Super Software Secrets

Mastering Microsoft Office

While your job might be sheer drudgery on certain assignments, working in Office doesn't have to be. Office has its fair share of hidden secrets that can lighten the load of your workday.

Work With Word

PDFtoWord converts PDF documents into Word docs.
Convert your PDF files: PDF to Word is a neat Web service that converts PDF files to Word format so that you can edit them. Alternatively, you can download Nitro PDF Reader, an app that comes from the same company and offers similar features.

Maximize your macros: If you spend a significant amount of time in Word, consider using the built-in Macro function to record and automate repetitive tasks. First enable the Developer tab (in Office 2007): Click the Office button in the upper-left corner, choose Word Options, and check Show Developer tab in the Ribbon. Then switch to the Developer tab in your document, and you can record your own macros (global as well as document-specific) and assign them to keys or toolbar buttons.

Thumbnail view in Word helps you scroll through your documents.
Navigate with your thumbnails: Scrolling through long Word documents is a waste of time. Click the View tab and check the Thumbnails box to add a bar on the left side of the window that you can use to skip quickly from page to page.

Strip out text formatting: Want to copy and paste a block of text without bringing the original formatting along for the ride? To do this, first copy the text you want (by pressing Ctrl-C); then open the Edit menu (or click the drop-down menu under the Paste icon on the Word 2007 ribbon), choose Paste special, and select Unformatted Text. This method is perfect for removing hyperlinks from copied Web content.

Own Your Office

Bring menus back: If you still haven't learned Office 2007's ribbon system after three years of exposure to it, maybe you should just get rid of it. UBitMenu is a third-party Office add-on that restores the old menu setup. What's more, it's free for private use.

Encrypt your Word docs by using the General Options tab of the Tools drop-down menu.
Keep your docs private: You can make a Word or Excel document more secure by saving it with a password (if you like, you can even specify different passwords so that some people can edit the document while others can only read it). Select Save As, click the Tools drop-down menu, and choose General Options (Security Options in older versions of Office).

Find a lost e-mail message: By default, in its All Items searches, Outlook 2007 doesn't include e-mail messages consigned to the Deleted Items folder. If you're looking for a missive that you think you may have deleted, select Tools, Options, Preferences, and click Search Options. Check the box under ‘Deleted Items' that says Include messages from the Deleted Items folder in each data file when searching in All Items, and you may be able to pull your missing mail out of the trash.

Eliminate notifications: Ever had a highly productive computer session ruined by an errant e-mail notification? To disable Outlook's notification sounds and system-tray messages, go to Tools, Options, Preferences, E-mail Options, and then click the Advanced E-mail Options button. Uncheck all of the options shown under ‘When new items arrive in My Inbox'.

Insert a new worksheet in an Excel spreadsheet: To open a new worksheet in an existing Excel spreadsheet without having to dig through any menus first, simply press Shift-F11.

Web Browser Tricks and Scripts

Like the exploding ballpoint pen and powerful laser watch that James Bond found so handy in GoldenEye, your browser can do more than meets the eye. Whether you are Firefox friendly or an Internet Explorer devotee, plenty of great add-ons are available for customizing and controlling your Web browsing experience.

Take advantage of the tips in this section, and you'll never again have to endure a lost comment or forum post, spend precious time stripping unwanted formatting out of blocks of copied and pasted text, or waste sheets of paper every time you print out a copy of a Web page. Besides being easy on your processor, these practical add-ons are free, so load up on them.

Note that many of the best Web browser add-ons cited in this article are user-created scripts originally written for Greasemonkey, a Firefox add-on that lets you write JavaScript plug-ins that may radically change the way you use your favorite Websites. Most scripts are hosted on the Userscripts.org site. If you're not using Firefox, read "Use Greasemonkey Scripts In IE, Chrome, and Safari" for tips on how to get these scripts to work.

Firefox Fans Only

Make Gmail better: Grab Better Gmail 2, a suite of scripts and add-ons designed to fix some of Gmail's niggling annoyances. With Better Gmail 2, your mouse will highlight the e-mail message that you hover it over, the Unread count in the Gmail window will ap­­pear first (so that it won't get cut off if it's located in a tab), and attachments will show up from the list view, among other useful improvements. Meanwhile, the first version of Better Gmail has become available to users as a Chrome extension.

Lazarus brings your lost text back from the dead.
Never lose another forum post: Use the Lazarus Firefox add-on to save everything you type in a form, just in case your PC crashes at an inopportune moment. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Deep-six the links: Copy Plain Text is another convenient Firefox add-on. It strips all of the nasty, unpredictable formatting out of text that you copy and paste.

Tips for Any Browser

Save eight keystrokes from every URL: You no longer need to type "www." or ".com" in most URLs. Instead, merely type the unique part of the domain name that you want to visit--say, pcworld--into your browser's navigation bar, and press Ctrl-Enter. Your browser will automatically fill in the "www." and ".com" parts of the address.

Middle-click to open a link in a new tab: Middle-clicking a link (that is, clicking it with the scrollwheel) will cause it to open in a new tab. Middle-clicking a folder containing multiple bookmarks will cause all of them to open in new tabs.

PrintWhatYouLike.com lets you pick what you want to print.
Improve a site's printer friendliness: At most Websites, the "printer-friendly" versions of the content are pretty awful. So head over to PrintWhatYouLike.com, and pick exactly which page elements you want to keep in your hard copy.

Must-Have Add-Ons

Capture a full-page screenshot: Ever need to snag a screenshot of an entire Web page? Three utilities designed for specific browsers--Screengrab for Firefox, IE Screenshot, and Talon for Google Chrome--are perfectly suited to the task.

Try IE-in-a-tab: Even if you typically don't use Internet Explorer, you should have a copy of it handy for special situations. You might need to see how your site works in IE, for instance, or a site you use might not support other browsers. For maximum convenience, IE Tab for Firefox and IE Tab for Chrome let you keep the Microsoft browser in a tab so you don't have to juggle multiple browsers at once.

Bring back the bookmark: If you got out of the habit of using the humble bookmark because synchronizing different sets of bookmarks was too much of a hassle, install Xmarks. It lets you sync your bookmarks across different PCs and across different browsers.

Verify sites' trustworthiness: The Internet can be a dangerous place, but the Web of Trust browser add-on promises to make your excursions there a little safer by telling you how the sites you visit rate in terms of privacy policy, vendor reliability, and child safety.

Chrome and Google Apps

Keep up on your Gmail: Are you a convert to Gmail who misses the way Outlook used to notify you of new messages? Google Mail Checker Plus chimes when you receive new messages, lets you view the subject, and opens a new Gmail message window when you click a mailto: link.

Check your Google Calendar: If you frequently need to take quick peeks at your Google Calendar, pick up DayHiker and you'll be able to access it without opening a new tab or moving away from your current page.

Perform instant YouTube searches: Never type "www.youtube.com" again. Instead use Fast YouTube Search to jump-start your search for YouTube videos from the comfort of your main browser window.

Easily add RSS feeds to Google Reader: If you use Google Reader to track your RSS feeds, you'll appreciate RSS Subscription Extension, which displays an RSS icon in the address bar whenever you are on a page that in­­cludes an RSS feed. Just click the icon, and you can add the feed to your subscription list without any hassle.

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