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After years of waiting, Microsoft has finally released its newest operating system for PCs and laptops, Windows Vista, as well as the 2007 Microsoft Office series of applications. Windows Vista promised to be the most secure, powerful and feature-rich Windows yet, and 2007 Microsoft Office offers more application options than ever before. But is your firm prepared for what these 2007 desktop products have to offer?

Windows Vista

As you may know, the operating system (OS) is crucial to your PC’s operations since it is the “brain” that makes the PC’s hardware components work together and interface with other devices, such as printers, scanners, etc. Without an OS, a PC is merely a lump of metal and plastic capable of nothing. Windows Vista is the successor to Windows XP.

Like Windows XP, Windows Vista comes in many flavors. There are three versions suited for business, depending on the organization’s size: Business, Ultimate and Enterprise.

All three business-oriented versions benefit from the following two major improvements:

Improved security features that greatly reduce potential infections from computer viruses and other malicious activities; and

A comprehensive, fast-searching tool to help you quickly locate information both on your PC and on the Web.

How do these versions differ? The Business version incorporates features designed to benefit the business worker, including sophisticated backup of and remote connectivity to the PC. The Ultimate version includes everything and appeals to those who want no compromises in features. Enterprise is specially designed for complex corporate environments. It can completely encrypt a hard drive, support all worldwide interface languages and has a special hook for Unix programs. Note: Unlike the other versions, it is only available through Volume Licensing with Software Assurance coverage.

To learn more about all of the Windows Vista features, visit http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista.

Once you determine which version to use, the next question is whether you can upgrade or whether you need new hardware. As you can imagine, the hardware requirements for Windows Vista are higher than for Windows XP. Regrettably, many older PCs and laptops will fail to support the new Aero 3-D graphical interface and also may not have enough memory to perform well.

Any new PC or laptop should be Windows Vista capable, with the following minimum requirements:

One GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor;

One GB of system memory;

Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum), Pixel Shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel;

40 GB of hard drive capacity with 15 GB of free space;

DVD-ROM drive;

Audio output capability; and

Internet access capability.

After deciding on a version and whether to upgrade or purchase new equipment, be prepared to invest some time in learning Windows Vista. Even though the improved interface promises to be more productive, it will take awhile to adapt to new ways of doing things. The menus, for example, have a completely new interface. So before introducing Windows Vista into your firm, consider how users will be trained.

2007 Microsoft Office

Along with Windows Vista, Microsoft has introduced its 2007 Microsoft Office series of applications. Major changes and enhancements have been made to your familiar Word and Excel programs. Also, the line of Office suites has been extended, affording you more options.

As with previous versions of Office, there are six bundled suites to choose from for business use. However, if you need Outlook, then your choices are limited to just three: Standard, Professional Plus and Enterprise.

Which of these three versions is the best choice for your firm? Each version has a different set of applications bundled into it. The Standard version offers users exactly that – the standard 2007 Microsoft Office applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

The Professional Plus suite offers users these four standard applications. It also allows them to create high-quality publications with Publisher 2007; store databases, analyze and report on data with Access 2007; use smart forms to gather data with InfoPath 2007; and use instant messages plus voice and video management with Communicator 2007.

The Enterprise version encompasses all of the applications available in the Professional Plus version, but adds to the mix Groove 2007, which allows users to create team workspaces for real-time collaboration, as well as OneNote 2007, which allows digital notebooks to be produced to collect notes and other information.

Visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/suites to learn the specifics about the various versions and to see the demos.

You should be aware of three important things before you install and migrate to the new 2007 Microsoft Office.

First, in an effort to increase productivity, the look and feel has changed dramatically in 2007 Microsoft Office. For example, when you hover over different styles, the text will immediately change to reflect what it would look like using that style. This preview capability is supposed to make it easier for you to see the outcomes of your choices before actually applying them. Of course, as with any change, there will be a learning curve as you try to figure out where everything is. You can certainly expect a reduction in productivity, so plan on some time for training.

Second, the file format has been changed, too. Files saved in Word, Excel and other 2007 Microsoft Office applications are now stored in an XML format. You will see the difference when saving files. For example, they will be appended with “.docx” instead of “.doc” in Word. This new format is not natively compatible with previous versions of Office. So exchanging files between 2007 Microsoft Office and any other version of Office requires conversion. Microsoft has provided a handy download on its Web site — “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack” converter for Office 2003 — that will allow you to work with 2007 Microsoft Office files in the non-XML format. As you can imagine, document conversion could become a cumbersome activity.

Lastly, check with your third-party software vendors to make sure that any add-ins, such as a Word document construction package or a marketing mass mailer for Outlook, will work in 2007 Microsoft Office. You may find that a patch or even an upgrade is required.

Edward J. Grubb is general manager, legal managed services, of mindSHIFT Technologies, a provider of managed IT services, software-as-a-service (SaaS), VoIP, compliance and professional services to small and medium-sized organizations. The company also provides business application migrations, storage area network upgrades and complex hosting applications solutions. With more than 20 years’ experience in law office computing, Grubb is the former president and co-founder of Network Alternatives Inc. (NAI) in Langhorne, Pa. Contact Grubb at [email protected].

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