The New View Inside Win95

Will you rush out and buy Windows 95 as soon as it hits the stores?

For many people, the answer will depend on whether the much-vaunted operating system is complemented by improved word processors, spreadsheets, and other applications programs. That's a big reason Microsoft Corp. is rolling out new versions of Word, Excel, and its Office suite of programs on Aug. 24, the day Win95 is launched. After using the Word and Excel upgrades for several weeks, I find the enhancements solid and well thought out. But I suspect that most people, particularly corporate information technology managers, will conclude that the improvements by themselves don't quite justify an immediate upgrade to Win95.

LONGER FILE NAME. Microsoft is partly a victim of its own success. The current version of Office was introduced just last year, and the most-used components, the Word 6.0 word processor and Excel 5.0 spreadsheet, don't leave much room for easy improvement. The standard upgrade of Office 95, which will cost $209 after a rebate, also includes new versions of the PowerPoint presentation graphics program and the Schedule+ information management and group scheduling program. A "professional" edition, due this fall for $309, adds a new version of the Access database manager. Like its predecessor, Office 95 needs 8 megabytes of RAM to run, and more is better. The standard edition will claim at least 55 megabytes of hard disk space. (Microsoft Works, a slimmed-down software package, will offer $45 upgrades.)

In designing the new Word and Excel, available separately as upgrades for $109 each, Microsoft wisely avoided cramming in new features to programs already facing feature overload. It made the obvious changes to take advantage of Win95, especially allowing file names of up to 255 characters, a vast improvement over the old 8-character limit.

The most important changes are designed to make the programs easier to use rather than more powerful. For example, there has been no easy way to scroll quickly to a specific page of a long Word document or to a specific cell of a big spreadsheet. The new versions add a little box that shows the current page you are working on when you scroll in Word or the current row or column in Excel. Some annoying behavior of earlier versions also has been changed. Excel, for example, replaced a frustrating method of formatting numbers with a simple choose-by-example method.

POWERPOINT PLUS. Word does include truly cool new spell-check features. When you misspell a word, the program underlines it with a red squiggle. Click on the word with the right mouse button and you get suggestions for a correction or the option of adding the word to your dictionary. And if you begin typing with the caps lock on, Word will not only correct the capitalization but also will turn the caps lock off for you.

Unlike Word and Excel, PowerPoint software has undergone a major overhaul. New features include improved support for animation and multimedia presentations and enhanced ability to add annotations and notes during presentations. Schedule+, a completely rewritten version of a program that was formerly part of Windows for Workgroups, now contains powerful tools for maintaining a group calendar.

Fortunately for companies that use mainly Word and Excel, Microsoft has made it easy to phase in the new software. Files produced by the new versions are interchangeable with those of Word 6.0 and Excel 5.0, allowing convenient mixing of old and new programs. If you'll be upgrading to Win95 as soon as it's available, the new Office program could be a welcome and powerful addition. But unless you skipped the most recent previous upgrades of these programs, I wouldn't blame you if you waited to let others tell you about the pitfalls in these latest versions.

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