Call the office

I was a beta tester for the recently-released Microsoft Office 2003 System. I was impressed with its stability, even in beta stage, although I have to raise doubts on the value-add between Office 2003 and its predecessors such as Office XP or even Office 2000. And then there is the open-source office suite, OpenOffice. There is no one single user feature that makes it a must-buy, although Outlook (Go Chris!) and a lot of the underpinnings have been overhauled, making it more enticing in corporate enterprise situations.

Shell remarked that MS is spending $150 milllion on an ad campaign. “I just saw a parade roll by with people in orange Office T-shirts (a band apparently), a motorcade and then 3 powerboats painted with Office 2003 logos…The band was kinda straggly and it was drizzling. They had all these Orange and Yello balloons in the soccer field (remember that) plus 50 ft high balloon men saying ‘Office 2003’ waving around in the rain. Kinda weird.”

The debutante of the Office package was undoubtedly Microsoft OneNote 2003, a cool virtual scrapbook designed to make Tablet PC users take down notes. It has often been called “Notepad of steroids”, although the ability for users to stick text blocks, images and audio clips haphazardly on a page makes it much more similar to PowerPoint in technique.

I wonder if it will actually be USEFUL in day to day life, though. After all, it’s just lets you create really sloppy notes, which you will sooner or later re-edit into Word, PowerPoint or email. It may be over-engineered. I know most people just use a blank Word document to “scribble” notes in, or use a Palm note taking program, like MEMOPlus. I use QuickNote for Mozilla, personally. While none of these things lack the versatility of OneNote’s search and organization features, they do take notes just fine.

Bizarrely, while OneNote goes under the Office 2003 banner, it is sold separately. Even stranger, the marketing geniuses decided to sell it for $199 US MSRP. It’s great note-taking software, but it’s still just note-taking software.

Perhaps I’m a bit jaded because I don’t have a Tablet PC. Only a Tablet PC can understand your handwriting as text, thanks to its “digital ink” support; a regular PC will only see JPEGs. Of course, Tablet PCs haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves. The number one issue is cost – you can get a notebook with twice the horsepower for half the price. A tablet manufacturer claims that the ridiculous prices are due to Microsoft charging way too much for Windows Tablet PC Edition. Second reason is speed, or lack thereof, thanks to their low voltage mobile Pentium IIIs running at 800MHz – 1GHz and sluggish integrated video.