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Microsoft Office Ribbon

Whether you use a Windows computer (PC) or a Mac computer, you probably use Microsoft Office programs: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and/or Outlook.

If you have Office 2007 or 2010 for the PC, or Office 2011 for the Mac, you are familiar with the Ribbon — the horizontal tool bar at the top of your screen that replaced the traditional drop-down menus. The Ribbon, which is organized by tabs, shows all your editing choices within each tab at once, rather than make you search for them.

To show so many editing tools at once, the Ribbon takes up space across the top of your screen, space that reduces the available room for your document. Thus, Microsoft gives you the option to minimize the Ribbon when you’d rather see fewer tools and more document. (You can still see the tabs when the Ribbon is minimized, and you can access the full Ribbon with one click.)

Here is where the “minimize” controls are located so you can choose — or not — to minimize your Ribbon:

Windows (PC) Computers

Hover your cursor over the Ribbon tabs (“Home,” “Insert,” “Page Layout,” etc, at the top of your screen) and right-click. A menu will appear. The choice at the bottom of that menu is “Minimize the Ribbon.” If there is a checkmark next to this, your Ribbon is minimized. If you don’t want the Ribbon to be minimized, click once on this line — the checkmark will disappear and the Ribbon will return.

Macintosh (Apple) Computers

Click on the name of the tab that is open and the Ribbon will minimize. Click on any tab and the Ribbon will reappear to the tab you clicked. In addition, there is a “Ribbon Preferences” panel on the Mac that you can access from the “gear” icon on the far right of the Ribbon tab line. Click on the gear and then click on the “Ribbon Preferences” option. This will allow you to turn the Ribbon off altogether and also change the order of the tabs.

Every so often I get a call about a Ribbon which has disappeared from the screen, even though the user didn’t intend it to. I, too, am mystified by this, but I admit I have seen it happen.

At least now you know how to get your Ribbon back!

Alphabet Soup

Computer language is filled with acronyms. How many of these do you know?

Cc: Carbon copy
Left over from the days when you needed a piece of carbon paper to create a second copy of a document, “carbon copy” is now the term used to copy an email to one or more recipients. The Cc field is usually right under the “To” field in an email address area.

CD: Compact Disc
The first CDs replaced audio tapes (which replaced records). They were the medium of choice because they could store much more information and, unlike their predecessors, do not wear out. CDs now store images, data, videos, and software programs.

DVD: Digital Versatile Disc
While a DVD looks like a CD, it is more sophisticated with its larger storage capacity (full-feature movies) and its ability to be played in DVD players.

DCIM: Digital Camera IMage
This is the name of the root folder that your digital camera uses to store your pictures. When you wish to upload your pictures to your computer, the computer looks for the DCIM folder.

DPI: Dots Per Inch
The resolution of an image is based on the number of dots that can fit into a linear inch; the more dots, the more detail in the image. For an image to appear clearly on a screen, it need only be 72 dpi, as compared to a printed image that needs to be closer to 300 dpi.

HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol
We’ve all seen this language in our browser address bar; it precedes a web address. This is the protocol used to transfer information over the internet. Every time you request a web page, the computer uses this protocol to request the information from the server where the page resides.

JPG (or JPEG): Joint Photographic Experts Group
This acronym is the name of the group that developed the format, but you only need to know that a JPG is an image file. JPGs are universally read on any computer.

PDF: Portable Document Format
What the JPG is to images. the PDF is to documents: they can be read on any computer. The PDF format was developed by Adobe and requires the free Adobe Reader program to open the documents. It is a good idea to save and send a document as a PDF — rather than in the “native” file in which you created the document — if you are emailing it to people who may not have the program you used.

RAM: Random Access Memory
When you open a computer program, it loads it into the RAM and you use it from there. Each program you have open takes up some of the RAM capacity. Therefore, the more RAM your computer has, the more software programs you can have open at the same time without slowing down the overall speed of the machine.

SMS: Short Message Service
SMS is the service that sends text messages to and from your cell phone. It is also the service that sends notifications and alerts to your mobile device.

USB: Universal Serial Bus
A USB is the most widely used type of computer port for connecting peripheral devices: printers, mice, external drives. With USB as the standard connection configuration, computers do not need more than one type of port, and you are not limited in your choice of peripherals.

If you are curious about other computer acronyms, or just wish to wow your friends at cocktail parties, please visit the site that helped me bring you this information:

The terms on the site are listed and defined alphabetically. If you click on any of the acronyms, you will see a more detailed definition.

“Say” What You Mean

I love dictation software. I say what I would otherwise type, see the words on the screen, and edit to be sure it says what I mean to say. Wonderful.

Is it really this easy? Yes.

The software most synonymous with this technology is Dragon, the program from Nuance that advertises that you can “control your computer with your voice.” You purchase the software — which comes with a headset microphone — and “teach” it your voice through a series of short exercises. Once it knows your voice, you can effectively dictate text (and punctuation) in documents and emails, as well as “command” your computer to “open,” “close,” and “save.”

This software is wonderful if you have a lot to say — perhaps you are writing a novel, recording your memoirs, or documenting your family history — or in any scenario in which you believe that your poor typing skills are keeping you from expressing yourself.

The popularity of this technology inspired Apple and Android to pre-install the Dragon technology on their devices. If you have a mobile device that has Siri and/or a microphone icon in the lower left corner of the virtual keyboard, you can verbally ask questions, initiate commands, and dictate emails, texts, notes, and events.

A few words about … words:

  • Limit background noise as much as possible to allow the device to hear only you.
  • Don’t look at the screen as you talk; the characters will lag behind your dictation and if you wait for them you might lose the rhythm of what you are saying.
  • Dictate for a short period of time, stop, and let the machine catch up. Then resume dictating.
  • Edit. Edit. Edit. The machine will not get it 100%. You will need to edit whatever you dictate to catch minor and major “misunderstandings.”

And, even though it might seem that dictating is less distracting than typing, it is still not advisable to do it while driving.

Error Messages

Do you panic when you see an error message on your computer screen? Sometimes that message looks so intimidating that you actually forget to read it.

My advice: Read the message first; you can always panic later.

The truth is that many error messages look scarier than they are.

A woman called me recently to say her computer was not working; she was unable to send email. When I sat down at her computer, I saw the error message that prompted the call. It did look quite ominous.

However, below the big red “X” and looming “error” title, the actual message said that the last email contained an invalid email address and could not be sent. The message went on to say that if the offending email address was corrected, that email could be sent.

The woman admitted that she never actually read the message before she called me.

In a similar instance, a friend was trying to update a software program and thought he was doing something wrong as the “update” button was greyed out. When he clicked it, he got an error message that looked so intimidating he decided to cancel the update.

The error message — which did look scarier than necessary — told him he needed to check the “Accept the Terms and Conditions” box before the program would update.

So my message — which I am glad you are reading — is to put your fear of an error message aside, take a deep breath, and read what it says. You might find that it is relatively benign and even gives you the answer you need to move past it.

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