Category Archives: MS-Office

Search Upgrade

I’ve been a huge fan of Microsoft’s Desktop Search since it was released, it has changed the way I use my PC and is amongst the first things I install on new PCs. I dream of the day they integrate it with their recently purchase, Foldershare (A magnificent free product that allows you to sync your files seamlessly over the net using P2P technology. It also allows you to search and download from any of your computers from any net connected PC as long as your PCs are turned on. Try it now if you have more than one PC and you want to keep files in sync across them.).

To get an improved version of Desktop Search download the beta of the Windows Live Toolbar. The toolbar doesn’t work in Firefox but it does allow you to update Desktop Search and gain a couple of great features. It installs a new toolbar in Outlook that allows you to save Desktop searches as virtual folders within Outlook – so now Outlook can display search results that include files as well as emails/tasks/appointments. It also changes the Windows default search function (found on the Start menu) to use Desktop Search which means the end of searches that won’t ever find what you’re looking for.

Word’s insistence on US English

Word: Formatted - US EnglishAnybody who lives outside the US will know that Microsoft Word does evil things, with little bits of text changing unaccountably into US English at seemingly random times. Suddenly a perfectly spelt word like… well, spelt could be a contender actually, will get that curly red line underneath it.

And I’ve seen proof. Yesterday I was working on a document with revision marking turned on, and low-and-behold, in the middle of editing, it claimed I’d reformatted a table cell to be US English. But I hadn’t. Tried to undo it, and couldn’t.

Evil, that’s what it is. Evil. Particularly since my Word default is EN-AU, which also matches my Windows regional settings.

Next thing you know, it’ll be switching my A4 paper to Letter, as well.

Office 2007 announced – Frontpage dumped

Microsoft has announced the naming of the next version of Office (2007, big surprise), along with initial US pricing and suite variants.

Frontpage is being dumped, in favour of the new Expression web editor (for web design), and Sharepoint Server and Designer (for sharing data in Office documents).

MS Word footers are buggy

I thought I was going crazy the other week. I had a Word document, overdue for sending to a professional printers, with an incorrect footer on pages 7 and 8.

So I tried to fix it. Double-click on the footer. Amend “September” to “December”, like this:

Editing the page footer in Word

Click the Close button on the header/footer toolbar… and it changed back to “September”.

Page footer in Word

I swear, I must have messed with the thing for about half an hour, trying it over and over, even trying to blank out the footer completely. The change just would not stick. Turning on and off the “Same as previous section” didn’t seem to help either. I tried it on my main machine (Office 2003) and the other one (Office XP). Same result. Somehow, somewhere, it was remembering September.

Possibly it’s something to do with all the sections I have in this document. It’s a newsletter, and has a mix of 3 column (article) and 1 column (heading) sections. Not that it’s any excuse. But perhaps it’s a fairly obscure problem; there’s certainly nothing about it that I could find in the KB.

Eventually I somehow managed to get it fixed on page 7. Page 8 wouldn’t stick though. Given it was past the deadline, I gave up and sent it off to the printers as it was. Hopefully nobody would notice.

A couple of it got shot through to Tony. He found the same thing. He got Rae to try, and… she fixed it. And couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.

Later on I figured it out. If you double-click on the footer, things can go wrong. But if you go via the menus: View / Header and Footer, you’ll be okay. Bizarre.

Mind you, when you change it this way, it temporarily throws the page count and repagination right out. In this case, it suddenly thought it was on page 10 (when actually there were only 8 pages).

Editing the page footer in Word

Still, the document was finally fixed, and the superb people at Flash Print in Collingwood (Melbourne), used the fixed version on the job, even though the file was 24 hours late.

But my conclusion? Page headers and footers are buggy when using lots of sections. Another item for the MS Word bug bucket.

How to stop Outlook hiding line breaks

One of my most hated things from recent versions of Outlook is the way it edits plain text messages by chopping out supposedly extra line breaks. Inevitably, they’re not extra — they’re there because the sender doesn’t like hitting enter twice between paragraphs — particularly when writing short lists of things.

Outlook does give you the option of restoring the linebreaks it’s taken away by clicking an option near the top of the message. It’s a right pain to have to keep doing it on every message though.

Outlook hides linebreaks

In Outlook XP, I never found a way to turn this off. Maybe it was there, but very well hidden.

Fortunately in Outlook 2003 it’s possible to turn it off for good, though the online help is no help at all at finding it.

Here’s how you do it: Tools / Options / Preferences tab / E-Mail section / click E-mail options. Then find and turn off the checkbox “Remove extra line breaks in plain text messages”.

(Note that after turning it permanently off, it still happens if you’ve been mucking about in a message beforehand, shown the “extra” linebreaks, then hidden them again and saved the message.)

Irritating things in Word templates

I’ve been working with somebody else’s template. Irritating things have included:

  • Use of mirror margins — these have a marginal (ha!) effect on the presentation when printed double-sided on paper, but are really annoying when editing on screen. As your eye passes down the page, at each page-break everything moves over a little way, left-to-right, right-to-left. Particularly jarring when looking at columns or tables that go over two or more pages. To turn it off: File / Page Setup / Set Multiple Pages to Normal.
  • Default font size 12 point — is anybody that blind or in that much need to use up trees that they use 12 point for a default? Fortunately one can change the Normal style to another size, and provided the other styles are based on it, everything follows.
  • Trying to decypher and fill-in confusing bits in the template. But that’s not a Word problem, per se.

How to hide or move the followup flag column in Outlook 2003

Outlook flagsI’m sure in older versions of Outlook, the Followup Flag was somewhere on the left hand side, and that’s still where I’m used to seeing it. But in Outlook 2003, it’s on the right, and apparently can’t be moved. Unlike the other columns, it’s not draggable, and if you go into the dialog box that sorts the columns, no matter where you think you’ve moved it, it stays put on the right hand side.

It turns out you have to employ some special trickery to move it. In the Other Settings, there is an option called Quick Flags. This needs to be turned off to hide or move the column.

The down side is, Quick Flags does nifty things, with a left-click alternating between setting a red flag, and ticking off (to show a task is completed). It also provides a special right-click menu that allows quick access to the flags (hence the name), instead of via the main right-click menu via the Followup option. MS, in their wisdom, made all this only work when the Flags are in the rightmost column. Weird.

Hiding Excel warnings during automation

Well, I sorted out my problem of confusing warnings appearing whilst controlling Excel with VBA. Turns out there is an Application.DisplayAlerts property which, when set to false, hides warnings such as the one I was getting. It took a little Googling to find the solution, which wasn’t readily apparently in any of the MS help for the methods I’d got the warnings from.

The other Office applications also have a DisplayAlerts property.

Needless Excel automation warnings

Okay, this is annoying. I’m working on a VB program that uses the Excel object library to automate a fairly complex update into Excel. The general idea when you’re automating Excel is to smoothly do your operation behind-the-scenes, to hide the complexity from the user.

Excel warning

So the last thing you need is complicated dialog boxes popping up to ask the user questions. I’m the programmer: I’m meant to make the decisions. Tell me, the programmer, that if I save this Shared Workbook with a password that certain parts of the file won’t be encrypted. Don’t tell my user, and ask them to decide if it should happen or not.

Office’s garbled HTML

Brian Jones on why Microsoft Office 2000 (and later) produces such godawful HTML:

Our scenario was that people would start saving “docs” as HTML on their intranet sites and browse them with the browser. We viewed the browser as “electronic paper” that we had to “print” to (i.e. perfect fidelity). We had already got a lot of feedback from our Word97 Internet Assistant add-in that any loss of fidelity when saving as a web page was unacceptable and a “bug”. As it turned out, this usage scenario did not become as common as we thought it would and a zillion conspiracy theories formed about why we “really” did it. Many people assumed that a better approach would have been to save as “clean” HTML even if the result did not look exactly like what the user saw on the screen. We felt that the core office applications (other than FrontPage) were not really meant to be web page authoring tools, so we focused on converting docs to exact replicas in HTML. We didn’t want people losing any functionality when saving to HTML so we had to figure out a way to store everything that could have existed in a binary document as HTML. We thought we were clever creating a bunch of “mso-” css properties that allowed us to roundtrip everything. HTML didn’t take off in the same way we had expected, and today, the main use for Office HTML is for interoperability on the clipboard, though of course the biggest use is within e-mail (WordMail).

None of this explains why Office 2003’s “Filtered HTML” is so riddled with proprietary tags, though. Admittedly, a filtered HTML file is smaller than a roundtrip HTML file out of Word, but it’s still hugely bigger than the type of HTML you’d write from scratch (or in a web page editor such as Dreamweaver or Frontpage), and the source code is unreadable.

To my mind, Filtered HTML should be just that: HTML, filtered in such a way that the basic structure of the document is preserved, but none of the junk that Word (or whatever) stores along with it. Leave that for the roundtrip HTML — though I can’t see the appeal in that either, since if you want to store documents in a viewable form on the great InterWeb, PDF is the way to go. Or just store it in the native Office format for internal use, when you know every user will have the application or a viewer.

Word warning(By the way, when I was trying out the roundtrip HTML the other day, while reloading, Word presented me with a strange warning that it was going to query from some nonsense “Z” table to put data in the document. Bizarro. The test document did quote some SQL, but this would seem to suggest the roundtrip HTML isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.)

Anyway, Brian’s full article is about the progression of the Office formats from binary in the 90s into the XML to be used in the next version. Well worth a read if you want some background on the history, and where they’re going now.

Byebye to an Adobe cash cow

PDFMicrosoft has announced the next version of Office will support PDF creation natively.

Obviously, Adobe has faced competition before from various PDF creation applications, including the DIY method using… what was it, some kind of printer driver to get Postscript, then ps2pdf to get it into PDF? And it’s not as if Adobe has been resting, not enhancing Acrobat with extra functionality.

But this is different: the prime reason people buy Acrobat is to create PDFs from Office documents. And so far the cheapie clone Acrobat products/methods haven’t won much market share, because people trust the name brand PDF creator. But this is Microsoft, and if there’s one thing Microsoft does well, it’s blowing away other companies’ sales.

The Adobe guys must have seen this coming when they opened up the format. Maybe that was a factor in diversifying by buying Macromedia. It’ll be interesting to see their response.

Disabling the Insert key

MS Office 2003: Customise keyboardI can’t tell you how much I hate Windows’ overtype mode. Accidentally tap the Insert key, and you suddenly find your typing overwriting old text. Who would use such a pointless thing?

And it’s doubly worse in products such as Word, where the only clue that you’re in this stupid mode is the almost-invisible ungreying of the letters “OVR” on the status bar.

Even worse in other apps: Excel has it, invisibly, only when you’re editing cells. Powerpoint doesn’t have it. Thankfully Ultraedit noticably changes the cursor when it’s invoked.

It’s there, but invisible, in Outlook. If you set Outlook to use Word for editing messages, it does it invisibly because the Word email window has no status bar, but if you have a Word window sitting in the background, you can see the OVR status light up on that!

At least it can be disabled in Word:

  • Tools -> Customize -> click Keyboard
  • In the Categories, choose All Commands
  • In the Commands list, scroll down and find Overtype
  • In the Current Keys box, the word “Insert” should appear. Click on this, then click the Remove button. Then close the dialog boxes, and you’re done.

Wouldn’t you know it, this setting isn’t global throughout Office. So the Insert key will still do stupid things in Excel and Outlook. (Using Word for writing Outlook messages will get around it, but that might be too big a price to pay.)

See also: MS KB 198148