A good graph is worth a thousand words, but the standard formatting and default colours are pretty bland. Wouldn't you rather have your top figures in bright red on a white background, rather than pale purple on grey?
In any Office application you can select a bar, point or segment of a chart (depending on the chart type you've chosen), right-click and choose Format Data Series, then pick a new colour on the Patterns tab. But if you're doing more than one chart this is rather slow.
Carry on scheming
PowerPoint ties the default chart colours to the scheme of your presentation - see Figure 1. Choose the Slide Design-Colour Schemes task pane and click the Edit Colour Schemes link at the bottom (or Format-Slide Colour Scheme in older versions of PowerPoint). The fill and accent colours in the scheme are used for charts - followed by shadow and title text, and blue and lavender to make up eight. If you choose Format Data Series those are the eight colours you'll see in the strip at the bottom: the rest are the Microsoft Brights.
If you change a chart colour in the scheme, you change it for all the charts in that presentation. You also change it for other objects in the scheme, such as bullet points. Plus, if you edit the scheme the chart colours will change to match, which you may or may not want. You can choose from the main palette on the Format Data Series dialogue or use the Microsoft Brights, but that still leaves you colouring in each chart by hand.
To set colours that apply to all charts (and only to charts) and don't change, make choices for all the data series in your first chart (and adjust fonts and other elements). Right-click on the background and choose Chart Type-Custom Types-User-Defined then click Add. Name the type and leave yourself a note about the details of what you want to use the scheme for. Click Set as default chart.
In Word, when you create a chart (Insert-Picture-Chart) you get a different set of menu items; in Excel the Colour tab is available in the Options dialogue, even if you haven't selected a chart first.
You can change colours individually or create a custom chart type - see Figure 2 - but if you choose Tools-Options-Colour you can also set the default fill and line for all your charts. If you have more than eight in your graphs, the chart line colours are used for nine onwards.
Want to make a chart that looks like a speedometer or a traffic light? How about splitting up a graphic to get a pie chart that looks like slices of a $10 note? Or just labelling the last point on a line chart with its value and putting an arrow on the axis line? Find instructions and sample Excel workbooks (and an Excel Sudoku puzzle) at www.andypope.info/charts.htm.
Locate Links in Outlook
Clicking links in e-mail isn't necessarily a good idea, but when you trust the message it's very convenient. Until Outlook starts popping up the Locate Link Browser dialogue instead of opening the link, that is.
You can usually fix this by choosing Start-Run and typing in regsvr32 urlmon.dll. If that doesn't help, try using the regsvr32 command with shdocvw.dll, shell32.dll, oleaut32.dll, actxprxy.dll or mshtml.dll. You can also check the associations for URLs in Folder Options (click Advanced-Open-Edit, click here for a screenshot).
But before you get into the complicated stuff, hover over the hyperlink. If you see the word "Blocked" in front of the URL then it has been pasted from another e-mail, and the sender's copy of Outlook has added the block - they need to click Tools-Options-Security-Change Automatic Download Settings. It's easier for you to right-click on the message, choose View Source and copy that URL into a browser.
Office of the Future
Now is a good time to be thinking about the future of Office, and a bad time to be impatient about seeing any of it. There's Beta 1.0 of Office 12.0, but we won't see the actual software until later in the year - maybe not until Windows Vista ships. However, if you're itching to see how an interface with a ribbon instead of menus actually works, you could try out Creative Docs .NET (get the 1.2.2 versions from www.creativedocs.net/blog rather than 1.1.2 from the main Web site). It's more of a DTP and graphics tool than a word processor (click here to view a screenshot), it's still in beta and this isn't the true Office 12.0 look (no galleries, for a start), but you can still see how getting commands on the ribbon feels in action.
Then there's Office Live; again, that won't be with us for a while. The beta is due in the first three months of 2006, but probably only for small businesses in the US. What Office Live won't be is a standard version of Office on the Web. There are internal discussions at Microsoft about whether it's worth doing ad-supported free versions of applications, but they're thinking OneNote rather than Word. Instead, Office Live will be an online collaboration with Groove-style file-sharing plus a free domain, Web site and e-mail, plastered with ads so you don't have to pay for anything. The drag-and-drop e-mail client with folders is similar to tools coming from sites such as Yahoo, and it's more like Outlook Express than Outlook, but the calendar tool has rather more features than the MSN calendar offers.
And the 20-odd applications in Office Live will be based around SharePoint, a server tool that most small businesses and home users don't want to run themselves. It's very useful for building a system where you share information and discuss things. Putting it in behind Office Live means a lot more of us will get to use SharePoint without needing to run a server to get it.