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December 10, 2004

"Word Hacks": Tools for Taming Your Text

Sebastopol, CA--Few consumer software packages are as malleable as Microsoft Word, observes author Andrew Savikas. It has to be malleable, he points out, to meet the unique needs of millions of users around the globe. Oddly enough, many people--perhaps most--spend months or even years using Word "out of the box" without taking advantage of a single one of its limitless customization tools.

"There's a palpable reluctance among long-time Word users to peek behind the curtain," says Savikas in his new book, Word Hacks (O'Reilly, US $24.95). "They may curse the wretched Bullets and Numbering buttons twenty times a day or take two hours to manually change the font size of every heading in a lengthy report, but they will not tear off the cover and start tinkering. For too long, they've been seduced by Word's supposed simplicity ('There must be a menu to fix this somewhere...')."

In Word Hacks, Savikas guides readers into the inner workings of Word. For many users, this will be their first real understanding of Word's power and their own power over Word. "They'll learn how to transform Word into a customized editing tool," says Savikas. "I hesitate to use the term 'customized' because I mean so much more than just moving toolbars around or adding new menus, although the book does show you how to do both of those things. By customized, I mean things like adding decision layers to built-in commands, such as disabling the Bold command, but only within headings. They'll learn how to teach Word about their unique needs."

Full of expert advice for customizing, programming, and automating Word, the book shows readers how to:

  • Work smarter by modifying menus and toolbars, adding sorely needed features, and creating custom workspaces
  • Use advanced formatting tools such as tabs, field codes, and cropmarks to create everything from simple forms to professional documents
  • Improve editing efficiency by automating mundane editing cores and adding new, more robust tools
  • Build faster, friendlier, and more flexible macros that move beyond basic automation tasks
  • Create PDFs from Word files without purchasing the full version of Adobe Acrobat
  • Use XML to create, process, and edit Word documents
  • Control and program Word from Python, Perl, and Ruby, as well as from other Microsoft Office applications
  • Word Hacks offers much more than tips for streamlining and automating frequent tasks. "With the rapid rise of blogs and RSS, people are thinking a lot more about other ways to distribute text, besides just printed form," notes Savikas. "With that comes the need for a better understanding of building documents with structure, documents that can be re-used in different formats without much fuss. This book includes tools for helping readers do that.

    "I'm sure Word will remain the standard word processor for many more years," Savikas adds. "But at the same time, much of the content created in Word will have a later life beyond just printed form. So finding ways to better integrate Word into changing workflows will become very important. The native XML support introduced in Word 2003 is a huge step in the right direction, and opens up a lot of doors for repurposing content from Word."

    Many of the hacks in the book will work with Word 97, although the book only explicitly covers Word 2000, 2002, and 2003. And, while many of the hacks can be adapted for use on a Macintosh, Word Hacks only covers Word for Windows.

    Novices or seasoned pros, everyone who uses Word for more than simple memos and letters will find something in Word Hacks to save them time.

    Additional Resources:

    Word Hacks
    Andrew Savikas
    ISBN: 0-596-00493-1, 372 pages, $24.95 US, $36.95 CA
    order@oreilly.com
    1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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