Software

Microsoft Office 2004

Word 2004: Streamlines Program but Can Confuse Users

by Nan Barber

Microsoft Word has always represented a struggle between two aspects at odds: a clean, simple interface and a teeming mass of undiscovered features -- some of them treasures, and others that are just plain clunky. This year's incarnation, Microsoft Word 2004, brings some new, interesting ways to work, such as the Notebook Layout view with audio notes. And Microsoft has tackled the discoverability factor by adding new buttons and Formatting Palette panels. At the same time, other features, such as Track Changes, have become clunkier.

In Your Notes

If you still use a spiral notebook for taking notes, this version of Word may herald your time to digitize. The Notebook Layout view resembles a notebook, with its lined-paper look and divider tabs (see "Taking Note"). The Note Levels feature lets you drag and drop notes hierarchically. There are also disclosure triangles for expanding and collapsing subordinate points, and clear markers for moving or selecting individual note points -- all of which make for a much more attractive, and OS X–like, way of navigating an outline than Word's Outline view.

In addition to letting you type text into your document, Word 2004 supports Apple's Ink technology in Panther and Jaguar, so you can write on a graphics tablet and watch your letters turn into text.

There are even more ways to get notes into Word 2004. Using the Audio Notes feature in the Notebook Layout view, you just click on the Record button to start recording. (You need a microphone, but they're not hard to find -- and most Apple laptops have a built-in mike.) If you're recording and taking minimal notes concurrently, Word will associate sections of the recording with each new bullet point. Click on the speaker icon next to a note to play back the audio that supplements that note.

Only two toolbars appear in Notebook Layout view: a standard Notebook Layout toolbar and an Audio Notes toolbar. Features such as Word Count and the ability to select heading styles aren't available in this view, and Word Count even disappears from the pared-down Tools menu. The interface may be clean, but these omissions reduce this view's usefulness, because you have to spend extra time switching into a different view to use familiar tools.

You can convert any existing Word document into Notebook Layout view when you open it, but you will lose formatting, including most text styles, paragraph indents, and bulleted lists.

Despite its few quirks, the Notebook Layout view gives you a streamlined note-taking tool that's perfect for students, businesspeople, and news reporters. And when it becomes too limiting, you can move to fuller-featured, dedicated notebook programs such as Circus Ponies' Note Book and AquaMinds' NoteTaker (   ; " More Mac Software Bargains," May 2003).

Navigating with Ease

Clicking on the new Navigation Pane icon in the Standard toolbar opens a pane of thumbnails, much like those in OS X's Preview app. This pane can help you move around in long documents containing many illustrations or other objects (it's less useful in a text-heavy document, where all the thumbnails will look the same). The Navigation Pane also includes a document map consisting of key text in your document, which provides an easy shortcut for finding your way through a long document.

Buttons with Smarts

Word's new Smart Buttons are time-savers that reduce the amount of trips you have to make to the menu bar or to Word's preferences. When you paste text, a clipboard icon appears next to it (see "Taking Note"). Click on this icon and choose from a contextual menu how you want to format the pasted text. The contextual menu goes away as soon as you start typing or resume working in the document, so it won't get in your way. (You will also find Smart Buttons in Excel 2004.)

As you type a word that Word is autocorrecting, a blue underline with a small triangle appears briefly under that word. If you click on it, you'll see a menu where you can return to what you were originally typing, tell Word to stop autocorrecting, or open the AutoCorrect dialog box. This is a nice solution to the frustration Word sometimes causes by, say, immediately autoformatting your bulleted list.

Formatting Palette Gets a Lift

The Formatting Palette is often the centerpoint of using Word X, and it's even more feature-rich in Word 2004. The new Add Objects pane lets you add photos, movies, and other items previously found only in the Insert menu. Tabs at the top offer

one-click access to AutoText entries -- such as the date -- as well as symbols, clip art, WordArt text, shapes, and new fill-in-yourself objects such as preformatted calendars and checklists.

The Formatting Palette also has a new Styles pane, which brings some features buried in the Style dialog box out into the open, such as the ability to create a new style. The drawback is that using this pane to select a style may take longer than using the simple Style pop-up menu that used to appear in the Font section of the palette.

Changes to Tracking

If you're a Track Changes user, you've surely clicked on the little green TRK button in the Status bar to turn Track Changes on and off, to wrist-cramping effect. You'll be glad to see the big Track Changes button on the remodeled Reviewing toolbar.

And instead of choosing three menu options in the Accept Or Reject Changes dialog box to see your document in its unaltered condition or its final state, you can now swiftly choose from a new Markup menu on the Reviewing toolbar.

The Show menu, next to the Markup menu, also makes it easy to view edits and comments from a specific reviewer. It also gives you more choices for what types of changes you'd like to see or hide.

In previous versions of Word, deleted words appeared by default as strike-through text (crossed out with a single line). Now the default setting is that the old word merely changes color, and the new word is italicized. You can still tell what's going on, but it can be very confusing. (Fortunately, you can change the Track Changes options to bring back the strike-through style.)

Most of the time, you'll review tracked edits in the main body of the document. However, if you're hooked on the Comments feature, some of the changes to it may offer a less-than-happy surprise. Now called the Reviewing Pane, the Comments pane used to offer a neat list of comments, delineated by each reviewer's initials. Now, comments and text edits are mushed together in a confusing list, with different sections for comments located in the main document, footnotes, and so on. And the inability to click on a comment in Normal view and have Word jump to that comment in the Reviewing Pane is maddening. This new list is convenient if you're a grad student and your documents contain tons of footnotes, but it's superfluous and distracting for almost everyone else.

A clearer way to view comments is to switch to Page Layout view, where comments appear in balloons (color-coded by reviewer) along the right side of the page, with lines connecting them to the corresponding word or phrase.

Macworld's Buying Advice

This new version of Word has some big new features that will motivate many Office users to upgrade. The Notebook Layout view will be enough for many people who don't need a more involved program designed specifically for this task. However, if you're a heavy user of the Track Changes and Comments features in Word X, the changes in Word 2004 might not impress you. And because Word 2004 keeps the old features in place (Outline View and the Clipboard) while adding the new ones (Notebook Layout view and the Scrapbook), you may not need to invest in the latest version.

Taking note The Smart Paste button, shown here in Word's new Notebook Layout view, saves you trips to the toolbar.

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