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Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Windows 7 to the Rescue

I’ve written previously about Windows 7 features that I like. rakebreakOne of the features was the start button search capability. Well, Search came through for me yesterday, in spades!

I needed to find a particular Word document that I wrote several years and several computers ago. Fortunately the file was one that I had migrated from computer to computer when I upgraded hardware. Yesterday morning, I was under a time-crunch to find the file. I needed the file and I needed it now before I headed off to my client’s site. The file was a set of supplemental exercises I had written for the course I would be training.





Quote of the Day

Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.

-Mohammed Ali


I was pretty sure the file name included the word ‘supplementary’ and I knew that the word was included in a heading in the file itself. So I used ‘supplementary’ as my search term and, within a few seconds, search produced a list of results that matched the search term. With a click on the link, I had my file, and a smile on my face.

I’d like to claim that I invented Windows 7 like some of the characters in current Microsoft commercials do but I didn’t. Somehow, however, when I use Windows 7 features, it feels like the real Windows 7 designers had read my mind.

Windows 7 – Start Button Search Box

Satellite cartoonOne of the more useful ‘little enhancements’ in Windows 7 is the search box at bottom of the Start menu. (Keep in mind that I am writing about my first impressions of Windows 7 after switching from Windows XP Pro. Some of the features mentioned in these articles may well have been introduced with Vista but I skipped Vista and went directly to Windows 7 when it was time for a new operating system and computer.)

The Start Menu search box provides another way to search for your digital content, whether the content you are trying to find is an application (program) or a document (`data`file.) You don’t have to remember the Start Button Graphicapplication you used to create the file (if it is a document) or even the full name of what you are looking for. In fact you can even search for a particular phrase.

You will see the search box at the bottom or the start menu, when you click the Start Button. Simply click into the search box and start to type the first few letters of the name of the item you are looking for.

critical path searchCan’t recall the actual name? All is not lost  as long as you can recall at least part of the name or a distinctive phrase in the document’s content.

Type in what you recall. Windows immediately starts looking for matches in its indexes. The more characters you type, the more refined the search will be.

Here’s an example. I did some work a while ago on a demonstration of the critical path for a project management seminar I facilitate. There were several files involved but I couldn’t recall their exact names. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a critical path is. The point here is that I was able to use the search box to track down the files I needed.

In the graphic, you can see that I typed ‘critical path’ into the search box. Notice how the search utility has returned a list of several documents.

The list includes a folder I created to house the relevant files, an html (web page) file, some Excel files, and two OneNote notebooks which made some reference to my search phrase, ‘critical path.’ Some of the document names include the phrase, ‘critical path.’ Some do not, but somewhere in these documents, the phrase ‘critical path’ appears and so they appear in the list of search results.

In Windows 7 – Libraries, I discussed the virtual explosion in electronic storage capacity. The downside of large storage capacity is that it is easy to save a file one day and then not recall where you located it when you need to work with it several days, weeks, or months later. Try the search box the next time a file eludes you. It will quickly become a valued friend.

Windows 7 – Pinning Applications to the Task Bar



In Windows XP you could pin shortcuts to your favourite applications to the start menu. Windows 7 has taken that concept a couple of steps further. I’m lumping the discussion of this set of Windows enhancement under the title Pinning Applications to the Task Bar because I became aware of that capability before I found that Start Menu shortcuts share some features with taskbar shortcuts.


Windows XP had a Recent Documents folder on the Start menu. Well-behaved applications added the name of each document you worked on with the application. That way it was possible to re-open recent work without a lot of hunting. Recent Documents worked well enough, unless, you worked a larger number of different of, say, Word documents, regularly and perhaps only the occasional Excel Workbook.  In situations like that, the Excel Workbook may have been forced off the Recent Documents list because the list contained a large number of Word and other non-excel entries. In that case, it took just a bit longer to open the file you want to work with because you would first have to open the application and then locate the document you want in the application’s internal recent documents list.

In Windows 7, if you pin an application to the task bar, you will always see a shortcut to the application on the task bar. You don’t have to have it pinned to the start menu (although you can, if you wish). The secret lies in right clicking the application icon on the Task Bar.

The graphic shows the shortcut menu I get when I right-PinToTaskBarclick the Excel icon that I have pinned to the taskbar. Notice that the list is divided into three parts. The recent section lists the last few Excel workbooks I have worked on. Just as with the Windows XP Recent Documents folder, this list can fill up so that if I work on enough different workbooks, the one I want may no longer appear in this list.

That’s where the top section comes into play. Right now, I have three workbooks pinned to My Excel recent documents list. I edit the Spammers one almost daily so it is not likely to disappear. The other two, on the other had, I may not need to work with for extended periods. I have pinned them to this menu by right-clicking on the one I want and selecting Pin to the list. You don’t even need to right click an entry to pin it. When you point you mouse at an entry, you will see a push-pin icon on the right. Click that icon and the document is immediately pinned to the list.pushpin

In my opinion, this feature is a great innovation. Instead of having a single Recent Documents folder, Windows 7 gives you separate recent document lists, each dedicated to a single application.

This idea carries over to the Start Menu. However, instead of requiring you to right click an application icon, the list is available as a cascaded menu that appears when you hover over a Start menu item. Look of the little black triangle to the right of the application name.

Here is a graphic of my Start Menu where I have hovered my mouse over the Microsoft Excel entry. Notice that this is the same recent documents list that I opened by right-clicking the Excel taskbar icon.

pinned Start Menu

On a document by document basis, the application pinning and dedicated recent documents lists feature of Windows 7 won’t save you much time per document. But if you work on a large number of different documents from a variety of applications, those tiny per document savings can add up leaving your more time to do productive work on your documents and less time just trying to track theme down so you can work on them.

Windows 7 – Libraries

Electronic Storage is More Affordable than Ever

Personal data storage costs have plummeted over the years. I recall receiving a promotional flyer in 1985 promoting a 5 Megabyte hard drive for $5,000.00. In today’s dollars that price translates to a bit over $9200.00 according to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator. If you convert that price to a cost per 1000 bytes, it works out to about $1.84. Okay, so what does that mean in everyday terms?

Since a byte is roughly equivalent to the storage space required for a single character, and the nominal average size of a word in the English language is 5 characters, you could store roughly 200 words for that $1.84 in that 1985 megabyte drive. So, for you students the cost to store a 2000 word essay would be just over $18.00

Fast forward to 2010. These days, the storage capacities of hard drives are frequently expressed in terms of gigabytes and terabytes. A one terabyte drive has roughly 200,000 times the storage capacity of that one 5 megabyte drive. (My math skills failTotWrestler me when I am working with such large numbers but I think I am in the right neighbourhood. Terabyte drives are now available retail at prices in the $200.00 (and less) range.

Using the $200.00 price, that means that the 2000 word essay that once would have cost about $18.00 to store, now costs a tiny fraction of a penny. A 200,000 word thesis would have a storage cost of around 4 cents.

So what does all of this have to do with Windows 7. Because data storage is dirt cheap (sorry there is no other word for it) we tend to store more and more documents electronically. Many people are store vast amounts of music, video, and still photographic images, desktop publications, artwork, project plans, spreadsheet, databases, and much, much more. In short, many people are storing large numbers of documents.

Finding What You Need – Staying Organized

Well, storing all this ‘data’ is find but the stored files are absolutely worthless unless you can find them, quickly and when you need them. And that’s where Windows 7 Libraries come into play.

Quote of the Day:

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

-Henry David Thoreau

Most windows users are at least somewhat familiar with the folder system and concept that goes back to Windows 95. To all intents and purposes, documents are stored in folders. Folders themselves may be stored in other folders. Think of the hard drive as a huge file storage warehouse. In that warehouse, there are many file storage rooms. In Windows terms, these rooms are referred to as top-level folders. Inside each of these rooms are filing cabinets (another layer of folders). Inside each filing cabinet are filing drawers (yet another layer of folders) and inside each of these folders are individual documents.

The analogy breaks down a little once you get to the filing drawer level of the physical example. You wouldn’t have a filing drawer within a filing drawer but in the virtual model any folder can theoretically contain yet more folders.

How I Organize My Documents

There are a number of possible ways that you can organize your files. Systematic organization is the key to finding that elusive Word document, or Excel workbook when you need it. The system I’m going to describe works for me. You may have a different approach. If that approach works for you, great! After I describe my current system, I will talk about how Libraries in Windows 7 helps me keep my current system yet makes it easier to find and use the important files I have stored.

I use the Documents (Windows 95 – XP, My Documents) folder as the central location for all my files. Within the documents folder, I have one folder for each type of activity that I am involved with. Part of my work involves the development of custom Access databases and Excel workbooks for clients. My business name is Argee Services so I have one folder in the Documents folder named Argee Development.

Now, when I start to work on a project for a new client. I will create a folder within the Argee Development folder, using the Client’s business name as the folder name. Within that folder, I have one folder for each project I have developed or am working on for that client. Each project folder will have a similar set of folders and documents, including an archive folder for saving interim versions of the project as development proceeds.

Folder Structure

Getting There Isn’t Half the Fun – Windows 7 Libraries to the Rescue

While the system I have described helps keep my client files organized, using the File Open dialogue to locate and open a particular file can be a bit tedious to say the least. I need the files for work in progress project to be readily found. There is less urgency associated with completed projects. In earlier versions of windows, I had a folder named Work in Progress and that folder would contain shortcuts to current projects.

That meant having to create a shortcut to the project and then move the shortcut to the Work in Progress folder. Windows 7 Libraries make this process easier to manage.

Now I have a library named (you guessed it!) Work in Progress. When I start a new project, I add the project folder to the Work in Progress folder. The actual project folder remains ‘physically’ in the Argee Development\Client folder structure. But in the Work in Progress library the project is a top level folder. Working with this virtual folder ‘feels’ exactly like working with the actual folder that ‘lives’ somewhere else in my computer system.

To me, the Libraries concept resembles the Clipart Organizer and Windows Media Player playlists in previous Windows versions. Neither the Clipart Organizer nor the Media Player stored any actual files. A Media Player playlist was actually just a list of paths to the media files. So a playlist could include media files from several different Windows folders.

Similarly, a Windows 7 Library does not contain real folders. It contains shortcuts to the real folders that you want to include in the library. The icon is a folder icon, so it ‘feels’ like you are working with the actual folder. Once you have added a folder to a library, you don’t have give any thought to the actual location of the folder. Just use the library to find the folders and its files when you need to work with them.