Taking control

Next time you find a link on a Web page to a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation, do you want it to open in your Web browser using the ActiveX Web viewers? I'm guessing, like me, you'd prefer it in Word or PowerPoint, given that you have them installed already.

Half the time, when you open a document in your browser you find the viewer doesn't have the options you want. This forces you to save the file to your hard drive and open it by hand in Word. But you can avoid all that fussing around and get the document in Word straight away.

By association

It's all to do with file associations. In Explorer (hit &lt Windows &gt -E) choose Tools-Folder Options-File Types and scroll down through the list of file types until you see DOC - Microsoft Word Document. Select it and click the Advanced button, then uncheck the "Browse in same window" checkbox as shown in this screen shot.

You can do the same for Excel (.xls) and PowerPoint (.ppt) files if you like, although you're usually going to be viewing rather than editing presentations, so having them open faster in the browser rather than waiting for PowerPoint might suit better.

Not all PowerPoint files online are .ppt files. If you come across a .ppz file - a PowerPoint animation optimised for the Web - and you want a closer look at it, save it to your PC and double-click the .ppz file to open it in the PowerPoint ActiveX animation player. While it's running, open the C:\Windows\Temp folder and look for a .ppt file - the filename will start with a tilde (~). Copy it into another folder and rename it and you can work with it as normal.

Wordmail

Word works very well as Outlook's e-mail editor; it lets you take advantage of AutoCorrect, spell­checking and all the other features that make life easier. If you're worried about the size of e-mails you'll be sending, you can write your messages in Word but send them as plain text; or you can tell Outlook to strip out that extra HTML that Word puts in to let you open it back in Word later. To send plain text rather than HTML, choose Tools-Options-Mail Format and pick Plain Text as the message format, as shown in here.

That gives you all the convenience without worrying about the file size. In Word (or an e-mail you're writing using Word) choose tools-Options-General then click the E-mail options button: on the General tab here you can choose the HTML filtering. The default is Medium but unless you need a lot of formatting in your messages, set it to High (see this image).

Making Excel add up

Now let's turn our attention to Excel. Many of us use it as a simple database; it's ideal for comparing, say, quotes from wedding caterers or car rental rates. You can paste in the details from e-mail or the Web and keep things in order. You can also do calculations and comparisons with simple formulas. But when you're ready to go on to more powerful calculations, Excel can start to seem rather intimidating. Even if you look up which function to use, getting the arguments right can be confusing.

You can get some help as you type in the formula by pressing &lt Ctr &gt &lt Shift &gt -A. That puts in place­holders with the names of what you need to type in - like =IF(logical_test, value_if_true,value_if_false) and you can just fill in the values or cell addresses you need for each one.

If you get it wrong, and double-clicking on the cell to get the colour coding of which cell is used at each point in the formula doesn't make the problem obvious, working through the formula bit by bit is a good way to see where the error lies.

Selected highlight

You don't have to copy individual parts to other cells to build it up gradually - just drag the mouse over the first part of the formula and press &lt F9 &gt to evaluate just what you've highlighted. Then select a little more and keep going - but make sure to press &lt Esc &gt to leave the cell (or click the Tick icon) rather than &lt Enter &gt , which would delete part of your formula.

Giving cells and ranges names rather than using cell references makes things easier as well; it's simpler to notice that "Profit=Expenses-Income" is wrong than it is to spot whether D91 should be B142-C98 or C98-B142. Choose Tools-Options-Calculations and check that "Accept labels in formulas" is ticked.

You can select a single cell or range to name, then just type the name you want into the Name box where the cell reference is displayed and press &lt Enter &gt . You can't name a cell while you're editing the contents. If you've already got labels on your rows or columns you can use those: select the cells including the labels and choose Insert-Name-Create and, in the "Create names in" dialogue, select the top row, left column, bottom column, or right column checkbox, depending on where your labels are.

Long and short of it

If you have long or complex names make sure you get them right by choosing Insert-Name-Paste to pick them from a list. Just looking at Insert-Name-Define (see here) doesn't tell you if anything is missing so, if they're shorter and you're happy to type them in, you can use a trick to make sure that you have defined all the names you need.

Always use initial capitals (like MarketShare or BottlePrice) for the labels when you create them, but type them all in lowercase when you write a formula. Excel looks for matching names in the spreadsheet and changes the formula to match the names, so if you see any left in an equation that are still all in lowercase you know Excel hasn't been able to find them in your spreadsheet.

PDFMaker Errors

After you load Service Pack 1, if you have Adobe Acrobat 5.0 installed Office 2003 starts complaining about the Adobe PDFMaker add-in and tells you to upgrade to Acrobat 6.01 or to disable the add-in for the current session. That's because macro security is more complicated in later versions of Office and the earlier PDF add-in breaks it.

The upgrade from 6.0 to 6.1 is free (you can get it by choosing Help-Check for Updates), but you'll have to pay to upgrade from 5.0. If you don't want to do this, you can get rid of the warning by renaming the pdfmaker.dot, pdfmaker.xla and pdfmaker.ppa files. You can still create PDF files from inside Office by choosing Acrobat Distiller in the Print dialogue.

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