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Mac Tips | Savvy Tech Tips - Part 3

December 6th 2006

Open Office!

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

If you or someone you know is on a budget (or totally broke), Open Office can be a life saver. What it is, you ask? Well, Open Office is a set of all your major applications in one nice bundle. It has a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a drawing program, a program for mathematical equations, and a database program. impress-big.pngIn this way it is much like Microsoft Office’s major applications (Word, Power Point, Excel, etc.). However, there is one big difference between Open Office and Microsoft Office: Open Office is totally free. There are no catches, no email addresses to give, no surveys to fill out (They do mention on their site that they accept donations, however).

Even nicer, Open Office’s applications can open equivalent files from Microsoft Office (e.g., the Open Office word processer, “Writer”, can open up Microsoft Word files), and can save files in formats that Microsoft Office can read. This is critical if you are exchanging files with others or moving files among computers.

The program is stable, relatively easy to use, and powerful.

Open Office is perfect for students and teachers who have computers at school with Microsoft Office on them but a computer at home that doesn’t have Microsoft Office. Without a program like Open Office, the only place someone can do work on a project is at school. With Open Office, calc-big.pnga person can email their Microsoft files to their home computer, work on them in the evening using Open Office, save them as a Microsoft file again, then email them back to school (or take it on a flash drive, etc.).

Open Office runs on both Windows computers and Macs running OSX. If you have a Mac however, you’ve may need to also install a program called X11 to allow Open Office to run. X11 is free and available here. However, if your Mac is running OSX 10.4 (Tiger), you’ll either already have X11 installed or be able to install it from your Tiger installation DVD. Don’t dowload the version from the link here if that is the case.

To read more and download Open Office, go to Open Office’s site.

December 5th 2006

The Mighty Right-Click

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

People get stuck when trying to accomplish things on computers. It’s the nature of the beast, and a large element to working effectively with computer software is figuring out how to get “unstuck” quickly. Nothing ruins a day or a project faster than spending an hour trying to figure out how to get a table to line up correctly in Microsoft Word, or figure out how to correctly print an Excel spreadsheet.

Computer novices often think that experts never get stuck while doing things on computers, but this is not the case. No matter what level of expertise you attain with hardware or software, you will always and forever be problem solving on computers. Simply put, both expert and novice computer users get stuck all the time; it’s just that expert computer users know how to get unstuck very quickly, sometimes so fast that it seems like they never got stuck in the first place.

Although a lot of getting unstuck relates to how much you know, there are some general principles that can often help no matter what application you are using, and no matter what level of expertise you have.

One such principle when working with software, is this: When in Doubt, Right-Click on it.

Often, when I’ll train people in software, I’ll see them get stuck trying to figure out how to do something with a program like Word or Photoshop, then see them move the cursor up and start hunting through the menu at the top of the screen. They’ll pull down one menu after another, and likely never quite find the thing they were looking for without help.

With most programs it’s better to right-click on the object you are working with and then take a look at the list of commands that comes up. It’s amazing how many times this will give you the command you were looking for, and this is done by design: a majority of software producers intentionally make the most commonly accessed commands for particular objects accessible with right-clicks.

Here’s an example from Power Point on the Mac. Below, I’ve opened up a new presentation and for the fun of it started with a blank slide:


Immediately, I think, Yuck! I don’t want a white background! I want to change it to something more colorful. To solve this, a user’s instincts often lead them to immediately look up at the menu bar at the top of the screen, but look what’s up there:


A whole mess of choices! If you don’t know the program well or haven’t used it for a while, it’s not clear at all how to change the background of the slide.
But look what happens when I right-click on the background of the slide. The next image shows it. I get a very simple list of commands, and the one for “Slide Background” is right there.


It’s important to note that you’ve got to right-click directly on the object you want to try to do something with, in this case the background of the slide. If, for example, I were to click on the text in my slide, I would get a list of commands applicable to the text, and nothing at all shows up for changing the background.

Some Mac users might be saying, “Well, that’s fine for all you Windows users, but a lot of Macs don’t have a right mouse button, so this trick is useless to us.” Not true. As Mac veterans know, there is an easy way to right-click on a one-button mouse, and we’ll cover that tip on our Mac Tip Thursday, coming up in two days.

To wrap up, right-clicking isn’t a panacea, and it won’t solve all your computer difficulties, but it is a great habit to get into when working with all sorts of programs. So…

When in Doubt, Right-Click on it!

December 3rd 2006

Google Weather!

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

This is a fun Google tip that you can impress your friends with. If you’d like a clear, simple weather report of anywhere in the United States, type the following into any Google search bar: the word weather, followed by the city name or zip code. Then click on the Search button.

Here are two examples:


When you click on search, you get back a neat, simple, four-day weather report for your selected area. It looks like this:


On the left are current weather conditions. Next to that information is a four-day forecast in graphic form, with the predicted high and low temperature for each day below the graphic for that day.

This is a great way to get quick weather information for anywhere in the United States. At the time of this writing, it doesn’t seem to work for other countries.

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