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Using and Customizing Common Dialog Boxes

The Open and Save As dialog boxes used throughout Office have a series of shortcut icons on the left side, called the Places Bar (see Figure 3.3), and are designed to speed navigation through common file locations. With a small amount of effort, you can easily customize these icons in dialog boxes used in all Office programs. The default icons are as follows:

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 Customize the Places Bar by adding shortcuts to commonly used data folders; to see more choices, right-click the Places Bar and choose Small Icons from the shortcut menu.

  • My Recent Documents—Opens the Recent folder, which contains shortcuts to files and folders that you’ve worked with. When you click this icon from within an Office program, Office displays only shortcuts appropriate to the program you’re using.

  • 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 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.

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

  • My Computer—Displays icons for local drives and document folders.

  • My Network Places—Lets you manage files stored in shared folders on your network or on WebDAV-compatible 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 icon arrangements:

  • Thumbnails, Tiles, Icons, and List views mirror their counterparts in Windows Explorer.

  • Details view 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.

  • Figure 3.4

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

  • 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.

  • WebView uses an HTML template to display files stored in a SharePoint document library. If you don’t have a SharePoint server on your network (most people don’t) this option is grayed out and unavailable.

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.

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.)

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

Changes you make to the Places Bar apply to all Office programs.

Using Alternative File Formats

By default, Office applications save data files in their own binary formats. When you double-click on the saved file, it opens using the program you created the file with. That’s the correct choice in most circumstances, but when you share files with friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t use Office 2003, you might need to open or save a file in a different format.

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 Windows Explorer and click Tools, Folder Options; in the Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab and clear the Hide File Extensions for Known File Types check box.)

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.

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