Tuesday, May 15th, 2007
Office 2007 box
Office 2007 —
guaranteed to
drive you crazy!

Okay, this will show I'm not bleeding edge, because all the cool kids ran into this when Office 2007 was in beta release, I'm sure (actually the über-cool kids missed it entirely because they don't run Windows), but I'm finally getting around to installing Office 2007. As many Office power users have been, I too have been reluctant to make the move because it changes completely the user interface with which I'm so familiar and moreover for fear that that latest incarnation of Microsoft's bloatware will run more slowly.

But the non-profit for which I do a lot of contract work was able to get Office 2007 Professional Plus for $20 a copy (I guess Microsoft figures if they practically give Office 2007 away, it'll help speed its adoption by corporate America), and so I ordered copies for them, downloaded the install and set it up on one workstation, and before I've even run the damned program, I've run into my first problem — after churning away for 45 minutes, the installer, with the progress bar at 90% completed, pops up a message saying it doesn't have sufficient privileges to stop the Machine Debug Manager service! I was running the install under the administrator login, so if that doesn't have sufficient privileges, nothign does! I tried stopping the service manually, but it showed as already shutting down, so all I could do was click Cancel, which then rolled back the install. Brilliant! Thanks, Microsoft!

So after rebooting the machine and then stopping the Machine Debug Manager service first, I was able to install the behemoth Microsoft Office 2007. What a pain!

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Word 2007 fears allayed and realized

Okay, having played with Word 2007 for less than a day, two fears of my fears about it are mostly allayed, and one is not.

The first fear was that Office 2007 would run significantly more slowly than Office 2003. The great conspiracy theory about computer software and hardware companies is that they're in cahoots to keep people always buying both new software and then new hardware. I don't know if hardware manufacturers such as Dell slip software companies such as Microsoft money under the table, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did because every time Microsoft adds features to its software, the software requires more power and thus people are motivated to buy new hardware. Vista is certainly all about this theory.

Word 2007's not horribly slow but this trick will speed it up a tad

So when I started up Word 2007, I was half expecting it to run more slowly than its predecessor. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Word 2007 starts up about as quickly as Word 2003.

Word 2007 up-to-the minute word count
Why on earth do I need
a pencil to dance on-screen
and count my words as I type?

And then I started typing. I'm a touch typist. I don't hunt and peck, I don't watch the keyboard, and often, if I'm working from a hard copy or from something in another window, I don't even look at the screen I'm typing in. I just expect that the computer will keep up with me, and usually it does. Not Word 2007. Sluggish, sluggish, sluggish. It didn't lose anything I typed, but it just felt mushy, like what in the world are you waiting on, Word 2007? And then I noticed it, the little pencil at the bottom of the screen, dancing as I typed. Word 2007 dancing pencil Type, type, type, dance, dance, dance. And next to it, a running count of how many words I've typed so far. Ugh, what a waste!

Luckily, this is one thing in Word 2007 that Microsoft permits users to customize. (More on the issue of customization later.) Right-click on the running word count in the status bar, select Word Count in the Customize Status Bar context menu that comes up, and poof! Word 2007 suddenly doesn't feel quite so sluggish. You can also turn off the dancing pencil — it's really Spelling and Grammar Check — and Word 2007 still checks as you type, marking up your document with its curvy red underlines as you go (which actually is useful).

Word 2007 doesn't steal too much space on my screen

My custom menu bar in Word 2003 (click to enlarge)

Now another fear about Office 2007 that I'd had was that the new-fangled ribbon would eat up a bunch of the real estate on my screen. Long ago, before Office 2003, before Office XP, I tweaked my menu bar and toolbars in Word and Excel to put everything on one row. I didn't like wasting blank space on the menu bar after the menus, and I didn't like wasting space by having two or three rows of toolbars below the menu bar, so I shortened some of the names of the menus, and I put the icons I used on the same row (Adobe didn't play well, wanting to have a PDF toolbar of its own, but I got around that too). So I was concerned last year to read reports about Office 2007's "fat-assed ribbon" and how much space it takes.

And sure enough, when I opened Word 2007, there was that damned fat-assed ribbon, taking up tons of space on my screen, looking ugly as hell, and, on top of that, not even customizable (unless you're a developer). But, Gott sei Dank, you can press <CTRL>-<F1> and the damned ribbon minimizes, and Word 2007 actually takes slightly less space on the screen (97 pixels vs. 105 pixels, measured from top of the window to the top of the page in print layout view).

Of course I've lost my customized toolbars and can no longer easily see information such as what the current style, font, or font size is.

Fears realized

So two significant fears are allayed but many more are not. The big one, of course, is that nothing can be customized, and it's pretty much true. It's no longer easy to customize things. It's not that I changed the menus in Word 2003 much (if I had, I'd be fucked when it comes to Word 2007 and its support of Word 2003 access key), but I did write some macros to do things like toggle smart quotes or easily switch between English and German, and I'd been able to add these functions to Word's menus. Not any more.

Well actually you can add macros to the Quick Access Bar, but Microsoft doesn't allow you to put a text label on them, only icons, and you don't get to pick the keyboard shortcuts. The first thing on the Quick Access Bar is <ALT>-1, the second <ALT>-2, etc., so I'm going to be learning new shortcuts, damn Microsoft!

Of course, Microsoft promised its Office 2003 power users that we wouldn't have to learn new shortcuts. Even though the Office 2003 menus would be gone, we'd still be able to type the keystrokes we'd learned to navigate the old menus, and they'd work in Office 2007 anyway. Well, as with so many promises in life, it's only half true (like when I was told I'd get ice cream after I got my tonsils out when all they had was jello). In Word 2007, when you press <ALT> and a Word 2003 menu shortcut, a fancy "Office 2003 access key" window pops up to acknowledge that yes, Word 2007 knows what you want to do and is ready to support you. But it's really there to mock you, not support you. Just because we're power users doesn't mean we navigated Word 2003's menus blindfolded — we still could see and didn't have to remember all the shortcuts by heart, but not in Word 2007 — if you don't remember the Word 2003 menus by heart, you're unworthy of using the old shortcuts!

And more importantly, Office 2007's support for Office 2003 access keys is severely limited. For example, something I do a lot in Word is set up tables, and in Word 2003, I'd press <ALT>-A, I, <ENTER> to insert a table. Press those keys in Word 2007, and the "Office 2003 access key" window laughs at you! You moron, you can't hit <ENTER> to select a Word 2003 menu item — you have to know the shortcut. So even though I've pressed <ALT>-A, I, <ENTER> a thousand times to insert tables, now I have to press <ALT>-A, I, T. Table properties? I always typed <ALT>-A, <UP ARROW>, <ENTER>. No more! You can't use arrow keys to navigate Word 2003 menus in Word 2007. Damn you, Microsoft!

And not only that, but I discovered the hard way that Office 2003 access keys ignores entire menus. Something I do often is Page Setup (<ALT>-F, U). What does <ALT>-F, U get me in Word 2007? Not even the mocking "Office 2003 access key" window. Nope, Microsoft lied when they said they were doing away with menus and replacing them with the ribbon. The File menu still exists in Word 2007, and <ALT>-F brings up Word 2007's File menu, not Word 2003's, and on Word 2007's file menu there is no page setup! Argh! No, in Word 2007, your only choice is to type <ALT;>-P (page layout), S, P.

Actually for page setup, you can also type <ALT;>-P (page layout), M (margins), A (custom margins). Nosing around after my handy dandy page setup shortcut keys no longer worked, I found the page layout ribbon, which includes a bunch of presets for various margins. So if I want 1-inch margins all around or half-inch margins all around, I might be able to get them more quickly than I could in Word 2003 (Half-inch margins in Word 2007? <ALT>-P (page layout), M (margins), <DOWN ARROW>, <DOWN ARROW>, <ENTER>. Half-inch margins in Word 2003? <ALT>-F, U, .5, <TAB>, .5, <TAB>, .5, <TAB>, .5, <ENTER>). The difference is that I didn't even have to think about it in Word 2003, and I do in Word 2007. Ugh, it's going to be a long process.

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Wasted space in larger Office 2007 File Save dialogue box Okay, this complaint about Office 2007 is really whiny, I'll admit, but the File Open/File Save dialogue boxes in Office 2007 are huge, 778x494 pixels or almost a third of my 1440x900 screen. The ones in Office 2003 were 601x392, so the new ones are 163% bigger and use another 10% of my screen. Why did I notice? Because I often want to name a file based on something in its contents, and I want to be able to see around the File Save dialogue box in order to see the contents while I'm naming the file. The bigger dialogue box isn't so maneuverable. Microsoft has a handy dandy window sizing icon in the corner of the dialogue box, but you can only make it yet bigger, not smaller. Gee, thanks, Microsoft for letting me control my workspace, not.

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Okay, yes, this is turning out to be "whine about Microsoft" week, and I do have another complaint about Word 2007, but I also discovered something positive to balance it out a bit.

Something I do a lot in Word is adjust the spacing before and after paragraphs. Word 2007 still recognizes <ALT>-O, P to bring up the format paragraph dialogue box, but, as I abruptly discovered after my muscle memory kicked in, it no longer recognizes <ALT>-E to jump to the spacing after field in that dialogue box. For some reason, Microsoft in all its wisdom decided that no, the short cut for that field has to be <ALT>-F now, which would be annoying enough (yet another new keystroke to learn) but it doesn't work if you have support for right-to-left languages enabled because guess what? <ALT>-F is also the shortcut the brilliant Microsoft developers assigned to "Right-to-left" direction. Hello, you morons! We hapless users see After and press <ALT>-F and our text is suddenly the wrong direction. Fuck! I suppose that I should be glad that I can type <ALT>-B, <TAB> and get to the spacing after field by tabbing from the spacing before field. It seems the devious Microsoft developers haven't been able to force me to use the mouse just yet.


Speaking of support for right-to-left languages, my positive discovery in Word 2007 is related to that. If you're a regular reader, you know I've been taking Hebrew and as part of that had to figure out how to type in Hebrew. One quirk of mixing text from right-to-left and left-to-left languages in a single document is that when you use the left and right cursor keys sometimes pressing <LEFT ARROW> will move your cursor right and sometimes pressing <RIGHT ARROW> will move your cursor left (e.g., if you're editing LTR text in a paragraph marked RTL [say you have an English translation in the midst of a Hebrew paragraph]). I just figured that's the way it works and that it couldn't be changed, but nosing around Word 2007's advanced options, I saw one that says "Cursor movement: Logical / Visual." Apparently to Microsoft's brilliant developers pressing <LEFT ARROW> and sometimes having the cursor move right is "logical," but at least they offer the option of having <LEFT ARROW> act "visually" and do what's advertised, i.e., move left. I don't know if this option is new to Office 2007 or not, but I like it.

Update: Ugh, I take back my praise of Word 2007's cursor movement setting.

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

Okay, today I'll take a break from Microsoft bashing but stick with the topic of new technology I'm slightly behind the curve on, in this case EVDO, Kyocera and D-Link.

Actually EVDO I wasn't behind the curve on but was a fairly early adopter. EVDO, if you don't know, is (fairly) high speed wireless broadband offered by cellphone companies like Verizon and Sprint. The idea of having Internet access wherever you go (and not just where there's WiFi) excites geeks. Back when I was rich and worked in corporate America (and before there was WiFi even) I paid a high monthly fee ($75/month, if I remember) to a company called OmniSky for CDPD service on my iPaq Pocket PC. That service was only 19.2Kbps and unreliable, not really worth the money, but my EVDO is about 412Kbps down/128Kbps up (EVDO Rev. A promises to be even faster), fairly reliable, and a money saver: $60/month (less than OmniSky), and I don't pay for DSL or a cable modem, nor do I have to pay for WiFi when I travel (a double bonus because many hotels that do charge for WiFi nevertheless don't have good access in all their rooms).

The card I use for EVDO is Kyocera's KPC650 card on Verizon's network. If you're a later adopter than I am, a tip for you is not to use Verizon's crappy VZAccess Manager software; just set up a dial-up networking connection — the user name is your EVDO card's phone number@vzw3g.com (e.g. 9375551212@vzw3g.com), your password is vzw, and the phone number to dial is #777.

As I said, it's been fairly reliable, but my connection sometimes drops, sometimes after 30 minutes or so, sometimes after an hour, sometimes less, but also (rarely) sometimes not until a few hours have passed. A tip I read to keep the connection going is to do a "ping -t" (or better yet run a batch file with a loop with sleeps between some pings) in a DOS window in the background. At any rate, my wireless broadband experience has been positive for the most part.

However, I did notice that I've had to reboot my notebook more often when I use EVDO. In the office plugged into the net via an Ethernet cable I never have to reboot my computer. With the KPC650 card in, though, after the 2nd or 3rd or 4th disconnect, I find that Network Connections shows me as still connected but I have no signal. Sometimes pulling up Safely Remove Hardware (another tip: type "C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\RUNDLL32.EXE SHELL32.DLL Control_RunDLL hotplug.dll" in Start->Run to bring this up quickly), stopping the card and then reinserting it does the trick. More often than not I have to reboot.


Besides their EVDO PC Card, Kyocera also makes a WiFi router, the KR1, which lets you use an EVDO PC Card to provide Internet access to a small group of people. At home I mainly use only one computer at a time, so paying $300 for a KR1 didn't make sense.

But the thought crossed my mind more than once that by having an EVDO WiFi router, I could avoid having to reboot my computer due to EVDO disconnects. Worst case, power cycle the router. So I did some checking and Kyocera's retail price for KR1s has dropped to $229, and they seem to be going for about $150 on eBay. And since the KR1 first came out, D-Link came out with an EVDO WiFi router too, the DIR-450, which goes for about $120 on eBay. So I did some bidding and got myself one for $100 plus shipping.

I'm very pleased with the DIR-450. It was fairly easy to set up (tip: don't use the same user name for both admin and user profiles; the DIR-450 will think you're a user and not admin). Since I've had it, I no longer have to reboot my computer because of problems with the KPC650. I do still get disconnected sometimes (although it seems to be less frequent). When that happens, I have to log into the DIR-450, tell it to disconnect the KPC650 and then tell it to reconnect. Or I can just power cycle the DIR-450. The former is probably better for the DIR-450 but the latter's less hassle.

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

Okay, Microsoft's stupidity means that I have to retract the good thing I said about them yesterday. I had been pleasantly surprised to discover a setting in Word 2007 that allows you to set cursor movement to "visual" in right-to-left languages such as Hebrew.

Well, guess what? It only works if you don't hold <SHIFT> down. If you do hold <SHIFT> down because you want to select some text, the cursor goes back to its old "logical" behavior, moving in the opposite direction from the way it moves without <SHIFT>. That is worse than having no changeable cursor movement setting at all. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I'm switching it back, so at least the cursor movement is consistent within a language. Damn you, Microsoft!

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Today, during "whine about Microsoft Office 2007" week, I am whining about Outlook 2007. I didn't think I'd have to do this because Outlook 2007, unlike Word 2007 and Excel 2007 was not supposed to feature the infamous ribbon. Instead it still has the familiar File, Edit, View menus and even retained my custom toolbar when I started it up. Oh, but Microsoft is devious.

Just when I'm lured into thinking that everything will be okay with Outlook 2007, I go to do one of the main things I do with Outlook — read or send an e-mail message, schedule an appointment, look up contact info — and boom, bye bye, menus — hello, ribbon. Fuck! That means that yes, in Outlook 2007 also, I'll be learning new shortcuts.

What makes Outlook 2007 even worse is that Microsoft's evil developers, having pretended to retain the old 2003 menus, don't even bother to include the mocking "Office 2003 access key" feature that Word 2007 and Excel 2007 have. Damn them!

Insert a file with Outlook 2003
Attach a file in Outlook 2003

Attach a file with Outlook 2007
Attach a file in Outlook 2007

For example, very often when composing e-mail messages I attach files. In Outlook 2003, that's just <ALT>-I (insert), F (file). In Outlook 2007, you have to type <ALT>N (insert), AF (attach file). Not only different keystrokes but additional keystrokes. Ugh. Sorry, Microsoft, but I had enough and reclaimed my old shortcut. I wrote an AutoHotkey script that checks for whenever I press <ALT>-I in an Outlook e-mail window, intercepts it and types Outlook 2007's stupid new shortcut instead, actually saving me a keystroke.

Reminder in Outlook 2003
Outlook 2003's conveniently located
appointment reminder

Reminder in Outlook 2007
Outlook 2007's obscurely placed reminder

Another common task, probably even more annoying now, is that whenever I create an appointment, I want to set a reminder for it. True, Outlook 2003 was a tad annoying in thinking that I'd want to be reminded only 15 minutes before an appointment, but setting the reminder to what I wanted was a simple <ALT>-R away. Outlook 2007 makes the assumption that I don't want to be reminded about appointments at all, hiding the reminder field away on the damned ribbon, accessible only after typing <ALT>-H, Q. Sure, that's not too hard to type, but I don't see that field (having hidden the space-grabbing ribbon) and thus am not reminded that I'd like to set an reminder, nor can I easily see if I set a reminder if I do go back to look at the details of an appointment.

And then there are tasks. Outlook can be a great tool for managing one's work, but Outlook 2007 doesn't want to make it easy. If you do different types of tasks or tasks for different projects, you might want to use categories, and in Outlook 2003, categories were only an <ALT>-G away (true for appointments and other items as well). Outlook 2007 does show already-assigned categories with nice colored bars, but to assign categories you have to type <ALT>-H, G and then arrow down to the category you want (and do this multiple times if you want to assign multiple categories), or, if you want to assign a category that Outlook doesn't display (it only shows 15) or if you want to assign multiple categories all at once, you have to type <ALT>-H, G, A.

And one last Outlook 2007 gripe, also related to tasks. I confess that I sometimes don't mark tasks complete the day I do the tasks. I still want to record the actual date completed, however, and in Outlook 2003, that was a simple jump to the details tab of a task (<CTRL>-<TAB>) where the first field was date completed. Well tasks don't have tabbed subscreens any more in Outlook 2007, so I have to learn a new shortcut, <ALT>H, L, to get to the same place.

Thanks, Microsoft, for working so hard to make my life easier.

Monday, May 21st, 2007

One last "whine about Microsoft Office 2007" post, this time a brief one about Excel 2007. Excel 2007 shares many of Word 2007's annoyances but has one particularly bothersome annoyance of its own.

I've used Excel for a long time, starting 22 years ago (God I'm old) when it was introduced on Macintosh. Editing formulas directly in the cell is something I've never adopted; I've always used the formula bar and think it makes seeing formulas easier, especially for longer ones.

Excel 2003 handles long formulas quite nicely, automatically extending its formula bar as much as needed to display the entire formula:

A long formula in Excel 2003

Of course Excel 2007 has to fuck this up. Microsoft's evil Excel developers, perhaps because they never actually use the product, have sagely decided that one needs only to see one line of a formula at a time, or that one has to sacrifice screen real estate all the time to accommodate longer formulas. They've gone out of their way to remove functionality that worked well in Excel 2003. Damn them to programming hell.

A long formula in Excel 2007
Friday, May 25th, 2007

Remember that D-Link DIR-450 EVDO WiFi router I got on Ebay? Well, the price I paid for it, $100 plus shipping, while still a bargain, turns out not to be all the bargain I should have gotten because the seller, a certain NY Computer Professor aka Y. Presworsky, placed shill bids to raise the final auction price by $15, and he almost got away with it. No, actually he didget away with it, but I almost didn't notice.

The only reason I did notice is that I happened to see on his shipping label the name "Y.presworsky," which rang a bell because a ypresworsky placed the last three bids before mine. Now why was ypresworsky bidding on this auction? Not because he wanted a DIR-450 router, since obviously he had already one to ship to me. No, it's because he wanted me to pay $100 for the router instead of $85.01, the last bid before his.

I checked and it turns out that ypresworsky is a frequent bidder on items listed by nycomputerprofessor, sometimes even winning auctions, which I've since learned is a technique for avoiding losses — if an item you're selling on eBay is coming in under what you paid for it, bid for it yourself under another name, and then you don't have to sell it at a loss but can list it again instead.

I e-mailed eBay and told them of my suspicions, and they wrote back to say, "eBay is very concerned about any potential violation on our site. We have investigated your report and have taken appropriate action. Our actions may include issuing a warning, a temporary or indefinite suspension, or terminating the eBay membership. To protect the privacy of all our members, we can't discuss the details of an investigation with another member."

After receiving this, I checked and found that nycomputerprofessor's other auctions had been canceled, which I take to mean that his account has been suspended and also that eBay found some merit to my claim. However, when I wrote eBay back, they continued to say that they couldn't confirm that, nor could they help me to recover the $15 I lost to nycomputerprofessor. How incredibly helpful! eBay recognizes that fraud has been committed but will do nothing to help the victim.

So I emailed nycomputerprofessor (who sometimes uses the address nycomputerprofessor@gmail.com and sometimes uses the address nycomputerprofessor@yahoo.com), saying that I recognized what he'd done and that I wanted him to PayPal me $15. He replied, "[sic] If you are unhappy with the router please return it with original manufacturer seal, and i will refund your money thank you." Actually I'm not unhappy with the router — it works great — and frankly I don't trust nycomputerprofessor to refund me my money, so I told him if he chose not to give me the $15 back I'd post about all this on my blog.

So there you have it. Computer Professor, Inc., aka nycomputerprofessor@yahoo.com aka nycomputerprofessor@gmail.com aka Y.Presworsky, cheated me of $15 (not the end of the world, I know). He has a website (not a very good one) at www.nycomputerprofessor.com. His phone number is 718-849-3100 (he even enclosed a thank you note listing that phone number in case I had problems). His address, from the shipping label, is 12102 Jamaica Ave, Richmond Hill, NY 11418, and from his domain registration is Boruch Zipper, 147-36 70 Rd, Flushing, NY 11367 (different phone for that: 718-793-3290).

Not that this does any good. No one will search for him until after they've been cheated by him and have a reason to search for him. I feel a bit better though. And now I know what to check for BEFORE paying for eBay items I've won.

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