Last month we reviewed in broad terms the contribution a PC can make towards the productivity of virtually any small business or home office. Now we're going to explore this in a little more detail. In the next couple of months we'll take a closer look from a business perspective at several major productivity applications, starting here with the ubiquitous word processor. Nowadays a word processor almost certainly comes as part of an office or 'productivity' suite. Integrated suites such as Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite or Corel WordPerfect are in turn often pre-installed on most new PCs. But if your next new computer is still some way off and you don't already have such a suite, look around for upgrade promotions. The marketing scene changes fairly rapidly, but typically the three major suppliers offer upgrades for less than half the retail price. Even a competitor's product might be sufficient to qualify for the promotion. Or you could buy a cheap, obsolete version of the qualifying product first, by mail order or from private classified ads; all you usually need is the installation disk or manual title page. The suite will include a variety of other applications, some of which (like spreadsheets and presentation graphics) we'll be focusing on in later months. However, by far the most popular and arguably the most flexible is the word processor. If ever there was a misnomer, that's certainly become one, as such programs can now do far more than the label conveys. It's not unusual for even long-term users of a package such as Microsoft Word to readily admit they've still not used many of its features. We're not suggesting that as a manager of your own business you need to deploy the whole arsenal of the program's power in day-to-day use. But many facilities can give you that edge on occasions. And there are some which, once you start using them as a matter of habit, will begin to make a worthwhile contribution to your productivity. Naturally, what you might personally regard as an advanced or specialised feature will depend on factors such as your experience, type of work, opportunities to experiment, and where you fall on the timid-to-bold scale. To a real novice, even truly basic features such as cutting, copying and pasting text, selecting words, lines and paragraphs quickly using special mouse clicks, or even using different fonts, styles and colours come as a revelation. Often, such users are simply caught in the trap of having insufficient time to explore new features. Deadline pressures prompt the use of the most familiar techniques and tools, which further reinforces the habit - and so mastering new tools becomes even harder. Even some familiar features are not always used to the optimum. For example, although most of us deploy our spell-checker to minimise glaring errors, few users regularly add new words to the ready-made dictionary, such as those special to our business, which crop up frequently. Similarly, how many use AutoCorrect to change clumsy keying mistakes like 'acn' into 'can', or regularly misspelled words? And it would be interesting to learn how many Word users still manually shuffle a list into alphabetic order instead of employing Table/Sort. Another rarely used facility is AutoFormat; although you have to be careful, this can dramatically transform a rather dull-looking set of notes into an impressive document in seconds. Microsoft Word's WordArt (and its equivalents in WordPro and WordPerfect) is another powerful but under-used tool. It lets you add eye-catching text in some 30 styles, including 3D effects - potentially raising your mailshot or leaflet above the common run. We've only scratched the surface here and in future columns will further describe how you can use your word processor to extend your business applications well beyond mere text. Professional graphics, mail shots, calculations, tables, indexes, Internet communications and more are all possible from within the one package. We gather that upcoming versions will even make the coffee and put the cat out at night - but don't take our Word for it.
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