* Wrong. Microsoft pulled a fast one on us all: When you save a Word 97
*file in Word 95
* Compatibility mode, the program writes a generic RTF (rich-text format)
*file and disguises it with a
* DOC file extension. But it's not a DOC file--it's a generic RTF file.
*It's fine for the native Word 97 files
* to be incompatible with earlier versions of Word, but passing off
*generic RTF files as supposedly native
* Word 95 files is something else. At the least, you lose formatting
*information; at the worst, you get
* strange error messages and other incompatibility problems.
* It gets worse. Outlook, Office 97's e-mail/PIM/schedule application, is
*very cool--unless you
* use Microsoft Exchange for e-mail. Then Outlook overwrites entries in
*the Registry Exchange used, and
* the results aren't pretty.
Office 97 and the Upgrade Blues
Based on our discoveries, we're removing Office 97 and Outlook from the
If I had any musical talent, I'd write a song called the Upgrade Blues. It
would go something like this:
You bought a Pentium 133, then the 150s came out. So you bought a 150 and
cruised until you ate the
180s' dust. So you bought a 180 and were fine until the 200s came out. You
bought a 200 and life was
good--until MMX arrived....
Other verses might focus on modems: 14.4 to 28.8; 28.8 to 33.6, followed
by X2 and--ISDN?
I'm sure you could write several verses of your own.
Today's product life cycles are so short, the Next
Great Thing is always just a few months away from the Last
Great Thing. It's hard to know which upgrades will make a
meaningful difference in your (and your business')
productivity and which will turn out to be more trouble than
Microsoft Office 97 is one painful example. Whenever
the world's most popular office suite gets an overhaul, you
gotta take notice. And, man, it looked great when we checked
out the late betas and "gold masters." All WinMag's tests
were positive, and the users were wildly enthusiastic about
things like the great Web integration. Based on everything we
saw in our formal review, we gave Office 97 a thumbs-up
and placed it on the WinList.
But product testing at WinMag doesn't stop when the
review ends. We also test the products on our own desktops
in real-life situations, using them exactly the way you do. Our
lab isn't just a glass-walled room with separate test benches;
it's also our personal desktops, laptops and our network.
And that's where we discovered some disturbing
problems with Office 97 that would come to light only after
sustained use in a real-life setting. For example, we knew the
Word 97 file format was incompatible with earlier versions of
Word--that wasn't a surprise and wasn't a problem. When
we needed to communicate with people using older versions
of Word, we'd simply save the documents in Word 95
format--no big deal, right?
Wrong. Microsoft pulled a fast one on us all: When you save a Word 97 file
in Word 95
Compatibility mode, the program writes a generic RTF (rich-text format)
file and disguises it with a
DOC file extension. But it's not a DOC file--it's a generic RTF file. It's
fine for the native Word 97 files
to be incompatible with earlier versions of Word, but passing off generic
RTF files as supposedly native
Word 95 files is something else. At the least, you lose formatting
information; at the worst, you get
strange error messages and other incompatibility problems.
Microsoft released a separate file-converter program that Word 95 users
can run to let Word 95
read Word 97 files. But this is backward: The small installed base (Word
97) should provide
compatibility with the large installed base (Word 95), not the other way
around. Microsoft now says this
won't happen until later this year, when it will release an Office 97 patch.
It gets worse. Outlook, Office 97's e-mail/PIM/schedule application, is
very cool--unless you
use Microsoft Exchange for e-mail. Then Outlook overwrites entries in the
Registry Exchange used, and
the results aren't pretty.
WinMag staffer Jim Powell, who spent countless hours tracking down Office
97's problems and
pushing Microsoft to make fixes, says his system slowed to a crawl and
became unstable: "Suddenly,
opening a simple mail message in Exchange took 45 seconds on a Compaq
Deskpro Pentium 166 with
32MB of memory. When I chose Word 97 as my e-mail editor, I encountered
productivity-stopping out-of-memory errors and system lockups I'd never
Microsoft suggests reinstalling the Exchange client to reset the Registry
back to its pre-Outlook
condition. But that's a Band-Aid fix that doesn't let Outlook and Exchange
fulfill Microsoft's promise of
having the products work interchangeably on the same e-mail files.
Top-tier products don't break each
other, and this serious flaw knocks Outlook down a level from the
WinList's other well-behaved contact
managers and excellent standalone e-mail clients.
Based on our troubling discoveries, WINDOWS Magazine is removing Office 97
from the WinList. Excel 97, on the other hand, is an excellent component,
and it will remain on the
When Office 97's problems are resolved--and we think they will be--we'll
reevaluate the product
for inclusion on the WinList. Meanwhile, we recommend you stay with Office
95. At least for now, this
is clearly a case where it makes more sense not to upgrade.
Here's a rule of thumb that can help you avoid the Upgrade Blues: If your
current modem, PC,
application or operating system has a problem, is slow or is holding you
back in some demonstrable
way--or has you at a competitive disadvantage--it's time to upgrade.
But if everything's working fine, you're keeping up with your competitors,
and you're happy
with the way things are working, don't feel compelled to upgrade just
because a new version or model
shows up. Focus on getting more from what you have--WinMag's How To
section and features will be
a big help there.
Here's a real-life example. If you have a 14.4 modem, you'd do well to
move up to an X2 or a
33.6; both will make a noticeable, measurable, meaningful difference in
your online productivity. But if
you already have a fairly new 28.8, it probably doesn't make sense to
spring for a 33.6. It's only 16
percent faster than a 28.8, and that's best-case. Add in the normal
bottlenecks of today's Internet, and
the speed gains can vanish altogether. An X2 modem is likely to offer
real-world performance increases
somewhere between the mid 30s and low 40s, so you can perform a similar
analysis to see if the
incremental gains are worth the upgrade costs.
Incremental seems to be the key word these days. We're in an era of
steady, modest product
improvements rather than giant, revolutionary gains. This is basically
good news, because it means the
industry is maturing and is unlikely to produce disruptive quantum shifts
that will leave whole segments
of the user population in the dust or render obsolete entire chunks of
your computing investment in a
single stroke. And it means when a glitch--like the Office 97
situation--arises, you can wait for the
problems to be resolved without getting left at the curb.
It all boils down to this: You don't have to buy every new thing, just the
right new things. When
it's time to upgrade, using WinMag's information and your own good sense,
you can call the shots and
resolve not to worry too much when something newer comes out in a few
months. Choose from today's
wealth of new products and technologies, but don't torture yourself with
the Upgrade Blues.
* and then this from
* Microsoft Office 97 for Power Macintosh will offer Microsoft Word 97,
*Microsoft Excel 97 and Microsoft PowerPoint 97. At this point we are not
* publicly discussing specific features of the product, but stay tuned for
*more news as the product is planned to ship by the end of 1997. Find out
* about Office 97 at http://www.microsoft.com/office/
So Office 97 hits the shelf in 98?
There is no off position on the genius switch. ...David Letterman
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