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21.5 Things You Can Do with Office 2004

by Giles Turnbull
08/03/2004

You already know about Microsoft Office 2004 and some of the great new features it offers. Stuff like the new Notepad application in Word, the three-pane view in Entourage, and the Project Center.

This article isn't going to cover any of that. Those are the big new features that you see the moment you open up the programs concerned. No, this article is here to show you some of the nifty little tweaks you can apply to Office. Some clever import and export options, neat scripts, and a few simple little things that might make your life a bit easier.

Some of these are new to Office 2004; some also applied to older versions of the suite. No doubt you know of many others that I haven't mentioned. If so, please jot them down in the TalkBacks at the end of the article.

So let's get clicking on those big 'e', 'w', 'p', and 'x' symbols in the Dock and find out what we can make them do.

Fun with Audio Notes

Notebook is a new addition to Word 2004 (View > Notebook Layout), and essentially offers a different view of what remains, underneath, a Word document. Notebook is designed for a specific text-related task, making and organizing notes. While it's not OneNote (its feature-packed sister application on the Windows platform), it still offers some useful tools.

Foremost among these is the ability to record audio notes (Tools > Audio Notes > Start Recording) into a notebook document. By default they are recorded as medium-quality compressed MP4 files, but you can change this behavior in the preferences (Word > Preferences > Note Recording) to record as WAV or AIFF -- although be warned, those file sizes will be much larger than MP4. (Microsoft helps you monitor the usage rate by including a contextual readout in Preferences that changes as you adjust the parameters.) You can also change the sample size and sample rate. So what you have here is a nifty voice recorder for your Mac.

While the audio notes feature works nicely in Word's Notebook mode, there's no easy way of moving one of those notes to a non-notebook file. When editing a standard Word document, the audio recording/playing toolbar disappears.

There's a somewhat long-winded, but simple enough, process for getting round this. In the Notebook document you can export your audio notes as a QuickTime file (in the format you specified in Preferences) by using the Tools > Audio Notes > Export Audio menu command. Save the exported file to the desktop, then it's possible to drag it into a normal Word document, where it will show up as an inserted movie file. Not exactly elegant, but it works.

You can also use QuickTime Player to play these files as standalone audio files. And since they are QT compatible, you can use them for just about anything digital-media related, such as adding them to slideshows as voiceovers. To learn more about this, see Sound is Half the Picture. In essence, Office 2004 provides you with a handy voice recorder that you can use for just about any application.

Elsewhere in Word, the new Navigation Pane (click View > Navigation Pane) opens the document in thumbnails, down the left side of the window, much as Adobe Acrobat does with multi-page PDF files (or indeed Apple's own Preview application does). It's a useful way of finding your way around large documents.


Viewing a document in Navigation Pane mode Viewing a document in Navigation Pane mode.

The Office Scrapbook, with scraps The Office Scrapbook, with scraps from other applications.

Scraps for your Scrapbook

The Scrapbook is a new feature included in the Office Toolbox (Tools > Scrapbook). The idea is that you can drag pretty much anything into it, from any Office application, for temporary storage. Chunks of text, tables and graphs, and images can all be thrown into the Scrapbook.

But what you might not realize is that it can be used by other, non-Office applications as well. It's possible to drag text from BBEdit or certain files (such as pictures) from the Finder. It's a matter of trial and error, really. Dragging from AppleWorks doesn't, um, work. Dragging from Address Book does, however. Eudora? No. Terminal? No. Tex-Edit Plus? Yes. You get the idea. Play'n'see.

Of course, it works (kinda) both ways. You can also drag clippings out of the Office Scrapbook and into other applications. Once again, simple stuff like dragging text into BBEdit works fine, but there can be weirdness. A few Excel data cells dragged into the Scrapbook, then out again into an AppleWorks spreadsheet, end up there as a picture file, not as delimited text.

Scripty Goodness

Everyone who makes a choice not to use Apple's built-in personal information applications, iCal and Address Book, will know how annoying it can be when you want access to your PIM data from another app. If you stuck with Apple's recommended software, you'd be able to use the system-level controls that enable all sorts of apps to delve into the data and hook some of it out.

But if, like me, you choose to keep your data in another application, you'll end up (like me) doing a lot of copying and pasting.

But thanks to Paul Berkowitz, you can choose to keep your data in Entourage and still access it via Address Book. Paul's clever scripts do all sorts of wondrous things, but I've picked out three of the most useful.

Sync Entourage-iCal allows you to keep your calendar data in Entourage, but keep it synchronized with iCal in the background. Next time you're using an app that wants to suck some information from iCal (iChat, your iPod, or .Mac) it's all there, ready to use. You don't even have to launch iCal if you don't want to use it.

Using the script is straightforward enough, but users are encouraged to read the ReadMe file included with the download. There are certain essential requirements that need to be checked by the user before the script can be run.

Along similar lines, there's Sync Entourage-Address Book, which does the same job for Entourage's Address Book database and Apple's Address Book application (yeah, they both have exactly the same name -- try not to confuse the two).

Both of these smart scripts cost only $19, after a 14-day trial period. They each come with very detailed instructions for installation and use.

These scripts are only possible because of Office 2004's unprecedented support for AppleScript. There's already some interesting use of scripting for other applications (here's Apple's page about scripting for PowerPoint, for example) and the potential exists for many more refinements to the whole suite, thanks to scripts.

Messing with Spreadsheets

Working with spreadsheet data is not usually considered creative. Data is data, most people would say, and there's not much you can do to liven up figures and calculations.

That said, Excel has always included tools for making lists of numbers look interesting, and there's a new feature in Office 2004 designed to make this even easier.

Excel 2004 includes some new tools for playing with data graphically. The Chart Formatting toolbar now contains a dropdown menu (see below) that lets you switch from one chart type to another. A simple line graph can become a bar chart, 3D pie chart, or radar chart. It's a useful way of trying out different visualizations quickly, so you can decide which one suits your data best.

Excel's chart formatting toolbar Excel's Chart Formatting toolbar in action.

Excel supports a very thorough range of export options, which now include raw XML. Want to hand-edit the file in a text editor? Unlikely, I know, but the option's there if you want it.

More from PowerPoint

It's easy to get frustrated with PowerPoint. All that effort, so much clicking, just to produce a few slides.

Thankfully one of Word's most useful features has been included in the new Notebook, and suddenly writing a presentation need not be such a chore.

The new Notebook makes writing outlines very quick and easy, and it includes the helpful File > Send to > Microsoft PowerPoint command, which exports your outline into a new PowerPoint document. Just apply some formatting styles, and zap! Your presentation is ready.

Before: An outline written in Notebook.


After: The same outline in a PowerPoint file.

Another new addition to PowerPoint is the Presenter Tools view, which is enabled with View > Presenter Tools. This opens your document in full-screen mode, but still with the ability to edit notes, monitor slide arrangement, and track timings as well. It's a strange combination of preview and edit, but it might come in useful for last-minute tweaks and timed rehearsals (if your presentation is one of those Really Important ones).

PowerPoint's Presenter Tools view PowerPoint's Presenter Tools view.

More from Entourage

Entourage 2004 boasts a lot of improvements and refinements from previous versions.

Spam is now less of a problem thanks to a built-in spam filter, reached by clicking Tools > Junk E-mail Protection. The dialogue box that appears lets you change how strict you want your filters to be, and clicking the Safe Domains tab enables a whitelist of trusted email sources; the strictest kind of filtering, but sometimes necessary.

Junk E-mail Protection in Entourage Changing the Junk E-mail Protection settings in Entourage.

From the Address Book, it's possible to click on any address and call up a map in your default browser. This service uses MSN and in theory should work with any global address. In practice, it needs every available field to be filled in accurately, including country and zip/postal code, to function seamlessly. When it does work, it's great.

Calling up a map in Entourage Calling up a map in Entourage.


Little things

And That's Just for Starters

Honestly, any application suite this big is so full of features that an article about them could go on forever. Suffice to say, I hope you've been able to find one or two things here that you didn't know about before. If you don't own Office 2004 and you've been trying to work out if it's worth your money, perhaps something in this article may have helped you make up your mind, one way or the other.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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