Microsoft Vista and Microsoft Office 2007, along with other products (like Internet Explorer 7, which was released before Vista) offer a variety of new features potentially useful to the trusts and estates practitioner. There's independent calendaring and address book facilities, personal database software, handy informational gadgets and better web browsing.
At the same time, this software requires significant learning curves and has some technical problems.
Let's take a look at what we might immediately gain from these releases and let the information technology people worry about what's under the hood. But, if you just can't help wondering about the issues and problems that accompany Vista as a new Microsoft operating system, check out the discussions at Vistahunt.com.
My first impression of Windows Vista was that it is more difficult than Windows XP and takes longer to work with. But maybe that's because we usually love the software we've been using and hate learning "new" software. Beyond user resistance, there is this critical question: If you bother to upgrade to Vista (and other Microsoft 2007 software) or acquire a Vista-ready machine (and there are some real bargains out there), what can it do for you right now?
First, you must make sure, as with any Microsoft operating system upgrade, that your favorite software and peripherals are compatible with Vista. For instance, drivers for various peripherals may not be. If you use a Hewlett-Packard printer, be sure to check for upgraded Vista-compatible drivers. As of the release of Vista, WordPerfect was not yet Vista-ready, but on March 9, 2007, Corel Corp. announced the availability of a Service Pack to make Office X3 compatible with Vista. Another example of compatibility issues is Intuit Quickbooks. As discussed at ZDNet, Quickbooks compatibility issues appear to stem from third-party add-on software that Intuit cannot control.
If a program fails to launch because of compatibility problems, right click on the icon for that program and open the "Compatibility" tab. You will find a drop-down box that lets you set the program so Vista will attempt to run it by emulating earlier operating systems.
Not everything useful has to be groundbreaking. There are some facilities in Vista that may seem small in scope, but may fill a valuable role in your daily computer use.
You will find on the right-hand side of the Vista desktop a vertically placed series of small utilities called "gadgets." Vista provides a selection of visible gadgets that can be added or changed with a click on the gadget area of your desktop. These gadgets include a visual monthly calendar, a convenient yellow sticky-like note pad (much handier than the Outlook Note Pad) and even a stock price ticker (a nice feature on up days, but not so nice on others.) If you are like me and are really attached to having an outside temperature gauge in your car, you will appreciate an outside temperature display on your desktop.
You will find lots of other gadgets to download at microsoftgadgets.com/, such as the TravelWizard, which expedites searches of travel planning websites, and WeatherBug, which gives you weather conditions anywhere in the world.
Other Vista Features
Microsoft has unbundled some of the things included in Outlook and Windows Mail (the successor to Outlook Express), such as the calendar and address book. Windows Calendar has the look and feel of the Outlook calendar, but is free standing and convenient to use. Windows Calendar may be emailed to another party -- from within the program or calendars -- and may be shared among remote users via the Internet. You also may subscribe to specialized calendars on the Internet, such as iCalshare. Such calendars include holidays in the United States and foreign countries, political and government events and astronomical data.
Windows Contacts has the look and feel of the address book included in Outlook Express and, although free standing, it is used as the contacts list for Windows Mail. It reminds me, in terms of desktop convenience, of the neat virtual rolodex that was included in Windows 1.0.
For those of you who are not Outlook users, these small programs may be quite useful.
A Handy Personal Database
We could all use a simple database for storage and retrieval of personal notes, information, graphics, etc. OneNote 2007 (part of Office 2007) is one such program that gives you immediate visual access to the items that you have stored through general categories (known as "notebooks") and subdivisions within such categories (known as "sections.") OneNote now has a navigation aid that conveniently shows you the open notebooks and makes navigation across multiple notebooks easy. You can move between open notebooks by clicking on a notebook icon. Across the top of the workspace are tabs associated with sections within a notebook. You merely click the arrow at the top of the navigation pane to expand the view and show more detail about notebooks and their sections. You can store and retrieve text, Internet URLs and graphics by copying and pasting them into the appropriate section.
You may download specialized notebooks linked to, or from, the "Help file," including a "Legal Practice" notebook, which may assist you in getting quick value from OneNote. One interesting feature is the ability to capture and paste a portion of any screen being displayed on your computer into a notebook. Use of OneNote is described on the Microsoft website at Organizing and managing your notes.
Internet Explorer 7
Also deserving of mention is Internet Explorer 7, which offers new features that may be helpful to the trusts and estates practitioner. Perhaps the most useful is its tabbed websites. Now you can have a number of websites displayed on a series of tabs at the top of the screen and move back and forth among them with one click. I find this feature particularly helpful in research; I can have the Internal Revenue Code, Treasury Regulations, Tax Court cases and other federal court sites all displayed at once, allowing me to bounce around as I compose an article or memorandum. With Internet Explorer 7, you can save a number of open websites as a favorite group. There also is a feature that automatically shrinks a web page to fit the printed page and enables you to print selections from a web page.
Tips and Tricks
There are a number of websites that will help you get quickly acquainted with useful new features. An overview of Vista Tips and Tricks for new users is available from Microsoft. It discusses, among other things, the revised start menu, the new interface and the file search explorer facility, as well as the enhanced browsing capabilities of Internet Explorer 7.
The TechRepublic website offers Hidden Vista tricks that can make you more productive, including how to work more efficiently using the special Windows keyboard keys and the mouse wheel.
RedmondMag.com gives you the Top 5 Cool Vista Tricks, including using the backup tool, sharing calendars and checking your computer's performance.
The Petri IT Knowledgebase Windows Vista Information, Tweaking, Tips and Tricks contains a collection of tweaking tips and tricks, articles and "how to" guides.
Learning Vista does not have to be like climbing Mount Everest. Ideally, it should simplify daily tasks. Sometimes it pays to spend time at your base camp doing the easy stuff before attempting the more challenging climb. Immediate gratification helps all of us stay motivated for tougher times.
Trusts & Estates magazine is pleased to present the monthly Technology Review by Donald H. Kelley -- a respected connoisseur of software and Internet resources wealth management advisors use to further their practices.
Kelley is a lawyer living in Highlands Ranch, Colo. and is of counsel to the law firm of Kelley, Scritsmier & Byrne, P.C. of North Platte, Neb. He is the co-author of Intuitive Estate Planner Software (Thomson - West 2004). He has served on the governing boards of the American Bar Association Real Property, Probate and Trust Section and the American College of Tax Counsel. He is a past regent and past chair of the Committee on Technology in the Practice of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
Trusts & Estates has asked Kelley to provide his unvarnished opinions on the tech resources available in the practice today. His columns are edited for readability only. Send feedback and suggestions for articles directly to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.