Home > Articles > Home & Office Computing > Microsoft Windows Desktop

  • Print
  • + Share This

Using and Customizing Common Dialog Boxes

The Office File Open and File Save As dialog boxes have a series of shortcut icons on the left side, called the Places Bar (see Figure 3.3), designed to speed navigation through common file locations:

Figure 3.3 The Places Bar on the left of the Open and Save As dialog boxes can be easily customized. Put commonly used data folders here for quicker access.

  • History—Opens the Recent folder, which contains shortcuts to files and folders that you've worked with. Office maintains up to 20 shortcuts for each file type in this folder. When you click this icon from within an Office program, Office displays only shortcuts appropriate to the application you're using.

  • NOTE

    Don't confuse the Office Recent folder with the Windows system folder of the same name. Office manages a separate Recent folder for each user profile on a system. To manage the Office shortcuts from an Explorer window, open the user profile folder (on a Windows 98/Me machine, this is typically C:\Windows\Profiles\<username>; in Windows 2000/XP, it's C:\Documents and Settings\<username>) and look in \Application Data\Microsoft\Office\Recent.

  • My Documents—Opens the personal data folder for the user currently logged on. As noted earlier, Windows enables you to change the target folder that Office opens when you click this icon.

  • Desktop—Opens or saves files on the Windows desktop. Use the desktop as a holding area when you want to create a file and move it elsewhere using the Windows Explorer. Using the desktop as a permanent storage area is generally a bad idea because most Office applications have a tendency to create temporary files in the same location as the file you're working with.

  • Favorites—Displays the contents of Internet Explorer's Favorites menu.

  • My Network Places—Lets you manage files stored in shared folders on your network or on Web/FTP servers.

In Open and Save dialog boxes, Office includes two features that make it easier to find a file by name:

  • As you type in the File Name box, the AutoComplete feature suggests the first name that matches the characters that you've typed so far. Keep typing, or press Enter to accept the suggestion. Note that the list of files does not scroll as you type.

  • If you click in the list of files and then type a character, Office selects the first file that begins with the letter or number that you typed. If you quickly type several characters in rapid succession, the selection moves to the first file that begins with those characters. If you pause for more than a second between characters, this type-ahead feature resets. Note that as you select files in this fashion, Office does not fill in the File Name box.

To adjust the display of files in the Open and Save As dialog boxes, use the Views button. The drop-down arrow lets you choose from a list of views, or you can click the button to cycle through the following four icon arrangements:

  • Large Icons, Small Icons, and List mirror their counterparts in Windows Explorer.

  • Details displays size, file type, and other information, as shown in Figure 3.4; click any heading to sort the list by that category. (If you think that the information in the Type column is useless, we agree. Skip to the "Secrets of the Office Masters: Details, Details" section at the end of this chapter for details on how to make the Details view much more useful.)

  • Properties displays summary information about the selected document in the right half of the dialog box.

  • Preview displays a thumbnail version of the document in the right half of the dialog box as you move from file to file in the list. In general, you should avoid this option because of the performance penalty you pay: As you scroll through a dialog box, the program that you're working with has to open each file; find an import filter, if necessary; and generate the preview. Switch to this view when you want to quickly verify that the file you're about to open is the correct one, and then switch back to List or Details view after peeking at the file.

  • Thumbnails displays a thumbnail image of all graphics files and some Office documents.

Figure 3.4 Click the Views button to change the arrangement of icons in the Open and Save As dialog boxes.

Some files, especially certain Excel worksheets, can't be seen in the Preview pane. For suggestions on the possible reasons, see "No Preview in Common Dialog Boxes," in the "Troubleshooting" section at the end of this chapter.


To manage files in Open and Save As dialog boxes, select the filename and right-click. Shortcut menus here work just as they do in an Explorer window. You can move, copy, delete, or rename a file, for example, as long as the file that you select is not currently open.

Customizing Common Dialog Boxes

The Places Bar can be customized to make it easier and faster to get to frequently used folders. To add your own folders to the Places Bar, select the icon for the folder that you want to add, and then choose Tools, Add to "My Places." To remove a custom location from the Places Bar, right-click its icon and choose Remove from the shortcut menu. (You can't rename or delete the five default locations on the Places Bar.)


If you add more icons than can be displayed in the Places Bar, small scroll arrows appear at the top and bottom of the list. You can see more icons in the Places Bar if you right-click it and choose Small Icons. Put no more than 15 locations in the Places Bar; with any more, you'll spend too much time scrolling.

To rearrange folders in the Places Bar, right-click an icon that you want to move, and choose Move Up or Move Down.


Both the Open and Save As dialog boxes can be resized by clicking and dragging on any of the edges or corners.

Naming Documents

Office documents must follow these file-naming rules:

  • A filename may contain any alphanumeric character, including the letters A to Z and numbers from 0 to 9.

  • A filename may be as short as 1 character and as long as a total of 255 characters, including the full path—drive letter, colon, backslashes, and folder names included.


    The rules governing maximum length of a filename include the full path. For this reason, moving a file with a long name can cause problems, especially when the destination folder is deeply nested. In practice, you can avoid this problem and still have descriptive names if you keep filenames to a maximum length of about 40 characters.

  • The following special characters are allowed in a filename: $ % - _ @ ~ ´ ! ( ) ^ # & + , ; =.

  • You may use spaces, brackets ([ ]), curly braces ({ }), single quotation marks, apostrophes, and parentheses within a filename.

  • You may not use a slash (/), a backslash (\), a colon (:), an asterisk (*), a question mark (?), a quotation mark ("), or angle brackets (< >) as part of a filename. These characters are reserved for use with the file system, and you'll see an error message if the name that you enter includes any of these characters.

  • Office files typically include a three-letter extension, which is added automatically by the application that created the file (such as .doc for files created by Word). However, a file extension is not required, nor are file extensions restricted to three characters. To force an Office program to use the exact name and extension that you specify, enter the full name, including the extension, between quotation marks.


    If you use a nonstandard file extension, you might be unable to open the file from an Explorer window. Also, files that include unregistered file extensions do not appear in the Open dialog box unless you choose All Files from the drop-down list of file types.

  • A filename may contain one or more periods. Windows treats the last period in the name as the dividing line between the filename and its extension.

  • NOTE

    Windows filenames are not case sensitive. Office ignores all distinctions between upper- and lowercase letters when entering a filename in an Open or Save As dialog box.


If you encounter problems when sharing files with coworkers who use 16-bit Windows or DOS programs, see "Dealing with Short Filenames," in the "Troubleshooting" section at the end of this chapter.

Using Alternative File Formats

By default, Office applications save data files in their own binary formats. That's the correct choice in most circumstances, but when you share files with a coworker who does not use a recent version of Office, you might need to open or save a file in a different format.


In previous Office versions, Rich Text Format (RTF) was often your best choice for saving a file and using it with other programs, especially from software companies other than Microsoft. No more. Nowadays you'll probably find that the easiest way to share data is HTML, which is virtually guaranteed to be readable by any other person, even on a computer without a single byte of Microsoft code.

Office includes a wide range of file converters to help translate files into other popular formats, including those for earlier versions of Office. Normally, Office programs open any file created in a compatible format without requiring any extra work on your part. The file that you want to convert might not be visible in the Open dialog box if it ends with an extension that the Office program doesn't recognize. To see all files with extensions normally associated with a given file type, such as WK1 and WKS files for Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet files, select the appropriate entry from the Files of Type drop-down list. (If you can't see any extensions in Explorer windows or dialog boxes, open Explorer's Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab, and uncheck the Hide File Extensions for Known File Types box.


To see all files in the Open dialog box, regardless of their extension, choose All Files from the Files of Type drop-down list. Some other distinctions in this drop-down list are less obvious but still useful. For example, selecting Word Documents filters the list to show only files with that file type and the *.doc extension, whereas All Word Documents includes Web pages (*.htm) and Word templates (*.dot), as well as ordinary Word documents. Likewise, the All PowerPoint Presentations choice includes any HTML file in addition to PowerPoint presentations and shows.

To save a file in an alternative format, choose File, Save As. In the Save As dialog box, choose an entry from the Save as Type drop-down list.

Office displays the full range of compatible file types in both the Open and Save As dialog boxes. In some cases, you might need to supply the Office CD to install a particular converter before opening or saving a file in that format.

To help ensure that Word files that you create can be accessed by users with other versions of Office, see "Avoiding Compatibility Problems," p.330.

To learn more about Excel file compatibility, see "File Compatibility Issues," p.539.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020