Take the manual labour out of Office 2000

MICROSOFT OFFICE 2000 PROFESSIONAL AT A GLANCE. Microsoft Press, Price: pound;12.99. mspress.microsoft.com MICROSOFT OFFICE 2000 PROFESSIONAL FAST amp; EASY. By Diane Koers. Prima Publishing, Price: pound;15.49. www.primatech.com TEACH YOURSELF WORD 2000. By Moira Stephen. TEACH YOURSELF EXCEL 2000. By Moira Stephen. TEACH YOURSELF POWERPOINT 2000. By Rachel Kirk. Hodder amp; Stoughton. Price: pound;7.99. orders@bookpoint.co.uk LEARN OFFICE 2000 CD-Rom. BTL Publishing. Price: pound;19.99. www.bradtech.com

Fantastic program, pity about the manual, is the verdict on Microsoft's Office. But there are other information sources, finds Andrew Doe.

Microsoft's Office is one of the most powerful home-office packages ever written. Every time a version comes out, a new collection of advanced features appears, all integrated to produce even more amazing results.

Unfortunately, this also means Office is a complicated piece of software. Whether you are using it for the first time or simply upgrading from an old version, Office 2000 has a lot to get your head around. So it's little surprise a variety of products offer advice.

Microsoft's tutor book, Office 2000 Professional At A Glance, is a remarkably readable volume when you consider how stunningly unhelpful the manual that comes with the program is. It starts with the basics before taking you through some of the more advanced features. Each teaching point is outlined at the side of the page so you can skip stuff you don't need or know already and much of the information in the tip boxes turns out to be uncommonly useful. Also to its credit, it is comprehensively cross-referenced to help you learn about related points and I found no serious omissions in the comprehensive 21-page index.

Prima Tech's equivalent, Microsoft Office 2000 fast and easy, is a similarly well-structured manual, also printed in the blue-grey ink that has bizarrely become a staple of PC publications. It's so highly ordered it needs two contents sctions - the first 12 pages long, then an "at a glance summary" - but once you get stuck in it's pretty straightforward and takes you through features common to Office before getting down to specifics. If all you wanted to do was type a letter, this could be very frustrating, but as a tutorial course it is quite effective. The book is also nicely laid out and doesn't bombard you with jargon.

The popular series of Teach Yourself guides now includes a set of books on Office 2000. Unlike the other two books, there is a separate volume for each program within Office, making this cheaper if you want to learn one program by itself, but a little pricey if you want to learn the lot. A more annoying result of this is that the books are much smaller and tend to flip shut as you let go of them and reach for your mouse to try out what it suggests.

The chapters are well organised and each opens with a summary of its aims, so you know if you want to read it. The book's small size makes some of its illustrations crowded and confusing, but it provides an adequate basic introduction and offers more practical help than the official instruction manual.

For those who really believe in learning about computers from computers, you can buy software such at BTL's Learn Office 2000 for on-screen tuition. This has the advantage of being more interactive than the books (unless you try things as you read them) and is certainly a bit more exciting. It works well as a systematic guide from scratch provided you have already mastered basic mouse skills, but can be frustrating if you are reasonably familiar with previous versions and want to bone up on something specific about the latest edition.

If that is where you start, bear in mind that Office 2000 probably has the most advanced interactive help page of any software. Once you've worked out how to use this, your pricey tutor book may gather dust anyway. Perhaps that's why they don't put a decent one in the box.

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