Announcing Word uTIlities 2.0

Well, it’s been two years since the last version of the Word uTIlities was released. Note: that means no new versions released to the adoring public constituency (all ten of you J) but not, by any means, no programming being done on my side: Considering the amount of code, I have almost doubled the work done for the first versions. But now the Word uTIlities are being released in an update that represents such a reworking of much of the core of the tools that I have decided it is time to increment the main version. So welcome to Word uTIlities 2.0!

What’s new in the Word uTIlities?

Word 2016 compatible

First up, all the tools have been tested and work with Word 2016, 32-bit and 64-bit.

New dialogs

Thanks to code posted by Dean Kinnear, I was able to capitalise on changes to Word 2013 to give users of Word 2013 and 2016 better message boxes. So if you are using Word 2013/2016, some of your dialog boxes will look like this:

image1

Instead of like this:

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They might even look like that in Word 2007 and Word 2010, depending on some system settings, as I have tried to keep things consistent across versions.

New reports

The reporting tools have been totally redone. Three reports are generated at present: The style summary, the list of bookmarks, and the list of index entries. In fact, the three separate reporting tools have now been replaced with one central tool that generates consistent reports for all three functions (and will allow me to easily add to the list of reports in the future). Now users are presented with a choice of whether they want the report in Excel or Word. The information-gathering process for the reports has also been streamlined for faster reports, although the report generation is a bit slower initially because the program first checks to see if it can connect to Excel. Once it knows what to do, though, the final report is also generated quicker than in previous versions.

Improved Backup

Even though it was working well, I have totally rebuilt the Backup tool. It is not only faster, but also now no longer needs to close and reopen the document when the backup is being made. The tool also now searches for existing backups and can then automatically determine how to name successive backups. What this means is that when you do your first backup on any given day, the process will be just as normal. If you make the second backup, it will, as in previous versions, ask you whether you want to make an alphabetic-suffix or time-stamp suffix second backup. However, what is new is that from there, it will find those backups, and will then automatically continue with your choice. So if you make a third backup on the same day, then it will automatically use the next in the sequence of the same suffix (alphabetic or time stamp). Therefore, making multiple backups on the same day will be much simpler. It also does a lot of other background stuff, like checking the amount of disk space for the backup file, etc.

I still have more plans for this tool, but that will come in a later update.

Document Statistics

Okay, I really didn’t do much here (i.e., nothing, really). This is a Microsoft Word tool (not mine at all), but it is useful in certain contexts, and it is so deeply hidden that I thought it deserves a little more attention. So all this tool does is open the Word Document Statistics summary.

Style Summary

Thanks to a very insightful collaboration with Howard Silcock in 2014 (Thanks, Howard!), I was able to squeeze a bit more out of this tool in terms of overall speed and functionality. Not much, but generating a style summary is such a laborious process that I felt every bit helps. I also have things that I want to try with this, as I really believe that it can be improved a lot, but I will need to do a lot of learning before I get there.

Numbered equation

Changes Microsoft made to Word 2013 document formats meant that this tool was not well behaved with Word 2013 any more, nor with Word 2016. But that has been fixed. I have had to sacrifice the centred equation (which you still get in Word 2010 and Word 2007), but there really is not much that I can do about it without Microsoft making an about turn on the changes they have made to the document format, which I consider unlikely.

Change Revision authors

Some tweaks to work around idiosyncrasies in Word document structure that caused an error.

Change Comment authors

In a moment of weakness, I forgot that when an input box gets cancelled, it takes a blank string as its argument, which meant that when you open the Change comment authors tool, and cancel it, all your comment authors get removed regardless. This is probably not what should be happening, so I changed the functioning of the tool so that cancelling the dialog, or emptying the input box and clicking on OK, will result in nothing being done. To change the comment authors, enter the new name and click on OK (as in previous versions). To remove the authors completely, enter DELETE in the input box (which is also now the default when the tool is launched).

Fit Hyperlink

Some minor tweaks to improve how it works when used inside a table. Still not perfect, but I’m getting closer….

And what’s in store

I am working on two new tools which I think are really great. These will be released as versions 2.1 (and possibly 2.2). I will give you a hint as to what’s in store. Think revisions and think dates…. Once again, the impossible will be made possible right here.

I also have a number of other things that I would like to include, but it takes time…. I will, of course, post about them here when I eventually get them done.

So, without further ado, go take a look!

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Custom number formatting: Getting Excel to show date and day in one cell

If there is one skill you have to learn that will really make a different to the quality of your Excel work, it is learning to use custom number formatting. Here is one example.

It often happens that I have a list of dates against which data are going to be entered, but I would like to see the weekday as well (this will help me with the data entry).

An example is shown in Figure 1. My traditional approach, which is evident there, was to add a column and use the formula =TEXT(B3,”DDDD”) or =TEXT(B3,”DDD”) to show the day.

Date and day in two columns

Figure 1    Column to show day of week

About a year ago, I thought to myself that this extra column was really unnecessary, and that I should try to remove it. My immediate thought was to try and combine the date and day in the Date column, and I realised immediately that the only way for me to do that would be with custom number formatting. I knew that dates are stored in Excel as a serial number counting from 1 January 1900 (albeit with one intentional error—see here as well for some more info, and note Microsoft’s “diplomatic” choice of words!). So, for example, the date in cell B3 (2015-01-01) in Figure 1 is stored as the serial 42005. The display of the date is added with cell number formatting. So then the thought came to me that I could try using two different date-style custom number formats in one cell together, and it worked.

So the date format already added by Excel is yyyy/mm/dd, and I decided to try something like ddd yyyy/mm/dd, as seen in Figure 2, which also shows the result in column B (and I have already deleted the “Weekday” column which was in column C). the ddd format tells Excel to show the cell value in the short day format—I could also use dddd for the full day.

Figure 2    Adding a custom number format to show both day and date

That’s a simple change, but it is very effective. Now I only need the date column, and don’t have to copy down additional values in the next column to keep up to date with it, if you will excuse the pun.

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A cool browser keyboard shortcut

I am working on a big keyboard shortcut post for 4 November—International Keyboard Shortcut Day in 2015 ;-)—but in the mean time, I made a little discovery today that I felt I should share.

Some time ago, I wrote about learning keyboard shortcuts. And although I often fail, I do still try to practice what I preach (in fact, I have used three already in the first two paragraphs of this post—two for adding the hyperlinks and one for the italics).

In that previous post, I wrote that one way we often discover keyboard shortcuts is by accident—for example, when we press something on the keyboard we did not intend to. You may argue that that makes keyboard shortcuts dangerous—we intend pressing one thing, but press something else, and then we have something bad happen. I counter by pointing out that I am hard pressed to think of a keyboard shortcut for which the handy undo (Ctrl+Z) does not apply. Furthermore, and more to the point, the mouse is also dangerous, if not even more dangerous. I cannot think when I have caused “catastrophic” (i.e., unrecoverable, or at least hard-to-recover) damage with the keyboard, but I can think of several instances with the mouse. How many times have you dragged a file or an e-mail, and dropped it (accidentally, of course) into the wrong folder, and spent ages trying to find your now missing item? Enough said.

Today, I discovered another shortcut like that—I wanted to close a tab in Chrome, and instead of pressing Ctrl+F4, I pressed Ctrl+4 (just a little South of where I wanted to be…). Now when I have multiple browser tabs open (which is all of the time!), I navigate between tabs with the old faithful Ctrl+Tab (or Ctrl+Shift+Tab to reverse direction). However, through this fortuitous mistake, I discovered that when I have multiple tabs open, I can easily jump to a tab by pressing Ctrl+x, where x is the tab’s position number (from left to right). Yes, this will probably not work when you have a gazillion tabs open, but if you have a handful open that will allow you to count at a glance, this will halve the tab navigation time.I also tend to have some standard tabs open in standard positions (GMail, my website dashboard, etc.), so this will help me jump to those tabs very quickly from now on.

A little further testing has shown that the way this shortcut works is that Ctrl+1 through Ctrl+8 take you through the first 8 tabs, while Ctrl+9 handily takes you to the very last tab.

My next step was to immediately test it in other browsers, and I am happy to report that, like numerous other browser shortcuts (e.g., Ctrl+T to open a new tab, Alt+D to select the address bar), it works in Internet Explorer (I’ll test it in Edge later) and Firefox as well. So there you have it: One new shortcut in three new contexts.

So this is one small incremental improvement in productivity (made more so by the multiple browsers in which it works), but the important thing to remember with using keyboard shortcuts is that it all adds up—the gain from using one shortcut one time is minimal, but the gain from using many shortcuts multiple times is huge!

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Why I would not do my thesis with Word 2013 (and why I might)

I have been working with Word 2013 since the public beta was made available in October 2012—more than two years now.

While I have always had my pet peeves about the Office products, I have, in many ways, also been a bit of a fan boy for products like Word and Excel. Even with Word 2007, which many people deplored, and about which I had my own complaints, I was still quite able to see improvements which made the upgrade worthwhile. However, even after two years of use, I find myself particularly unimpressed with Word 2013. In fact, most of Office 2013 has left me rather unimpressed, if not downright disappointed. A prime example is the dumbed-down Presenter view in PowerPoint 2013—which Microsoft touted as a big improvement, but which is, in comparison to what PowerPoint 2010 offers, so pathetic that I refuse to do live presentation with PowerPoint 2013 if I can help it. Excel 2013 is the only program where, along with the regressions (like the dumbed-down sheet tab controls that I detest, and the dumbed-down charting tools that I find actually hinder the quick creation of charts), there are also noticeable improvements that matter to me. I suppose that’s an important point to make, because, of course, Microsoft has made many “improvements” to all their products in the 2013 iteration, it’s just that most of them are the kind that I could happily live without, and the things that are important to me, I find frustration.

In fact, if I stop to think about what it is I find so distasteful about Office 2013, it is that I feel it is a definite dumbing-down of the product. Some things are superficial and cosmetic (even after two years, I prefer the Office 2010 ribbon—which is, itself, a toned-down version of the too-loud Office 2007 ribbon—to the bland, dead Office 2013 ribbon). Or the new UI messages which are just too informal, even for me (actually, it’s not the informal that bothers me, but that fact that they have, at the same time, become uninformative). Other things are more serious, like the removal of tools that I actually use (see autocorrect below).

Positives

But before I make this one long gripefest, let me highlight some of the positives in Word 2013. You can see this article to see what’s new in Word 2013, most of my comments here relate to the new features.

Microsoft has made some significant changes to reviewing. While you will see below that some of them are negative, one positive is that reviewers can now comment on each other’s comments. The process is quite smooth, and, if a student and multiple promoters are all into electronic reviewing, a real time saver. Promoters can see what other promoters have said, and can weigh in themselves. Of course, we will all debate like adults, won’t we! J

Word 2013 now also offers the option to embed videos into a Word document. While PowerPoint has been able to do that for a very long time, it has always seemed a bit pointless in Word, but that has changed with the rise of eBooks and the rising popularity of multimedia content in eBooks. So while you still can’t print out a video on paper, put it into an eBook, and it could work. So there, Word is keeping with the times, and this an important addition.

Furthermore, Word 2013 now also has the image guides which were added in PowerPoint 2010, but not the rest of the 2010 Office suite. This also makes working with images much easier, and is a welcome addition, although it should have been available in Word 2010 already—I sometimes get the impression that the Office team doesn’t get time to complete all the planned work before the scheduled release date, and so we have one feature being progressively made available throughout the suite across several releases.

The integration of OneDrive giving you cloud storage of your documents is also a boon, but I must add that one does need to use the cloud “carefully.” If your account gets hacked, and your files get deleted, and those are the only copies around, you might be in for some trouble.

The layout of the Office 2013 applications are supposedly to also make them easier to use on small devices like tablets, but I find that a bit of a non-argument, as I really can’t see why I would want to do my thesis on a small device like that in the first place. Maybe for some extra work at the airport or on the road, yes, but for the data-to-day work needed to complete something big like that? No way!

Negatives

The Resume reading feature is a waste, since Shift+F5 has worked in every version of Word except Word 2007, and in any case the little message often disappears before you can click on it—what good is it then?

While I like the ability to comment on comments, the change to “simple “reviewing is a downright pain. Again, Microsoft dumbs things down, which may make them more unobtrusive, but also make them less efficient.

Microsoft removed AutoCorrect. I’m not alone in missing it. They say people never used it, which just means that they never survey people like me, who do use it. Fortunately, Greg Maxey shows how to fix this.

Microsoft also made important changes to the way their citation tools work which render even advice Microsoft posted about how to customise the tools invalid. I discuss some of these changes here. What really irks me is that they did not announce these changes in any way that I could find—they just made them. That is not the way to win or keep the confidence of your users.

Did I mention how much I detest the flat, uninspiring interface of Office 2013?

One of the things I really hate is the vanishing scroll bars. Type in Word, and the scroll bars disappear. Move the mouse and they momentarily reappear. I suspect this also has to do with getting Word ready for smaller screens, but for goodness sake, I have a big screen, and I am proficient enough to type for an extended period of time without have to resort to the mouse. I have grown accustomed to glancing at the scroll bar, as it provides important visual feedback as to where I am in a document (I read a lot of other people’s documents, so I need this information very frequently), and I still get irritated when I look in its direction to get that information, and it’s not there!

I have also found Word 2013 to be significantly slower than Word 2010. This is in all areas, from running macros (I have documented tests for running the same macro in both versions, showing Word 2013 to be up to 40% slower), to loading documents, saving documents, and even just the time it takes to open. I have Word 2010 and 2013 installed on my current system, so it has nothing to do with the system. The degraded performance is noticeable.

With Office 2013, Microsoft have gone all out for online help. That already irritates me, because getting online help is necessarily slower than getting installed help. When you click on Help in Office 2013, you don’t get a help browser that open—no, you get your web browser opening to go to Microsoft’s site. That takes a few seconds at best, and each time a web page loads, more time is lost. Thankfully, you can still set the Application help to Offline help, but the help from the VB Editor goes straight to the browser. And that’s the help I use the most. But it’s not just that that frustrates me. Microsoft has changed the very nature of their help content. The impression that I get is that, I would assume to save costs, they seem to have fired all their help-writing staff, and now all you get in your web browser is a search of various Microsoft sites and the rest of the Internet on your help topic. If I had wanted to go to a search engine to see what the rest of the world has to say on a topic, I would have done that. When I click on help, I expect to find the documentation provided by the people who made the program on how their program works. It seems harder to get that now than ever before.

One last thing (I think). I simply deplore the new dumbed-down spell checking pane which has replaced the old spelling and grammar dialog. Not only is it not now possible to ignore grammar rules, you can now also not edit the misspelled item in the dialog (e.g., if none of the suggested items matches what you actually intended to type–yes, I do type that badly!), but have to jump to the text to change it, and then resume spell checking. These are small changes, but I find that spelling & grammar checking now take much longer than they used to (i.e., a decrease in productivity). Oh, and to make matters worse, despite the buttons in the pane being marked with accelerators, they do not respond to the keyboard, so you have to manage the process with the mouse now, which is even slower! And it’s not just in the pane that the dumbed-down spell checking annoys me. I have already mentioned the missing auto-correct, but the long history of red, and green underlining for spelling and grammar errors, respectively, with blue added for contextual errors since Word 2007, has been changed. Now, in Word 2013, we have red for spelling errors, and blue for grammar and contextual errors. I realise that the choice of red, blue, and green may have been unfortunate for those who are colour blind, but why not include options in the interface to change those colours? Now, however, Word 2013 is giving me less information than Word 2007 and Word 2010 in terms of inline spell checking. And I find that annoying.

Summary

In short, if you asked me for advice, then unless you were a hardcore going-paperless-all-the-way student (who has promoters who can actually play along) or a cutting-edge creative arts student, where your thesis will incorporate video, I would tell you to stick with Word 2010 for your thesis.

I am still rooting for Microsoft, and I am hoping that Office 2016 will be to Office 2013 what Office 2010 was to Office 2007—the way it was meant to be.

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