By Jerry Honeycutt

Steer your way through deploying Office XP, and you just might feel that Microsoft had been in the passenger seat when you navigated the twists and turns of implementing Office 2000. It’s almost as though the folks in Redmond were there to hear each cuss and complaint and to get an earful each time you took their company’s name in vain. Microsoft actually listened to your gripes about deploying Office 2000 and, in this revision of the suite, removed many of the roadblocks that slowed deployment of earlier Office releases.

With Office XP, Microsoft offers new and improved tools to ease the process of putting Office to work in an enterprise environment. There are new wizards that will keep you off the command line and out of trouble as well as easier and more effective implementation of security features.

CNET and TechRepublic

This article first appeared on CNET’s Enterprise Business site. TechRepublic is part of the CNET family of Web sites dedicated to educating and empowering people and businesses in the IT field.

In this article, we describe some of Office XP’s most important new deployment features. For more on the specific features of Office XP’s applications, see “Office XP: suite enough?”.

If you’re responsible for ensuring a smooth transition to the new Office or if you’re still on the fence about upgrading, read on. Microsoft has done its homework, and the results should translate into a relatively easy upgrade for most enterprises.

Toolkit wizardry
Your first step in planning your Office XP deployment is to pick up Microsoft’s Office XP Resource Kit (ORK). This free toolkit is perhaps the most generous perk for deployment planners and is more complete than the similar offering for Office 2000. For example, the ORK includes the Setup INI Customization Wizard, a tool you can use to customize Setup.ini. (See Figure A.) Setup.exe and Setup.ini play bigger roles in the installation process, so this tool is very important. For example, this wizard lets you add additional packages to Setup.ini so that Setup.exe will install all of them. This greatly reduces the time you’ll spend tinkering with command lines and, in turn, is likely to cut down on missteps.

Figure A
The Setup INI Customization Wizard helps you control setup behavior and join other setup programs to those of Office XP.

You can use the Custom Installation Wizard (CIW) to build transforms—files with the MST file extension that script the installation of Office XP. This works similarly to Office 2000, but CIW now does more. It creates default user settings (no more OPS files), Outlook profiles are simpler, and security is up-front and easy to configure. The biggest improvement is the new feature-installation states, Not Available, Hidden, and Locked, which prevent users from installing a feature that you want to withhold (not possible with Office 2000, even if you hid the feature). (See Figure B.) And two new states help you prevent users from hitting the network too hard: Disable Run From Network and Disable Install On First Use. System managers will love this stuff.

Figure B
Office XP’s Custom Installation Wizard (CIW) offers new feature installation states and properties that give you more control over installation.

Office 2000’s version of the Custom Maintenance Wizard (CMW) only allowed you to change feature-installation states. Office XP’s much-improved edition lets you change virtually any setting that you deployed. (See Figure C.) You can update user settings, security, Outlook profiles, or pretty much anything from a single console. You must still find a way to deploy the CMW command line to users’ desktops, though; try logon scripts, software distribution software, and so forth.

Figure C
The Custom Maintenance Wizard (CMW) now lets you change most settings after deployment.

The ORK includes additional tools of marginal usefulness. The MST File Viewer, OPS File Viewer, and CMW File Viewer are examples. These viewers let you see what’s in a deployment file by dumping their contents to a text file that you can view with Notepad. But you can’t edit them.

Office in a lock box
So, you didn’t implement all of Office 2000’s security features but still had the nerve to complain every time you caught another bug. At least that seems to be Microsoft’s point of view, so Office XP will force-feed you its security features. For instance, Outlook quarantines dangerous attached files (COM, EXE, VBS, JS, REG, and so on) so that users can’t open them. Users could get around this by zipping quarantined file types before mailing them, or you can use policies to change the types of files that Outlook quarantines. Other security features are similarly stringent.

Figure D
Security isn’t an afterthought when deploying Office XP; the Custom Installation Wizard (CIW) makes available security options easy to access.

Office XP makes the most important security features so visible and easy to configure that there is no excuse for skirting security. (See Figure D above.) You can create default security settings with CIW and then configure them using the System Policies or Group Policy tools. (The resource kit comes with the policy templates.) If you use the following recommendations, you’re virtually guaranteed to remain bug-free, even without a virus scanner.

  • Don’t trust installed templates and add-ins. This prevents code from running unchecked just because it’s in the templates directory.
  • Lock the list of trusted sources to prevent users from adding sources your company doesn’t want.
  • Set the security level to high in every program. This will prevent users from running code that isn’t in the list of trusted sources.
  • Add Microsoft and any developer you trust to the list of trusted sources so that you will be able to use built-in and custom solutions.

These security settings, which all appear on the same screen in CIW, aren’t without their problems. For example, your custom solutions won’t run unless you send them back to the developers for digital signatures so that you can add the developers to your list of trusted sources. Also, users can’t sign their own macros using Selfcert.exe. If either of these appears likely to be an issue in your organization, don’t lock the list of trusted sources. However, instruct users about what to do when they see security warnings.

What you don’t have to worry about
Office XP is easier to use and much more helpful than previous versions. So despite a bunch of new and advanced features, you probably won’t have to increase your help desk staff to support Office. (See Figure E.) In fact, Office XP may give your help desk staff a well-deserved break, with features, such as the Task Pane, that will provide users with enough guidance to eliminate some help desk calls. Your support staff can also use the same tool that Microsoft employed to log bugs during Office XP’s beta testing. You can activate this error-reporting feature, redirect the reports to a local network, and then analyze them using another handy ORK tool: Corporate Error Reporting.

One of the most ballyhooed Office XP features, SharePoint Team Services, is also a breeze to deploy. That’s because this workgroup collaborative facility is so easy to set up and manage that anyone in the workgroup can do it from his or her own workstation.

Figure E
The Custom Installation Wizard (CIW) now lets you change user settings without using an OPS file.

Another nonissue is product activation—although it’s gotten a lot of mileage in the press and Microsoft has been roundly criticized for its new licensing policies. But product activation is not an issue for most large-scale enterprise deployments. Microsoft sells two lines of the Office XP suite: retail and enterprise. Enterprise editions support the resource kit and, more importantly, allow bypass licensing. This means that volume-licensing customers will use an enterprise edition and bypass key to build distribution points. Users aren’t asked for a product key and aren’t asked to activate the app.

Office XP’s deployment features not only make it better to implement the suite but they also ease ongoing maintenance and support. Better deployment tools, improved management using feature-installation states, much tighter customization, and stronger security all add up to a nearly effortless deployment.

Microsoft’s Deployment Planning Blueprint is the best place to start your Office XP deployment planning. It’s a planning template, but it’s also a thorough guide to the new deployment features and issues.

When will you roll out Office XP?

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CNET originally published this document on June 11, 2001.