Beware Microsoft Word

By the way, don’t take this as some sort of anti-Office rant or reason not to upgrade. I like Office 2007 and strongly recommend that folks upgrade when they’re ready. I believe it’s important to know what’s going on behind the scenes, though.

Perhaps "Beware" is too strong a word in its normal context; Word’s not lurking in the darkness like the boogey-man ready to pounce on the unsuspecting citizens. There is a minor danger hiding under its beautiful new façade, though. One that may bite you if you’re not aware.

The newest version of Word, along with most of the applications in Microsoft Office 2007, saves its files in a new format. For the most part that’s a good thing. The old format was never publicly defined and suffered from many problems. Office 2007’s new format is cleaner and built on XML, our favorite buzzword of the decade, which should make it easier for developers to build tools to create and modify custom documents for you.

The downside to changing file formats is that not everyone changes at the same rate. You’re happy upgrading, using the newest version and learning its new interface. But… maybe your customers aren’t all moving as quickly. Will they be able to use the documents you’re sending?

As you move – or your company’s IT department moves you – to Office 2007, it would be a smart idea to talk with each of your customers, vendors and others with whom you exchange documents. Make sure that they know about the new formats. If they’re not moving to Office 2007 yet, point them to Microsoft’s Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

As an alternative, you can use the Save As dialog box to create files using the old format.

You can also set your applications to do this for all your documents. From the Office Button (that’ the official name for the round button in the upper left-hand corner of the window), choose Word Options (way down at the bottom right of the menu) then choose Save.

The downside is of course that you’d lose all the yummy goodness of the new formats. I recommend not doing this unless a majority of your contacts have yet to upgrade and won’t be doing so for some time.

Office 2007

Also currently in beta from Microsoft is Office 2007. Mike McBride got his Office Beta Blog going again, good info there. There are huge user interface (UI) changes. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook’s message window now sport the ribbon, while oddly enough Outlook’s main window doesn’t.

Outlook 2007

As for that whole ribbon thing, there’s obviously plenty of talk about it all over the net already. In theory, grouping functions by tasks – which is what the ribbon is supposed to do – should help the casual user. I’m not so sure about that; it presumes that the user is ‘casual’ enough that they don’t know which of the old menus hold the commands they want, but ‘experienced’ enough that they know which ribbon group to select. Heck, I’ve been working with it all through the non-public TR1 release and still can’t find things very quickly.

Word07 document

I can say this for a fact though: my son, who as a student is slightly more than ‘casual’ but I wouldn’t put him in the ‘expert’ category, hates the new style.

The thing I dislike the most is that this reduces consistency across the Windows platform.

For starters, gone is Windows’ “system menu” – the top left-hand corner menu that’s always held options for the window itself; Minimize, Maximize, Close etc. Though it’s still available via the Alt-Space keystroke combination, it’s not obvious and it’s different from other applications and from the OS itself.

Word 2007 - top of the ribbon

In it’s place is a large circular area with the Office logo inside. That, believe it or not, is the File menu! I can’t believe how long it took me to find it, to figure out how to open an existing file. I think that’s going to be a huge problem for users, that helpdesks are going to be flooded with “how do I open an existing file” calls.

Outlook 2003 – Insert Signature

Matthew E. sent me a nice e-mail message to say that he’d been “searching for 2 hours trying to figure out how to turn on the ability to insert a signature in Outlook 2003” and finally found the solution in a comment I’d left on Mike’s site. I’m glad it helped. Hopefully this will make it more findable.

If you’re having trouble inserting signatures, visit Tools, Options, Mail Format tab and un-check Use Microsoft Office Word 2003 to edit e-mail messages. Now when you’re editing messages, you should have the ability to Insert an Signature easily.

You’ll also find that the editor starts up more quickly. I’ve almost never used Word as my e-mail editor, so I don’t know what features you’ll be missing.

MS Word Locks Up, Errors

Two similar and related errors to talk about today:

Microsoft Word has encountered a problem and needs to close.

and

Microsoft Word has generated errors and will be closed by Windows. You will need to restart the program.

These are related in that they both are often caused by a corrupted file – a file that’s used every time you start Word but that many of us don’t even know exists: normal.dot

Normal.dot is a template, used each time that Word starts a new document. If you or your organization have a standard set of fonts, styles, etc. that you want to use for every document, you can use Normal.dot to define these; many companies have a standard file that they put on every system so that their documents have a consistent look.

Unfortunately, such an oft-used file is susceptible to corruption if the program is interrupted or being attacked by a virus. Thankfully, it’s easily replaced. Use Windows’ file search (Start->Search on Windows XP or NT Workstation, I think it was Start->Find on 95/98/Me) to find normal.dot, then rename the it. Then launch Word and close it again – Word should have created a new, empty, normal.dot file. If it did, you can then go back and delete the corrupted one.