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Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Ribbon

Microsoft has made a lot of changes to their software, and to a large extent this behemoth of a company defines the user interface that is used across the industry. The mantra has been to make computers easier to use. If you go way back to DOS, although it was a text-based interface, it was easier to use than Unix. This was followed by Windows and the ever improving versions of that operating system.

The same is true for Microsoft Office. Ever since the word processor was ported to the Windows interface, we have used menus to get around. With menus, first you had to know that the software could perform such and such a function, then your knowledge of the software was based on knowing where functions were in the menu system. As new versions came out, a function that was under one menu was often placed in another. The term “menu hunting” became a comedic mantra for this interface.

Now, with the ribbon, there is no need to hunt through a forest of menus. Functions you use often are sitting there at the top of your screen, willing to be activated with one click. The ribbons in all of the MS Office suite programs work the same way. All ribbons have a Home tab, and in each tab there are a number of functions organized into groups. You can minimize the ribbon and, starting with Office 2010, you can easily customize the ribbon.

In Word, the ribbon looks like this on a wide screen monitor:

And, here it is not so wide:

Notice that the ribbon adjusts to the size of the window, most noticeably in the Styles group. The Font and Paragraph groups have three rows of icons instead of two in the wider format.

The little arrow at the top right (beside the question mark), is for minimizing the ribbon, which is useful if you need to see more of the document. You can also double click on the active tab to minimize the ribbon. When minimized, click on a tab, then a function, and the ribbon automatically minimizes again. To maximize the ribbon, click on the same arrow (now inverted), or double click one of the tabs.

In our next blog post, we will show you how to customize the ribbon.

Outlook – POP3 vs. IMAPI

When we started using combustion engines instead of horses, coach makers continued to make coaches using the same style that horses used to pull. Gradually, as combustion engines became faster, they realized they had to make radical changes to the style of coach being used. Now we have sleek cars that are aerodynamic, closer to the ground, and protect us from the elements.

With e-mail, in the early nineties, we used a desktop application such as Outlook or Outlook Express to retrieve our e-mails. Each of us had their own computer, and we would check our work e-mail at work, and our home e-mail at home.

Fast forward to now (2011), and e-mail is no longer something we only have on our computers. It’s on the web, in our devices, and follows us wherever we go. Although though e-mail is old news, technology behind the scenes continues to adapt to the way we communicate.

POP3 (Post Office Protocol version 3) was the technology used to download e-mails to our computers. It retrieved e-mails that were on a server and delivered them to our computer. We could choose whether or not to leave copies on the server so we could save them for later and view them on the web. This was fine untilĀ our inbox would become full, and we would have to clean out our webmail once in a while. Also, if we stored e-mails in different folders on our computer or on the webmail interface, those folders would not be updated. Even worse, if I sent or replied to an e-mail, I would not be able to see the sent items folder in the other interface. Lastly, POP3 generally had a size limit of 5 MB.

EnterĀ IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), and now you can keep everything up-to-date. With IMAP, I can create a folder in the web interface, and the folder would show up in Outlook, and vise versa. Instead of retrieving e-mails, we now synchronize (sync) with our online e-mail service. We do this with our computers, our smart phones, laptops, and whatever you want. This means that if I am on a computer at the library, I can view the same e-mails that I have on my home computer, including all the folders and sent items. If I create a new e-mail at the library and save it as a draft, that draft will show up on my computer at home where I can finish and send it.

Further, I can sync my IMAP email with any device, including my smart phone, tablet, laptop, home computer, and work computer.




Simple to use

You can access your e-mail anywhere


Keeps a copy of everything you do on the server and on your devices

If you lose e-mails on your computer you have lost them forever (unless you saved a copy on the server)

Takes up more space

MS Office Tips, Tricks, Fix

Tips and tricks on using MS Office, and some fixes.