Yet Another Office – Microsoft Office 2003 Professional  

by Mel Babb

NOTE: As of May 2 nd, there were several patches and I expect a larger Service Pak shortly. Check Microsoft’s Office 2003 update page, especially for Outlook security patches.

Charles W. Evans, Reviews Editor

Office 2003Seven programs comprise Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Edition: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Outlook, and Outlook with Business Contact Manager. The last program is not reviewed here. Three other 2003 editions exist that contain only some of these programs. No suite contains Front Page. Putting aside the changes (like XML) that information technology (IT) needs to implement in a company, here’s what’s interesting for the user.

Most noteworthy in this version:

  • Outlook looks quite different
  • Pack PowerPoint shows on a CD
  • New Buttons on Toolbar
  • Lots of Help

Help, Help and More Help

A help box has been added to the right side of the menu bar and a right pane appears on the screen labeled Microsoft Online. Type a question in the help box and answers appear in the right pane. If you are online, you connect to the Internet (Zone Alarm will ask for access). If you are offline, help that’s on your hard drive displays. For quick answers, the offline help is faster. To stay offline select “help offline” at the bottom of the right pane. Why emphasize this? Because accessing the Microsoft help, even with cable, is slow.

Still the online help is actually good and extensive. On the Microsoft Online page, the Assistance menu item on the left leads to a page with a Browse Assistance section, listing a help link for each program. The Training link on the menu leads to many free courses with audio narration on how to use various parts of the software. The section is curiously titled “Browse Training Courses”.   For those who have not yet mastered the features of all the office programs, the help at provides much needed what-is-it and how-to-do-it help, which is available for other versions of Office too.

New Buttons On Toolbars Since Office 2002

In Word,the toolbars are squished into one line. To see all the buttons, click on the arrow at the end of the row and choose “Show Buttons on Two Rows”. Here are the new buttons in Word. Some are in the other programs, too.

Permission. Lets you restrict who can access and use documents or e-mail messages. E-mail. Opens To/From window at the top of the screen. The button toggles on and off. Research. Clicking it displays a definition for the highlighted word, but it’s quicker to Alt+Click on the word you want. Reading Layout. Makes the text look like book printing, and shortens the line length, making it easy to scan down the page very quickly. It has its own toolbar with buttons useful for reading. The close button is in the middle, which returns the screen to the previous layout.

While typing, small icons pop up trying to be “helpful” -- in Word with auto correct, in Excel with error correction suggestions. Also an icon displays when you paste something, and a right pane opens showing a bit of all the text you have copied. Any one of these clips can be pasted.

In Excel, the cursor shape for moving a cell has changed from a white arrow to a 4-headed black arrow.   Selecting and moving cells seems to be smoother. Also, the super fast scroll of a sheet has been slowed down so you can control the selection. Excel was already fully featured.                               

In PowerPoint, using designs and ready-made outlines is easy with three panes displayed: outline; slide; and design, color scheme, and transition animations. While the designs are cleaner than before, which makes it easier to see the information being presented, the new animations are overly jazzy. Changing colors of a design takes just a couple of clicks. Presentations can be put on CD with the new Package for CD feature. The new Viewer is put on the CD by default. The Viewer now supports graphics, animations, and media.

Outlook has been redesigned. A left pane displays the folders list combined with tabs for calendar, contacts, and tasks. The middle pane shows the list of emails, which can be sorted in various ways by clicking on the column head “Arranged By.” The message appears in the right pane. Read the Welcome to Microsoft Outlook 2003 message to quickly find out the new stuff. The General tab in Contacts (address book) contains more useful information than before. Changeable label buttons allow the selection of what phone number you want to record. A click on the View menu “Arrange By” allows sorting contacts in a myriad of ways. There’s a new junk-mail filter.

Publisher is used to produce flyers, brochures, cards, and newsletters using design templates. More Word-like functions were added in formatting paragraphs, bullets, and pages. Now Find and Replace searches across stories. Adding empty picture frames and selecting objects behind text boxes can now be done. It even has a Web Site Builder wizard.   However, you still cannot output to Acrobat PDF files.

When Access is opened, it pops up with a cryptic “Security Warning: Unsafe Expressions are not blocked.” If you have a database that has no code in it and does not use any external data (like SQL), click yes and when the next warning comes up, open the file. Otherwise, install the Jet update.

Aside from this annoyance, Access is compatible with Access 2002 and 2000 file formats. The Design Web pages lets you display, update, and work with data on the Web. Themes can be used to give your forms a consistent design. Another nice touch is the new error-checking icon that pops up when an error is found. It gives options to correct the errors.

In summary, the programs are chock-full of old and new features. Good help is available on the Web. If you have Office 97 or Office XP (2000), an upgrade is worth it to be able to use things like Speech Recognition and PowerPoint photo album creation. If you have Office 2002, which has these, the new Outlook might be worth it. And if you get a new computer with Office, it’ll be Office 2003, start learning. Again. For more info go to

Mel Babb a HAL-PC member and is a one-on-one computer software tutor for companies and individuals. Contact her at