(The writer is lecturer in Defence Authority College of Business, Karachi)

June 22 - 28, 2009

Office automation refers to process in which tools and techniques are useful to office activities to process written, visual, and sound data in a computer-aided approach. Office automation provides elements which make it possible to simplify, improve, and automate the association of the activities of company.

Microsoft Office is an office suite of unified desktop applications, servers and services for the Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. Microsoft Office was introduced by Microsoft in 1989 for the Mac OS, with a version for Windows in 1990. Initially a marketing term for a bundled set of applications, the version of Office contained Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint. Additionally, a "Pro" (Professional) version of Office included Microsoft Access and Schedule Plus. Over the years, Office applications have grown substantially closer with shared features such as a common spell checker, OLE (object linking and embedding) data integration and Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications scripting language. Microsoft also positions Office as a development platform for line-of-business software under the Office Business Applications (OBA) brand.

The current versions are Office 2007 for Windows which was released on January 30, 2007 and Office 2008 for Mac OS X released on January 15, 2008. Office 2007/Office 2008 introduced a new user interface and new Office Open XML document formats (docx, xlsx, pptx). Consequently, Microsoft has made available, free of charge, an add-on known as the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack to allow Office 2000-03 for Windows and Office 2004 for Mac editions to open, edit, and save documents created under the new formats for Office 2007.

According to Forrester Research, as of June 2009, some version of Microsoft Office is used in 80% of enterprises and the latest Office versions hold roughly 80% of installations.

Microsoft Word is a word processor and was previously considered to be the main program in Office. Its proprietary DOC format is considered a de facto standard, although Word 2007 can also use a new XML-based, Microsoft Office-optimized format called .DOCX which has been standardized by Ecma International as Office Open XML and its SP2 update will support ODF and PDF. Word is also available in some editions of Microsoft Works. It is available for the Windows and Mac platforms. The first version of Word, released in the fall of 1983, was for the DOS operating system and had the distinction of introducing the mouse to a broad population. At that time, Word 1.0 could be purchased with a bundled mouse. The following spring Apple introduced the Mac, and Microsoft released Word for the Mac, which became the most popular Mac application and which, like all Mac apps, required the use of a mouse.

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program. It was originally a competitor to the dominant Lotus 1-2-3, but later it eventually outsold it. It is available for the Windows and Mac platforms. The current Mac version (Office 2008) has removed Visual Basic functionality so macros cannot be used and those generated in previous iterations of Office are no longer workable. Microsoft announced in May 2008 that Visual Basic would be returning to Excel in future versions.


Microsoft Outlook (not to be confused with Outlook Express) is a personal information manager and e-mail communication software. The replacement for Windows Messaging, Microsoft Mail and Schedule+ (Plus) starting in Office 97 includes an e-mail client, calendar, task manager and address book. Although historically it has been offered for the Mac, the closest to an equivalent for Mac OS X is Microsoft Entourage, which offers a slightly different feature set.

Microsoft PowerPoint is a popular presentation program for Windows and Mac. It is used to create slideshows, graphics, movies and other objects, which can be displayed on-screen and navigated through by the presenter or printed out on transparencies or slides. This is a convenience for school or work presentations. Office Mobile for Windows Mobile 5.0 and later features a version of PowerPoint called PowerPoint Mobile. Movies, videos, sounds and music, as well as Wordart and Autoshapes can be added to slideshows.

Most versions of Microsoft Office (including Office 97 and later versions, and possibly 4.3) use their own widget set and do not exactly match the native operating system. This is more apparent in the 2002 or XP release of Microsoft Office where the standard menus were replaced with a colored flat looking, shadowed menu style.

Visual elements of Office packages' widget systems have been included in next versions of Windows systems and have offered some cues into what user interface (UI) elements, a major Windows incarnation, would employ in the future. Toolbar, color buttons, and the usually gray-colored '3D' look of Office 4.3 were added to Windows 95.

Microsoft Office has been criticized in the past for using proprietary file formats rather than open standards, which forces users who share data into adopting the same software platform. However, on February 15, 2008, Microsoft made the entire documentation for the binary Office formats freely available under the Open Specification Promise. Also, Office Open XML, the document format for the latest versions of Office for Windows and Mac, has been standardized under both Ecma International and ISO. Ecma International has published the Office Open XML specification free of copyrights and Microsoft has granted patent rights to the formats technology under the Open Specification Promise and has made available free downloadable converters for previous versions of Microsoft Office including Office 2003, Office XP, Office 2000, and Office 2004 for the Mac.