Friday, July 01, 2005

Undiscovered Microsoft Office Extras

You use Microsoft Office for its primary applications: Word, Excel, Outlook, and, depending on your edition of Office, PowerPoint, Access, and more. But if you have Office 2003, regardless of edition, you'll find several other useful tools tucked away in the Microsoft Office | Microsoft Office Tools group on the Windows Start menu.

If you use Office's default installation settings, either eight or nine Office tools will show up in the menu; the Microsoft Office Access Snapshot Viewer installs only with editions that include Access. Some of the menu items will actually point to programs on your hard drive. The rest install the apps the first time you try to run them (so make sure you have your Office CD handy or know where the files are on your network). Four of the tools are mini-applications; the rest are utilities. Here's a quick introduction to each.

Microsoft Office Picture Manager effectively replaces the Photo Editor app that came with earlier versions of Office, although it offers fewer editing features. As its name suggests, it's much more concerned with managing photos and other images than with editing them. In fact, it's similar to—and actually as capable as—some standalone album programs that come bundled with scanners and cameras, and it goes far beyond the simple viewing features in, say, Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. It's a highly useful tool for organizing and viewing images, as well as for basic editing of images in BMP, EMF, GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and WMF formats. In addition, it will let you compress files in most of these formats and convert from one format to another.

The interface superficially resembles Windows Explorer set to View | Thumbnails, but it has many more features. Picture Manager's left pane does not show the complete hierarchy of folders on your hard drive, as Explorer does. Instead, the pane shows shortcuts to specific folders. If you have images in folders scattered across your drive, or on multiple drives, you can create shortcuts directly to each folder.

If you want to be able to move anywhere on your drive, you can do that too. Just add a shortcut to a folder that contains subfolders, choose the shortcut, then move to the subfolders. If you add a shortcut to, say, your C: drive, you'll be able to navigate to anywhere on the drive.

To add a shortcut, choose File | Add Picture Shortcut, then navigate to the folder you want the new shortcut to take you to. To add shortcuts automatically, choose File | Locate Pictures, use the task pane to enter a location to look in, and click OK. If you choose to look in Local Drives, for example, Picture Manager will search all your drives and add shortcuts to any folder that includes files in the right format. You can also delete any shortcuts you don't want by right-clicking on them (or selecting them and hitting Shift-F10) and choosing Remove Shortcut. Do not select Delete, which will delete the actual folder and any files in it.

One useful feature is the ability to convert files to other formats. Select a file or files, choose File | Export, then pick the format to convert to—BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, or TIF—from the Export With This File Format drop-down list.

You'll also want to experiment with the editing tools on the Picture menu, which let you do things like crop, rotate, adjust brightness and contrast, remove red-eye, and resize and compress the image. If you make a change you don't like, Edit | Undo will let you back up multiple steps. More important, changes aren't permanent until you give the File | Save command. When you close Picture Manager, if you haven't saved your changes, the program will ask whether you want to.

Microsoft Office Document Scanning and Microsoft Office Document Imaging work together. Capture a page in the Document Scanning tool and it will hand the scanned image over to the Document Imaging tool. If you start a scan from Document Imaging, it will call on the Document Scanning tool for the actual scan. These apps are worth knowing about because, in combination with Windows XP, they give you a poor man's document- management capability similar to what you'll find in the bundled software for document scanners. This is too often missing from low-cost, desktop flatbed scanner packages. And it goes light-years beyond the wimpy Windows Scanner and Camera Wizard, which has no OCR feature.

When you open Document Scanning, it may ask for a scanner to use. If it doesn't, and you have more than one scanner driver installed, click the Scanner button and pick the scanner you want from the drop-down list. You'll also see two check boxes in the dialog box. If you want to open the driver before scanning each time, so that you can check or change settings, be sure to put a check in the box labeled Show Scanner Driver Dialog Before Scanning.

You can control most settings through the program's presets. To see the settings, highlight each in turn, click the Preset Options button, and then click Edit Selected Preset. (Notice that you can create additional presets by choosing Create New Presets.) Work through the tabs and Advanced button options to see or change the settings.

Two options are worth special mention. Choose the General tab, and you'll see a Create Shortcut button. Click it to add a shortcut to the current Preset on your desktop, so you can scan simply by double-clicking on the shortcut. If there's a type of scan you regularly repeat, this can be handy.

Choose the Processing tab, and you'll see an OCR option to recognize text in the scanned image. The OCR feature makes the file searchable in Document Imaging and readable by the Windows XP Indexing Service to give you basic document-management capabilities. Go to Start | Search, search for a word or phrase in the file, and then open the file in Document Imaging. You can then search for the word or phrase within the document using Edit | Find. The ability to create an indexable file is a big strength of the combined apps. In informal tests, we were able to find all the references we searched for.

You can also export the text to a Word document from Document Imaging with Tools | Send Text to Word. (And if you didn't recognize the text when you scanned the document, you can choose Tools | Recognize Text Using OCR first.) The Document Imaging tool offers other features too, like the ability to add annotations. The options are largely self- explanatory. Work your way through the menus to see what's there.

Another useful feature is that you can change the order of pages in a multipage document by dragging and dropping. You can also drag pages from one Document Imaging window to another. You'll notice that Document Imaging supports two file formats: TIFF and MDI (Microsoft Document Imaging). To share your files with others, you may want to use TIFF; if, however, someone saves a TIFF file in another program, the text information will be lost if you've recognized the file with OCR, so you'll have to recognize it again. MDI has the advantage of producing smaller files. In a quick test, we saved a 1.2MB TIFF file as a 333KB MDI file.

Microsoft Clip Organizer is both the organizing tool its name promises and a collection of clip art, some of which installs on your system and some of which is available for downloading from the Web through Tools | Clips Online. The File | Add Clips To Organizer option works similarly to the equivalent in Picture Organizer, to let you add clips manually or automatically.

Here again, the program is straightforward, and you can learn it easily by exploring the menus and the choices on the task pane. Be sure to try out View | Search, which lets you search within clip art collections or across multiple collections for keywords. You can also add or delete keywords from a clip by right-clicking and choosing Edit Keywords.

Microsoft Office 2003 Save My Settings Wizard is just that, a wizard for saving the settings of your Office applications. It can also restore settings you've already saved. Once you've saved the settings to a file, you can move the file to another machine to change the Office 2003 programs on that system to your preferred settings all at once. This is a convenient way to customize the settings on a new system when you're upgrading your computer, for example.

Microsoft Office Application Recovery will close down an Office application that's stopped responding. It also gives you the option to recover your work.

Microsoft Office 2003 Language Settings lets you set the language options for Office programs by adding or removing languages from the Enabled list. You can also change the default language for Office programs. Change from English (U.S.) to English (U.K.), for example, and Word's spell-checker will start accepting colour as right and marking color as wrong.

Microsoft Office Access Snapshot Viewer lets you view Access report snapshots, which you can create using Access itself. The utility comes with versions of Office that include Access. You can create report snapshots to share information with people who don't have Access, and either send a copy of the viewer along with them or send a link to a site where the viewer can be downloaded. (By default, the program Snapview.exe is located in C:\ program files\common files\microsoft shared\snapshot viewer. You can also download it from Microsoft's Web site.)

Digital Certificate for VBA Projects lets you create a self-signed digital certificate. Without the certificate, the Office macro security feature will treat macros you created yourself as suspect and, depending on the security setting, may either ask whether to enable them each time you open a file with macros or simply disable them. You can use the self-signed digital certificate to tell Office to trust the macros.

You're bound to find some useful programs within that often neglected Microsoft Office Tools menu, whether it's for managing your photos and other image files, setting up a document-management system, creating certificates for your macros, or publishing your Access data. Once you try them, you may find that they're valuable additions to your toolkit.

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