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General Tips and Tricks for using the Office programs

Revised 7-10-2018

You don't have to spend big bucks for an Office program. Now there is a FREE alternative to MSOffice. Go to and download the program. It looks like and works like the real one. There is a paid version that eliminates ads and is very reasonable.

When we talk "Office" we usually refer to Microsoft Office although there are numerous "Office" Programs. We will mention a few and list some version levels. See also the discussion on Versions.

July 2017- we have had Windows 10 for some time now and pretty well obsoleted all previous vesions. There will be no additional versions of Windows. From now on we will just receive updates to keep it current. Microsoft Office has uppdated to Office 365 as an online program. Older versions still work but may not read newer files. WPS Office will read all new MSOffice files.

WPS Office is a free preogram that opens and saves in native MSOffice formats unlike all the other free office programs that work in their proprietary formats.

I just discovered that WPS will not open the .ODS (spreadsheet) format created by Open Office. I actually had to download and install Open office. Be sure you get the correct program here. Googleing it may give some fake alternatives.

What is an "Office" program? Actually it is a group of programs called a "Suite". The main program is always a wordprocessor, a glorified typing program. Second is usually a spreadsheet program for creating financial records. Third may be a database program for keeping records. Fourth may include a program for creating sales presentations, a calendar and other programs useful for office productivity.

An old program no longer provided is Microsoft Works which was a free simple version of Microsoft Office. You can still get used copies on line but may no longer work in later versions of Windows.

There are other Office suites that are free and at $200 to $400 a crack for MS Office, these are worth a try however they all use proprietary file formats that make working with MSOffice .doc files difficult. That's the advantage of WPS Office. It reads and writes .doc files directly.

Lotus Smartsuite is another office suite that was popular years ago. You can download a copy here Lotus SmartSuite. It may or may not suite your purpose. Commercial version is over $300. Clicking this link takes you to a software download site at since Lotus no longer is around. The Lotus 1-2-3 program was a spreadsheet program backed by Microsoft in the early days. Microsoft Office replaced it. You can find out the history by Googling Lotus software.

WordPerfect was the standard a few years ago. It has been sold repeatedly and lost ground to Microsoft. The current version is sold by Corel, the current owners. It is priced similar to MS Office and is a more powerful program. Student version runs $99. Pro versions can run upwards of $300. It's that power that makes it harder to learn and therefore avoided by more and more. Most commercial and educational institutions have switched to MSOffice for years. You can read more here about the various versions. You may find various versions on line cheaper but be aware that not all vesions will work in Windows 10.

At one time not long ago, the job ads in the paper specified proficiency in WordPerfect and Lotus 123. No longer. It was too confusing learning these powerful programs from different companies with totally different commands. Almost all ads today call for knowledge of MS Office. Microsoft has a program to train users to be certified as qualified Office users. This certificate can help obtain a job.

Now that we know all about the versions available, lets look at some features and how to get better use of the programs. Most of this discussion will center on MS Office due to its popularity, but the ideas expressed will apply to other suites as well.

First lets examine the primary program, the wordprocessor. We all know it can type, but why use Word instead of a simple one like WordPad? If all you are doing is typing a letter, you don't need Word. If you want an enhanced document, print envelopes, or do a mail merge, WordPad can't handle it. To access Wordpad in Windows 10, look in the menus under Windows Accressories or just type Wordpad in the search box.

Before learning some features of wordprocessing, you should learn the most powerful tool provided by Windows that works in any program. If you are not well versed in Cut, Copy and Paste, Click Here to learn the process. After you are comfortable with it, come back here again.

Beyond typing, what else can Word do? I don't have time or space to provide details on the use of Word or any other program. If you want to learn any program in detail, take a class or buy a book and go through it in detail. Here we will point out some ways to look for shortcuts and tips in these programs. Also there are Youtube videos on learning program features. Just search for Learning Word (or Wordperfect, etc.)

To get an idea of what a program can do, browse through the menus. Go ahead and click on things. You can always exit without saving and start over. In all these programs, there are Options for setting things up the way you like. Some options may be selected only for one document and some set for all new documents. I'll give an example.

For order older versions of Word, the default font is Times New Roman and either 10 or 12 point size. The newer versions use Calibri. You can change this to any font in your computer for a document you are working on. If you prefer to use Arial as the default font, just go to Format (in the menu bar) and select Font. Change the font to Arial and choose the size you like (us old folks like 14), then click the Default button on the bottom to set this as the new default for all new documents. You can't do this in WordPad. It always defaults to Times New Roman or Calibri. Also the WPS program is more difficult to change. The menu item is not obvious. Click in any paragraph and select Font or go to the Settings link on the Home ribbon. The corresponding dialog box allows the changes and had a "Default" button on the bottom.

Newer versions of Word use "Ribbons" instead of the old menus. This site explains about "Ribbons". In WPS there are similarities to Word but many differences as well. The default font is found at the Setting link on the Home tab. You can also set paragraph choices there.

Now suppose you want 2 defaults. One with Times New Roman and another with Arial. That's when you need to create a "Template". This is a very powerful feature that most users are unfamiliar with. Most people I know just create a document, save it and use it as a template. Word provides an easier way.

To create a new template, there are 2 ways to do it. The easiest way is to Click File, New. A window opens to choose the type of file to start.
(Note: Clicking the icon at the left of the toolbar will not work the same. It just starts a new document using the default template.)
In the dialog box, select Template. The default is Document. See the figure below:

After the new Template opens in Word, you may choose any settings you want for the "other" default. I like to set my margins at 0.5 and my font to Arial 12 point. Then save the template in the default location, but give it a definitive name such as Blank formatted document, or a company name as I did above or just Arial. The file will be saved with a file extension of .dot instead of .doc as with normal documents. Close the file. Click Here to learn more about file extensions.

You can also make a template for your letterhead as noted above, but type in the letterhead, format it to look good and add a graphic if you so choose. Then save it as "Letterhead".

To use the template, go back to File, New and select the newly created template. Then you will have the new defaults, Create the document and save in the normal manner. If you want to use the original defaults, just click the New icon or in File, New, choose Blank Document.

In WPS a template is made by saving any file as a .wpt in the file save selection.

While we are mentioning the menus versus the icons in the toolbar, be aware that they do not all work the same. For example, clicking the printer icon just sends one copy of the current file to the printer. If you want multiple copies or just certain pages or other custom selections, you must use the menu, File, Print or use the keyboard shortcut CTRL P. To learn more about keyboard shortcuts, click here.

As we pointed out, clicking the New icon is not the same as the menu item, File, New. Not all programs have these limitations. Internet browsers always bring up the dialog box. They do allow an extra choice to print only highlighted (selected) material.

A new development on the web is using an on-line package in lieu of buying a program to put on your computer. The general category is called ASP's or Application Service Providers. This is currently being done in the financial field by Quick Books and Netledger for on-line accounting packages. It is also being tried by some Office providers as well as Google. I tried one called Think Free Office at and was not impressed. The on line version is free, but the Desktop version is $49. But things evolve quickly. Check it out for yourself.

Some of the advantages of using this system is that you always have the latest version of the software, do not clobber up your hard drive with large programs and have access to your files from any computer. Files are stored on-line and passworded so only you have access to them. Prices vary from vendor to vendor.

The disadvantage is that you need to have a broadband connection and wait each time you sign on for the system to check your computer for updates needed. Enough of the program is placed on the computer you are using to be able to work off line, but the file size is small. Supposedly the system will read and write MS Word files to maintain compatibility with other users.

In 2016 Microsoft Office is now available as an on line program with a subscription.

2017- Found a new alternative to Microsoft Office AND IT'S FREE!!

2018 update. I have been using WPS Office for over a year and it works great. It has some extra features not found in Word. The disadvantage is the help file is worthless.

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