Tag Archives: Microsoft Word

Keys to the Kingdom

In this week’s Loose Wire Service column (which runs in print publications, more here), I write about those unsung heroes of productivity: programs that store globs of text for you so you don’t have to keep typing the same thing.

Last time I talked about how the keyboard is often a quicker way to launch programs and open files than the mouse. It’s just a question of knowing how. This time around I’d like to take the idea a step further: using the keyboard to cut down your usage of the keyboard.

A lot of what we type is the same: Our name. Our address. Thank you letters to Aunt Gertrude. Disclaimers. These are all tasks we could outsource. But to whom?

Well, it depends a bit on what you’re doing. If you’re working in something like Microsoft Word, you’ll find that there are features that let you insert chunks of text just by hitting a couple of keys. While this used to be straightforward enough in earlier versions of Word but it’s gotten more complicated in the latest version.

In fact, the feature is not included; you need to add it to the toolbar at the top of the Microsoft Word window (the program’s help will tell you how.) Once that’s done, though, it’s straightforward enough. Just select the text (and any graphics) you want to reproduce, and then hit the autotext button. Give the selection a name, and next time you want to insert it, just click on the autotext button and then the name of the saved text.

Microsoft, however, clearly don’t consider this an important feature, since they’ve dropped the best bit: being able to recall — i.e., insert — the text by not leaving the keyboard. This used to be done by assigning the block of text a keystroke code — dc, for example, to insert a standard disclaimer text — and then typing it and hitting Enter. Word 2007 won’t let you do that. (OpenOffice’s free office suite will, but the feature is not particularly easy to figure out, so I wouldn’t recommend it.)

The problem with doing this is that any text you save can only be retrieved inside the program itself. Which makes it less of a time-saver and more of a time-waster. So if you’re writing an email, for example, you can’t access the text you stored in Microsoft Word. A better solution is to use a program that will insert text wherever you are.

This is where I’d recommend something called Texter, a free program created by the website Lifehacker (itself well worth a visit). Once installed, the software sits in your system tray (the bottom right hand corner of the screen) until you either double click or right click on the icon.

Adding text is straightforward: Just select the text you want to save, add a “hotstring” the keystrokes you want to use to recall it (dc, for example), and then the “trigger” — the key you hit after the hotstring to insert the text (you have the choice of Enter, Tab, Space or, none — meaning your saved text will be inserted straightaway.

Texter works well — and has lots of extra features you can explore. It won’t handle large blocks of text, however: It’s best for small bits of oft-typed text, like a note to typesetters to convert text to italics, or a sign-off (Best regards, Humphrey”).

A more powerful, and commercially minded, alternative is something called ActiveWords ($50), which allows you to do a lot more. (Think of it as developing macros for the less techy of us. Macros are scripts which automate oft-repeated functions or series of functions, like opening an email and replying to it, or selecting a word and then having your browser automatically look up the word on Google.)

ActiveWords also lets you do what I was talking about in my last column — assigning shortcuts to launching programs or opening files. It’s a wonderful piece of software and, if used well, removes the need to ever force your fingers to leave the keyboard. But it’s not worth getting unless you plan to make major changes to the way you work.

I use it for loading files buried in distant folders and for template text I sent to PR companies (though never readers; you get only my full un-scripted attention. Promise.), for inserting phone numbers (I can never remember my phone numbers for some reason) and addresses, as well as for more ambitious tasks like moving text from one program to another.

I’d suggest you start out with Texter and start building a list of the words, sentences or other text that you find yourself typing a lot. If you’re really getting into it a tryout of ActiveWords might be on the cards (the trial is for 60 days, rather than the usual 30; a smart move, since it might take you that long to really appreciate its power.)

A word of warning: Don’t put anything sacred or secret in one of your text strings in any of these programs. It’s tempting to store passwords and bank account numbers and other hard-to-remember and sensitive data.

If you’re looking for something that does that, you might want to check out RoboForm ($30) that can memorize passwords, fill in registration forms quickly and will encrypt your data. RoboForm will work in Internet Explorer and Firefox (Opera, another browser I must have recommended in the past because my wife uses it religiously, isn’t mentioned.)

The trick with these programs is not to dedicate a day to inserting lots of text strings you may never use, but to look over your own shoulder as you work and notice what text you type a lot of. Then get into the habit of saving that in whichever program you decide to use, and assigning a keystroke combination that makes sense to you and will be easy to remember. I guarantee you’ll save yourself time. You may even write more letters to Aunt Gertrude. I know she’d like that.

The Jakarta Post – The Journal of Indonesia Today

How to Convert Word 2007 Docs for Macs

A few readers have asked how to convert Word documents created in the new Microsoft Open Office XML Format with the docx extension so they can read them on a Mac. The answer: awkwardly.

Windows users have a converter they can download.

The Microsoft Mac team promised something similar back in December and yet haven’t, as far as I can see, delivered.

Into the gap have stepped some third party developers:

  • Docx Converter will convert a Microsoft Office .docx file into a simple html file. (It strips out some of the formatting, but now supports bold, italic, and underlined text. Left, right, center, and justified alignment etc.) A Mac widget is also available.
  • docx2doc allows you to upload a docx document It was free, but apparently seems to be in such high demand it now costs either $1 or $2 per document converted. Payment is via PayPal; upon payment you’ll receive a download link via email.  
  • Panergy’s docXconverter sounds more straightforward, but will cost you: $20 or $30 for two years of maintenance and upgrades. We should hope Microsoft won’t be that long to come out with their own converter.

None of these is perfect; we shouldn’t have to hand over money just to read a document. Of course the best solution is to save documents in the old doc format if you’re going to share them with other people.

Thanks to these sites, and the comments on them, for pointers: CreativeIQ, APC Mag an Lifehacker.

Something So Simple, Something So Elusive

From Lifehacker, a way to select text vertically. Two comments on this:
1) Can’t believe I’ve not come across something so basic before, and
2) What happened to us and our computers that something so simple and so ordinary should, when revealed, get us all excited? One day we’ll be able to move pictures and words around our document any way and any place we want…

clipped from lifehacker.com

Blogger Diana Huggins highlights a handy tip in Microsoft Word for selecting text vertically rather than the traditional horizontal select we’re all used to.

 

The key: just hold down the Alt key (or Option key on your Mac) while you drag your selection.

Word, the Expensive Blogging Tool?

I’m always looking for a better way to blog and some folk are pointing to the tools available from within Word 2007:

From within Word, you can create a blog entry with extensive formatting and imaging, and easily upload to your blog – whether hosted by a company such as Blogger, or hosted on your own website through installed software, such as WordPress.

Along with that, the software comes with additional features, such as “live previews for text styles, images, paging, etc.” and image effects, including shadows, orientation, borders and shapes.”In summary,” dkaye says, ”Word 2007 is simplifying blogging, so it’s not just straight and boring text anymore.”

Interesting. Of course you’ll have to shell out for all the other features of Microsoft Office, whereas Windows Live Writer is free, but if you’ve got Office already, it’s probably worth checking out the features.

Intriguing that Microsoft is backing into the blogging revolution with these types of tools, which I imagine would somewhat cannibalize each other. But then again, Microsoft have long learned the lesson of diverting the unschooled, unwary or click-happy user into their own sales channel, as the default option in this dialog box for adding a blog to your Windows Live Writer illustrates:

This post was written on, er, Windows Live Writer.

Right on the Board

Another great, simple product from the folks at 37 Signals: Writeboard is live :

Writeboard is a web-based writing tool. It lets you simply write, share, revise, and compare text. With Writeboard you can write solo or collaborate with as many people as you’d like. Writeboard isn’t about heavy text formatting, or WYSIWYG, it’s about the text itself. The words on the page. If you care about design and layout, you’re best bet is to take the finalized text from a writeboard and import it into a page layout program. Make your magic in the right tool.

Nice.

The Fate Of The Home Productivity Suite

I was asked by a PR firm on behalf of Corel to give my thoughts about office productiviy suites used in the home. I don’t always do that sort of thing, but I thought why not turn it into a blog posting, thereby avoiding any danger of being perceived as aiding and abetting a company I write about (hard to imagine that my ramblings might be seen as helpful, but you never know). Here, for what they’re worth (and I don’t think they’re worth very much) are my thoughts, post-long day at the office, post-chicken tikka and a Heineken, or, cough, two:

1. What is your perception of “the state of the nation” regarding Office Productivity packages used in the home?

Office [packages are] a waste of money for most homes, but often it, or something like it, comes packaged on laptops and desktops [anyway]. Most people use Outlook and Word, and a little Excel. Perhaps some PowerPoint to view something someone has sent them. All in all, a waste of software.

2. What would make an ideal home consumer productivity suite?

One that combined email, calendar and word processing and possibly a bit of finance. Outlook and Word are too much for most home users — Outlook Express is still a firm favorite, and many people see it as better than Outlook. But nowadays the home productivity suite needs to face new challenges from at least two quarters: synchronisation with other devices (phones, PDAs, other software) and to cope with the huge amount of digital imagery users have collected. It doesn’t mean the productivity suite needs to include image library and editing features, it just needs to fit neatly with them. This means that anyone taking a picture, sending an email/SMS/MMS, storing a contact on any device (PDA, iPod, smartphone) should be able to move that data all ways — onto their computer, onto another device, or back onto the device they originally created it on. It baffles users that they can’t do this kind of thing easily, or without buying some complex third party software.

Any ‘productivity’ software has to look beyond the platform [I meant desktop, or home, or office, or whatever the niche they’re aiming at is] they’re designing their productivity for, and think in terms of users’ productivity now being at least half the time mobile. No longer are people going to sit at their computers creating letters, invitations or other documents. They’re going to receive an email, reply to it and then want to save part of that email to their phone, whether it’s an image, a phone number or a map. That’s what productivity means to most people nowadays.

3. What could Corel improve compared to what we’ve done in the past?

I think i’ve answered this in 2. To add to this, RSS and blogging are terribly important, and the sooner these functions are included in existing software the better. it should be possible, for example, to create, organise and update blogs directly from WP/Word — what a waste of word processing power not to be able to do this (or edit webpages) easily. Browsers will soon incorporate RSS as standard, but RSS is actually the backend, not the front end, and I would expect to see a lot of interesting software that handles RSS in more creative ways than your average newsreader. Corel could be a part of that if they thought outside the perimeter a bit.

4. What areas are lacking in current office suites given to the home market (ie. Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition, Works, Microsoft Office — Standard, WordPerfect Office, WordPerfect Office Home Edition etc) that could be improved to make them better for that space.

See above. I don’t think any of these packages make much sense anymore, except for a limited audience. It’s old thinking: modern thinking would take into account that people just don’t work in front of the computer the same way they do in the office, so while I’m sure there’s some room for this kind of package, I would expect it to shrink further, and eventually be swept aside [unless it] links the software to
— Internet services more easily (say, for example, being able to save items of information in whatever format from the Internet or other programs; it’s no coincidence that Search is now a key industry, not just for the Internet but for one’s own files. This is good, but it’s a function of the failure of existing software to allow users to save and create information in a way that is easily retrievable. It’s not a new feature, it’s a BandAid to a bigger problem.)
— to other devices
— to programs that aren’t part of the package
etc etc.

Then I ran out of juice. But you get the idea. Mad ramblings, but some fodder in there. Thoughts very welcome, though not on my choice of food or beer.

Some (Not So) Light Reading

For those of you easing back into work after the holidays, or stuck in the office before the New Year partying begins, here are some suggestions for Internet reading.

The future of Microsoft: Is 2004 going to be Redmond’s swansong? Some people think so, including The Inquirer, which says that the company’s flat first quarter earnings are a sign “it is running low on wiggle room, the core customers are negotiating hard, and Microsoft is giving way”. Interesting, if somewhat aggressive, reading. For the usual Slashdot discussion of the topic, go here. Certainly it’s going to be a difficult year for Microsoft, and one way the company may go is to try to further lock in users to its formats — Word, audio, Excel, whatever — and to lock other software companies out.

That’s also the tack that veteran commentator Steve Gillmor believes Apple is taking with its iPod. He points out that what was once a MP3 player is now threatening to be a lot more than that, from a PDA to a video device (to a handphone, as well). But Gillmor also points out that this is part of a bigger battle to try to establish one kind of Digital Rights Management over another. (This basically is a legal and software trick that limits your freedom to copy or alter files, whether they’re music, words or pictures. Say your version of Microsoft Word supported DRM, you may find yourself unable, say, to copy a document you’re viewing, or to save it in another format, or, more insidiously, unable to access a Word document composed in a non-Microsoft program, say, Open Office. DRM effectively removes the kind of supremacy you’ve enjoyed over what you own: In music, for example, DRM would mean you rent rather than own your CD collection.)

Gillmor discusses Apple’s approach, which is slightly different, but with seemingly similar goals: To lock the consumer into using a proprietary format. I think consumers will — and should — fight any attempt to limit access to their files, whether they be music, words, pictures or movies, tooth and nail. Legitimate fears of piracy and security should not allow any corporation to dictate the size or make of wall protecting us (look at e-voting for the lessons we should learn on that.). This year will define where we go on this issue. Or as Mr Gillmor says: “With the election looming as a referendum on issues of security, rights and opportunity, and the Internet emerging as a major player for the first time, DRM may be democracy’s Last Waltz.”

News: A Patch In Time Saves You Online

 This from the guys at Information Security Magazine, a warning about some new, and serious vulnerabilities in Microsoft software. The most critical vulnerability is titled ?Flaw in Visual Basic for Applications Could Allow Arbitrary Code Execution? (MS 03037). Microsoft provided few details about the actual vulnerability, but says the flaw is dangerous and users of affected software should apply patches immediately. This is not just for techheads and sysops: Affected software includes Access (97/2000/2002), Excel (97/2000/2002), PowerPoint (97/2000/2002), Project (2000/2002), Publisher 2002, Visio
(2000/2002), Word (97/98(J)/2000/2002), Works Suite (2001/2002/2003) and several versions of Microsoft Business solutions.
 
There are other vulnerabilities too:
?Flaw in Word Could Enable Macros to Run Automatically? (MS 03035)
?Buffer Overrun in WordPerfect Converter Could Allow Code Execution? (MS 03036)
?Unchecked Buffer Overflow in Microsoft Access Snapshot Viewer Could Allow Code Execution? (MS 03038)
?Flaw in NetBIOS Could Lead to Information Disclosure? (MS 03034)
 
If we’ve learned nothing in the past month, we should have at least learned to patch, patch and keep patching.

Update: Documents To Go For Dana

 Further to my review of the excellent Dana keyboard, its makers AlphaSmart, Inc. have announced they plan to offer a wide-screen version of DataViz’s Documents To Go Professional as a bundled software option for new versions of Dana. Documents To Go enables Palm users to work with Microsoft Office documents, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
 
 
I found the Dana an excellent alternative for writing in certain conditions when you just want to get away from your desk, your office, your family, your town. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but with tools like Documents To Go, the lines between laptop and Dana tend to blur.