Build Your Skills: Five things every tech should know about Microsoft Office 2003

Be aware of what's different in Office 2003 especially those features that are likely to result in support calls.

With Microsoft Office 2003 set to launch in October, users are eagerly anticipating its new features. For support technicians, new features may mean new problems to solve, so it's important for techs to be aware of what's different in Office 2003—especially those changes that are likely to result in support calls.

Why can't I open this document?
Users of Windows operating systems and previous versions of Office are used to security features. Most have had the experience of having access to a file denied because they didn't have the proper NTFS or share permissions, and many have encountered password-protected documents or those encrypted with Encrypting File System (EFS). Office 2003 adds yet another layer of security, which means another layer of troubleshooting when a user is unable to open a document.

The Office 2003 Professional versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint support Information Rights Management (IRM), which works in conjunction with the Windows Server 2003 Rights Management Service (RMS). IRM lets the creator of a document set rights on the document to control not only who can access it, but also how they can access it. Copying or printing can be prohibited, or a date can be set for access to expire.

If a user complains of any of the following, the Rights Management feature is a likely culprit:
  • Attempts to open the document result in the message Permission For This Document Is Currently Restricted.
  • The user can open the document but the Print, Save, and Save As commands are grayed out.
  • The user was previously able to open the document but can no longer do so.

Note that even if the user has been given the right to open a protected document, he or she must be using Office 2003 or have the Rights Management add-on for Internet Explorer installed and must have the Rights Management client software installed. If a user tries to open the document in an earlier version of Office, he or she will see the message shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Documents restricted via IRM can only be opened in Office 2003 or later or in Internet Explorer with the RM add-on.

Rights are set through the Permission selection on the File menu.

More about IRM
For more information about how IRM works, see the Information Rights Management page on Microsoft's Web site. For a step-by-step guide to using IRM, TechProGuild members can read my article, "Control your documents with Office 2003's Information Rights Management".

Help! My formatting commands don't work
Although using IRM requires access to an RMS server, there are other new security features in Word 2003 that can be used by anyone. For example, in addition to password-protecting document content, you can now restrict formatting and editing of the document.

If a user complains that after using the password to open a password-protected document he or she can't type in additional material, can't delete, and can't make any other changes, it's likely that the creator set editing restrictions on the document. If the user complains that the formatting commands (Bold, Italic, Underline, Right and Left Justify, Center, Bullet List, Numbered List, and so forth) are grayed out, it's likely that the creator set formatting restrictions on the document. Formatting restrictions (also called style locking) can be set to allow and disallow individual styles, so some formatting commands might be grayed out (as shown in Figure B) while others are available. When formatting is restricted, keyboard shortcuts such as [CTRL]B won't work, either.

Figure B

The Protect Document task pane shows which (if any) styles are available. In this case, none are.

Note that password protection does not prevent a user from saving the document with the same or a different name, and a user who knows the password can unprotect the document to remove the restrictions. Also note that, although you can password protect the contents of a PowerPoint presentation, you cannot restrict editing or formatting through this mechanism. You can only password protect an Excel spreadsheet for structure and/or windows.

My Smart Tag stopped working
The Smart Tags feature has been a useful part of Office since Office XP, using XML to recognize certain groups of characters as specific types of data (e.g., recognizing 214-555-1234 as a telephone number, May 15, 2003 as a date, or John Smith as a person) and then allowing you to perform actions based on the data type.

Developers can create tags for specific purposes. Unlike Office XP, the Office 2003 applications support expiring smart tags. Thus the developer of a tag can set it to expire at a specified date and time. For this reason, some smart tags that previously worked may stop working because they have expired.

Another new type of smart tag supported by Office 2003 is the unsavable tag. If a user complains that a tag is active when he or opens the document, but saving the document doesn't save the tag with it, it is probably a tag that was designed to be unsavable to protect the confidentiality of the information in the tag.

Problems with the Research service
Another new feature of Office 2003 is the Research service, which works in the following 2003 applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Visio, and OneNote. It is invoked via the Research selection on the Tools menu, which opens a Research task pane at the right of the document. This is an expansion on the Look Up Reference feature of Office XP.

There are a number of support issues that pertain to the Research service. For example:
  • When a user adds a research service, it might not appear in the Search For list. That's because the user needs to select the check box for the service in the Research Options dialog box to turn it on, as shown in Figure C.
  • The Remove button for some services might be grayed out in Research Options. This is because services such as the Thesaurus or Translation service must be uninstalled through Office Setup.
  • If a user adds a research service while the Research pane is open in multiple programs, changes might not show up in all the panes. The user might have to close and reopen the program (not just the Research pane) to get them to show up.

Figure C
An added service won't show up in the Search for list until it's been turned on by selecting its checkbox.

Need info about Research service?
Click here for more information about how the Research service works in Office 2003.

Problems with shared workspaces
Office 2003 is more closely integrated than ever with SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server. You can create and work with shared workspaces (document and meeting workspaces) from within Word, PowerPoint, and Excel 2003.

Because this is a new feature, it may cause confusion for some users. It is important to understand that the shared workspace task pane is a viewer that lets users see parts of a SharePoint Web site without having to use the Web browser. A shared workspace is simply a SharePoint site.

The shared workspace, by its very nature, can be used by multiple users. The task pane must be updated to ensure that users can see everything that's been added by other users. If a user assigns another user a task, and the second user doesn't see it in the task pane, he or she will need to click Get Updates to find the current information. Office can be configured to check for updates automatically, but this must be configured through the Options | Workspace Updates section in the task pane. Additionally, the Document Update utility must be installed; this is done through Add Or Remove Programs in Control Panel, by adding or removing the feature in Office 2003.

Learn more about shared workspaces
Click here for more information about troubleshooting shared workspaces.

About Deb Shinder

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

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