Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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November 2003, Week 1 -- An Office In A Box



 Office 2003

   We were given a show and tell of the new Microsoft Office Professional 2003 recently. Looks good, but complex.

   As just about everybody knows by now, Office is a coordinated suite of the programs MS Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and Outlook. Coordinated means information entered in any of the components can be made available to any of the other components. This is not a new idea: Microsoft has done several versions of Office before, and in fact if this one, "Office Professional 2003," were labeled with a version number instead of a year, it would be Office 11. This latest version lists for $500 and runs only on Windows XP or 2000. Here are some of the highlights, good, bad and indifferent:


  The best feature is not in the box but on the Internet. It's "Office Online," a web site  that provides tutorials, forms, tips and research tools for Office 2003 users. Let's say you're writing something in Word and you want to know about a stock. Type in the stock symbol, and you get the quote, volume, and other pertinent information in a sidebar. You can also get a brief history of the company, its sales, earnings, locations, number of employees, etc. You can search for articles by or about anyone or any subject, though some of the information services require a fee.


   Word 2003 now lets you protect sections of any document from editing changes. You can also create a list of people who would be allowed to make editing changes if they wished. Since you would naturally like to see what those changes were, you can call up previous versions of any document and see the changes highlighted. You can also protect the formatting.


  Outlook is the Microsoft email program. It has better spam filtering than anything else we've run. A nice feature lets you create a folder that will automatically collect emails from any source, chosen subject or date. Every email from mom or the head of accounting, will automatically drop into that mail slot. You can also create multiple appointment books and calendars in Outlook. They can be business, home, friends, trade shows, etc., and can be viewed side by side. You can make a task list that can be viewed by categories or timeline.


   I'm going to skip "Access," "Excel" and "Publisher," which work pretty much as before. PowerPoint, a presentation program used ad nauseum in business to create computer generated slide shows or flip cards, has a minor change: you can save the presentation directly to CD.


   The bad side of Office is that hardly anyone ever uses more than a few percent of its features. So the question naturally arises: why pay for all this stuff if you don't need it?


   A free trial version of Office 2003 is available for a shipping cost of $7 by going to


A place for everything

 One Note

   Missing from Office 2003, but fulfilling a desire we've heard from hundreds of readers over the years, is "One Note," a random access database.

   This is for people who want to jot down notes. You can enter notes in any order, at any time, and then search the whole set by key words. You can create outlines in any note and add charts, pictures, sound recordings and even web pages. Items can be dragged and dropped into other notes, outlines can be merged or taken apart, etc. If you are one of the few people who have a tablet PC, One Note can record and read your handwriting. At $199 it's expensive, but this program may prove to be more popular than Office itself.


The ultimate firewall?


Alpha Shield



   Over a year ago Saafnet offered $1 million to anyone who could hack through their firewall "Alpha Shield" and plant a worm in a computer. They say it's impregnable, which it may or not be, but no one's collected the money so far.

   AlphaShield is a small box that connects between your computer and modem, or between a network router and the modem. What it does is hide all IP addresses. An IP address is a number that identifies a computer connected to the Internet. Other computers can reach it by homing on that address. If you have a high-speed line, like a cable connection, the address is always the same, because you're always connected; if you have a dial-up connection the address changes every time you dial up.

   The manufacturer claims AlphaShield is the only firewall that successfully blocked the "MS-Blast" worm that disabled a couple hundred thousand computers this past summer. Though we have tried hard to check this claim we have not found any information to the contrary. We did find a claim from the Spanish group, "White Hat Hackers," that the AlphaShield could "potentially" be hacked if attacked while the user was downloading information online. But the approach seemed difficult and was apparently left unrealized.


   Connecting the AlphaShield is simplicity itself. There is no software, just plug the box between the modem and the computer or router and hit the "on" button; cables are provided. The price is $99 and it's a little hard to find; check the web site   for sales locations.


Kid Stuff

   A new "Putt Putt" is out, this one subtitled "Pep's Birthday Surprise." Originally from Humongous, but now under the revived Atari label, the Putt Putt series for small children is the best we've ever reviewed. This one is for ages 3-6, for Win 98 and up; web:

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