Optimize Office

SAN FRANCISCO (10/27/2003) - Whether you run Office 2003, XP, 2000, or even good ol' Office 97, you'll avoid lots of frustration and hassle by making sure you have the latest versions of the programs you paid for. Office updates rarely include any nifty time-saving features, but many patch hundreds or thousands of bugs that can crash your system and leave you prematurely gray.

Office 2003, XP, and 2000 users should run to Microsoft Office Online. Microsoft Corp. packs this page with lots of news about different patches that may or may not apply to you. To get the latest update for your version of Office, use the Check for Updates link. Click it, follow the instructions, download the scanner if need be, select the updates you require, and then click Start Installation.

Office 97 users should go to " Office 97 Service Release 2b (SR-2b) Download Information" to update to version SR-2b.

Add Folders to the Places Bar

Whenever you open a file in Office or save a newly minted file, you come face-to-face with the Places Bar: the strip of big icons that runs down the left side of the Open and Save As dialog boxes. Unfortunately, the default Places Bar icons that ship with Office rarely suffice. Think of how much time you could save if you could put your own icons on the Places Bar and drill down to your most-used folders quickly. Well, you can...if you know the right trick.

In Office 2003 or XP, start by clicking File, Open, right-clicking the Places Bar, and choosing Small Icons. That gives you room for ten icons. Then navigate to a folder that you want to appear in the Places Bar, and click it. In the upper-right corner of the dialog box, select Tools, Add to "My Places". Once the icon is on the Places Bar, right-click it and choose Move Up or Move Down to rearrange the list.

Regrettably, Office 2000 doesn't let you use small icons, and none of the versions of Office allow you to delete the five default icons. To perform those operations, you need to use a tool like the WOPR Places Bar Customizer (shareware that's included in my "Woody's Office Power Pack," $15).

Disable Automatic Hyperlinks

So you're typing along, and you find that you need to put in an e-mail address or a Web address--say, billg@microsoft.com or www.pcworld.com. But the instant you finish typing the address, Office takes over and converts it into a garish blue underlined hyperlink. The link is "hot," so if you're using Office 2000 or 97 and you accidentally click on it, your screen goes blank while Office zones out to never-never land and tries to retrieve something that you don't want.

Best way to save time: Tell Office to keep its paws off the link names you type.

In Office 2003 or XP, if you're quick, you can click the Smart Tag that appears immediately after the address or URL gets converted to a hyperlink and choose Stop Automatically Creating Hyperlinks. The application will comply--but you have to repeat the action in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Alternatively, in each application of any version of Office, you can click Tools, AutoCorrect (or AutoCorrect Options), AutoFormat As You Type, and then uncheck the box that's marked Internet and network paths with hyperlinks.

More Optimize Office

Customize Icons to Work Your Way

I'm convinced that Microsoft chose certain icons for the Office toolbars just so that its marketing folks could run fancy demos. Why else would the standard Word toolbar have an icon that adjusts the number of snaking newspaper-like columns in a document--an action most people perform once every decade or two--yet omit icons to insert symbols and to bring up the enormously powerful Office Clipboard?

You can take control over the wimpy standard toolbars in all Office applications by clicking Tools, Customize, Commands. Make sure the 'Save in' box says 'Normal.dot', so your changed toolbar will appear in any "normal" document. To add an icon to a toolbar, find the one that you want in the Categories and Commands lists (to get the insert symbol icon, for example, click Insert in the Categories list, and then click Symbol in the Commands list); next, drag the command onto the desired toolbar. Drop it in whatever location you prefer. While you're working in this menu, you can remove an icon you no longer want on a toolbar, by right-clicking it on the toolbar and choosing Delete. Click Close when you're finished.

Don't worry if you go too far and hopelessly scramble one of your toolbars. You can get the old one back by clicking Tools, Customize, Toolbars. Click once on the toolbar that's giving you fits, and click Reset to restore the toolbar to its original state.

Show Paragraph Marks and Tabs in Word

Collectively, Word users lose thousands of hours every day because their paragraphs don't line up properly, or bullets suddenly appear, or the text turns bold or italic, or some other odd form of formatting crops up in an otherwise normal document. All such formatting sits inside paragraph marks that hide within the document. Whenever you copy, move, or delete a paragraph mark, Word propagates formatting in often-inscrutable ways. Inscrutable, that is, if you can't see the paragraph marks.

Word has an icon on its standard toolbar that looks like a backward P. If you click that icon, Word reveals all the paragraph marks (and tab marks) in your document. Unfortunately, Word also insists on putting tiny irritating dots wherever there are character spaces. Though the character-space dots can help you spot double spaces (a common typographical error), they quickly become overwhelming when you just want to look at clean pages of text. Most people click that icon once, gasp, and quickly turn it off.

You can make Word show you paragraph marks and tabs--and not drive you batty with annoying dots--by clicking Tools, Options, View, and checking the Paragraph marks and Tab characters boxes. Reverse the process to turn them off. It's also relatively easy to alter the operation of the backward-P icon so that it doesn't show the dots, by using a few simple macro commands.

Stop Flip-Flopping Menus

If you haven't done this already, prevent Office's spring-loaded "adaptive" menus (which conceal infrequently used commands) from flopping around like catfish on a hot Mississippi River bank. To turn off that feature, click Tools, Customize, Options. Then in Office 2003 or XP, check the Always show full menus box. In Office 2000, clear the box marked Menus show recently used commands first.

Override Outlook's Draconian E-Mail Security Update

Microsoft has decreed that certain versions of Outlook will hide specific kinds of files attached to e-mail messages. The edict came down shortly after the LoveLetter virus hit and (according to legend, anyway) so many 'Softies double-clicked on the "ILOVEYOU" attachments that the virus brought down Microsoft's mighty internal e-mail system.

Microsoft's draconian approach to solving the problem? Don't let people see or touch certain kinds of files attached to incoming messages. Of course, Microsoft doesn't block Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, even though both of those kinds of files can contain viruses, too. Instead, the focus is on programs and other files (such as .exe, .com, .vbs, .scr, and .pif files) that will run immediately if you double-click them.

The time-gobbling problem arises when someone sends you a file that you're expecting, and you can't see it. You can work around the problem by sending a message back to the original sender and asking that person simply to rename the file (from, aprogram.exe to aprogram.exe.stupidoutlook, say) and resend it. But that's a hassle. For a much better solution, download Ken Slovak's free Attachment Options utility; it will force Outlook to show you all the files attached to your e-mail messages.

Time Wasters: Avoid Outlook's Useless Spam Filters

The most cruel Office joke of all is junk mail filtering in Outlook 97, 98, 2000, and XP--it's a waste of time, from beginning to end. All those versions of Outlook compare the text in your incoming messages with a list of "offensive" words found in a file called filters.txt; if the message contains a bad word, it gets bounced into the Junk Mail folder. Truth be told, however, such junk mail filtering has been a complete flop. Microsoft hasn't bothered to update the bad-words list in years, even though Outlook has a (nonfunctional) "download updates" button in its Junk E-mail Organizer.

Microsoft has improved the situation substantially with Outlook 2003; and if you get the latest version, you should definitely turn the spam filter on (click Tools, Options, Junk E-Mail and choose an appropriate level of filtering). Reasonable people differ over how well spam filtering in Outlook 2003 works--Microsoft keeps most of the details close to its vest, and the only options are for 'Low' and 'High' filtering--but the utility certainly beats its predecessors.

Keyboard Corner

Office Orientation

OPERATION: Key combination

In all Office applications

Launch spelling checker: F7

Open Save As dialog box: F12

In Word

Return to default formatting: Ctrl-Space

Add or remove one line-space above current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-0

Single-space current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-1

Double-space current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-2

Set current or selected paragraphs to 1.5 line-spaces: Ctrl-5

Left-align current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-L

Center current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-E

Right-align current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-R

Justify current or selected paragraphs: Ctrl-J

Insert date: Alt-Shift-D

Insert time: Alt-Shift-T

In Excel

Recalculate sheets in open workbooks: F9

Copy formula of cell above: Ctrl-'

Copy value of cell above: Ctrl-Shift-' (Ctrl-")

Open Format Cells dialog box: Ctrl-1

Insert date: Ctrl-;

Insert time: Ctrl-Shift-; (Ctrl-:)

Select current column: Ctrl-Space

Select current row: Shift-Space

Woody Leonhard writes several Office tips newsletters for his Web site, wopr.com. His latest book is Windows XP Timesaving Techniques for Dummies (For Dummies, 2003).

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

More about Microsoft

Show Comments