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What I Like About Microsoft Word...

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Episode 46
October 21st, 2005

When I speak at conferences, trade shows, and user groups, someone invariably asks me what word processor I use. When I reply, "Microsoft Word, and I happen to like it a lot," some of them mutter something about their Mac being a Microsoft-free zone and look at me as if I just told them I'm married to Satan himself.

I do understand. I think it's nutty, but I do understand: Some people have a very strong anti-Microsoft bias. I mean, it's true that they're the company responsible for foisting the Win-Doze™ operating system on the world. But, at least in my humble opinion, that doesn't make them totally evil.

So although, like many of you, I abhor almost any flavor of Windows, I happen to like almost all of the Microsoft Mac software and hardware products. Heck, I use at least three of them every day-the Microsoft Office 2004 suite for Mac OS X (of which Microsoft Word, my word processor of choice, is a component), my excellent Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer and my exceptionally comfortable (but now discontinued) Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro.

Some people say they wouldn't use a product produced by "the evil empire," but I just chuckle and grin, knowing that Microsoft Word, which I've used on the Mac for nearly 20 years, is without a doubt the best possible choice for the kind of word processing I do. Never mind that every editor or publisher I deal with (with the exception of Bryan here at Mac Observer, who would let me submit my column scribbled on toilet paper if it meant I would turn it in on time) requires me to submit my work as a formatted Microsoft Word document.

Even if nobody told me I had to use Word, I would choose to use Word. Among other things it's rock solid, keeps up with my typing easily, and has every feature I need as well as plenty of features I don't. And, since it allows me to customize the keyboard shortcuts for almost every feature it offers, I've really been able to streamline the job of writing with Microsoft Word.

Without further ado let's take a brief look at just some of the features that I feel make Microsoft Word the best word processor for my needs:

Styles

A style (sometimes referred to as a style sheet) lets me quickly and easily assign a complete set of formatting attributes to any text. For example, the Body style I'm using in this document formats text as Times, 12 point, plain, single spaced and left-aligned, with 6 points of space before and after each paragraph.

There are three additional styles I use in my columns: "Bryan," which I use for notes to my editor that shouldn't appear in the finished product; "Caption," which I use for figure captions; and SH, for subheads. All four styles can be seen in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Text styles: Subhead (1); Body (2); Bryan (3); and Caption (4).
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Figure 2 shows the Modify Styles dialog boxes responsible for the four styles.


Figure 2: The Modify Styles dialog boxes responsible for the four styles in Figure 1.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

There are a couple of other cool things about styles. One is that I can change a paragraph's style without even touching the mouse. To do that, I just press Command-Shift-S to activate the Style field on the formatting toolbar, and then type the Style's name (Body) as you can see in Figure 3. The paragraph where the cursor is at the time, or any text I've selected (i.e. highlighted) will immediately take on all of the attributes of that style.


Figure 3: Changing a paragraph's style without touching the mouse…
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Another cool thing about styles is that I can assign a style for the following paragraph, so when I press Return at the end of a paragraph the next paragraph is automatically assigned the correct style. For example, when I use the Caption style I almost always want the next paragraph to be in the Body style, which is what happens when I press the Return key at the end of a paragraph formatted with the Caption style. And since I usually follow a paragraph of body text with another paragraph of body text, that's what I get when I press Return at the end of a paragraph of body text.

Styles are a very powerful way to format documents. If I decide that I want Body text to appear in the Courier font, I merely modify the Body style in the Modify Style dialog box and assign the Courier font. As soon as I click OK, every paragraph formatted with the Body style changes from Times to Courier. Neat, huh?

Finally, it's easy to copy a style from one paragraph to another using keyboard shortcuts: Command-Shift-C (to Copy Style) and Command-Shift-V (to Paste Style), which can be a very handy feature indeed.

Non-contiguous text selection

Another of my favorite features is discontiguous text selection. By that I mean I can select words, sentences, and even whole paragraphs that aren't touching each other as shown in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Discontiguous selections before applying formatting to them.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)


Figure 5: Discontiguous selections after applying Bold and Italic formatting to all of them at once.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

I love being able to do that.

Notebook view

The Notebook view is more than just a simulated sheet of notebook paper. In fact, it's probably my favorite new feature that was introduced in Office 2004.

The great thing about Notebook view is that it lets you record audio and type notes at the same time, synchronizing them as you listen and type. That makes it perfect for Steve Jobs product introductions or for recording telephone interviews for a podcast.

In Figure 6 you can see my notes for the Steve Jobs product announcement speech last week (on October 12th). If I click the little speaker icon (highlighted at the lower left), the audio that corresponds to that line of text begins to play and I'd hear Steve making a joke about learning OS X using my book, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger For Dummies. Needless to say that was my favorite part of the presentation (though the new iMacs and video iPods are pretty cool).

Insert figure RandRFig46-6 here.


Figure 6: The notebook view mates audio with typing in real time.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

It's a brilliant idea-coordinated audio and typewritten notes-and it works beautifully. As you can see highlighted in the upper right of Figure 6, the mention of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger For Dummies came approximately 5 minutes and 15 seconds into the speech. This makes it extremely easy to find the voice content you're looking for, even if the audio portion runs an hour or two.

I love this feature, especially when I'm using my PowerBook with its built-in microphone. The quality isn't great but it is definitely good enough to refer to when I write about the event later.

User-definable keyboard shortcuts for everything

I'm a huge fan of keyboard shortcuts and love programs that allow me to assign my own keyboard shortcuts to their commands. Case in point-as I mentioned earlier, Word uses the shortcut Command-Shift-S to activate the Style field on the formatting toolbar. Almost every other program I use reserves that keyboard shortcut for the Save As… command. I wanted Microsoft Word to do the same so I opened up the Customize Keyboard dialog box (found under the Customize command in the Tools menu) and changed the Style command to Control-S as shown in Figure 7.


Figure 7: Changing the Style command from Command-Shift-S to Control-S.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Word didn't come with a shortcut for the Save As… command, so I created one (Command-Shift-S) as shown in Figure 8.


Figure 8: Adding the shortcut Command-Shift-S to the Save As… command.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Configurable keyboard shortcuts rock and it's my belief that every program ought to have them. Fortunately, Word not only has the feature, but unlike some programs, it's available for almost every feature the program offers including many that have no menu command. Neat!

Live word count

Last but not least is a feature that's near and dear to my heart-live word count. You see, my assignments are often given as a specific number of words. For example, my Houston Chronicle columns must be between 500 and 550 words. Microsoft Word makes it easy for me to keep track by displaying the current word count in the status bar at the bottom of the document window as shown in Figure 9.


Figure 9: This column currently contains exactly 1,514 words.
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

For what it's worth, Bryan, my editor here at the The Mac Observer, doesn't give a rat's ass how many words I use. Just for the record, I used 1,514 as you can see in Figure 9.

And that's all he wrote...

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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