Project 2000 gets your team working together

Along with a slew of new and improved features, this update brings the outstanding Project Central to the mix, allowing individual team members to help manage project details through a Web-based interface. Project Central requires Windows NT 4 (with Service Pack 4 or better) and Internet Information Server. If you don't have that environment, don't despair; there are plenty of new features within Project 2000 itself for Windows 95/98 users, as well as a spiffed-up interface and an improved help system that's great for new users.

We tried the official beta version, which will become available to Australians in February (if you're interested, check www.microsoft.com/australia/office/project/ near that time). The final version is scheduled for release in the first half of 2000, and pricing has not yet been confirmed.

Productivity Central

Project Central allows for extensive project planning collaboration among team members. Using a Web page to display key information (new tasks, reports and so on), users can view their personal Gantt charts (displays of assigned tasks with time lines), enter timesheet data, change task durations, delegate tasks to others, and fill in status requests. Project managers can consolidate status reports into a tidy summary report and make it available to all. If project team members wish to add tasks, they can send a request to the project administrator.

Project Central is a great addition, and Project 2000 has some nice new planning features of its own. You can now constrain tasks to particular times - you could stipulate that project review meetings only be held on Tuesday or Thursday, for example. If resources assigned to this meeting have time conflicts, Project 2000 will pick the intersection of available times to schedule the task. Another bonus: a new symbol indicates that a task's deadline date is approaching and warns you that the task might not be completed on time.

Reporting has also been significantly improved. Especially noteworthy is the new Grouping feature that lets you sort by just about any task characteristic imaginable.

Using the program's well-designed dialogue box, we initiated a very simple sort by "per cent complete" and then by "task cost".

If you want to view resources and tasks using your company's structure instead of Project 2000's traditional Work Breakdown Structure, you can use the new Outline Codes to create your own reporting hierarchies. Also, the ability to use formulas in a user-defined field - and then attach conditions - allows project managers to see when certain conditions are exceeded, such as when tasks exceed budget.

Another welcome improvement is the ability to manage material resources using fixed or variable rates.

Project 2000's interface sports some other nice touches. "Month" has been added as a duration type (in previous versions you had to use 31 days or four weeks). Project task descriptions now have variable row heights, so text wraps to a second line if needed.

You can add a question mark to any task duration to indicate estimates. And Project 2000 can filter the Network Diagram so you can view specific people or teams.

Something for everyone

While Project 2000 offers more power than ever before, Microsoft hasn't forgotten the novice user. For one, the HTML-based help is goal oriented: rather than give you an explanation of how a feature works, Project helps you understand what needs to be done to set up and manage a project, and provides step-by-step directions. Confused about which option to choose? Help spells it out, giving clear examples so you'll understand which choice is best for you.

Ten new industry-specific templates also make starting from a blank Project workspace far less intimidating than before.

You can use these templates as models or create your own from scratch and save them. Project 2000 even converts your current project plan into a template.

Project 2000 uses a new file format but can read and write Project 98's MPP files. However, it cannot write the MPX format found in older versions - a major stumbling block. The company says it is considering putting a conversion utility on its Web site after Project 2000 is released.

Project 2000's improvements provide enormous power for managing projects from simple to complex - and at the same time, it doesn't forget the occasional or novice user. If you can use Project Central, you'll benefit from a whole new range of collaborative features. This version is a winner - plan on making the upgrade.

Project 2000 beta

Distributor: Microsoft

Phone: 13 2058

URL: www.microsoft.com.au

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Joel T. Patz

PC World
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