By Leonard Fischer
Gannett News Service
Microsoft's new Office 2004 suite for Macintosh is more than a tool for business people.
The $149 Student and Teacher edition is a bargain for families with students who need to create documents, crunch numbers and design presentations, including ones that need to be exchanged with folks in the Windows world.
Project Center is the hub of Office 2004's new capabilities and a great tool for students, who will find it helpful for organizing semester-long term papers, for instance.
The price: standard edition, $399; $239 upgrade; student/teacher edition $149, no upgrade.
Teachers also might use it to manage students' assignments.
Project Center tracks project deadlines and manages related e-mails, files, tasks and other information.
A Project Wizard makes it easy to set up a project, organizing files and e-mails scattered across a hard disk or network in a central location.
As impressive as Project Center is, everyone on the project team needs to be using a Mac and Office 2004 to take advantage of it. Windows Office users aren't invited to this party, which might be a downer in settings where both PCs and Macs are used.
Despite Project Center's Mac exclusivity, Office 2004 boasts excellent compatibility with current and previous versions of Office for Windows. Compatibility Reports, a new tool, flags potential glitches and offers suggestions for preventing them when sharing files with Windows users.
As in previous versions, Office 2004 includes Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets, PowerPoint for presentations, Entourage for e-mail and managing contacts and calendars, and MSN Messenger for instant messaging.
New & improved
All of Office's tools have been enhanced with new features and other improvements.
Word, for example, adds a notebook layout view, with lined pages that resemble notebook paper and tabs to organize pages by topic. Notebook view provides color-coded outlining tools ideal for students who need to take lecture notes. Notebook users also can add audio notes with a single click if their Mac has a microphone.
Excel's new features include a page layout view that solves the often tricky task of printing large worksheets across multiple sheets of paper.
Excel also adds improvements that give users more options for customizing the look of charts and graphs, including stunning transparency effects.
Transparency, improved animations and new transition styles are among the new features in PowerPoint, which also sports more than 100 new presentation templates. PowerPoint's most impressive new feature, though, is Presenter Tools, which shows the active slide, an on-screen timer, a thumbnail of the slide that's up next and a presenter's notes on a single, uncluttered screen.
Despite all of its new features, Office 2004 is easy to learn and use thanks to drop-and-drag installation and tutorials that explain many of the suite's special capabilities. On-screen tools are well organized, but transparency effects that dim inactive toolboxes might be distracting for some users.
Performance and stability in the new Office appear to be excellent. The suite's individual programs started up quickly and ran smoothly on a variety of Macs. Overall, performance seems a notch above the previous version.
With polished, easy-to-use tools for professionals, students and anyone in between, Office 2004 is must-have software for anyone who uses a Mac. Existing owners will find the upgrade well worth the price, and the Student and Teacher version is a bargain for families thanks to the liberal license policy that allows it to be installed on as many as three computers.
About Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac:
Free test drive available at www.microsoft.com/mac
Price: Standard edition: $399; $239 upgrade; Student/teacher edition: $149; no upgrade.
Score: four and a half stars out of five
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