Thursday, August 31, 2006


Working at home--thank goodness!

I ran across an interesting statistic yesterday. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly one third of all people in managerial, professional, or related roles in the U.S. worked at least some time at home in 2004 (that's the last year we have data for--I'll bet it's much higher now!). In addition, one in 5 sales people work from home. In real numbers, that's about 13.7 million of us. [Note: I'd be curious to know how this compares with other countries--what's it like where you live?]

I've been working at home for almost 20 years and can't imagine doing anything else. I have real working relationships like people in an office; I get more done than I would if I were in an office (I don't have the drive time or the before- and after-meeting meetings); and I've been able to raise three kids, keep my dogs company, and totally set my own hours for two decades. Ah. Nice.

Ten years ago, I wrote a book called The Working Parent's Handbook: How to Succeed at Work, Raise Your Kids, Maintain a Home, and Still Have Time for You (Park Avenue Productions), and in it I wrote about how to get organized in a new job, help your family deal with the transition of you going back to work, and set things up at home so systems were in place and everything runs relatively smoothly. My favorite chapter in that book was about how to pitch the idea to your boss that you'd be more productive working at least part of the time at home. :) (I'm not an evangelist about this or anything--some people really don't like working at home for a variety of reasons. It can be isolating, it takes a lot of self-discipline, and you can feel out-of-sync with the rest of the working world at times. I just wanted to provide the language for those people who would like to open the subject with their employers but weren't quite sure how.)

But when I was researching that book, working at home was still a fairly odd thing to do. Employers were generally pretty resistant. I mean, how do you control employees when they are out from under your watchful eye? How would you measure productivity? What if your marketing manager is sitting at home eating chips and watching Dr. Phil instead of putting together that presentation he promised for Friday's meeting?

Technology has changed all that--and I think we will continue to see the office walls come down and flexibility increase. Simplified, always-on connection (tools like Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office Groove 2007 make this a snap), easy techniques for sharing and reviewing documents, and the means to easily sync file versions among multiple users and devices dissolve the obstacles to happy-at-home-working.

So go ahead and get out of the office early today...just take your laptop or PDA with you. Check e-mail and finish that report while you sip a latte at that little sidewalk cafe. And remember--you're in good company. :)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


What do we really want from a word processor?

I was thinking through the whole word-processing evolution this morning and really marveling at how far we've come in just 20 years. I remember when I used a word processor for the first time. It was the early version of WordStar, and it was probably sometime in 1984, right after the first IBM PC came out. I remember putting the baby down for a nap and sitting in the dining room watching my typing appear on the screen like magic. I was awed. Back then the world was still flat and fire had just been discovered. I think we were still working on the wheel.

Word processing is so much more than text now it almost doesn't seem like we're in the same universe. I mean, sure, I'm still typing characters on a keyboard and watching them appear on the screen. But there's color--lots of it. And movement. And I'm not satisfied with blocky Courier letters anymore--we need fonts that harmonize with the content and intent. And I want backgrounds that say something about who I am and what my message is. And I want the option of doing all sorts of complicated column tricks and adding shades and pull-quotes and heads and subheads and multiple customized links. More than anything, I don't want my word processor--or my documents--to be boring. I'm used to expression, lots of expression, in font, color, format, photo, background, video, sound, and more.

And I'd like to be able to program my word processor so it knows the way I work--that in the morning I typically do the blog posting; that in the late morning I work in the online communities; and that all afternoon (and into the evenings, and on the weekends sometimes) I am writing books. That way it will know which template to open for me and when, based on the personalized clock I set up in the control panel.

And maybe one day my word processor will tell me when the brightness and contrast levels in a photo are too low to be produced professionally (when I choose the "Prepare for commercial printing" option). And there will be a button that pops up enabling me to add a video post to a typed doc when I publish it live to the web; and of course I can save all this as XML and send it via RSS and broadcast it as a podcast with a simple click of a button.

Okay, some of this is real and some of it is future projection, but no matter how you slice it, this is one heck of a long way from type-a-character-discover-fire WordStar. :)

So, what do you want your word processor to do?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


In the Zone

Here we are at the beginning of another writing adventure. Mary and I are officially getting underway on the revision of Microsoft Word 2007 Inside Out, the huge in-depth, intermediate-to-expert level book on Microsoft Word 2007. I love working with Mary--we have lots of fun and really complement each other well.

I love the changes in Microsoft Word 2007--I really do think this new release is smart and intuitive, making it possible in a real way to create even sophisticated documents in a way that seems to move naturally with the creative process. That's one of the liabilities of using software--it's a tool you have to master (to some degree) before you can be effective at it. If you're a painter, you have to learn how to use your various supplies before you can be any good; if you're a writer, you've got to learn how to put the corrective tape in the Smith-Corona (remember those awful things? Did we really ever use those loud, heavy monsters?!)

Microsoft Word 2007 lessens some of that startup pain by offering the various options you need in a logical way that follows the basic steps you'll use in creating, fine-tuning, enhancing, and sharing your document. It's the whole "document lifecycle" idea. I think it will help us get out of our own way when it comes to getting those thoughts down on paper. That's the subject for my writing today, anyway--letting Word give you the room to create and getting yourself in sync with the whole document lifecycle idea so that those creative ideas can really flow.

I'll let you know how it goes. :)

Monday, August 21, 2006


Get the lowdown on viruses

I just ran across this interesting article on the Microsoft Security At Home site that is a kind of primer for understanding computer viruses. The article describes current threats and provides a number of links to help you diagnose problems, remove viruses, and safeguard your system and data against possible attack.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


What do you think of the new Office 2007 UI?

As many of you know, in addition to the books I write, I also participate and write content for a number of Microsoft groups and sites. One community I'm in every day is a great group called The Hive. It's a Microsoft-sponsored site for leaders of online tech groups--so if you host your own site, manage an IT department, work as a tech consultant, or any number of other scenarios where getting Microsoft announcements and updates fast would be a benefit to you (as well as exclusive interviews with Microsoft product managers on products such as Windows Vista, Windows Live Services, and Office 2007), stop by The Hive next time you get the chance: (The site used to be for group leaders only, but a few months back it was opened to the public because of the great need for community based info, news, events, and support.

One of the members of The Hive (Jan from the Netherlands--that's another thing I like about The Hive: it's a truly international community), posted a poll that I thought those of you who have tried Office 2007 might want to weigh in on. Click here to get to Poll: Office 2007's New User Interface. Click to vote and leave a comment if you'd like to explain your choices. It seems that the international reaction to the Office 2007 UI changes is varied, but overall, warming. The big dividing line seems to be between new users and expert users. The new users love it; the expert users feel a little hindered by it. But those expert users who support new users (as you see in John Obeto's post), are beginning to fall in love with it all over again. :)

Monday, August 14, 2006


Testing Windows Live Writer

Microsoft has just released the public beta of their first true blog-authoring tool (as opposed to a Web-based service like Windows Live Spaces). I have just downloaded Windows Live Writer from the Windows Live Writer team blog and am testing it out for the first time. The install process was pretty simple. Now we'll see whether it posts directly to Blogger without a hitch...

Friday, August 11, 2006


Almost but not quite

Moving files from one computer to another, especially when you have several versions of beta software and one tried-and-true version of Office 2003, is a bit of a challenge. I tried opening a Word 2007 file in Word 2003 and got a message that I needed to download the converter in order to open the file. I'm not sure what caused the problem (yet), but even after I downloaded the converter, Word 2003 was still unable to open the Word 2007 file. Stay tuned...I'll do some research and see what the hangup is. But in the meantime, if you're working with the Word 2007 beta, just to be safe, use Save As to save the file in the Word 97-2003 format.

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