Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Another Upgrade

I'm a creature of habit, especially when it comes to technology.

And especially when it comes to software.

I tend to stick to things I know work for me.

I use MS Word as my word processor (oh, yeah! I'm a maverick, I am), and have for a long time. I stopped upgrading around 2003, I mean, seriously folks, how many enhancements to a word processor do you really need? Word 2003 has worked just fine for me for a long time. I used to do extensive relational database programming and I like Access a great deal, but again Access 2003 has worked just fine for me for, well, the last four years. Same with Outlook and PowerPoint (which I use for many things, including template and pattern making in the shop - no really, it works great for that, though I do feel a bit like a heretic saying so, I am a graduate of Professor Edward Tufte's courses after all, and Tufte considers PP to be the ultimate in Devil Spawn. In fact he and I got into an argument on that subject in the middle of one of his lectures, but I digress). And then there's MS OneNote, which I use on my tablet - for notes, organization, and data collation there's really nothing better suited to my mental process than OneNote. Especially on the tablet. My wife uses Excel (me, I have no use for spreadsheets, I hate them in point of fact, and I tend to make databases that do the same thing as a spreadsheet - only with much better interfaces). So, I prefer the Microsoft Office Professional package - and we've been using Office 2003 around Stonekettle Station for quite a while now.

There's a few bugs in the software though, and an especially annoying one in how Word works under the XP Tablet operating system. It has to do with mouse scrolling after an edit in fullscreen mode, and it irritates the crap out of me (as does any interruption when I'm writing). I've submitted bug reports over the years (I'm a registered MS beta tester), and I kept hoping the folks at Redmond would come out with a patch to fix it eventually. No such luck. And MS has recently announced that they will stop providing patches and upgrades for Office 2003. Sigh. I saw it coming, but still...

So, anyway, I decided it was time. Yesterday I finally got around to installing Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access, OneNote, InfoPath, and Groove - whatever the hell that is.

Seriously Groove? I'm sure it's just me, but when I hear somebody from Redmond say the word 'groove' I picture the 1986 Prince's Charity Trust concert in Wembly, England. It was an all star rock concert given in support of the Prince of Wales' Charity Trust (oh, you thought I meant that Prince, uh, no. Shudder). Reason it springs to mind for me: Dire Straits accompanied by Sting and Eric Clapton were belting out Money for Nothing on stage. The sound coming from Knopfler's Fender Stratocaster was intense enough to induce nuclear fission, it was absolutely fucking incredible, and up in the Royal box Princess Diana and her girl pals were dancing their polka-dotted highborn asses off and everybody was having a blast. Next to them was his royal highness, Charles, Prince of Wales - with a pinched look on his face and an expression that said very clearly that he would rather have been just about anywhere else at that moment. Every once in a while he would stiffly move his shoulders, or bob his head - that's what I think of when I hear Bill Gates say the word 'groove' - Charles in a dark suit, trying to fit into a rock concert. (and now you have a frightening insight into how my mind works - I am nothing, if not a connection machine, but, see, OneNote allows me to organize that very process.)

Anyway, back to the upgrade. There's been a few changes in the last four years.

I've got it running on my big machine, under Vista Ultimate. The installation went smooth as silk, along with the registration process. With Vista, MS has made some real improvements to the embedded installer. The installation package automatically brought up the Window Update Control Panel and after my acknowledgment, downloaded the latest service pack and upgrades - again painless and easy. Though, if you don't have a high speed connection, you might want to skip this step - the download was 197MB.

The new software is certainly cool looking, that's for sure. Under the Vista Aero interface, the look and feel of each application is slick and glossy. And that's where I started having a bit of trouble. Being the aforementioned creature of habit, I'm used to having things in a certain way. And I've heavily customized my Office package over the years, with tools bars and macros. Of course, all of that customization didn't carry over to the new software. Drat. No problem, I figured, I've been using Office products for going on fifteen years, and somewhere in the past I was certified with the MCSE-I and MCSD qualifications - how different could it be?

A lot, actually.

First impressions:
1) It's going to take some serious getting used to. I'm not sure I like how the new menu system works - it took me twenty minutes to figure out where they'd hidden the 'options' dialog box, and it's not exactly obvious. What is obvious, is that MS doesn't want you fooling with their default settings, screw them, I want my software configured the way I want it. I paid for it, and I'll damn well use it the way I want to (and don't start with me about Linux or OSX, they're just as bone headed about this stuff).

2) In Word, the styles (fonts and their properties) are now graphically displayed across the top of the window. Yeah, I'm sure that sounded like a good idea, but come on, how many styles does the average user need in a document? One, maybe two? Seriously, is there anything more annoying and distracting than a document written by somebody who just has to use every font, bold, italic, underlining, color, size, and etc installed on the machine. Really? Well, yeah, sure it's handy if you're writing Neo-Con Republican viral email screed, but for the rest of us? I use one, maybe two, styles when I'm writing. If I'm writing technical papers in government format, I use maybe four styles. And I tie those styles to a button and put them on a button bar down the right side of my window. I don't need or want twenty different style icons displayed across the top of my screen. I want them to go away, and they won't.

Now, if you hover your mouse over them, they will preview the style in your document by changing the text, that's cool, I like that. But i want the bar to display only the styles I want, not take up screen space with every single damn style in the system. It may be possible to modify it, or make it go away entirely - but it sure isn't obvious.

3) In Word, full screen display - When I'm writing fiction, I want my screen to look like a sheet of paper. White background, black letters. Nothing else, no buttons, no icons, no menus, no window frames - full screen. That's what I want, the new version of it doesn't quite work for me. It'll display in full screen, and there's some cool new features, but there's still crap on the screen. OK, it's mostly unobtrusive, and I'm being petty about it, but it still bugs me.

For the most part, however, full screen is OK, and I'm sure I'll get used to it. I do like the ability to display multiple pages side by side on my big-ass wide-screen flat panel, though it does irk me that I can't display two pages at the same time with Ink and Comments turned on. I use comments to add notes to my text and I use Ink (pen enabled tablet handwriting) to add sketches or handwriting notes in the margins when I'm working on the tablet. I want to see those notes in the margin when I've got multiple pages up, and I can't. So I've got to go back to single page display, and that irritates me.

4) OneNote seems to be about the same, and that's good for me.

5) Access has been completely over hauled, and that's not so good for me. I don't have time to play with it right now, but I've got few projects coming up, so maybe I'll take the time this weekend and fool around with it.

6) Excel looks to operate about the same way, except that they've changed the menu system just as they did in Word (go figure).

7) Outlook 2007 I've used and it's OK. I do like the email summary popup and the integrated RSS reader.

8) PowerPoint is all fubarred up. I don't like it at all.

9) Groove? Yeah, I'll look at that later too, but I don't see much use for collaboration tools around here. I work alone, damnit.

Anyway, there you have it. As you might have figured out, I'm not getting much writing done this morning - and I've basically given up on it for today. I'll spend the rest of the morning fooling with Word and trying to get it customized to my liking. Then I can get back to finishing Chapter 22 tomorrow. Joy.


  1. Access overhauled? Oh shit. Access development and troubleshooting is my fallback. Being able to set up small databases with software that people already own, design reports, and train them how to use it has saved my bacon a time or four. Hell, it's how I managed to get in over here at the hospital.


    Now that I've calmed down, thanks for the review. I actually used my phone to reply to your email, that's why it's a bit terse. It's short notice, but I'll be in Anchorage Thursday evening, and I have no plans, as of yet.

  2. Tania, I'll fool with Access this weekend and see what they've done to it. I hope to hell they haven't screwed with the VB and VBE coding process. I'm hoping that it's mostly just cosmetic. I'll let you know.

    As to Thursday, well, crap - I've got plans that night. I'll be at the Sullivan Arena for an Iditarod dinner. How long are you going to be in town?

  3. Hey, now. Prince, of the Purple Rain variety, is a shit-hot musician.

    Not that I like all of his music, just recognizing the talent.

  4. Janiece, stop it, stop it right there.

    Purple Rain? Like fingernails on a blackboard...or a GWB motivational speech.

    God, I hate the music of the 80's. I do, I do, I do.

  5. I'm siding with Janiece. Prince is one helluva musician. I'm not saying you have to like his stuff. But the man can play.

    There's a great video clip if you can find it (it's one of those that routinely gets pulled off of YouTube for copyright violations then snuck back in): it's the last number from the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame show where Prince and George Harrison were inducted. Right now you can find it here. There are some solid guys up there, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, some other solid players. Anyway, Prince kinda just stands at the edge of the stage until the final guitar solo...

    ...and then he casually blows everyone off the stage. Plays like you'd forget Eric Clapton's name, makes the guitar sing and moan and I'll skip the sexual metaphor that comes to mind right now; then he nonchalantly throws the guitar into the crowd and walks offstage.

    Hell, I'm going to have the embed the damn video on Giant Midgets now. That's two posts you'll have provoked today Mr. Wright, good sir, two.

    Oh the other thing: I'm not going to start about Linux and MacOS, because I think the right operating system is the one that runs your applications. But I will point out that Apple and Microsoft aren't being "boneheaded"--they make customization hard on purpose. It's sort of an intellectual property issue and sort of a marketing issue: Microsoft and Apple are selling (and legally registering) a "user experience" and the distinctive interface is part and parcel of that.

    It may be frustrating to the end-user (I hate it myself), but it's not boneheaded. To the extent it turns users away, it's an acceptable risk (one example of an unacceptable risk would be allowing a rival software developer to introduce an OS with a nearly identical front-end).

    To the extent that a Linux distro is free-as-in-beer, that's not an issue. If a Linux distro is hard to customize, it is because someone was boneheaded. But there's no legal or financial obstacle to making a Linux app infinitely customizable.

    * * *


    Knocking 80's music, Jim? Hmm... let me check something on Wikipedia...

    Making Movies (1980)
    Love Over Gold (1982)
    Brothers in Arms (1985)

    ...no wait, I can't remember what it was I was looking for. Never mind, then.


  6. Hang on, I forgot something:

    Alchemy (1984)

    ...what? Oh, I just sneezed. Must be coming down with something. Nevermind.

  7. Man, I was having a good day too. I just came in from cutting birch blanks with the chainsaw, and I was feeling good. Damnit.

    OK you got me on the Dire Straits. I couldn't live without Alchemy - well, I could, but I wouldn't want to..

    Yeah, I understand about OSX, which is why I don't use it. Linux I'm blah on, it's like a 68 Chevy Nova - nothing but horsepower in the clutch, but you've got to tinker and tinker and tinker with it, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but I can't see installing it on my folks' computer, I've got enough headaches already.

    And Prince? Prince bites (and scratches too, from what I've heard). You're as likely to convert me to Young Earth Creationism as you are to Princes' music. I hate him, I do.

  8. Whoa. I have to tell you, even when I don't care for Prince's music, I can admit that he is one hell of musician and songwriter. Just for you, I'll be playing Prince on the iPod this afternoon. Becuase, you know, I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain, yeahhhh.

    I get into Anchorage at 7 AM on Thursday, sit in 'training' all that day and Friday, and fly home at 6:45 PM on Friday evening. Hell.

    We will manage to meet up at the Moose's Tooth and drink beer, we will!

  9. 1) I love 80s Prince. Best ever.

    2) Jim, you definitely do not need Groove. Just delete it off your computer. It's for working on groups over a networked environment. One of my co-workers tried it out. I eventually deleted it.

    3) DO NOT OPEN ALREADY EXISTING ACCESS DATABASES IN 2007 until you have become familiar with 2007 and how to change the settings. Access 2007 has security out the wazoo and will turn off ALL your VA and VBA code and KEEP IT TURNED OFF when you go back to 2003.

    4) The Ribbon in 2007 takes some getting used to, but after a month of playing around with the software I definitely prefer 2007 to 2003 or XP, although I'm still running 2003 on my work machine, because I still have to support it.

    HINT: Double click on any open tab, and you will minimize the ribbon. That gives you back a lot of your real estate.

    I use PPT as little as possible, but found that once I adjusted to the Ribbon, the changes didn't bother me at all.

    There are a few changes in Excel--the best of which is that you can now easily split a single column containing, say first name and last name, into two separate columns. That for me is worth the price of admission.

    I don't use the Full Screen display myself, so I am constantly inserting and formatting things, but perhaps once you minimize the Ribbon, it won't be as bad.

    Also, I think that Mail Merge is easier--once you get used to it.

    Lemme know if you have questions--I can probably answer them. I also wrote up a cheat cheat for our "What's New in Office 2007" documentation, and that might help as well.

  10. Arrgh! I am surrounded by Prince groupies! Makes me want to go burn a whole bushel of Raspberry Berets and wait for it to go away. Go away!

    Michelle: I think I love you. I just did the double click thing and, yeah, that just makes it a whole lot better. Thank you. I like the fact that it's persistent, i.e. you can click on the tab, select what you need, and then it goes away again. I suspect I will eventually grow to like it, it's just the change, I don't like change.

    Once quick question: can I still make my own tool bars? If so, how? I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually (Hell, I suppose I could look in the help system), but I've got to get back to work tomorrow and I don't have time to experiment.

    Also, thanks much for the advice regarding Access. I'll look at that in detail this weekend, along with the other apps.

  11. Tania, yeah, too bad. Sooner or later we're going to have have lunch at the MT.

  12. I'm just tweaking your nose. I think there's always an issue when someone says "(Decade's) music sucks!"-type statements. Do you judge the 60s by The Monkees or Revolver? The 70s by Saturday Night Fever or Born To Run? The 80s by Tiffany or The Joshua Tree? The 90s by ...Baby One More Time or Loveless? Etc.

    We can infer from Sturgeon's Law that 90% of a decade's music will be crap. But that still leaves 10%....

  13. Eric, if you start in with the Duran Duran or Frankie Goes To Hollywood or Boy George - I'm going to sic the spam catcher on you.

    And the Monkees weren't a real group, no more so than Bananarama or the Spice Girls

    Just sayin'

  14. The first two Duran Duran albums were excellent. Frankie's Welcome To The Pleasuredome has its guilty pleasures, tho' I hated their cover of "Born To Run." As for Culture Club... I'm not a fan. Violent Femmes' deconstruction of "Do You Want To Hurt Me" was pretty awesome, though.

    And I picked on the Monkees as low-hanging fruit when I should have picked on Herman's Hermits or maybe the Dave Clark Five. The Monkees weren't a real group (despite having at least one legitimate musician), but they also had Boyce and Hart, Goffin and King, and Neil Diamond writing some of their early tunes for them. And the session musicians who covered their limitations included people like Neil Young, oddly enough. In other words, the Monkees kinda suck except they have some extraordinarily-crafted songs in their songbook and the recordings themselves were extremely well-produced. Of course, they don't hold up as well compared to peers like The Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Zombies, Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin et al.

    (But they themselves knew that; hence the oddity of Hendrix opening for them on one tour, something the Monkees loved and all their teenybopper fans hated.)

    Now please don't spamfilter me....

  15. "I wear a raspberry beret...I think I LOVE YOU!"

  16. Eric, I am impressed by your completely useless, yet strangely extensive, knowledge of 80's bands. What'd'ya got on Dexy's Midnight Runners?

    Janiece, stop stirring the pot.

    Nathan, I was hoping you'd chime and help me, but no you're infected too, the short little purple aliens with unpronounceable names have eaten your brain.

    Beastly, dude, help me out. I know you can't stand Prince. Beastly? Buddy? Hellooooooo.

  17. Dexy's? Not so much. Talented lead vocalist, but I seem to recall he had some kind of issue that forced him out of the band. (I don't think it was drugs, but it might have been.) One hit wonder, obviously. Said one hit was the source of many vulgar jokes when I was a kid. I'm too lazy to hit Wikipedia to fill in the remaining sordid details.

    There are, however, Dexy's obsessives out there.

    Not to brag, but it's not just the 80s. Pretty much 60s-90s I should do fairly well at bar trivia. 20s-50s I start fading. I'm not much of a classical fan, so anything 19th century or earlier will be a problem for me. And in the current decade, most of the new stuff I listen to is indie, so I'm not as up on what these kids today listen to as I'd like to be. (Can't stand FM radio, but internet radio is awesome.)

  18. Jim,

    You're welcome. Glad my knowledge is helpful. (Because trust me, some of it was painfully gained.)

    The quick access toolbar along the top is configurable.

    Click the arrow at the end of the Quick Access Toolbar -> Choose More Commands -> Customize to your heart's delight.

    Here: http://iso.hsc.wvu.edu/cblc/HowTo/HowTo.html#2007

    You want the What's New in Office 2007 and Office 2007 Tips & Tricks and then Upgrading to Access 2007.

    The Access 2007 will tell you how to fix your security settings.

    And I agree with Eric, the first two Duran Duran albums were awesome, and hearing Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax can make my whole day.

    But I also like Iron Maiden is that offsets anything.

  19. "Little red corvette
    Baby you're much 2 fast
    Little red corvette
    U need a love that's gonna last"

    I could go on for DAYS. Because I HAVE A BIG SPOON.



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