Microsoft's Office 95 is a great improvement on previous versions, writes Mike Treadaway.
Following quickly on the release of Windows 95 came new versions of Microsoft's popular Office package, comprising Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Office Professional combines these three with the Access database package. Are they a great improvement on the previous versions? The answer has to be a resounding "Yes", but only if you have a computer capable of running them.
The bad news is that unless you have a fast processor (486 at least, preferably a Pentium) with a fast hard disc and at least eight megabytes of memory (16 is more realistic), then you may as well ignore Office 95 completely. Installation can use between 30 and 120 megabytes of hard disc space, depending upon how many of the different options you install.
If you have a system capable of running this software, then I would seriously consider upgrading or moving to Office 95. Having used the packages for nearly 18 months now, I wouldn't be without many of the features. It's not that the new facilities sit up and make themselves obvious on first use. Indeed, an initial reaction might be "I could do all of this with the previous versions". While this is not the case - there are a significant number of new features - the most attractive part of the Office 95 suite is the way in which many common tasks are simplified or become automatic. Increasing ease of use and productivity is a stated design goal and the company has achieved much in this area.
In Word, spelling is now checked automatically with a red line appearing under any word not recognised; this can be checked immediately or left until a full spell-check later. Starting a list, using bullets or numbers, results in the paragraph format being set automatically, so that the next line appears with the next number on the list; entering a blank line returns to normal format.
Excel now senses entries in a list and attempts to complete automatically the entry based upon the first few characters as they are typed - useful if you are setting up spreadsheets with lots of text entries (such as names).
AutoCorrect, a feature which first appeared in Word 6, checks for common typing mistakes. A facility which may well be of interest to geographers is DataMap, which enables map-based displays of data to be generated easily - the only disadvantage being that the map data supplied covers only countries and large regions, with more detailed datasets being available atadditional cost.
PowerPoint, in my view always one of the better and easier to use presentation graphics packages, has been extended to include a much wider range of effects, with better support for the inclusion of multimedia - sound and video as well as images and text. If you want to create a presentation quickly, then an interactive help system offers a range of choices. This could be useful as a teaching aid in terms of understanding the need to communicate effectively to a range ofaudiences.
Perhaps the most changed is Access, which is now a more mature product, with a far wider range of interactive help facilities. for example, it is now far easier to import data from other packages (spreadsheets or databases). A very useful utility can be used to suggest changes to an imported database - such as splitting a large table into smaller ones or indexing fields to speed up operation.
Overall, Office 95 is a significantly more capable product. The only significant disadvantage (apart from requiring at least 12 megabytes of memory to run) is that files are not compatible with, and cannot be saved in, earlier Access formats.
Office 97, due soon (test copies are already available), is likely to bring further refinements, although it may require still more powerful hardware. Until then, Office 95 represents a significant step forward in terms of usability with a fair number of extra functions. Good value - especially at Microsoft's academic prices - unless you have to buy a newcomputer to run them.
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Microsoft stands 221, 231