Is XP the Rx for Your Firm?
By Michael Kraft and Devin Moberg
MANY members of the legal community view Microsoft Word as a bitter pill -- unpleasant, but necessary. Pressure from corporate clients, better integration with the operating system, and concerns about the long-term viability of WordPerfect have led many firms to implement Word against the wishes of many attorneys and secretaries.
New XP Patch
If you are using or testing Office XP. be sure to download and test an update that Microsoft released for Word on June 21st, 2001.
The upgrade fixes an issue where numbering linked to styles did not appear in the table of contents. It also fixes the new Style Separator feature so it works as intended.
Along with other modifications due to customer error reports, a security update also has been included to prevent macros from running without warning on documents that have been maliciously modified.
For more information: support.microsoft.com/.
Putting aside these pressures, can Office XP stand on its own as the document production suite of choice? The answer: Yes.
Although no single feature of Office XP makes it a must-have, the cumulative effects of its many minor improvements make it a worthwhile upgrade. In fact, there aren't many truly new features at all. Most of the significant changes Smart Tags being one notable exception are merely new ways to access features that have been available in previous versions of the suite.
However, instead of repackaging old features simply to justify charging for an upgrade, the changes generally achieve Microsoft's goals of simplifying the user interface and making previously buried features easier to access.
The most visible change in Office XP is the addition of a feature called Task Panes. Although they don't provide any major or new functionality, they do vastly improve access to existing functions.
The task pane is displayed in a column to the right of your document, and can show different information depending on the application and feature with which you're working.
The "Reveal Formatting" task pane has been referred to as "Word's version of 'Reveal Codes' " because it displays the underlying formatting information for the current character, paragraph, and section of the document. Although it is a significant improvement over the previously available "What's This?" function, don't expect to have the kind of power available in WordPerfect "Reveal Codes."
Formatting cannot be directly edited in the task pane, although clicking on headings such as "Font" or "Spacing" will pop up the appropriate Word dialog box, saving the user a few clicks.
Even though it won't win over diehard fans of "Reveal Codes," the inclusion of options like "Clear Formatting" and "Select All Text With Similar Formatting" will guarantee this task pane plenty of use.
More complex document construction will involve the use of the "Styles and Formatting" task pane. If your documents are currently a combination of the "Normal" style and direct formatting, this tool will ease your transition to the preferred method of document formatting: paragraph styles.
One reason many users fail to use styles properly is the time it takes to apply styles to a document that was created without them. "Styles and Formatting" provides options to easily select all similarly formatted text in a document and apply an appropriate style.
Smart tags, which can be disabled if desired, are automatically inserted at points in the document that can be linked to additional information or relevant functions. Indicated by a dotted underline, clicking on a smart tag brings up a list of actions that can be performed.
AFTER protests from technical columnists, privacy advocates and Web site developers, Microsoft Corp. has abandoned its "Smart Tags" for its Internet Explorer Web browser. At least for now.
What are Smart Tags? Think of the squiggly lines under misspelled words in Word -- On Web pages, whether the producer wanted them or not. Microsoft's tagging engine would identify terms it deemed interesting, and users could click and jump on over to a Microsoft site that defined term.
If you're a fan of them, don't despair -- Smart Tags are still a feature of Word XP (and can be added to other word processors), allowing developers and content producers to use them on any documents
For example, clicking a name gives options to look up that person in Outlook "Contacts," while clicking an address lets you get driving directions in a Web browser.
Although the smart tag for stock symbols will likely get more personal than business use, third-party developers are currently writing tags to improve integration with their products. Smart tags for everything from automated paragraph numbering to online citation checking will be available by the end of the year.
One of the best "repackaged" features appears after text is pasted into a document. Rather than having to navigate a series of menus to paste text without including formatting, you can simply paste it and then choose to discard the original formatting using the associated Paste Option button, which is similar to a smart tag.
Because formatting that has been pasted from another document can be a source of corruption, this feature can significantly improve the stability of your documents.
Word 2002, like the other Office XP applications, has improved stability and error handling. If an application error does occur, the "Document Recovery" feature is launched. Although it doesn't technically do anything more than other timed-backup options, the user interface during the recovery process is much clearer. This simplified process reduces the chances that a user would inadvertently lose changes to a document while trying to recover it.
Word isn't the only application in Office XP to receive enhancements to its interface and functionality. While PowerPoint and Excel documents, even though growing, still make up a relatively small percentage of work product in most law firms and legal departments, Outlook has become an essential business application for most organizations. Fortunately, all three applications benefit from task panes, smart tags, and simplified interfaces in much the same way as Word.
The most important change in Outlook 2002 is enhanced security aimed at stopping script viruses such as "Melissa" and "I Love You." Because these viruses require access to an address book to propagate them, Outlook 2002 disables direct access to the address book from other applications. When a virus (or even another valid application, for that matter) tries to access the address book, a warning on the potential risks associated with allowing access is displayed before access is allowed. Although this feature may cause some inconvenience, the reduction in e-mail script viruses makes it an acceptable trade-off.
Microsoft has realized its primary goal for Office XP: to make the suite easier to use by improving the user interface and enhancing functionality through small, but meaningful changes.
Given the overall improvements available, Office XP is undoubtedly the right choice for users of Office 97 or 95.
Although organizations running Office 2000 may not be ready to consider an upgrade yet, the advances in Office XP make an attractive choice for any legal environment.
Michael Kraft, a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board, is president of Kraft, Kennedy & Lesser, a legal technology consulting and systems integration firm. Devin Moberg is KK&L's managing consultant.