LAW OFFICE COMPUTING
The hot concept of 1997 is the notion of an intranet over which the firm distributes information and organizes it's affairs. Intranets are self contained distribution systems that operate behind a so called "fire wall" or some other form of security. When an intranet connects to another limited network outside of the enterprise it becomes known as an extranet which will be the hot word for next year. And, if it connects to the world it does so via the "Internet".But whether you call your private network an intranet or an extranet they share a common interface with the Internet which depends for its popular usage upon the use of what has become known as a Web Browser, the computer interface that allows anybody to access the Internet via the World Wide Web. The Web Browser motif is now a familiar one to almost anyone who has a computer and a child under the age of eighteen. The Web Browser will be the dominant interface used by every computer user within the next year. The "Memphis" version of Microsoft Windows, probably "Windows '98", will move the desk top interface to the Web Browser motif. Thus all documents and resources that one seeks will be found in the browser interface and hyperlinked to an organizing screen or "homepage".When you write a brief next year, you will use the Web Browser motif or a variation on it. In short, the idea of hyperlinked access to information is an idea that is moving forward like a runaway train. You can't stop it and it you don't want to. It is a positive change for all of us. Nobody can predict with precision exactly what that new interface will look like. Its development is moving forward rapidly and is incremental in nature. But there is wide agreement that this is the stuff of revolution. The first increment is the publication of Office '97 by Microsoft. By looking at Office '97 we are able to see a glimpse of the future in which all functions are linked together and are accessible with a mouse click. .
The Wall Street Journal's personal computing expert recently wrote a pretty scathing review of Outlook which is really the integrative core of Office '97. He pointed out a few problems and bugs and recommended that buyers wait until the next version arrives, probably next year. I think that would be a big mistake for no other reason than that it would put off your entry into the brave new world of intranet technology offered by the Office '97 suite. I am convinced that this technology is the Law Office Technology of the remainder of the century. I am convinced that this will change the way we all work in as profound a way as did the advent of the computer itself. Moreover, I am convinced that this technology is so easy to use and so powerfully functional that even the most timid , technophobic among us will be dragged kicking and screaming into the computer era.
If you're interested in starting to work with the amazing integrative powers of the new Web Browser based office interface, Office '97 is for you. Microsoft has invested over 1 million hours in the development of Office '97 and it shows. I have been using Office '97 for several weeks and I believe that it is truly a revolutionary product. Office '97 comes in three different configurations. One, the standard version does not contain all the enhancements of the other two. The other two are essentially similar and of course more expensive. The other two are Office '97 Professional and Office '97 for Small Business. The Office '97 for Small Business product includes Microsoft Publisher which is a tremendously powerful and easy to use publishing program. Office '97 for Small Business also includes some small business financial control enhancements that would be useful in the small law office. But it does not contain PowerPoint'97 which is a must have for law office use. Fortunately, you can buy PowerPoint for less than a hundred bucks. The basic Office '97 program contains new versions of Microsoft Power Point, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Word. In addition, it contains a wholly new application called Outlook which replaces your existing personal information manager with what Microsoft refers to as a document information manager.
One of the first things you notice about the Office '97 suite is how wonderfully integrated it is. For example, you can create an outline in Word '97 and send that outline to Power Point '97 where it can be used to develop a presentation. Moreover, all of the documents created in Office '97 can be saved as "html" files allowing them to viewed with any web browser. Since the applications allow you to create hyper-text links with the mere click of a mouse, this is a truly revolutionary feature. For example you could create trial notebook in outline form. Each segment of the outline could be hyper-linked to the document that supports that proposition and that document could be displayed on the desk top with a mouse click. The "document" can be anything that can be stored and displayed by your computer. For example, a video tape deposition, a photograph, a spreadsheet, or even a sound file. In other words, Office '97 allows you to create the functional equivalent of Internet homepage that runs on your own computer and network. The possibilities are endless, but the ease with which these documents can be created and then disbursed over your intranet is astounding.
All of these applications are brought together and integrated by the Outlook Program. Walter Mosburg in the Wall Street Journal didn't like Outlook very much. He apparently did not look at Outlook, however, as the integrative tool for Office '97. When it is viewed in that special role, it's power is enormous. I agree with Mosburg that the e-mail function is less than ideal but Microsoft will have corrected those problems by the time you read this review. The "patch" will be posted to the Microsoft Website (www.Microsoft.com/outlook) where it can be quickly downloaded and installed. But even without the correction of some of the wrinkles in the Outlook mail program the ability to integrate all of the documents on your desktop with drag and drop functionality is worth it's weight in gold. Moreover, Outlook has the best and most versatile phonebook program I have seen. Unlike almost every other information manager I have seen the dialer setup works with ease. Moreover, retaining an e-mail address from a client or colleague is as simple as dragging the email message into the phonebook where a file is created for that person at that address. Outlook also allows you to bring in phonebook and calendars from many of your existing programs. The calendar functions of Outlook is far and away the best of any I have seen. It is enormously flexible and easy to use. Microsoft offers enhancements to the calendar program that allow a single person in your office to maintain a calendar for everyone on your network and to set meetings and send notices with ease. Meetings are a big issue for me and the organization of my calendar around them is an important feature. Outlook makes that very simple. If I get an email from somebody in Chicago telling me there will be a conference call the following week at a certain time, all I need to do is drag that email into the calendar icon and a window pops up immediately allowing me to schedule that conference call. I can put as much information as I can possibly use in regard to the meeting into the window that automatically opens up. Email is managed in Outlook very efficiently. The "auto preview" feature allows you to see the first three lines of any message so you can tell whether you want to read it right away or if you want to move it into some other place where you can look at it later. You can prioritize critical email messages with flags.
The Outlook calendar is especially powerful and useful. The interface can be changed to suit almost any predilection and it has the capacity to switch between daily, weekly, and monthly views with ease. In the monthly views, meetings can be changed by drag and drop with the mouse maintaining all of their characteristics and information in the new time slot. The reminder aspect of the calendar is very strong and very flexible. It does not allow you to accidently bypass a reminder and is somewhat insistent until you have "dismissed" the reminder window.
The task list module is also very easy to use. It allows you to create a task list and manage it on a regular basis. Every time you look at your calendar you are able to have a quick view of the task list which, like everything else in Outlook, has drag and drop capabilities. You can attach documents to particular tasks, which are very helpful.
The contact manager in Outlook is one of the best I have seen. You can group contacts by categories and you can view the contact list in a variety of ways. The contact manager allows you to organize your contact list alphabetically or by other category, and also allows you to search for contacts according to their firm or company. The dialer is absolutely flawless and easy to use.