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Storing Extra Details About Your Documents

The NTFS file system in Windows Vista and Windows XP keeps track of a few essential details about each file: its size, when it was created, and when you last modified it, for example. You can see all these standard details when you open Windows Explorer. So what happens when you save a document using an Office program? You get the option to store extra details called properties; these categorized bits of information include the author's name, a title and a subject for the file, and comments or keywords you can use to search for documents later. If you're an obsessive organizer, you can open a Custom properties sheet for any document and keep track of more than two dozen built-in categories or add your own. In addition, if you use Windows Vista, you can store freeform details called tags, which you can use for sorting, grouping, and searching any Office file type.

Some properties are filled in automatically by Office, but to really take advantage of this feature you need to go a little bit out of your way and fill in extra details for every document with which you work. Why should you bother?

  • It helps you find stuff later—When you use the Windows search tools (or those offered by third-party developers), you can search for any property of any Office file. If you've trained yourself to enter details about a project or assignment in the Properties dialog box, it's trivially easy to locate all the files associated with that activity.
  • It helps you keep projects organized—In Windows Explorer's Details view, you can add columns for many Office file properties. For example, in a folder filled with Word documents, right-click any column heading to display a list of available columns, and then click Title and Author to add those fields to the display. That way, you can scan through a list and see more than just the filename. (You can do the same with Search results.)
  • It lets you reuse data—You can look up file properties in any document and then use those values in fields and in macros. Using fields, you can automatically fill in data within a document based on the values you enter in the Properties dialog box.

For more ideas and techniques using VBA, see Chapter 26, "Using Macros to Automate Routine Tasks," p. 721.

To view and edit the properties of a file currently open in an Office program, click the Office button, choose Prepare, and click Properties. This opens the Document Information Panel, which appears below the Ribbon and above the editing window, as shown in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 The Document Information Panel displays summary information about the current document.

The Document Information Panel displays a limited set of properties that are identical for all types of Office documents, including a free-form Comments box where you can enter notes about a file. To see the full list of available properties, click the Document Properties menu in the top-left corner of the panel and choose Advanced Properties. This opens a dialog box like the one shown in Figure 3.8, which organizes information in five tabs.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 Each tab in the Advanced Properties dialog box displays different sorts of information; the Contents tab is the only one that can't be changed directly.

Each of the five tabs contains a different type of information.

  • General—Basic information from the Windows file system: name, location, size, and so on.
  • Summary—Information about the current file and its author, including fields for company name, category, and keywords. The check box at the bottom of this tab allows you to configure Word so it saves a thumbnail of every file of that type.
  • Statistics—Details about the size and structure of the file, such as the number of words in a document or the number of slides in a presentation; also displays revision statistics and total editing time. If you rely on these statistics to stay within a specific word count when working on a homework assignment, always inspect them from within the document itself, using the Word Count indicator on the Status bar, to guarantee that the information is up to date.
  • Contents—The parts of the file, such as the outline of a Word document, based on heading styles; worksheet titles in an Excel workbook; or slide titles in a PowerPoint presentation. The only way to change the information shown here is to change the contents of the file itself.
  • Custom—Twenty-seven built-in fields that are useful when creating business documents, including Client, Document Number, and Date Completed. In addition, you can enter a field of your own creation, such as the name of a class or a teacher. Custom fields can contain text, dates, numbers, or Yes/No information; they can also be linked to Word bookmarks, named Excel ranges, or PowerPoint text selections.

For simple projects, you might choose to ignore file properties and just give each document a descriptive filename that tells you everything you need to know about the file. For more complicated documents, however, adding file details—including keywords, categories, and free-form comments—can help you quickly find a group of related data files, even months or years after you last worked with them.

To enter additional details about an Office file, you must open the Document Information Panel or the Advanced Properties dialog box, fill in the appropriate fields, and then save the file. To close the Document Information Panel, click the X in its upper-right corner.

Default Document Properties

If you just click the Save button without entering any additional data, Office programs save only a few document properties along with the saved file. Windows stores the standard file details, of course, including the name and size of the file as well as the date and time the file was modified. All Office programs add your name (using whatever name the program finds on the Popular tab of the Options dialog box) in the Author field. PowerPoint fills in the Title field as well, using the contents of the title slide.

Using Custom Properties to Organize Files

Custom properties make it easier to keep track of files in an environment where many people create and share files on a shared source such as a file server. Most of the ready-made fields here are designed for use in an office, where you might use the Client, Status, and Recorded Date fields to track the progress of Word documents. But you can also add your own fields to keep track of specific information you find useful. Figure 3.9 shows a Word document that includes several custom properties.

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 Record additional file properties on the Custom tab; later, use Search tools to find files containing these details.

To enter custom criteria for any Office file, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Office button, choose Prepare, and click Properties.
  2. Click Document Information, Advanced Properties; click the Custom tab to display the dialog box shown previously in Figure 3.9.
  3. Choose a field from the Name list. To create a new field, type its name here.
  4. Choose one of the available data types from the Type drop-down list.
  5. Type the data for the selected field in the Value text box.
  6. Click Add. The new entry appears in the Properties list at the bottom of the dialog box.
  7. Repeat steps 3–6 for any additional custom fields. To remove an item from the Properties list, select its entry and click Delete. Click OK to close the dialog box and return to the program window.

The Link to Content check box is grayed out and unavailable unless you're working with a Word document that contains bookmarks, an Excel workbook that contains named ranges, or a PowerPoint presentation containing linked text. In any of those cases, you can enter a custom field name, select the Link to Content check box, and then choose the bookmark or named range. In a PowerPoint presentation, you must select the text you want to link to a custom field before opening the Properties dialog box.

Using Windows Explorer to View File Properties

To view any Office file's properties without opening the file itself, open a Windows Explorer window, right-click the file's icon, and then choose Properties. In Windows XP and Windows Vista, you can edit some file properties for Word documents, Excel workbooks, and PowerPoint presentations directly from an Explorer window.

In Windows XP, you can see some Office file properties, such as the author's name, in the info pane along the left side of a Windows Explorer window. In Windows Vista, this information appears in the details pane at the bottom of the window, as shown in Figure 3.10.

Figure 3.10

Figure 3.10 In Windows Vista, information drawn from an Office file's properties appears in the details pane at the bottom of a Windows Explorer window when the file is selected.

You can also see a thumbnail of the file itself in this region. The thumbnail appears for PowerPoint presentations only if you select the Save Preview Picture check box on the Summary tab of the Advanced Properties dialog box. For Word documents and Excel workbooks, this check box turns on thumbnails as a global option. After choosing the Save Thumbnails for All Word Documents (or Excel Workbooks) option, a thumbnail is automatically created when you save a file.

In the details pane of Windows Explorer, you can edit properties directly without opening the file. To increase or decrease the number of properties available in this pane, drag the horizontal divider between the contents pane and the details pane.

In Windows Vista, you can right-click the icon for an Office file in Windows Explorer and choose Properties. This view consolidates all Office-specific properties onto a single Details tab. If the file is not open in the Office program that created it, you can fill in or change some of these properties directly. Click in the area to the right of the property you want to change as in Figure 3.11 and enter the information.

Figure 3.11

Figure 3.11 Some properties of an Office file are editable directly from this Properties dialog box.

Removing Personal Information from Office Files

Information in saved documents, workbooks, and presentations can sometimes reveal more about you than you like. If you plan to post a document to a public website, you might prefer to have traces of potentially personal information, such as your username, removed. All Office 2007 programs make this task simple. Click the Office button, choose Prepare, and click Inspect Document. Select the Document Properties and Personal Information check box (and any others that you might find useful) and then click Inspect.

If the inspection finds any optional properties saved with the file, you see a report like the one shown in Figure 3.12.

Figure 3.12

Figure 3.12 If you're concerned about personal information "leaking" out into the world, inspect your documents before publishing them.

To remove all properties, click the Remove All button. To select individual properties for removal or editing, click Close and then open the Document Information Panel.

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