Writing tools

A final look at Office 365

It’s been six months since I bought Office 365. Time goes so fast. Only another six months to renewal, which was always the bad part about the whole deal, but I knew that when I started, so it’s not really the bad part, just the choice I made.

It’s a good time to look back on how I’ve found it. It’s been a busy six months, writing-wise.

Using Office

When I installed Office 365 I moved from Office 2007 to 2013. I had no problems with the transition.

I thought I would get used to the colours, but six months later I still open Outlook when I mean to open Word, and I still don’t like the all-white for everything. (I see that the iPad has gone very white as well. All I can say to both companies is, please don’t.) I would love an option to add more contrast. For users like me, who have two 24 inch screens, it is too much white.

The templates on the New Documents pages still drive me crazy. I would love to control which templates I see.

Outside of the above, I like the software.

Transferring licenses

Back in September I bought a new laptop and transferring the licenses was a breeze. A definite plus for Office 365.


Office itself is great, but when it comes to the cloud you can probably hear my screams from the other side of the world.

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A tick in the box for Office 365

I finally caved in and bought an ultrabook laptop. My not-so-little netbook that I shopped so hard for weighed in at a whopping 4.1kg, which is a fair weight to carry around in your handbag.

My new PC weighs in at 0.87kg and yes, it fits into my handbag. I’m loving how light it is.

I have to admit, with Office 365, the installation of Microsoft Office was painless. Log in to the Microsoft site, click ‘install’ and wait for it all to happen. It was the most painless install I’ve done. And my shared data came across all set up ready to go.

Tick one for the plus side of Office 365.

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Office 365 – cool and uncool features

I’ve been using Office 365 a while now. Here are my cool and not-so-cool features.

They’re mostly simple things. It’s weird how the simple things make a big difference. Some of these features may already have existed, I just didn’t know about them.

Cool Word—how long have I been writing this novel?

Word tells you how long you have been editing a document.

Click on the File tab and you get document information. One of the tags in the Properties area is ‘total editing time’.

So far we have spent 37,595 minutes writing our latest novel—626 hours or 26 days straight. That’s a big chunk out of our life.

Document properties
Document properties


I don’t know how accurate it is for us. When I’m editing I often close the laptop without exiting from the document, but it’s an interesting indicator of how much time we do spend on a book.

Uncool Word—go to page doesn’t work the way it used to

In the old versions of Word you used to be able to click on the page number at the bottom of the screen and bring up the Go To Page box. Now I have to use <ctrl><g> (<ctrl><g> was always there, I just preferred to click).

Cool Word—simple markup

I like the simple markup option. It shows you a nice clean manuscript, but also indicates where revisions have been made.

Cool Word—pick up where you left off

When you open a document it gives you the option to resume where you last left it. Very nice when you’re in the middle of editing.

Cool Word—the ability to reply to comments

We often make comments as part of the editing process. It’s great to be able to reply to a comment.

Uncool Word—all those templates

The way Microsoft displays the templates on the File > New page has changed. It now shows you a list of templates you can open. Most people will think this is a good thing.

Word templates
Word templates


Me, I just want all that junk off my front screen. I’d love to be able to add my favourite templates here (normal, manuscript, blog) and get rid of the whole distracting mess of the rest. I don’t use other templates that often, and I’m happy to go look for them when I do.

While I’m on it, please, Microsoft, bring back the one-click for a new file based on Normal template. You haven’t had it for a few versions now, but I really miss it.

Uncool OneNote—sharing through the cloud

Again, one of those things that should really be an improvement, but Groove, I miss you.

I use a laptop and the desktop and write between, depending on whether I am at home or out. I add my continuity notes to OneNote. It used to be that I’d come home, plug the laptop into the network, open OneNote on the desktop and any updates I had made during the day were copied across to the desktop. Remember, too, that throughout the day I don’t have the internet on, because all I am using is the word processor.

To share OneNote in Office 365 I had to put the master file on the cloud drive. Now, I come home, plug the laptop into the home network, open OneNote on the laptop so it can copy its data up to the OneNote master, then open OneNote on the desktop so that it can update what has just been uploaded from the laptop.

It’s a lot more complex.

Uncool Outlook—lots of things

I think Microsoft needs to go back and redesign Outlook. All the good stuff that’s in Office 365 Outlook was already there in Office 2010. It wasn’t broken. They didn’t need to fix it.

I particularly hate the wasted space they force onto us by giving us the start of the mail beneath the mail heading. If I wanted a preview, I’d use the reading pane. It’s designed for people reading their email on tablets or phones. Microsoft, I have news for you. Some of us don’t.

I’d love an option to condense each mail down to its heading line.

They changed the icon from yellow to blue. Half the time I open Outlook when I think I am opening Word.

The bugs. One day I found I couldn’t open hyperlinks direct from Outlook mail. I had to go into the registry settings to fix it. (To be fair, I think Chrome has to take some of the blame for this one, but why was the issue limited to Outlook?)

In summary

There are some good things and some not-so-good with the new Office.

Most of my gripes have to do with the fact that Microsoft obviously designed this version of Office for tablets and phones.  Unfortunately for me, I’m not using either.  (A word processor, a spreadsheet , a presentation program and an email system. How many of these are naturally done on tablets or phones?  The only one that naturally works on those systems is email, and to be honest I don’t know anyone who uses Outlook as their mail system on either of those. They use the native mail system provided with their device, or some form of webmail system.)

Otherwise, the functionality itself is sound. Microsoft puts out a good product, and so far, it’s still that.

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Farewell to a great little workhorse

My netbook died, almost four years to the day I bought it.

It was a great little computer, ideal for writing on my work commute and at lunchtimes, and it freed up my writing so much I will be forever grateful I bought it. I have done some of my best writing to date on that little machine.

It had been sending out warning signals for weeks. It wouldn’t even turn itself off any more when you closed the lid. I had to pull out the battery every time I closed the lid. Then one day it simply wouldn’t turn on. Or rather, it turned on because I could hear the fan working and see the lights, but nothing came up on the screen. Nor could I plug it into the network with an Ethernet cable and access the disk.

So, finally time for a new laptop.

I wanted a netbook. First, because they’re cheap and the computer I carry around really is only a word processor. I don’t even access the internet on it. Second, because netbooks are small and light. It had to pass the handbag test. Could I fit it into my handbag?

Off I went shopping.

I wanted an Acer Aspire One. I’d been more than satisfied with the one I’d had for the last four years.

“We stopped selling those in January,” the salesman said. “We don’t sell netbooks any more.”


Four years of netbooks.
Four years of netbooks. You’d think that the one on the left was newer, because it was smaller (well you would if you didn’t see how well-used it was) but no, the blue netbook is four years old, the green one two (another Acer Aspire One) and the monster on the right is brand new.


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I feel a migraine coming on

The first thing you notice about Office 2013/365 is that it is very, very white. Migraine-inducing white in our family.

I can see that on a smaller screen like an iPad the white would be good. Not too much clutter.

I, however, have two 24″ screens and that makes for a lot of white space. The washed-out scheme led to eye-strain and headaches.

The first thing I did was add as much colour as I could by giving the screen as much contrast as I could. There isn’t much to choose from. White (default), light grey and dark grey.

Here’s how to change it.

  • Click on the File menu
  • Choose Options
  • Choose General options
  • Change your scheme to Dark Grey

Believe me, dark grey is much better than white.

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Microsoft Office 2013: Should you buy or rent?

What’s the difference between Office 365 and Office 2013?

Or rephrased, should you buy or rent?

A problem I have with Microsoft is that they have great information available but half the time you don’t know it’s there, and even when you do know, you don’t understand what they’re saying until you’ve worked it out for yourself.

And that sentence is about as confusing as I find Microsoft is, but translated it means when you know what they’re talking about the information they provide is good. Before that it may as well be written in another language.

Note too that everything I say here is for the PC. There are some limitations for the Mac. I won’t go into these, as I don’t have a Mac, but be aware that you don’t get everything if you’re running things on Apple.

So, Office 365 and Office 2013?

Underneath, they’re pretty much the same product. The main differences.

Office 2013

  • Buy once, use forever. A flat, one-off price
  • Only use on your own PC
  • Different versions have different products—for example, Office Professional version has Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access, while Office Home and Student has Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. There’s a full list of versions on Microsoft’s Which Office is Best For You page. This page also shows Office 365 to compare with

Office 365

  • An annual fee. You pay every year. Effectively, you are renting the software
  • You can use it on up to five computers
  • You get the full Office suite (even if you only use Word)
  • You get some online storage – think Dropbox for Microsoft
  • If you’re on another computer—say an internet café—then you can still use Office (your documents have to be online for this, but it’s still a nice feature) — think GoogleDocs for Microsoft

So think of Office 2013 as your standard Microsoft Office product and Office 365 as standard Office plus the Microsoft equivalent of Google Docs and DropBox. Except that Google Docs and DropBox are free, whereas Office isn’t.

One thing that worried me when I first looked at Office 365 was whether I had to be logged on to use it?

No, and I proved this during my morning and evening train commutes, where I turn off the internet and simply use Word and the PC, and save to my c: drive. Everything worked fine.

Of course, I couldn’t access anything on my skydrive while I was offline, but I expected that.

So why isn’t everyone renting?

On the face of it, Office 365 has so many advantages why wouldn’t you choose it over a standard Office suite?

There are two big minuses.

First, you are renting the software. In 12 months time you have to pay another fee to Microsoft to use it for the next 12 months. You have no control over the price, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Suppose you don’t have the money to upgrade. Suppose you don’t want to. Microsoft is effectively holding you to ransom here. If you are a writer who only uses Word, and you’re the only one in your household who uses it, why not simply purchase Office 2013 Home and Student. It’s less than the cost of two years’ rental of Office 365.

Also, I’m not a big fan of the cloud, which is Microsoft’s fancy name for online storage. I like to be in control of my data. I don’t like it that someone else has access to my work. Or to some of it, anyway.

Why we chose Office 365

In the end we went for Office 365. We had four PCs between us, which meant we had to buy four licenses anyway, so we factored in that even paying four years’ rental we’d still be better off.

Provided Microsoft keeps their costs down and their licensing model the same.

Plus we do want to share documents. We already do this with OneNote, synchronising across machines, and we love it. We could save something on our c: drive, and next time we joined the network OneNote would synchronise everything.

This was probably the deciding factor.

We’ll let you know how we go.


p.s. As an unexpected bonus, when we upgraded to Office 365 it didn’t delete Office 2007, so the machines with 2007 on them still have valid working versions. If we ever choose to revert back.

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Office 365

My netbook died the other day, almost four years to the day that I bought it. Writing-wise, it’s one of the best purchases I ever made, second only in usefulness to Microsoft Word.

Because I write on two PCs (the netbook and the desktop), and I co-write with another writer who also uses two PCs, we like to keep the software we use in sync. My co-writer and I decided that rather than stay with Office 2007 on my new netbook, we’d upgrade all our PCs to Office 2013.

We ended up upgrading to Office 365, and linked our accounts so that we could share files.

At the same time I’d been toying with starting a journeyman writer blog for writers like us who aren’t beginners any more but aren’t necessarily published writers. They’re consistently writing, may or may not have an agent, and are looking for things like tools and just general information about what happens next. Everything from that dreaded second book, to rewrites at the request of someone else, to the tools that we use and backups and managing files.

I have also noticed that many writers use Apple. The ones who blog about it seem to, anyway. Yet there are a lot of us out there who use Microsoft. Some by choice—I’m one of those—some for whom it’s all they’ve got. But there’s not much out there for Office users, even though I think that most writers probably still write in Word.

Journeyman Writer will be a while off yet, we’re both too busy, but given that we ended up going for Microsoft Office 365, it’s too good an opportunity to pass up to share what we learned from our upgrade. Other writers are no doubt going through the same experiences we are. If even one other writer finds it useful it will be worth it.

We’re keeping it separate from our regular blog, and our regular fortnightly blog takes precedence, but we’ll try and make it semi-regular. Hopefully in the off-weeks of the main blog.

Things I’d like to cover.

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If you’re shopping for a word processor, don’t overlook Microsoft Word

A few years back I started blogging about SharePoint*. I soon realised that I couldn’t manage that blog, plus this blog, plus writing novels along with a heavy full-time workload. Something had to give, and what gave was SharePoint.

I left the blog open for months after that, because even though it was technically dead there was one post that got a lot of traffic. It was called ‘But what does SharePoint do?’. A lot of people commented on it. Even when I finally deleted the site it was still attracting three or four comments a month.

When I pulled the plug there were over 200 comments. Most of them of stayed on topic, but in between there were a noticeable number of anti-Microsoft rants of the “Big Brother Microsoft is capital-B Bad and don’t touch them” kind, and “It’s a useless product, you don’t need it, open-source products are better”.

Putting aside the fact that most people who use SharePoint don’t get any choice**, Microsoft didn’t get to be a big company by continually producing bad products. And despite all its detractors, if you have a use for it, SharePoint is an impressive product.

Microsoft isn’t the only company that gets bad press. Modern behemoths like Amazon and Google are starting to get a similar response. Even Apple is catching some flak nowadays.

Some people choose not to buy books from Amazon because they don’t like Amazon’s business ethics. Others choose not to buy from the iTunes store because they feel likewise about Apple. And some people choose not to use Microsoft Word because they don’t like Microsoft’s business ethics.

What has this to do with writing, you ask?

It’s about Microsoft Word.

You don’t need Word to write novels. All you need in this day and age is a computer and a text editor. (Note that I didn’t say pen and paper. If you want to sell novels, you have to get that those handwritten notes onto a PC.)

There are lots of word processors out there. You can use anything from Word to Open Office to Google Docs to Pages or dozens more. Many authors, particularly Mac users, love Scrivener, for example.

People come up with lots of excuses for not choosing Word.

  • The WYSIWYG editor gets in the way
  • It has too much functionality that you don’t need
  • It’s too complex
  • It doesn’t separate the writing from the presentation layer

Plus a stack of other reasons that often come across as excuses.

If you are a writer shopping for a word processor to write novels on, there are only three reasons you should not consider Microsoft Word.

  • Your operating system doesn’t support it
  • You can’t afford it
  • You really do hate Microsoft and absolutely refuse to buy anything from them (in which case I imagine you will take equally strong stances against buying things from Apple and Amazon).

Note that I say ‘consider’. That doesn’t mean I think you should automatically go out and buy it, just that it’s one of those programs you should be investigating seriously.

You might find it a better tool than you think.

Because you know what, when you have finally finished agonizing over your manuscript, what are you going to do? You’re going to convert it into a Word document to send on to your agent or your editor.

* SharePoint is a Microsoft program. In their sales brochure Apps4Rent describe how people use SharePoint, which was probably always a better question than what it does.

** In most companies, implementing a program like SharePoint is a decision made by a small group of people and then implemented across the company. Many of those wanting to know about SharePoint are those forced to use it.

For what it’s worth, I like SharePoint. Hence the original blog.

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We’re back

We’re finally back online.

It took longer than expected to recover, because we didn’t know if the database had been compromised or not. As a result, I had to check every record personally before I put it up again. It’s hard work. I’m just glad we did good housekeeping and there was data to check.

I didn’t reinstate comments or trackbacks.

I haven’t finished the site re-design yet. That’s the least of my worries right now.

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We got hacked

We got hacked.

It’s one of the hazards of having an on-line presence, I guess, but it’s still unpleasant when it happens.

The funny thing is, while I don’t like that they got into our website, changed the permissions and inserted rogue code, what really upsets me is that they used our emails to generate spam.

The site is easy enough to fix. We have pre-hack backups and it was time for a redesign.

Emails, however, are your name and your reputation. Changing your email address is like changing your postal address. It’s a lot of work, you always miss notifying someone important. It’s not something you do quickly or lightly.

Besides, it’s your name. It’s how people know you. You don’t want to change your name.

So we wiped the site totally. It will be back better than ever as soon as we get the time to put it back up.

Emails though—we’ll reinstate them and hope for the best. With new passwords of course.

If you got spammed by us, we’re sorry.