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Programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation software are commonly grouped into office suites. We've mainly used the programs from the Microsoft Office 2000 suite for examples in this book. But there are plenty of other office suites you might run into. In this section, we introduce you to some of the alternatives.
Microsoft came up with the idea of an integrated suite of office applications, and Office 2000 is a mature example of the Microsoft Office suite. In a suite, all the applications share certain common elements: For example, the toolbar buttons to cut, copy, and paste data look the same in every Office application. Suites typically make it easy to share data between applications. For example, you can cut data from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and paste it into a Microsoft Word document. We've used Office 2000 for most of the examples in this book because of its wide distribution in business settings.
Office XP is an updated version of Office 2000 that came out in late 2001. A few organizations migrated from Office 2000 to Office XP, but there's very little difference between the two so many business opted not to upgrade. Office XP features a few user interface innovations such as the "task pane" that you can see at the right side of Microsoft Word in Figure 1.5. If you're familiar with Office 2000, you won't have any trouble using Office XP.
In late 2003, Microsoft released Office 2003, another version of the popular Office suite. This version includes many new collaboration features to make it easier for groups to work together on shared documents and a major overhaul of the email program Microsoft Outlook. But apart from some polish to the user interface, with a rounder, softer look, it's still basically the same set of applications as Office 2000. Your skills will move easily from one to the other.
Like Windows, Office has been through several versions over the past decade , including Office 4.3, Office 95, and Office 97. The older versions are very similar to the current ones, although they are less complex and have fewer features. You might run into things that are difficult or impossible to do with an older version when compared to a current version of Office. If that's the case, it's worth seeing whether your employer is willing to upgrade to one of the more current versions.
Microsoft Works is Microsoft's lower-cost Office suite. The Works suite shares the Microsoft Word word processor with the full version of Office, but it has its own, less-capable spreadsheet and database applications. Works is primarily marketed to home computer users, rather than businesses, and comes preinstalled on some low-cost computers. You're unlikely to see Works in a business setting.
In its heyday, WordPerfect captured a sizeable portion of the word processing market, before it was overtaken by Microsoft Word. Now WordPerfect survives as the word processor of choice in some industries, notably the legal profession. WordPerfect is now owned by Corel, who has put it together with the Quattro Pro spreadsheet (created by Borland) and some other applications to compete with Microsoft Office. WordPerfect Office is now preinstalled on some new business PCs.
Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org/) provides a free alternative Office suite that runs on the Linux operating system, as well as on Windows. Although it tends to lag a bit behind the major commercial office suites in features, Open Office is now a reasonably mature productivity suite that's being successfully used in many businesses. If you're using Linux as your operating system, this office suite is probably best for you. Sun Microsystems also distributes a version of Open Office under the name Star Office.
SmartSuite was an attempt by Lotus Corporation to challenge Microsoft and WordPerfect in the office arena, before Lotus was acquired by IBM. Lotus includes the 1-2-3 spreadsheet, the Word Pro word processor, and a bunch of other applications. IBM continues to sell and improve SmartSuite, but it's not a major force in the office suite market.
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