOP2003), I would receive and send an MS Office project as an attachment via e-mail or posted in that week’s conference on the UMUC Web site.

With the upgrade, I can do an online collaboration with a student or instructor via NetMeeting, which was available in previous versions but was confusing to use. Now it’s much simpler, with easy-to-understand instructions for you and whomever you want to work with online.

In fact, all the neat, new tools that were added to Office XP (the previous version) are now much easier to use. Maybe it’s the new look of the toolbars (the graphics are much better and are easily recognizable without having to place your mouse cursor on each one to figure out what it is) or that the darned paperclip guy (the office assistant) no longer automatically appears. (You have to turn him on if you want to see him.) Or it may be the much easier to understand instructions for all the programs that are included, especially Access 2003, which I could never figure out before. Now I’m putting together a database for WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse), the online safety organization of which I’m president, to better manage the cases we receive online.

MSOP2003 includes all the programs you’ll ever need and probably some you’ll never use, but it’s a great package and worth the upgrade price of $329 (I got it for $199 thanks to the education discount).

The MSOP2003 package includes Access 2003 (database management), Excel 2003 (spreadsheet program), Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager (Microsoft’s e-mail program), PowerPoint 2003 (multimedia presentations), Publisher 2003 (desktop publishing and Web site creation), and Word 2003 (word processing program).

Microsoft does offer other MS Office 2003 packages with fewer programs, but MSOP2003 is perfect for the self-employed, small or large business, or someone who needs a full-service suite of programs.

The only program I don’t use in this suite is Outlook because of the well-known security problems/holes. Hackers and virus writers seem drawn to Outlook like flies to honey. Until Microsoft can make Outlook completely safe, I’ll stick with Eudora for my e-mail.

I use all the other programs—especially Word—for writing, mailing lists, and schoolwork. And I can easily e-mail any document once it’s done.

I use PowerPoint for the presentations I make about cybercrimes. I especially like being able to add video and Web site links that I can instantly go to during my presentation. Going “live” seems to keep the audience more interested.

I use Access, which I’ve already mentioned, and I use Excel to coordinate and calculate WHOA’s yearly cyberstalking statistics.

I use Publisher for creating invoices, flyers, business cards, and other promotional print items. I also use it to create Web pages. I have to admit I have a soft spot for Publisher. It’s a nifty program that quickly creates and publishes just about anything you can imagine; you can then save it as a paper project or as a Web site. You don’t have to know HTML to use Publisher, and the included clipart is much better than that of many of the other desktop publishing programs available. The variety of templates included is excellent too.

In addition to the programs that come with the retail package, you can also download a lot of online goodies (all of these are free):

  • Hundreds of additional clipart broken down into categories
  • Hundreds of templates for all kinds of print and online projects for the office and home
  • Office Web Components, an add-in that allows you to publish interactive data from Access or Excel for your Web site/page
  • MSN Money Stock Quotes, which allows you to get refreshable custom stock quotes from the MSN Money Web site for Excel 2003
  • Video e-mail for Outlook (you need a Web camera to use this)
  • PST Backup for Outlook, which automatically backs up your .PST folders
  • List Builder Output, which lets you send and manage your e-mail campaign for marketing newsletters created in Publisher
  • Additional PowerPoint templates in three separate downloads
  • Microsoft Producer, which helps you capture, synchronize, and publish audio, video, slides, and images for PowerPoint
  • Online assistance and training for each Office component, with tips, hints, and even an online column by the “Crabby Office Lady”

The following goodies (which can be found at the official MSOP2003 Web site at cost extra, but if you’re on the road a lot, they could be worth it:

  • OfficeSMS 2003, which allows you to send and receive SMS (text) messages from Outlook, Word, or Excel (free trial is available at
  • Infone—you can access your e-mail via Outlook using Infone (89 cents up to 15 minutes, then 5 cents per minute thereafter)
  • RepliGo, which converts documents so that you can view them on your mobile device (cell phone, PDA, etc; free trial at
  • PhoneAlarms, which lets you receive Outlook reminders via your cell phone (free trial at

Now for my gripes, or wish list.

I wish Microsoft would fix Outlook, as I mentioned before. I don’t know why it’s so insecure. It has a lot of features and functionality I would love to take advantage of, but the fear of viruses, trojans, or hackers prevents me from installing it.

And I wish Microsoft would stop putting the year in the title of the software! Even though this is technically Microsoft Office Professional 2003, it didn’t start appearing in stores until 2004.

Make the upgrade prices lower. Even the Standard edition is more than $200. That’s a lot of money for most folks, and they’ll wait until the next version comes out to get the current one at a cheaper rate.

Do people really use the office assistant/paperclip guy? Can’t we just get rid of him?

Put some of the add-ins/downloads from the Web site into the program instead of making users go to the Web site to get them.

That’s a short list of gripes, and for good reason: Microsoft is finally putting out a product that I can truthfully say is something I need, plus it’s easy to use—and easy to understand! The upgrade is definitely worth purchasing. I previously used Corel’s Office suites but have now switched for good to Microsoft Office.

I do have a suggestion for Microsoft. My idea of the perfect Microsoft Office would be a custom-made version. Make each program available for sale on separate CDs. Do the same with templates. Not everyone uses the business templates, so separate those from the home/fun ones. Do the same with the clipart. Then customers can pick and choose and pay only for what they really want.

Hey, I said it was my wish list.

In the meantime, order a trial CD of MSOP2003 at for just $7.95. You get 30-day trial versions of all the programs in the suite. And you can convert the trial into the full version online, which is very nice.

Microsoft Office Professional 2003

Full version: $499
Educational: $199

Office Standard 2003
(Includes Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint & Word)
Upgrade: $239
Full version: $399
Educational: $149

Minimum System Requirements for MSOP2003
128 MB RAM
400 MB hard disk space
CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive
Super VGA (400 x 600) video card
Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3, Windows XP or newer
Internet connection
Optional: Soundcard w/speakers; Web camera

J. A. Hitchcock is a freelance writer and the author of Net Crimes & Misdemeanors (CyberAge Books, 2002), which is presently being updated.

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