Special Edition - Using Microsoft Office Word 2003, by Bill Camarda, ISBN 078972958X

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, May 2004, send e-mail
Published by: QUE Books, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $39.99

With fourteen authoritative software instruction and technology books to his credit over the past fifteen years, author Bill Camarda has proven that, at the very least, he knows how to organize subject matter and present it in a manner that is both logical and informative. More important however, Bill's books are readable, indexed in great detail and supported by software CDs containing programs and information which enhances the content in his books, improves your skills with Word 2003 (in this case) and expands your knowledge of computing and its applications in your life and work. That's a darn fine introduction no doubt, but the book is more than just a good experience. It's also a must-have reference manual for regular Word 2003 users and anyone upgrading from Word 2000. The book is supplied with a fully enabled, free copy of the latest version of Woody Leonhard's highly regarded Woody's Office Power Pack 2003 (WOPR), the content of which is referred to throughout the book when certain utilities and enhancements are discussed.

One of the first things that stands out when skimming the table of contents is the fact that most main sections of the book include a comment on how appropriate it is to use Word 2003 for the application being discussed in the particular chapter. For example, Chapter 14 (Using Word's Drawing Tools) also discusses when not to use them; when to choose a dedicated drawing program instead. Chapter 16 (Word Desktop Publishing) also provides excellent instructions, tips and techniques, but clearly defines Word's desktop publishing limitations as well, which makes it easy to decide if Word 2003 is right for your particular DTP project. The book is designed to offer systematic guidance for experienced Word users. Subject matter is broken down according to the various types of print and electronic documents which can be created with Word (print, electronic, HTML, XML, PDF, etc., etc.) and deals with related productivity issues at the same time.

The book does emphatically not deal with Word basics, instead offering hundreds of advanced tips and techniques for maximizing productivity, automating short and long documents, using Word's powerful Web content creation capabilities, using Word's latest features for collaboration (Team Writing Tools, Change Tracking, Document Review, SharePoint) and for creating XML-based integration with other software and processes. Author Bill Camarda does not stray from his support for more experienced users, which helps to provide consistency throughout the detailed presentation. I was actually going to include a complete copy of the table of contents in this review but it runs to 27 pages plus an additional 5 pages which list only the Troubleshooting call-outs and sidebars throughout the book. Thank you Bill.

The author also heaves his considerable practical experience into view by including a wealth of information that deals with avoiding some of Word 2003's cavernous user traps. For example, his step-by-step instruction on Word 2003's enhanced Master Document creation leads you calmly and clearly through the section break/page break nightmare which in all recent versions of Word frustrated thousands (if not millions) of users and resulted in enough formatting explosions to cause documents to be summarily deleted by people in the throes of impotent rage. Thank you Bill.

We also get a concise explanation of XML (Chapter 25) and its applications and the ways in which Word's robust XML implementation can be used to create such documents. Microsoft's integration of XML throughout its Office product suites makes this chapter a must-read, especially for those of you who are regularly (or even only occasionally) tasked with the creation of server-based/distributable electronic documents or help files. The author's explanation of Microsoft's WordML variant of XML is also of immense help, especially if XML documents generated on your desktop have to be shared with people outside your organization. Thank you Bill.

In an effort to determine what, if anything, was missing from the book, I polled a number of research associates for project needs intrinsic to their use of Word - all the occasionally weird and often wonderful things they do in Word which from time to time cause document problems. After several weeks of queries, it became abundantly clear that this book covers everything that matters in Word 2003. That's an impressive credential. In the process of asking the aforementioned questions too, a number of people naturally discovered that I had the book on my shelf. Bye-bye book shortly thereafter. I have to chase it down whenever I need it now. Thank you Bill.

Cons: Because Microsoft has created an fabulously monstrous creature called Word 2003, the only possible drawback to a book of this depth and quality is its own size and complexity. As well organized and concisely accurate as it is, the book will still be dauntingly massive for many users pining for some simple, quick reference method for getting at specific features and techniques. The fact remains however that there can be no such thing as a simple, quick reference method for Word 2003 because it's one of the most complex pieces of productivity software (if not THE most complex) ever devised. There is no question that the vast majority of Word users will never directly employ more than ten percent of the program's features and functions. Microsoft's efforts at merging everything in sight into Office 2003 is not so much a matter of vast control over end users as it is pointless. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Word 2003's features and functions are used only rarely by most people is a testament as much to Microsoft's ineluctable hubris as it is to the company's engineering and programming innovation. The fact that we need this book clearly promotes the idea that we are now faced, more than ever before, by technology tools that far outstrip the ability of design and engineering programmers to provide us with genuinely intuitive interfaces. Word 2003 employs interactive software and hardware design paradigms which overarch even the most experienced store of common knowledge in most offices, thereby requiring the development (and publishing in this case) of references which bridge the considerable gap.

Pros: Multiple tables of contents featuring different general subject matter make it easy to find what you need. Ditto for the highly detailed index also covers the WOPR CD. The inclusion of the WOPR CD (normally $49.95 on its own) is a terrific bonus. Excellent subject organization by tasks and application. Thorough, accurate coverage of all aspects of Word 2003 as well as complete coverage of the ways in which Word 2003 integrates with Microsoft Office 2003. Good balance of screen shots to text. Clear language and consistent writing style which effectively supports the subject matter in each chapter. If you're an experienced Word user, this is the book for you because, among other important reasons, you can find instructions and tips for all of Word's intermediate and advanced features without having to endure any beginner stuff while searching for the information you need. Excellent value. Highly recommended.

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