Sunday, March 11, 2007

Interchanging documents and email between 2007 and Office 2003

Here I have very good news. When Word or Excel open a document you created in an earlier version of Office, I found absolutely no errors. I stress-tested the process with some very complex Word documents and some equally complicated Excel spreadsheets. Everything worked exactly as it should in 2007.

I also interchanged email, calendaring appoints, and the like between Outlook 2003 and 2007. Again, interchange worked flawlessly.

Other little Installation Issues -- and a side reflection on Acrobat

As I said earlier, I hadn't planned to remove my earlier versions of Word, Excel, etc. -- only to install the new products so I could test each on the same machine. One product I had hoped not to install was Outlook, but the installation process gave it to me anyway. In some ways that was a good mistake, because there are some minor advantages to the new Outlook -- for example, adding a sender to your safe sender's list so you don't have to download graphics (a give-away to spammers that they've caught a live email account). However, there were some downsides to the Outlook install that I experienced and you will too, or may experience comparable issues. First, I found my Palm device no longer synchronized with Outlook. That's a strong suggestion that the format of the PST file is different. However, the new PST file is not appreciably smaller than the one it replaced, whereas the Compressed XML formats for the other main Office applications provide significantly smaller files. Palm, to its credit, quickly updated their synchronizing software so that now works fine.

Another thing that stopped working was my Acrobat 8 plug-in to Outlook, and with it the ability to select an email folder and PDF the entire contents. (Likewise, the PDF plug-in to other office products also stopped working.) I contacted Adobe about this, and they said they were working on it.

One disappointing Adobe Acrobat side-note: Months ago I got tired of Internet Explorer and switched to Mozilla. However, there is no PDF plug-in to Mozilla/Firefox that Adobe has built for IE. That's a real disappointment; "PDF Capturing" a site within a browser is a facility I used frequently. You'd think that with its commitment to openness, Adobe would provide the same Acrobat plug-in for Mozilla that it does for IE.

Client Side or Web-Based Editing -- interesting observation

I am working on several different PCs as I write and print my Information Insider review of Office 2007 (and companion column). I have to; Office 2007 doesn't run under Windows 2000, which is the system that my printer is attached to. So I work at each and try to keep track of the latest versions, names of files, and where they are. This is not easy.

So with this review, I've decided to reverse things a bit. In the past, I've used this Blog as the place for my "cutting room floor" -- a place to put materials that I thought were important but didn't fit in the printed versions of my work. Now my strategy is to put all my observations in a single place (this blog) and select from the blog whatever I want to put into the final review.

That suggests one element of the strategic decision about office tools: Whether to use client-based tools (residing on the computers where you work) or to use on-line tools as I am doing here.

Exploring Word 2007

While Outlook 2007 is quite similar to Outlook 2003 (and thus getting up to speed was almost effortless), Word 2007 is significantly different from its predecessors. If you consider yourself a quick study of PC applications in general and a power user of earlier versions of Word, you will still find "ramping up" to your former competence a real challenge. Here are some of my initial findings.

  • The format painter didn’t seem to work when I tried to apply a margin setting to a bullet. The source bullet was under a level one heading and more deeply indented; the destination text-and-bullet were under a deeper level heading. I couldn’t undent (or move the bullet margin leftwards) even with the usual tool. Moreover, since I hadn’t yet figured out how to recover my “normal” (now “draft”) view of documents, I couldn’t fix the problem.
  • Microsoft obviously spent a lot of effort changing the user interface. In some cases, the changes are an improvement. In others, I have to say it seems like change for change sake. Once you've mastered the old interface, it becomes the "devil you know" and awkward or not, you know how to use the tool.
  • It is curious that Word offers no bundled help for those familiar with the earlier product. In fact, the "Help" icon itself is reduced to a small "?" in the upper right hand side, as though you probably don't need it anyway since the interface is deemed to be so self explanatory.
  • An example of "new interface" versus old feature is "Word Count." How do you determine your word count? Searching HELP for “Word Count” returns you lots of results (no surprise there), but getting a simple answer to how to count words didn’t come easy. There was lots of information about the Word Home page, counting words in a selection, counting words as you type – but finding how to perform the old standby of counting words in the document isn’t obvious. Answer: you can’t do this anymore, and you don’t need to: The information is at the bottom left of the screen as you type. Still, it would be nice to know that the old word count facility has been replaced and is no longer needed. Then when you catch on, the word count is always on the lower left-hand side of the window. Nice touch, but if you're not expecting you may miss it. Besides, getting reading level analyses used to be part of the "word count" facility; how do you do that? Go back to the HELP system to find out.
  • “Normal” views have disappeared, and I couldn't find where they'd gone until I went to a Word discussion group and learn that “Normal” is now “Draft.” Looking in Help for “Normal view” doesn’t get you anywhere. Instead, I went to a Word discussion group and learned that draft view is the new name for Normal and that you can set the styles view through Word Options (Alt, T, O, A), and then scroll to the 'Display' part of Advanced settings here (as in earlier versions of Word) you can set a width greater than zero.
  • I went to HELP and looked for "style window, " and received 100 hints (none of which seemed relevant). This seemed to be a pattern with HELP; if you try to find information about a feature whose name is new in Word 2007, you get no guidance. Working on your own, I think it will take a very long time to acquire a deep understanding of the new Word.
  • Here's a peculiarity of earlier MS Word that thankfully has been fixed.: Whenever you printed a Word document in the past --nothing else but print, mind you-- and exited the document, you used to get the message "Do you want to save the changes?" My very first reaction, that took a long time to get over was "Huh? I don't think I made any changes, but I guess I'd better save it anyway in case I did." The message comes because you've inadvertently associated a printer to the document. If this warning were such a great idea, then why don't the other Office suite tools, such as PowerPoint and Excel, work the same way and give that message too?
  • One big complaint I've had with Word from the DOS days was its limited table model. WordPerfect (and HTML) always allowed you to merge table cells horizontally as well as vertically. Word did not; it would "fake" a horizontal merge, but exporting that or looking closely showed that it wasn't a merged cell. Can you now merge cells vertically in Word? Yes. I exported a table to HTML and inspected it with Dreamweaver to confirm this. I wonder if (and hope that) PowerPoint's and Excel's tables will work the same way.