Overview of Microsoft Office System 2003

by Annie Yu

The new Microsoft Office System 2003, which was released to the general public in October 2003, consists of the latest versions of traditional Office programs such as Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint and with new tools added, such as a note-taking application called OneNote and an XML data tool called InfoPath. As its name implies, this new "system" is a family of interrelated applications aimed at helping enterprises to utilise their Microsoft programs in a collaborative way. The idea is to help employees work with each other more effectively, whether they are sharing documents or planning meetings and events. It runs under Windows XP and 2000, but not under Windows 9x or any non-Microsoft operating system. The following table shows a list of new and enhanced programs provided by Office System 2003:


Existing Programs with updates

Office Word 2003 Office FrontPage 2003
Office Excel 2003 Office Publisher 2003
Office Outlook 2003 Office Project 2003
Office PowerPoint 2003 Office Visio 2003
Office Access 2003  

New Programs

Office InfoPath 2003 Office One Note 2003


Existing Servers with updates

Office Project Server 2003  

New Servers

Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 Office Live Communications Server 2003


New Services

Office Live Meeting  

What's new and enhanced?

Although most of Office 2003's big changes are aimed at users working in collaborative environments, individual users running Office on the desktop may find the general improvements helpful and convenient which result in a more productive set of applications. Microsoft Word, for example, includes better change-tracking and annotation tools. In particular, the "compare and merge" feature is greatly improved, making it easier to see all reviewers' comments. Furthermore, users can password-protect sections of a page from being edited and they can also assign permissions, enabling only certain users to make changes. Another new feature is a "Reading Layout" that duplicates the look of a printed page and, unlike Print Preview, allows editing of text. The 'Compare side by side' feature converts documents into two side-by-side pages on screen with synchronized scrolling so that any differences between the two can be quickly spotted. There is also a research task pane, a window that pops up whenever you <Alt><click> on a word, giving a dictionary definition of the word and links to Web resources, including language translation.

Microsoft Excel 2003 also offers the 'Compare side by side' tool, which is useful when scrolling through a pair of worksheets side by side, simultaneously. 40 functions have been rewritten for scientists and engineers and this new version of Excel also can use XML data.

Microsoft PowerPoint 2003 can now show full-screen video clips. There is also a "Package for CD" option that makes it easy to burn a completed presentation on disc, complete with a small PowerPoint viewer program for recipients who do not have the full PowerPoint installed on their computers. And like Word and Excel, Smart tags are now in both PowerPoint and Microsoft Access 2003. When a name, address, or other key phrases comes up, a smart tag icon appears that can provide additional information and options so that you can complete tasks more quickly.

Of the core programs within Office 2003, only Microsoft Outlook 2003 has had a significantly different look and feel. The updated Outlook interface is better organized and easier to use with a much-improved navigational bar at the left, as well as a range of new tools. There are handy new features, such as the ability to look at shared calendars side by side, as well as a much-improved spam filter. The new Outlook tools allow one to easily group messages by date, size, conversation, subject, etc., add colour-coded flags for following up messages, and customise views to show, for example, all messages from the last week or all those with attachments from your boss. And when new mail arrives, Outlook will immediately display small visual message alerts that show the sender, the subject and bits of text. The alerts then give you the options to open, flag or delete the given message. Finally, Outlook no longer automatically downloads images from Web servers which is a relief since spam mail often contain offensive images.

Many of Office 2003's new features are about collaboration. For a start, the new Office integrates well with an improved Microsoft SharePoint service, allowing workers throughout a company to create shared "Document Workspaces", where they can collaborate and plan, schedule, and interact with one another in real time and publish important task lists and files to a team Web site. Furthermore, employees can create these workspaces in the familiar environments of Microsoft Office Word 2003, Excel 2003, Office Outlook 2003, and PowerPoint 2003.

Another collaboration tool that is widely adopted in Office 2003 is the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). XML allows wider dissemination and sharing of data on the Web without worrying about incompatible programs, computer networks, data structures, and operating systems. XML uses standard tags within files to index, search, combine and reuse text, often in conjunction with a shared data server. For example, a Web site might use XML sales data from an Excel file to display the most current information. A new application, Microsoft InfoPath 2003, an XML-based form creation tool, allows you to design templates that pull information from databases and enter it into forms, which are then saved to the corporate database.

Finally, OneNote is a relatively simple but well-designed tool for taking free-form notes. Entries can be typed, captured, copied, recorded, or drawn. And if you have a Tablet PC, you can also add handwritten notes, which OneNote can either convert to typed text for use in other documents or simply recognize for searching. Additionally, you can paste pieces of Web pages into OneNote, and the program will automatically generate links to the source.

The software accommodates audio notes, in addition to those typed or written. OneNote uses Windows Media Player 9 Series codecs to record the audio notes, which can be saved in a variety of mono or stereo bit rates. And if you record a meeting and simultaneously add handwritten or typed notes, OneNote will attach these notes to the recording in time sequence.

OneNote also includes an easy-to-use search facility, with which you can search through handwritten notes as well as typed ones, and you can also search for bits of information that is tagged with the application's Note Flag feature. The search feature is also capable of finding notes by date or even by page number.

Without question, many of the new features in Office 2003 are aimed at knowledge workers in enterprises with professional network administrators who can implement systems for sharing information and collaborating on tasks. Yet, with the Word improvements like the reading view, research pane and ability to protect portions of a document etc., it is also worthwhile for individual users to upgrade to Office 2003 although InfoPath and OneNote are not covered in the Campus Agreement.


1. Office 2003 Editions Product Information from Microsoft
­ http://www.microsoft.com/office/editions/prodinfo/default.mspx
2. Microsoft Office 2003 from PC Buyer’s Guide
­ http://pcbuyersguide.com/software/productivity/Office2003.html
3. Inside Microsoft’s Office 2003 from eWeek
­ http://www.eweek.com/category2/0,4148,1309327,00.asp