A Closer Look at Word and Excel 2003 - Page 2

By Patricia Fusco
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What's New in Excel 2003?

While some may dispute that numbers and subsequently their keepers don't have souls, accountant's spirits will be lifted by one of Excel 2003's new functions. Microsoft has finally found a way to keep column titles on-screen. With the 2003 edition of Excel, there are no more disappearing column titles — you can freeze or lock column titles in place. So if you're scrolling up, down or across a vast a spreadsheet, you still know which column is what.

Also new to Excel 2003 is the ability to compare side-by-side spreadsheets. This feature allows you to compare budgets in the same window (shown below). Scrolling is mirrored between the two spreadsheets, so it's easy to compare different department budgets in one view. For example, after opening two workbooks in the same window, when you scroll in one worksheet, Excel automatically scrolls the same amount of cells in the second worksheet. Because you can see the same locations in both worksheets at the same time, it's no trouble at all to compare the differences between the two.

One particularly neat function built into Excel 2003 is a "Quick Auto Sum Calculator." By highlighting a group of data and selecting the function, you can add the numbers together, or average a minimum or maximum range of numbers. How many times have you been in a spreadsheet only to have to open up your desktop calculator to do a little quick math? While at first glance this appears to be an innocuous function in a spreadsheet, it really is a handy tool to have at the ready.

For those of you that are tired of typing the same lists over and over again, or copying and pasting lists from one spreadsheet to another, Excel 2003 comes equipped to fill in the blanks. Months of the year, days of the week, and even your company's sales regions or employee names are automatically entered. All you have to do is type in one or two entries, and Excel completes the rest of the list.

Conditional formatting is another new feature in Excel 2003. Conditional formatting allows you to make certain values jump out on the page when the conditions are right. You can quickly see what you're looking for in a large mass of data. Let's say that you want look at sales of items under-25 units. Conditional formatting allows you to set the parameters of the program to make underachieving sales figures "Bold Red," for example, and sub-par sales stand out on the spreadsheet in bold, red type.

To setup conditional formatting, you start by selecting the column that contains the sales numbers and then click "Conditional Formatting" on the "Format" menu. The conditional formatting dialog box is rather large and a little intimidating at first, because it's built to take into account of a lot of possible conditions. But once you know which boxes and buttons to pay attention to, it's relatively easy to use.

First you choose the cell value conditions to trigger the conditional formatting by selecting "less than" and typing "25." Then you click the "Format" button to pick "Bold Red" formatting for any values less than 25. Now Excel knows that the condition that triggers bold red formatting is any value that is less than 25 units in the sales column.

You can add up to three conditions to a cell or a given range of cells. Whether it's good or bad sales, rising or falling sales figures, or anything else you want to be sure to notice, conditional formatting is an easy way to call your attention to the data that matters the most to you. Then you can quickly tell when to hand out congratulations for a job well done or take steps to stop the damage when the news is bad.

What's New in Both Word and Excel 2003
The level of assistance that both Word and Excel 2003 provide is impressive. Not that Clippit, Links the Cat or The Dot have been replaced — you can still activate these helpful animated office assistants to nag you about saving files and such. However, these office assistants are turned off by default. To show an Office Assistant, simply click "Help" and select "show" Office Assistant.

What's really helpful is the ability to search for assistance. A small text box in the upper right corner of both applications allows you to type in what sort of assistance you need and a dialogue box opens up with a slew of options — one of which will likely answer your question.

Also new is the ability to fax directly from any application within Office 2003. Fax over Internet allows you to send and receive faxes using a third party Internet fax service. The entry point is from the "File" menu, simply point to "Send To" and click on the recipient using Internet fax service.

What's Missing?
Neither Word nor Excel 2003 allows you to convert text to PDFs. Also missing from the Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition is support for XML document creation. XML features, except for saving files as XML documents, are available only in Microsoft Office 2003 Professional editions. Not that small-businesses are aching to attach an XML schema to any document. It's just that the Small Business Edition doesn't allow for the option to do so.

There you have it — Word and Excel, the heart and soul of Microsoft Office 2003, the Small Business Edition. At this time, Microsoft remains tight-lipped about the pricing and release date of its heralded business productivity suite. Let's just hope the heart and soul of this year's "break though" in small business computing doesn't end up costing an arm and a leg.

Next week, we take a look at Microsoft's 2003 updates of Publisher and PowerPoint, two other elements that comprise the Small Business Edition.

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This article was originally published on July 29, 2003
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