SP2, among others

Office service packs don't usually include a lot of extra features and most of the changes in Office 2003 SP2 are bug fixes and simplifications. For instance, it reduces the number of security warnings you get when you install Access and lets you use the Office Communicator with Outlook, without needing to have Windows Messenger installed as well.

For most of the programs in Office, the line is that SP2 "addresses top customer-experience issues". That means it fixes the most common bugs reported through Office error reporting. If you let Office apps send an error report when they crash, your problems might be on the fixed list.

But there is one feature that makes it worth getting SP2, even if you're not having problems - install it and you get the latest update to the Junk E-mail Filter. Then when spam and phishing e-mails are moved to the Junk Mail folder, any HTML formatting and images will be ignored. Links still look as if you can click on them, but you can't(see Figure 1). Neither can you accidentally hit a link when you're looking through your junk messages, but if you move a message back to the inbox because it isn't actually spam, you get the images and links back.


OpenOffice.org 2.0 is a big step forward for the suite, especially the interface, although many of the options are still playing catch-up. You can now customise toolbars and there's a multipane view in presentation creator Impress with slides and effects, such as animation (see Figure 2). The Base database looks remarkably similar to Access and if you want to work with XML forms in the same way that you can in InfoPath, OpenOffice.org can now support XForms. Also, OpenOffice.org already has the PDF creation we'll see in Office 12.0; its version 2.0 adds the benefits of thumbnails, bookmarks and table of contents when you save a document as a PDF.

If you're working with existing documents, you can now import WordPerfect files. The Calc spreadsheet can handle as many rows as Excel, so you can open larger XLS files.

You can open password-protected Office files, too - assuming you know the password, of course. Impress can import AutoShapes, slide transitions and animation effects in PowerPoint files. In general, if you're switching over from Office, this version of OpenOffice.org will be a great deal easier to work with.

Fast Excel functions

As soon as you type "=" in a cell to start a formula, Excel puts a Sum button next to the formula bar. If you click on this button, a dialogue box appears to help you build a Sum formula. Pick a different function from the drop-down list and you get help with creating an average, counting items, building a conditional Sum and a handful of other functions that Microsoft thinks are common(see Figure 3).

If the function you want isn't there, choose More Functions - or Insert-Function - and you can search for the right one. Once you have found it, fill in the relevant values in the Function Wizard. However, if you just want to save time typing and you find the dialogue clumsy to deal with, choose a function from the AutoSum button on the toolbar. That types in the function for you so you can start typing the values immediately.

When you want a graph straight away, select the data that you want it to represent and press <F11>. This will give you a default bar chart on another worksheet. You can then go on to edit the graph so it looks the way you want it to, but it's handy in the first instance just for getting an instant visualisation of your data.

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Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe

PC Advisor (UK)
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