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Happiness is a new computer.

I now have a new Pentium II computer at work. It has a 300 mhz processor, 64 megs of RAM, and a 4.2 gig hard drive. By some standards this machine is already obsolescent, but when you have been using an old 100 mhz Pentium with an 800 meg hard drive, it is a real leap forward. The new computer is a Mitac, a Taiwanese brand that is popular over here in the Middle East. I must admit to a bit of trepidation about getting a lesser-known brand, but my old Compaq Pentium had been giving me troubles, and the Mitacs at the Ministry had been relatively bullet-proof (figuratively, not literally - their true bullet-proof nature has yet to be tested).

Windows 98 was not yet available when I got the machine, so it had Windows 95 with the Service Release 2 patch. I will discuss the relative merits of 95 SR2 versus 98 in another column. However, from my perspective, 95 SR2 has every feature I need. Most of you know my feeling about new operating system software - a pioneer usually ends up with arrows in his/her posterior.

All of my old programs really fly on this machine. Most impressive are the EViews econometric package and the Oxford World Model. It appears to be about twice as fast as the old 100 mhz machine on most applications.

Alas, all is not peaches and cream. Dual language (English/Arabic) versions of Windows 95 and Office 97 were initially installed, and we have had some difficulties, particularly with Word 97. I'm sure that these will be resolved, as we never had a problem with the dual language Word 6.0 version.

However, I have some fundamental gripes about Office 97. Some of these may seem petty, but at least one of them is a potential disaster in waiting.

THE "FILE SAVE AS" PROBLEM IN EXCEL 97

Let me start off with the disaster. I prefer to use the "File Save As" menu command instead of the "File Save" command in both Word and Excel. I load a lot of old documents and modify them. Using "Save As" allows me to rename these documents before saving them. I also like to see what subdirectory they are being stored in and change it if necessary. I tend to use several different subdirectories, depending on the projects I am working on. "Save" does not show me the subdirectory being saved to, while "Save As" does. I also tend to have multiple documents and/or workbooks open simultaneously, all from different subdirectories.

I never had a problem with this in Word 6.0 or Excel 5.0. If you loaded a document from a particular subdirectory, it would be saved back into that subdirectory, unless you specified otherwise. Word 97 also operates in the fashion. However, Excel 97 does not.

Excel 97 has a particularly nasty tendency to switch the active subdirectory to the one used in the last "File Open" command. Then, when you go back to another workbook from a different subdirectory and do a "Save As," it saves the workbook in the wrong subdirectory. Instead of saving the file in the subdirectory in which it was originally stored, it saves it in the subdirectory used in the last "File Open" command.

Frankly, I consider this to be a very bad bug. It resulted in a big headache for me with a particularly critical Excel workbook. I ended up with three versions of this workbook stored in three different subdirectories, all with important changes in them. I had to go through manually, combine the three into one, and save it in the proper subdirectory. What a pain!

Ironically enough, if you do a simple "File Save," Excel 97 will save it to the right subdirectory - the one from which it came originally. However, if you do a "Save As," it will default to whatever subdirectory happens to be the last one referenced in a "File Open" command. Unless you catch this and change the subdirectory to the proper one, your file will be saved in the different subdirectory, and you will have two copies of your workbook in two separate subdirectories. The next time you load the workbook, you will probably get the old version by mistake.

PROBLEMS WITH WORD 97

Although Word 97 does not share this very serious bug, it does have some peculiarities of its own. Perhaps the worst is its tendency to think that it knows more than you do about file extensions. This is particularly the case when working with text files that have an extension other than ".TXT."

I ran into this peculiarity when editing a text file used in the Oxford World Model. This file has a ".RUN" extension, rather than a ".TXT" extension. When I used the "Save As" command to save it in a different subdirectory, Word 97 renamed it with the ".TXT" extension. When I entered the ".RUN" specifically, it proceeded to save it with the following name: "BASE0998.RUN.TXT." That really confused the Oxford model! (By the way, periods are allowed in Windows 95 long file names. "BASE0998.RUN" was the file name and ".TXT" was the extension in the above name.)

Yes, there is a way to force Office 98 programs to accept the extension that you specify. Simply put the file name in double quotes in the "Save As" dialog box, and it will do what you want it to and will not add the extension that it thinks is proper.

Word 97 also has a problem with automatic capitalization of the first word in a sentence. This was a nice feature in Word 6.0, but in their infinite wisdom, the fine people in Redmond could not leave well enough alone. They decided that depressing the "Enter" key always marks the end of a sentence, along with the ubiquitous period.

I have news for these geniuses - it ain't necessarily so. One of my uses for Word is to prepare e-mails in which I have to hit the "Enter" key at the end of each line. With Word 6.0, it was never a problem. The first character of the next line would not be capitalized, unless there was a period at the end of the last line, just before the "Enter" key was depressed. However, Word 97, in its infinite wisdom, now capitalizes the first character of the new line. Score one more point for a stupid decision on Microsoft's part.

INCOMPATIBILITY PROBLEMS WITH EXCEL 97 AND EXCEL 5.0

I have warned my readers about the file incompatibilities between Word and Excel 97 and earlier versions of these programs. Fortunately, you can select Word 6.0/Excel 5.0 as your default file types for saving. Unfortunately, you will get all sorts of warning messages every time you save your files. You may also get the little smarmy paper clip office assistant cropping up and scolding you for not saving them in 97 format. I have a hint later in this column that permanently eradicates that little fellow.

You will also have real problems with some of the simple functions in Excel 97. The function that calculates averages (= AVERAGE) will not translate properly from 97 to Excel 5.0. To avoid problems, you must use the = AVERAGEA function in Excel 97. There is some obscure difference between the two, but they seem to give identical results, i.e., the = AVERAGE function in Excel 5.0 is the functional equivalent of the = AVERAGEA function in Excel 97. You can see this if you use Excel 97 to load an Excel 5.0 file that uses this function.

Why the nitwits at Microsoft did this to us, I don't know. Wouldn't it seem logical to reserve the new name for the new function and continue using the old name for the old function? Could it be a grand plot by Bill Gates to force us to upgrade every single computer in our office to Office 97? No, Bill would never do that to us, right?

FAT 15 VS. FAT 32

Both Windows 98 and Windows 95 with the SR2 patch give you a choice of using either the FAT16 or the FAT32 file structures. For some reason, my new Mitac came with FAT16 installed. Most new machines now come with FAT32 as the standard.

I was initially quite disappointed that FAT32 was not installed, as FAT16 is very wasteful of drive space, and it can only handle a 2.1 gig drive. Because my hard drive is twice that size, it had to be divided into two logical drives, C: and D:.

However, there are some benefits to using FAT 16. For one, defragmentation takes a lot less time on a FAT 16 drive. However, the main advantage to FAT 16 is that the DriveSpace 3 disk compression utility only works on it. For some reason, you can't use this utility on a FAT32 drive.

DriveSpace 3 is even more efficient in disk utilization than is FAT32, as it offers the ability to store two to three times as much data in a given space than does FAT32. Admittedly, it is not quite as fast as FAT32, but the speed differences are imperceptible to me. Thus, unless you really object to having more than one logical hard drive on your physical drive, or need a single hard drive with more than two gigs of space, FAT16 would seem to be a better alternative. Of course, someone will ultimately come up with a disk compression utility for FAT32, but, until then, I am quite content to stay with FAT16 and DriveSpace 3.

HINT OF THE QUARTER: CUSTOM-INSTALLING OFFICE 97

I mentioned the paper clip Office Assistant back several columns ago, when I had a brief and not altogether pleasant experience with Office 95. This animated character would pop up and waste my time with some incredibly stupid questions from time to time. Most annoying was the way he wiggled his eyebrows. All in all, he was the cartoon character from hell.

Several of my more stalwart readers e-mailed me suggestions about how to suppress this character. One reader even suggested that I change him to something less obnoxious, because I seemed to have a personal vendetta against animated paper clips. Unfortunately, although I tried all the suggestions, he kept popping up at the most inopportune moments.

Well, I have found a way to get rid of him altogether. It required a reload of Office 97, but it was well worth it, because I found some other features that are not loaded in the default standard version that is normally loaded. Just select the custom option when asked what features you want to load. The program loader will present you with a plethora of options, with the defaults already checked. You can select/deselect whatever options you want, one of them being the Office Assistant. Unchecking this box will rid you of this noisome pest forever! Of course, you also lose the hints that he insists upon giving you. However, I never had a single worthwhile hint from this guy, so I don't miss him.

One of the worthwhile Office 97 features that I discovered when performing a custom install was Microsoft Map. For some reason, Map is not part of the standard install, and you have to go through a custom install to get it. Map is used with Excel 97; in fact, an icon that invokes it is on the standard Excel toolbar, even though the standard install does not load the program. Go figure.

In any case, Map allows you to show maps of various countries of the world, with designated characteristics color-coded on the map. For instance, I have just used it to produce a world map that shows Saudi exports to every country in the world, coded by Saudi exports as a percent of the country's GDP. It gives a great visual presentation, allowing the reader to see the Kingdom's key markets at a glance.

MICROSOFT DISCLAIMER

Lest you think that I have become a bit paranoid about Bill Gates/Microsoft, let me assure you that such is not the case. As the old joke goes, I used to be paranoid about Microsoft, but now I know that they are out to get me! Actually, there is a lot about Office 97 to like. My problem is that I am not using many of its new features, and I am finding a lot of incompatibilities with the older versions of the software.

If any of my readers have some words of wisdom about avoiding the pitfalls that I have detailed in this column, I would be glad to share these words with all of you. Believe me, I would like nothing better than to have all of the Office 97 warts disappear and leave nothing but the improvements behind.

HELP WANTED

One of my readers wanted to know how to attach floating labels to points on an XY chart in Excel. The labels are adjacent to the X and Y values in a spreadsheet.

It's a snap to do this in every version of Lotus 12-3 since 1A. Just:

1. Do a/Graph Options Data-Labels A,

2. Highlight the spreadsheet range containing the data labels, and

3. Specify how the labels are to be positioned (above or below the point, etc.).

I struggled for two evenings trying to figure out how to do it in Excel 5.0 and finally gave up. The real kicker is what happened when I tried importing a Lotus spreadsheet with this feature into Excel. The floating labels worked like a charm! Unfortunately, I do not have a clue as to how to do it from scratch. My advice to the reader was to do it in an old version of Lotus, and then import it into Excel!

Any ideas on how to do this? If so, send them, along with your comments, questions, and other feedback, to the Editor of Business Economics, Ed Mennis, at eamennis@instanet.com. He will relay them to me until my new e-mail address is set, hopefully before the April issue of Business Economics is published.

John H. Qualls is Senior Economist, National Center for Economic and Financial Information, Ministry of Finance, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His e-mail address is in the process of being changed, so on a temporary basis send messages to him care of the Editor, Ed Menhis, at eamennis@instanet.com and they will be forwarded.
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Title Annotation:The PC Corner
Author:Qualls, John H.
Publication:Business Economics
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Words:2427
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