09 June 2008

#74. I Want My Old Office Back!

The Tool Bar & Grill kitchen is the equivalent of an executive’s corner office for this chef. And apropos to Office, I’ve been cooking up some new treats for you. But first, let me tell you a love story…

My Love Affair with Microsoft Word

Relax, there is none. I hated Word when I first started using the DOS version in the early ’90s (WordStar, I miss you!), soon followed by Word 2 for Windows 3.1 (WordPerfect, I miss you even more!). I hated Word 6. I hated Word 95 a bit less, and Word 97 even less than that. I still hated Word 2000, which moved a lot of menu options around, and I hated Word 2002 (XP), though a bit less. I hated Word 2003 less than any of its predecessors. And I hate Word 2007 the most of all.

Lest you assume that my attitude stems from ignorance, take note that much of my income over the past 15 years has derived from my expertise in using Word. I design and program templates, and train others how to use Word. No, my frustration with Word developed through intimate familiarity with its innermost secrets.

Office 2007 adopted the “ribbon” interface instead of tool bars. As I complained in post #70, I now have to spend extra find hunting for commands that are no longer in their familiar places. Back then, I told you about the Search Commands add-in for Office 2007, which helps you find commands that the new Office 2007 ribbon interface misplaced.

Tool Bar Nostalgia

Now thanks to fellow Tool Bar & Grill reader Shailesh Shah, I have another great way to cope with Office 2007. In a comment to post #70, he pointed me to his Web site, where he provides classic Office menu add-in templates for Office 2007, free of charge.

These add-ins display the Office 2003 menu bar, Standard tool bar, and Formatting tool bar in the Add-Ins tab on the Office 2007 ribbon. Because my other specialized templates appear there, I found myself clicking back and forth between the Add-Ins tab and other tabs (mostly Home). Here’s the Word version:

Now all the functions I need are on one tab, and in their familiar places (though many shortcut keys are still a problem).

Add-ins are available for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access 2007. Here’s the Excel version of the Office 2003 add-in:

I do wish the tool bar were customizable, so I could add or remove buttons. But this is a minor problem. Those of us who feel punished by Office 2007 owe a great debt of gratitude to Shailesh Shah for his contributions to easing our misery. His home page offers a number of other useful-looking Excel utilities.

And now, here is Mark Lautman with his take on the latest Ubuntu Linux release.

Some Laurels for this Hardy
by Mark Lautman

I recently went with my mother to a steakhouse. “I'll have the ground round steak,” she said to the waiter. “Please tell the chef I want it well done.”

“Why do you insist on well done?” I asked after the waiter left.

“Because when it comes to ground beef, you never know what's really inside it. Ordering well done means all the bugs and bacteria are properly removed.”

The first thing that came to my mind was shock and disgust: why do we eat food that has such a problematic history as industrialized meat? The second thing that came to my mind was, again, shock and disgust: why do we use software that, like steak, has bugs and bacteria in it?

I haven't purchased a copy of Windows Vista, but from all the bad publicity, it seems that XP is a better product.

The most recent version of Ubuntu, called the Hardy Heron, doesn't have a lot of bugs, but it has a different kind of problem. Ubuntu, like any other Linux distribution, is a collection of the Linux kernel and a variety of programs, such as OpenOffice, Firefox, media players, and an email application. The people who manage the distribution decide which programs to include, and which versions of those programs to include. In the case of Ubuntu’s Hardy Heron, things got a bit ahead of themselves. For example, the version of Firefox included with the Heron is a beta version for release 3.0.

This version of Firefox isn't available to the general public; you can only get it as a “release candidate.” (http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all-beta.html) However, as part of the Hardy Heron, it is readily available. One consequence is that one of my critical plug-ins, Foxmarks, doesn't work until it is also upgraded.

Another indication of an unripe distribution is the number of upgrades that are installed. Ubuntu uses the Debian package manager, which automatically checks for upgrades to programs. Since installing the Hardy Heron one month ago, I've downloaded at least 200 MB of individual updates. This is a sign that not everything was properly integrated. Below is an image of a typical upgrade notification.

In spite of my complaints, the Hardy Heron is yet another reason why Ubuntu continues to be the most popular Linux distribution. Networking, Web surfing, emailing, and playing media are effortless. Most importantly, the upgrade from Gutsy Gibbon was seamless: just start the download/install routine, go watch a movie, and by the time you come back you're all upgraded.

The Hardy Heron includes some fabulous improvements. The best one is Wubi. (Wubi is an African term that means “Do I get potato with my sirloin?”) Wubi installs Ubuntu onto your Windows machine like any other application. In post #48, I recommended virtual machines as a way to try out Ubuntu. That avenue is now obsolete. Wubi is a much better way to go. I tried it, and it works perfectly. If you have 8 GB of free drive space and a fast Internet connection, you'll be running Ubuntu in 10 minutes.

Other enhancements include packages for Inkscape (which I discussed in post #56, the latest Gnome desktop, and a remote desktop viewer that can connect to more than one computer. The full list of the Heron's features is here. From the list you can see that the folks at Ubuntu have indeed been busy!

In the future, I'll wait a few months before upgrading to a new version of Ubuntu. That gives it a chance to get cooked well done, with a nice char-broil sear on the outside, like the way my mom likes her steaks. Incidentally, she loved her ground round side. Not a single cell of bacteria was on it. I ordered a vegetarian dish, a raw spinach salad. Two hours later I was in the hospital with E. coli poisoning! –Mark Lautman

Thank you all for dropping by my office today. I hope it has been beneficial; if so, please bring your friends next time. Did I overlook your favorite utility? Tell me about it by clicking on “comments” below or, if you prefer privacy, by writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And please show our appreciation to our advertisers by clicking through to their sites.


  1. I do not use Office 2007, but I've heard that the Search Commands add-on makes navigation in Office 2007 applications much easier.

  2. I can only say "ditto" to all your comments on the Office Ribbon. I am sure you will be hard-pressed to find anything in the office computing world that has wasted as much time as the ribbon. Countless hours spent looking for something that was easy to find before, is now hidden or (apparently) missing.

    At work we are Microsoft Gold Partners (or some such) so we are compelled to use the latest Microsoft offerings. I have been informed I will lose XP soon for Vista.

    Shall I slit my wrists now and avoid all the pain that this Microsoft Monster will inflict?

  3. Alek, thank you for taking the time to write in and mention the Search Commands add-in. I know you're a regular Tool Bar reader, but apparently you missed post #70, where I reviewed Search Commands. I use it in addition to the Office 2003 tool bar add-ins.

  4. Haydn, thank you too for visiting my blog and posting a comment. Take heart! Search Commands and the Office 2003 tool bar add-ins make it easier to cope with Office 2007. And as for Vista, I've been using it on my new laptop for some months now, and despite all the problems I have read about, I have had relatively smooth going and generally am able to do what I need to do with it. I haven't found many advantages in Vista over XP, but no horror stories either.

  5. Alek, I owe you an apology. I seem to have misunderstood your comment above. You did indeed notice my review of Search Commands in post #70, as evidenced by the fact that you commented on it there. Thanks again for being a regular visitor.

  6. Am I the only person in the universe that LOVES office 2007? I do. I used 2000 for years until I just recently purchased a new computer with the 07 trial (of course vista--which by the way, you may groan, but I LOVE that too) and yes, at first I felt like I was in strange and uncharted water, but after playing with it awhile... sorry folks, I love it.

    By the way, I am in no way affiliated with Microsoft, I'm just a little old writer, and if this old dog can learn a new trick or two, anyone can.

  7. MissWrite, thank you for your comment. (Somehow I always knew I would meet MissWrite someday... you probably get that all the time, don't you?) I'm sure many people love Office 2007. I just thought most of them are new users who were not already familiar with the old Office. I can certainly see the advantages of 2007 for newbies. But I know many experienced users, not all of them cantankerous old coots like me, who don't see the benefit of the Ribbon and long for the convenience and customizability of the old tool bar interface. But one can't argue with taste, and I'm glad for your sake that you like 2007, because you don't have to feel the frustration that I do.

  8. misswrite: I heard from a few people that once they got used to the ribbon interface they loved it. My problem is that at work we're still using Office 2003, so whenever I have to help my wife or daughter (they both use Office 2007), I get a bit confused. And BTW, I also like Vista (never had any issues with it, like many people report).

  9. Mark from the Linux RoomJune 13, 2008 12:29 PM

    The first time I used Word 2007, it took me 20 minutes to create a new file, write a paragraph, and save it. However, after using the contraption for about six months, I do feel that the number of mouse clicks required to access a function is much less than in previous versions. The "quick access toolbar" is also very useful. (The worst part of 2007 is the insane keyboard mnemonics.) Overall, I think 2007 is an improvement in usability.

  10. Hi Jonathan,

    Keep up with the good work, you have an excellent software blog. Since both you and Mark are online writers, maybe you could make your readers discover some cultural and knowledge aspects (e.g. online ebooks), available through the use of computing. We live in a world that is changing at a very fast pace (computers are one aspect of these changes), and maybe we should become more aware about what is really happening around us and in our lives, instead of just looking at software in itself, which in the end, are more like toys for playing with. Just a friendly suggestion.

    Best regards from a friend.

  11. Dear anonymous friend, I appreciate you compliments. However, I am not clear on what sort of material you are suggesting we publish. I started this blog precisely because I like to experiment with software and Web sites that solve my computing problems, make me more productive, or do something cool. These are indeed my toys. Do you want to see reviews of on-line ebook distribution sites? Or are you suggesting we write insightful, thought-provoking essays on the wider societal meaning of the computer revolution? (If it's the latter, Mark might be up to it, but I'm not the deep thinker type.) I look forward to your clarification, preferably with some examples. Thank you again!

  12. Hi Jonathan,

    The second option, maybe an essay on the wider meaning (social & personal) of the computer revolution, would be interesting, if Mark feels inspired some day for this kind of article. It is not compulsory however for your blog, since it is possible to look for this kind of information elsewhere in the Internet. I tend to make this kind of comment, maybe because of my studies in anthropology and philosophy, more "people" than "machine" oriented... ;).

    Best regards,

    A friend from Spain.

  13. Oops! I accidentally clicked "Reject" instead of "Publish" for Rob's comment below. Here's what Rob in Denver wrote:

    I, too, love Office 2007. There're lots of things MS does wrong, but Office 2007, Ribbon and all, is something they got right. Full stop.

    I've been using it well over a year and I've loved it almost from the moment I first used it. I customized the Quick Access Tool bar to display the things I use the most, and I think the context formatting tools simply ROCK.

  14. Rob, thanks for writing! Though there are things I dislike about Office 2007, the ribbon in particular is a matter of taste - and there's no disputing taste. I especially resent being unable to customize the ribbon. Customizing the QA tool bar was not a solution for me, because it got too long and obscured the document title (and I didn't want to lose still more screen real estate by moving it below the ribbon). And there are indeed some other features I can appreciate; I do love the live formatting preview, for example.

    Thanks again for visiting and for writing in.

  15. Hi Jonathan,
    Do you know about another old good office suit called "Framework" from www.framework.com. It is said that it is still the best suit for average user. Its outline frames is not seen in any other suit. Its spreadsheet has a ability to put value to another cell within formula which is not found in Excel or other software. Even text written as a result of formula can have text formatting, again this feature is not found in Excel. There should be many other features that framework have, but not found in any other software. I request you to review on this office suit Framework.
    Shah Shailesh

  16. Dear Shah: Thank you very much for visiting my blog, and for writing in about Framework. I was astonished to see that Framework still exists. I remember discovering and using an early version of Framework for DOS way back around 1985 or 86 or so. It was by far the most sophisticated desktop software back then, and I loved it. At the moment, I am very occupied with important meatspace projects, so I am unable to invest much time in the Bar & Grill for a while. But I will try to check out Framework when I can, and perhaps report on it in a future post. Thanks again for visiting, and keep up the great work on your wonderful Excel and other Office utilities.