April 7, 2008
Michael C. Oldenburg
For many of us, the 9-to-5 work shift is a thing of the past. Having uninterrupted access to work and personal information is fast becoming more necessity than convenience. Ever wish you could take your Office programs and files on the road with you, even when you don't have access to a PC or a laptop? In this month's column, Michael C. Oldenburg shows you how to use your favorite Microsoft Office 2007 programs on your cell phone.
|Microsoft Office 2007
When I began using my first Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) a few years ago, I had high hopes. Having all kinds of information at my fingertips — phone numbers, addresses, birthday reminders, lists, notes, directions, and whatever else — was certainly an appealing idea, especially if it meant that I didn't have to lug a laptop computer around with me. But the speed and memory limitations of those early devices left a lot to be desired. You couldn't surf the Web, the screen and keyboard were tiny and primitive, and the lack of storage space made it hard to actually get any real work done. All in all, it seemed hardly worth the hassle.
What a difference a few years can make!
My recent introduction to so-called smartphones (a combination of mobile phone and PDA) was anything but planned. I was pretty happy with the capabilities of my Motorola RAZR and hadn't planned to purchase a new cell phone anytime soon. As a Generation X child living in a Generation Y world, I assumed I was immune to the text messaging craze. I was also pretty sure that I could manage to wait until I'm at my PC to watch a forwarded YouTube clip if I had to. And aside from larger, sharper screens and easier-to-use keyboards, I wasn't really sure what exactly made smartphones stand apart from regular phones. Little did I know that one of technology's best kept secrets was about to reveal itself to me.
Familiar faces in an unexpected place
After some of my friends made me an unlikely text messaging convert (it's actually a convenient and very practical way to communicate), I realized that I wasn't at all opposed to integrating a larger part of my computer life with my cell phone. Turns out I just really hated using the tiny keyboard to do anything significant with it. As a writer, having to hit a single key up to five times to get the letter I want to type is maddening, to say the least. And, let's face it, I'm pretty sure that I won't be winning any speed-texting championships anytime soon.
When I innocently headed to my local wireless store in search of a phone with a better keyboard for texting, Web surfing, and e-mailing, I had no idea what was waiting for me. After looking at various new phone models, my choice quickly narrowed to the ones with full-sized keyboards. These phones look positively huge when you see them online, but once they're in your hands, they're not much bigger or heavier than most regular phones.
I gave serious consideration to a couple of the BlackBerry models, which a couple of my friends who work in finance and law swear by. I kept browsing and picked up a new Samsung BlackJack II, one of the newest smartphones. As I began cruising through its interface, some familiar icons got my immediate attention.
Hmmm, what's this? Office 2007 programs on a cell phone? Towards the end of last year, in the hallways at work, I had heard about our tentative plans for Office Mobile at some point in the future, but things were still shrouded in secrecy. I never got to see a demo, and I wasn't sure if and when these programs were going to be released. But here they were — on this small device in my hand, with its big, bright screen and a real keyboard. I was intrigued, to say the least.
What programs are included?
Right from the Start button on the home screen, the Windows Mobile smartphone interface is immediately familiar. If you're already a Windows user, there's no learning curve to master and no secret handshake to know.
Smartphones include many familiar tools and programs, such as Internet Explorer for Web surfing and Windows Media Player for listening to music and watching video. So, what about those Office 2007 icons? Do these mobile programs really work the same way as their desktop versions? In the Office Mobile folder, I found three program icons: Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and Word Mobile. On the Messaging menu, I found an additional icon for Outlook Mobile. These four Office programs are included standard and free of charge on Windows Mobile 6 smartphones.
There's a fifth Office program available — OneNote Mobile. Though it's not included with Office Mobile, you can install it by connecting your smartphone to the full version of Office OneNote 2007 on your desktop or laptop PC, at which point you will be prompted to install OneNote Mobile on your device. The program icon for OneNote Mobile will appear on your smartphone's Start menu.
As you might expect, the mobile versions of these Office programs offer limited functionality when compared to their full-version desktop counterparts. But when you're catching up on work while waiting for a connecting flight or riding the bus to or from the office, all you really need is the basics.
First and foremost, each Office Mobile program functions as a file viewer for its respective file format, so you can view your Outlook e-mails, Word 2007 documents, Excel 2007 spreadsheets, PowerPoint 2007 presentations, and OneNote 2007 notes in their original format. With the various zooming, scrolling, and fitting options that are provided in the three main programs, you have easy control over how your work files are rendered on your mobile screen.
If you want to change the contents of your Office files, you can edit them on the fly and then either save them on your storage card or e-mail them back to your colleagues (or to yourself) in Outlook Mobile or a Web-based e-mail program like Hotmail.
While viewing documents and files on a mobile device is certainly useful, there's more to Office Mobile than meets the eye. Let's take a closer look to see what you can do with each program.
At first glance, Outlook Mobile may look scaled down on the small screen, but don't be deceived. It's going to be every bit your right hand as its big-screen counterpart is on your desktop at the office.
I assumed that setting up Outlook Mobile was going to be something I'd have to do after leaving the wireless store, late in the dead of night, or perhaps the next day when I was back in the office. Imagine my surprise when the salesperson handed me the phone and prompted me to simply enter my Outlook Web Access (OWA) server credentials. As soon as I did, Outlook Mobile synched up with my Exchange server at work and, in just a few seconds, my entire Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks appeared on my smartphone, ready to use.
While the other Office Mobile programs are started from a single icon, the multi-faceted functionality of Outlook Mobile is integrated with the menus and program icons in the Windows Mobile interface. For example, Outlook's e-mail features can be started on the Messaging menu on your device (where you can also access text messages and your Web-based e-mail):
In addition to e-mail, you can choose whether to use your phone's standalone appointment calendar, contacts list, and task reminders, or whether you want to integrate these in Outlook Mobile. The icons won't change, but you'll notice the improvements when Outlook Mobile takes charge of these programs.
For example, when creating your address book on your phone, the names and phone numbers of your friends and family members are typically stored directly on your phone's SIM card. However, by using Outlook Mobile Contacts, you gain the additional contact management features that the full version of Outlook 2007 offers, as well as access to your company's entire Exchange address book. Plus, if you ever upgrade your smartphone, you don't need to worry about any SIM data; just synch your Outlook Contacts with the new phone and you're done. The Calendar and Tasks in Outlook Mobile provide similar additional functionality compared to your phone's basic features.
You can fully control which Outlook information you want to synchronize by making the appropriate selections right on your smartphone or in the Windows Mobile Device Center on your computer.
By allowing Outlook Mobile's features to be integrated with your smartphone, you no longer have to maintain multiple address books, appointment calendars, appointment reminders, and To Do tasks. Your phone is continuously up-to-date with the same information as the computers in your office.
Before seeing it with my own eyes, I would have been skeptical about how useful Word Mobile would be as a small-document screen reader. Alas, the crisp and clean fonts on Windows Mobile 6 make reading even at small sizes more than feasible. You can set specific zooming and scrolling settings to better control your navigation through short and long documents alike.
You can open Word Mobile by clicking its icon in the Office Mobile folder and opening a .docx file on your smartphone's data storage card, by clicking links to Word documents on Web sites, or by clicking a Word document attachment in an Outlook Mobile e-mail message.
When you first open a Word document in Word Mobile, you're in Preview mode. In this mode, you can save a downloaded document to your smartphone's storage card, send it in an e-mail message, and search for specific text.
When you toggle from Preview to Edit mode, Word Mobile allows text editing and text formatting, including bold, italic, underline, and yellow highlighting. You can undo and redo any changes you make while in Edit mode.
Word Mobile is a great way to catch up on your reading whenever you have time to kill away from your computer or when you want to compose rough drafts of your own documents and plans.
Excel Mobile is a surprisingly flexible way to view and work with Excel 2007 workbooks and it provides more than just basic functionality.
You can open Excel Mobile by clicking its icon in the Office Mobile folder and opening an .xlsx file on your smartphone's data storage card, by clicking links to Excel workbooks on Web sites, or by clicking an Excel workbook attachment in an Outlook Mobile e-mail message.
When you first open a workbook in Excel Mobile, you're in full-screen Preview mode to maximize the grid view. To display the title and menu bars, press the left soft key and turn off Full Screen View on the menu. From the left soft key menu, you can also set the Zoom level, freeze and unfreeze panes, jump to specific sheets within a workbook, and edit cell text. There's even an Overview command that zooms out to display your entire spreadsheet for easy panning and selection of specific sheet regions that you want to edit.
From the right soft key menu, you can save a downloaded workbook to your smartphone's storage card, send it in an e-mail message, search for specific text, and jump to a specific cell reference.
When you toggle from Preview to Edit mode on the right soft key menu, Excel Mobile displays the formula bar and allows cell and formula editing and formatting, cell and range selection, name definition, and data sorting.
Excel Mobile lets you review and prepare all kinds of data-based reports and summaries. Even if you need advanced features that are only available in the full version of Excel 2007, you can easily lay the groundwork for complex spreadsheets on your phone screen. If you frequently travel on business, bring your company's expense report template with you and fill it out on your smartphone each day. By the time you get back to the office, you'll be ready to turn in your reimbursement request.
PowerPoint Mobile isn't just a great way to review a deck of slides away from the office. It's ideal for rehearsing and practicing the timing and overall duration of your next big presentation.
You can open PowerPoint Mobile by clicking its icon in the Office Mobile folder and opening a .pptx file on your smartphone's data storage card, by clicking links to PowerPoint presentations on Web sites, or by clicking a PowerPoint attachment in an Outlook Mobile e-mail message.
When you first open a presentation in PowerPoint Mobile, you're in full-screen mode to maximize the screen display. You can use the left and right navigation buttons on your smartphone to cycle through the deck, or press the right soft key to jump to a specific slide or zoom in on a specific part of the screen for more detail.
From the right soft key menu, you can also set temporary options to override the playback of slide shows that contain animations, transitions, media, and timings.
This makes it easier to edit and review more complex presentations on the small screen. When you're done reviewing the slide deck, you can turn these options back on.
Though you can't create or edit slides in PowerPoint Mobile, you can store finished presentations on your smartphone to persuade a client during an impromptu meeting, to underscore an elevator pitch to a colleague or an investor, or to show off slide shows of your vacation photos to friends during a meal in a restaurant.
OneNote Mobile isn't included with Windows Mobile, but if you have the full version of Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 installed on your computer, you can easily extend your note-taking experience to your smartphone. Simply connect your device to your desktop or laptop PC and install OneNote Mobile when the prompt appears. (If you miss the prompt, simply reconnect your phone and try again.)
With OneNote Mobile, you can stop messing with sticky notes, paper napkins, and other scribbles and jot down legible notes and lists wherever you are. The next time you're back at your computer and connect your smartphone to OneNote 2007, OneNote Mobile synchronizes your notes with a designated notebook on your computer, from which you can organize, follow up, and share the information with other people and other programs.
Taking notes in OneNote Mobile is as easy as typing. The menu commands let you apply and clear text and list formatting and you can annotate notes by inserting pictures or video clips recorded with your smartphone camera. If typing notes isn't your thing, you can record spoken notes or make audio annotations. Inserted media is associated with your notes pages for easy synchronization with OneNote 2007.
Together with its convenient PC synchronization, the simple and flexible features in OneNote Mobile can prove useful in a variety of personal and professional situations:
- Take pictures of business cards and bring them into your notes. OneNote 2007 can read (and search for) text in pictures, so you won't have to re-type anything back in the office.
- Capture the results from brainstorming meetings by taking pictures of the flip charts and whiteboards in the conference room and save them as part of your meeting notes.
- Capture video footage from open house walkthroughs, training sessions, or informal interviews, and annotate specific events in the video as part of your notes.
- Record audio clips for yourself (for example, reminders of important events, ideas for projects, price comparisons in stores, blog ideas, and so on) and tag them for later follow-up. OneNote 2007 can search audio notes as easily as text.
- Transfer travel information (itineraries, driving directions, photos of venues, etc.) from your computer to your smartphone so you can easily refer to important information while you're on the road.
Tip You can learn more about using OneNote Mobile in my OneNote Mobile 2007 quick start guide.
What you'll need to get started
While most of the Office Mobile programs are provided free with a Windows Mobile smartphone, there are some additional considerations before you can use them to their full potential.
Here's a quick checklist of the things you'll need to enjoy Office Mobile on your phone:
Compatible equipment Office Mobile only works with Windows Mobile 6 and later. If you have a smartphone running an older version, check with your service provider about upgrading. If you don't yet have a smartphone, be sure to purchase a Windows Mobile 6-compatible model. In the United States, providers such as AT&T and Verizon offer a large variety of brands and models that you can choose from. Do some research online to compare individual phone features, but don't buy a phone blindly — walk into your local wireless store, take the device you're considering into your own hands and see if the controls and features feel intuitive and natural. Ask questions about anything that confuses you, and ask about special offers and package deals.
Cellular voice & data plan Ordinary cell phones usually only have a voice plan, but if you want to do any Web surfing, e-mailing, text messaging, and downloading of Office Mobile documents, you'll need to add a data plan as well. When trying out phones in the store, ask your wireless provider about specific rates, as these vary by region. If you need to routinely send and receive large Office files, consider opting for an unlimited data plan. Though these are generally more expensive up-front, you could end up paying less in the long run and you won't have to track your data allowance each month. When choosing a data plan, don't assume anything — ask all the "stupid" questions you want until you know what you're getting for your money.
Outlook security credentials To push your corporate Outlook e-mail to your smartphone, your company's IT department must support Outlook Web Access (OWA). In most cases, your OWA credentials are all that's needed to begin using your corporate Outlook e-mail immediately, but before you make your smartphone purchase, you should check with your system administrator or Help Desk to make sure that you'll be able to use Outlook Mobile as expected.
Office OneNote 2007 To synchronize notes you take in OneNote Mobile, you'll need to have the full version of Office OneNote 2007 installed on your desktop or laptop computer. OneNote 2007 is available as a stand-alone product or as part of Office 2007 Home & Student Edition, Office 2007 Ultimate Edition, and Office 2007 Enterprise Edition.
A smart investment
So, is it all worth it? To be sure, if you're upgrading from a normal cell phone to a smartphone, the addition of a data plan will likely increase your monthly service fee by a few dollars (this was the case for me). Still, the extra few dollars should prove well worth the investment. I've had my smartphone with Office Mobile for a little over a month now and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can't imagine myself going back to a regular cell phone. It's made my personal and professional life so much simpler. I find the organizational tools in Outlook Mobile alone reason enough to invest in a smartphone. With the addition of the other Office programs — plus Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and a host of other familiar tools and utilities — there's just no turning back.
Tip If your company uses Outlook 2007 for corporate e-mail and you plan to use Office Mobile for business, check with your manager to see if your company offers a corporate discount for your smartphone purchase or for part (or all) of the monthly service fee. Even if you have to carry the cost of the phone and the voice & data plan by yourself, remember that you get what you pay for. The bottom line is important, but be sure to consider all of the advantages that you can gain by keeping your work and personal life together in one place, wherever your busy life takes you.
About the author
Michael C. Oldenburg is a Technical Writer in the Office User Assistance group at Microsoft. Over the past decade, he has worked on numerous documentation and training projects for a variety of Office programs, including FrontPage, PhotoDraw, InfoPath, and OneNote. When he's not busy setting up computers for friends and family members, he's most likely designing Web sites and graphics, reading a good book, continuing his Japanese studies, or playing the latest video games. Michael's blog, Nota Bene, is published on MSDN.