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.
The Smart Paste button, shown here in Word’s new Notebook Layout view, saves you trips to the toolbar.
Excel 2004: Venerable Spreadsheet Program Evolves Nicely
by Rob Griffiths
For those whose data analysis needs are anything but simple, Microsoft Excel is a mainstay. Though AppleWorks and ComGrafix’s RagTime both have spreadsheet modules, Excel has the rich feature set and Windows compatibility that number-crunchers have come to rely on.
If you’re familiar with prior versions of Excel, you’ll feel right at home in Excel 2004; Microsoft has kept the best of prior releases while adding productivity-enhancing new features, including a Page Layout view, Smart Buttons that help with common tasks such as formula debugging, and nice-looking chart-formatting options.
Substantial improvements lie hidden beneath Excel’s familiar surface. Like its siblings in Office 2004, Excel 2004 has a Toolbox icon that gives you access to the Office-wide Project Center, checks compatibility with other versions of Office, and opens the Scrapbook to store often-used text and graphics (see “Office’s Common Ground”).
The first thing you’ll notice in Excel is the default Page Layout view — it looks nothing like the views in prior versions of Excel. The active page is white, while the others are grayed out until clicked on. If you’re an advanced Excel user, you may find this view takes some getting used to — your 36-column-wide report, for instance, will now have visible page-break gaps. Luckily, the old Normal view is available in the View menu. If you can get accustomed to it, though, the Page Layout view shows you exactly how your spreadsheet will print out.
The Formatting Palette is much improved in Excel 2004. You may actually first notice it when you’re not using it — it fades to semitransparent when it’s inactive, and becomes opaque again when you mouse over it. Although transparency helps reduce the palette’s visual intrusiveness, you can’t select cells behind it. But through the Customize Formatting Palette option, you can instead have the palette minimize when it’s not in use, which gets it completely out of the way.
Like Word and PowerPoint 2004, Excel 2004 puts Add Objects in the Formatting Palette, making it easy to insert charts, symbols, shapes, lines, and text shapes. Choose one of the objects, and Excel places it on the worksheet. Finally, the Page Setup section of the palette includes a new Orientation area with buttons that you can use to easily toggle between Portrait and Landscape mode. The Print Scaling options in this section give you full control over your spreadsheet’s print layout. These changes reduce the time that you used to spend activating menus, viewing print previews, and memorizing shortcut keys for various symbols.
The downside to this revised palette is its size. With a graphic selected, for instance, the fully expanded Formatting Palette is taller than the 1,280-pixel height of my 23-inch Apple Cinema Display. When I’m working on a PowerBook, I have to click a lot on the Formatting Palette’s disclosure triangles to reveal and hide the various sections within the available screen space.
Charts Turn Professional
If you use only the Formatting Palette’s Add Objects section to insert charts in Excel 2004, you’ll miss out on some cool new looks for your charts. In the Custom Types area of the Chart dialog box (Insert: Chart), you’ll find an assortment of new, very professional-looking templates. So instead of a boring Pie from the Standard Types area, you can go for the 3D Anodized Pie to really bring your data to life.
Get Smart Buttons
Microsoft calls them Smart Buttons. You’ll probably just call them amazing. What are they? They are new buttons — Auto Fill Options, Insert Options, Paste Options, and Error Checking Options — that pop up when Excel senses a need for them. For instance, when a formula contains an error, you’ll see the Error Checking Options button.
If you’ve ever copied and pasted a formula from a cell when you actually meant to paste just the cell’s formatting, you’ll appreciate the Paste Options button. Instead of having to undo what you did and repaste using the Paste Special: Formats option, you can click on the Paste Options button (which suddenly pops into existence when you paste) and select Formatting Only from the pop-up menu. The contents of your destination cells will instantly revert, but they will retain the formatting from the copied range. You can also use the pop-up menu to choose other options, such as pasting values or applying the source’s column width when pasting.
The Error Checking Options button can help you find subtle errors in spreadsheets — the kind that you may not notice during development, but that your boss will somehow zero in on when it’s time to review your work. When Excel detects a potential error in a formula, such as references to blank cells or inconsistency with neighboring formulas, it flags the formula and displays a yellow caution sign whenever the cell is active. Click on the caution sign, and Excel pops up a menu to help you resolve the problem (see “The Formula Detective”). If all is fine with the formula, select Ignore Error from the pop-up menu, and Excel will remove the flag. In practice, Excel flags more cells than necessary, but it’s easy enough to clear the false positives.
Refresh Your Memory
Excel has hundreds of formulas, many of which have a complex, hard-to-memorize syntax. The new Function ScreenTips feature makes entering even the most obscure formula simple. Start typing a formula and the Function ScreenTip appears below the cell, showing the basic syntax for each portion of the formula. Click on the hyperlinked formula name in the ScreenTip, and you’ll see Excel’s formula-specific help page (see “Memory Aids”). ScreenTips take up very little screen real estate (Excel X’s bulky Formula Palette is still available if you wish to use it), and they usually provide just the amount of detail you need to complete a formula without even opening the help files.
Speed and Performance
Testing a complex spreadsheet on both a 1.25GHz PowerBook G4 with 768MB of RAM and a dual-2GHz Power Mac G5 with 2.5GB of RAM, I found that application launch times, recalculation speed, and scrolling speed were equal to or quicker than those of Excel X on the same machines. And in many hours of testing,
I didn’t experience a single crash, which speaks well for Excel 2004’s stability.
Although I experienced no major problems with the program, I did see an occasional graphical glitch, such as a distorted Smart Button and text that wasn’t antialiased after I switched between Excel and other running applications (scrolling the document fixed these problems). The lack of support for Mac OS X’s Services menu is disappointing — Carbon applications (BBEdit, for instance) are quite capable of supporting services. So for example, it’s harder than it should be to create a note in Stickies from an Excel cell entry (you’d use a simple 1-shift-Y to do this if services were available).
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Although Excel 2004 lacks a single groundbreaking “gotta have it!” new feature, the benefit of the other enhancements adds up to a winning package — Excel 2004 is a strong successor to Excel X. Microsoft wisely kept the majority of Excel’s interface identical to its predecessors’, making the learning curve easy for this new edition. And the new features are so useful, you’ll soon wonder how you managed without them. If you make your living working with numbers in spreadsheets, you’ll find this latest version of Excel a valuable partner.
The Formula Detective
The Error Checking Options Smart Button helps you find mistakes in formulas. Here it’s pointing out that the formula in this cell isn’t consistent with those in neighboring cells.
Function Screen Tips appear whenever you’re entering a formula, and help you remember the proper order for a given formula’s operators. If that’s not enough, full help is just a second away–click on the hyperlinked formula name.
PowerPoint 2004: Presentation Application Gets Its Strongest Upgrade in Years
by Franklin N. Tessler
Apart from adopting the Aqua interface and a handful of other new features, PowerPoint X didn’t sport many compelling changes when it debuted over two years ago (
). In the meantime, Apple surprised us by releasing
Keynote, a program with the power to turn out stunning presentations — but limited animation options and other missing features hampered it (
; April 2003). PowerPoint 2004, an excellent upgrade that delivers helpful tools for presenters, crisper graphics, and an improved workflow, should more than satisfy current users, and may even entice a few Keynote adopters to switch back.
Whether you’re a PowerPoint newbie or a seasoned pro, you’ll love PowerPoint 2004’s brilliant Presenter Tools feature. While your audience watches your presentation on a projector or other secondary display, you see three resizable panes on your monitor (see “Full Control”). The pane on the left shows numbered thumbnails of all your slides. A handy clock at the top displays the elapsed time to keep you from going over your allotted time.
Presenter Tools’ Audience view shows you exactly what the audience members see. The cursor appears on their display whenever you mouse over the live view on your monitor, so you can get by without a separate laser pointer. The area immediately below contains your notes; you can read them from there, or even edit them during your presentation — a practical way to note that half your audience fell asleep during the 28th slide.
A small, movable window shows you what your audience is about to see, whether it’s the result of the next animation on the current frame or an upcoming slide. Keynote offers some of the same functionality when you’re presenting in dual-display mode, but its slide thumbnails are too small to read, and you can’t edit your notes.
PowerPoint 2004’s expanded repertoire of animation effects widens its already considerable lead over Keynote. In addition to entry and exit animations, it offers new emphasis effects that let you change the display properties of text and graphics. For example, you can highlight a line of text by enlarging it temporarily or make a baseball look as if it’s flying away by shrinking it.
For the first time, PowerPoint for Mac lets you define more than two animations for every object on a slide; coupled with PowerPoint’s flexible options for triggering and timing animations, this allows you to add a dazzling array of effects. I also prefer PowerPoint 2004’s revamped Custom Animation dialog box, which is easier to navigate than PowerPoint X’s tabbed window.
Despite the attention Microsoft paid to animation, PowerPoint 2004 doesn’t support path-based animation, a feature that’s been a staple of PowerPoint for Windows for years.
Easy on the Eyes
Keynote still beats PowerPoint for rendering dazzling text and graphics, but a few welcome changes to PowerPoint 2004 narrow the gap. My favorite addition is support for soft drop shadows, a substantial improvement over the harsh shadows in PowerPoint X. (However, soft shadows created in the Mac version won’t render properly on Windows PCs or in earlier Mac versions of PowerPoint, a limitation that Office 2004 will flag if you use the Compatibility Report feature in the Toolbox palette [see “Office’s Common Ground”].)
PowerPoint 2004 benefits from enhanced transparency support — the boundaries between opaque and transparent parts of objects, which sometimes appeared jagged in PowerPoint X, now render smoothly. And Microsoft has finally refreshed PowerPoint’s aging collection of templates. Although they’re less attractive than Keynote’s limited selection of themes, the more than 100 new designs in PowerPoint 2004’s library are a vast improvement. PowerPoint 2004 also sports an expanded inventory of slide transitions, which provide special effects that help hold the audience’s attention between slides.
Over the years, PowerPoint’s increasingly cluttered interface has confused new users and spawned a cottage industry of self-help books. Thankfully, the Formatting Palette in PowerPoint simplifies things by gathering common tasks in one handy location. Tabs in the Formatting Palette’s Add Objects panel let you add slides, symbols, shapes, lines, or text shapes to your slide with a click or two. The Change Slides panel at the bottom of the Formatting Palette makes it a snap to change the current slide’s design, transition, or layout.
Unfortunately, PowerPoint still doesn’t let you customize keyboard shortcuts, as Word and Excel do. And PowerPoint 2004’s lack of security features is even more surprising — for example, there’s no way to distribute a read-only presentation, and you can’t open password-protected files that were created in PowerPoint for Windows.
PowerPoint 2004 retains the previous version’s approach to master slides. You can use multiple masters in a presentation, but only by inserting slides from another presentation or by applying a different design template to slides in the current one. I prefer Keynote’s method, which lets you define as many masters as you like.
Aside from a few display glitches, I didn’t encounter any critical bugs while running PowerPoint 2004 under Panther.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
It’s a safe bet that PowerPoint 2004 wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is if Apple hadn’t released Keynote when it did. PowerPoint still lags behind in producing tantalizing eye candy, but not by much — for some speakers, PowerPoint 2004’s Presenter Tools and its more comprehensive animation options will more than compensate for the difference. If you’re already a PowerPoint user, I highly recommend the 2004 upgrade.
The Presenter Tools feature lets you control your slide show from your Mac.
by Tom Negrino
If dealing with a flood of e-mail messages and the many details of your life seem to be getting harder every day, you may be craving a powerful tool to help you keep your head above water. Entourage 2004 tries to fulfill that role by becoming the center of all your informational needs, from e-mail, to your contacts and calendar, to tracking your projects. With its improved message views, better junk-mail filtering, and practical project-management tools, it mostly succeeds.
The marquee addition to Entourage is Project Center, which allows you to create and organize projects that can include information from inside and outside Entourage. In Project Center, there are seven tabs along the top of the main window that cover the project’s calendar and tasks; associated e-mail messages; files (of any type — you’re not limited to Office files); contacts from Entourage’s Address Book; clippings from the Office Scrapbook; Entourage Notes; and an Overview tab that shows you the current week, upcoming tasks, and recent project messages and files (see “View from a Height”). Project Center allows you to jump to any information associated with a project in a single click, whether it resides in Entourage, elsewhere on your hard drive, or on networked file servers.
The New Project Wizard steps you through creating a project, first letting you set the project name, due date (a countdown then appears in the Overview tab), and color (which makes it easier to identify project items). The wizard next creates (or you can select from existing folders) Project Watch Folders, which are Finder folders that Entourage monitors, automatically adding their files to the project. Similarly, any e-mail messages from contacts you’ve added to the project are automatically flagged as part of the project (or you can turn off the automation and flag items manually). You can also choose to share your project with colleagues by placing the project information on a file server or on iDisk. Entourage updates and synchronizes all participants’ files every 5 minutes.
Setting up projects is easy, and Entourage makes it simple to associate files and information with projects, either automatically or by using the new Projects pop-up menu in the toolbar. But you’ll only get the full use of projects if you use Entourage for all of your PIM needs; there’s no integration with other PIM software such as Apple’s Address Book or iCal. Even with that limitation, the new Project Center is very useful. In fact, you may find that the ability to open any document quickly from the Overview tab, instead of searching for it in the Finder, will be the part of Project Center you use the most.
Reading e-mail is easier in Entourage 2004, thanks to the new three-column view, which gives the message list its own column and puts the preview pane on the right side of the window. This often lets you see an entire message at once without needing to scroll through it.
When you’re working in other applications and mail arrives, Entourage pops up a small window that shows you the mail’s subject and sender and then smoothly fades away after a few seconds. If you click on the subject while the window is present, Entourage becomes active and opens the message.
You can now use Word to write your message, taking advantage of its superior formatting abilities. In Word, choosing File: Send To: Mail Recipient (As HTML) converts the Word document to HTML and creates a new message in Entourage that you can address and send. If you’re not an HTML e-mail fan, however, you won’t like the mail Word creates — its extra HTML and CSS tags bloat the code.
Entourage 2004 e-mail is not without its share of minor bugs, one of which remains unfixed from Entourage X (a Mailing List Manager option to not receive copies of messages you’ve sent to a list still doesn’t work). Another problem is that the mail list in some folders always appears scrolled to the bottom; it doesn’t remember where you last left it.
Protection from Online Evil
Modern e-mail programs need robust abilities to identify and block junk e-mail, and Entourage 2004’s Junk E-mail Protection feature is greatly improved over the previous version’s. The Folder List has a new Junk E-mail folder, to which it routes suspected junk. As before, you can set increasingly restrictive levels of protection. The algorithms that identify junk mail are far better than those of Entourage X, whose junk-mail blocking was so weak that I needed to use a third-party spam-filtering program, which I no longer required after upgrading to Entourage 2004. Microsoft can upgrade the junk-mail filtering separately from the rest of Entourage using Office 2004’s new AutoUpdate feature, so as spammers become more diabolical, Entourage should be able to keep up.
A favorite trick of spammers (and some legitimate businesses) is the Web bug, hidden within images in e-mail messages and Web pages. Simply displaying the image triggers the bug. Then the culprits can use the information it sends them to find out if and when you read a particular e-mail message; they can even discover your IP address. To protect you, Entourage 2004 no longer downloads pictures in e-mail messages immediately; instead, you click on a link in the message to display pictures if you think they’re innocuous. For senders you know are safe, you can set a preference in your Address Book to always allow pictures from them.
Archive Outdated Information
When a project is over, you probably don’t need to keep the folders, messages, and other items in Entourage, yet you may not want to simply delete these items in case you need them later. Entourage now allows you to export messages, tasks, contacts, notes, calendar events, and project files to a single file in a new format called an Entourage Archive. You have the option to remove the archived items from Entourage, or you can leave them there, which allows for ongoing project backups. Annoyingly, you can’t archive a group of selected items (such as messages returned by a search); you’re restricted to exporting items that either are part of a specific project or share a particular category.
Data Crunching and Repair
Entourage keeps its information in a database, and longtime users know that an Entourage database needs maintenance. Occasionally it becomes corrupt, requiring repair, but it’s more likely to need compacting, because the database grows as you add messages, but doesn’t automatically shrink when you delete information. Microsoft now supplies Database Utility, a separate application for rebuilding and compacting Entourage data. It’s also easier to use than the similar facility in previous versions, and it clearly identifies database backups with the date and time.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The introduction of project organization is a natural evolution for Entourage, consolidating its data to put all the pieces of your projects within easy reach. The e-mail improvements, especially the spam filtering, make it easier than ever to handle your e-mail load. Despite a few minor bugs, Entourage 2004 will help you work more efficiently and be better organized.
View from a Height
In Project Center’s Overview area, you can easily see how many days you have before your deadlne, upcoming events and tasks, and the latest project messages and files, which you can open with just a click.
Office’s Common Ground
by Rob Griffiths
You may appreciate the little touches in Office 2004, such as the translucent Formatting Palette and the ability to use more than 31 characters when naming a file. But that’s not all: there are a few bigger features in every Office application that you won’t want to ignore. They’re all accessible through a palette in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (click on the red Toolbox button).
The Projects Palette
Starting in Entourage, you use the New Project Wizard to set up project basics such as deadline, name, and description. But you can also use that data in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Just click on the Projects tab in the Toolbox palette. Here you can see and change schedules, create tasks, open associated project e-mail messages, add the current file, assign contacts, and keep ongoing notes about the project. A tabbed window keeps the interface clean and uncluttered. The ability to add any file to the project is a real time-saver.
Also in the Toolbox palette is the Compatibility Report panel. It ensures that others who have different versions of Office will be able to use your files. A pop-up menu lets you specify which version(s) of Office to test against; then your file is checked for feature compatibility with those version(s).When it’s done, the Compatibility Report not only tells you what’s not compatible, but also offers a one-button Fix command.
If you have text and graphics that you use over and over (your company’s logo and tag line, for example), the new Scrapbook fea-ture in the Toolbox will save you tons of time. (In Entourage 2004, it’s under the Tools menu.) To use it, copy something to the Clipboard, open the Scrapbook, and then click on Add. You can then assign keywords to the object and assign it to a project. You can even search for previously filed items. Once in the Scrapbook, the object is available for easy pasting across the Office suite.
A Sweet Suite
The new suitewide features of Office 2004 help tie its programs together into a true suite. You may just find that these features offer you a productivity boost as well.
Keep It Together
The Projects Palette makes all of your project’s information available from any Microsoft 2004 application.