Microsoft recently released its next generation Office suite, Office XP. In this article, I will be taking a first look at Microsoft’s flagship business productivity suite, explain some of the new features, and show how the interface has changed over its predecessors.

Just what does XP stand for?
The XP in Office XP stands for eXPerience. The bundled Office suite is collectively referred to as XP; the individual applications, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so forth, are designated as version 2002 (see Figure A).

Figure A
The Microsoft Word version included with Office XP is referred to as Microsoft Word 2002.

An Office face-lift
Microsoft has given this latest Office suite a bit of a makeover. New icons are available, such as the E-mail button in Word; and some icons, such as the Save button, have been redesigned. The standard Office menus no longer have a 3-D look but instead look and feel more Web-like (see Figure B).

Figure B
The menus in each Office XP application have a Web-based look and feel.

Say good-bye to Clippie
Another distinct difference from Office 2000 is the absence of that annoying persona, Clippie (a.k.a. the Office help assistant). A single menu has replaced Clippie (see Figure C), and users can simply enter a question and receive assistance.

Figure C
Office XP has replaced the often-annoying “Office Assistant” with a simple question.

Creating, opening, and editing
The Task pane, located to the right of the screen, is one of my favorite new Office XP features. It is no longer necessary to go through a menu to create a new Word document, open an existing Excel workbook, edit a previous PowerPoint presentation, or add a new network location for templates.

Figure D
Accessing documents has been simplified in Office XP.

Familiar interface shouldn’t confuse users
Users familiar with previous Office versions should not experience much frustration in the move to XP. Most buttons and menu items can be found in the same locations as in Office 2000. The Task pane may take awhile to get used to, but it has a remove option for users who would rather do without it.

Supporting XP
Technicians supporting Office XP will likely experience problems similar to those with previous Office products. XP’s installation is a simple and straightforward process, through either a clean install or an upgrade. Depending on your organization’s Office license, XP may or may not require activation with Microsoft. Enterprise clients can purchase an XP license allowing for the product to be installed on multiple machines without individual activations. Check out Microsoft’s Web site for more information on XP. In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at each Office XP application.

Are you rolling out XP?

If your organization is preparing to roll out Office XP, we want to know about it. When do you plan to perform the rollout and to how many workstations? Post a comment or send us a note and share your experiences.