50 tips and (mostly) free tools to extend Windows XP's life

Extend XP today, for free

Office optimising tools for XP

Get more out of Microsoft's Office suite by adding a few extras. Then watch Word, Excel and Outlook perform tricks you never dreamed were possible.

Open Office 2007 files

Microsoft changed its default file format in Office 2007, so you won't be able to open files saved in the new format with older versions of the Office suite. However, if you've got Office 2000, XP or 2003, you can install the Office Compatibility Pack.

Open old files with Office 2003

The introduction of Service Pack 3 (SP3) for Office 2003 saw Microsoft disallow users from opening file formats that predate Office 97, citing security concerns. To re-enable Office to open these files, you have to run a series of Registry hacks. Fortunately, Microsoft has created Registry scripts to make this task easy. Download them, right-click them and select Merge.

Post offline docs online

Online document-processing tools are wonderful, but getting files online — and keeping online and offline versions synched — can be a hassle. Luckily, the Zoho Plug-In for MS Office simplifies uploading your offline documents to the web service and downloading online documents from it.

Make PDF files inside Office

You don't need full-blown Adobe Acrobat to create and edit PDFs. CenoPDF lets you build PDFs without leaving Word, PowerPoint or Excel. After installing CenoPDF, simply choose the PDF printer option. Alternatively, you can build PDF-based forms using text-entry fields, buttons and boxes to be filled out electronically. CenoPDF is free to try, but PDFs will be watermarked. It costs $US29 to buy.

Add holidays to Outlook

Fed up with manually adding public holidays to your Outlook calendar each year? You can input 12 months' worth of holidays at once by clicking Tools, Options, Calendar Options (on the Preferences tab). On the next screen, click Add Holidays, select the appropriate country or countries, then click ok.

Prioritise Outlook data

ClearContext Information Management System offers tools that are useful for organising your Outlook data, starting with a dashboard that provides a consolidated look at your tasks and calendar items.

ClearContext allows you to assign topics (that you define) to messages. It then automatically files subsequent messages in the thread. The system flags your most important contacts based on how often you deal with them, and colour-codes messages based on the sender's importance.

ClearContext reduces inbox clutter by 'snoozing' non-critical messages — that is, by removing them from the Inbox for a specified period of time. The program is free for 30 days, after which it costs $US90.

Become a meeting power user

MeetingSense takes Outlook's rudimentary calendar system and turns it into a powerhouse. An extensive meeting dashboard gives you a hub for making agendas, creating minutes and sending out summaries — all while providing a centralised meeting space where you and other MeetingSense users can share files, make notes and create action items. It's perfect for scattered groups that meet frequently. After a 14-day free trial, the software costs $US199.

Import Outlook contacts to Lotus

Moving your contacts list from Lotus Notes to Outlook (or vice versa) is easy if you use Personal Notes Address Book Import/Export Utility, a free download from Lotus' website.

Open the utility in the same way you would any Notes database and you'll see a simple form; select the file that you wish to convert. Choose the desired operation and hit a button to start the conversion. It's very useful if you're migrating to a new platform, for example.

Bird's-eye view of your contacts

Xobni is inbox spelled backwards, but there's nothing backward about Xobni Insight's cool interface. This provides information about each person that you correspond with as you read messages from them.

Xobni (currently available only if you sign up for a private beta invitation) lives on the right-hand side of your Outlook window. It provides a graphical view of email frequency, contact information and old conversations with each of your contacts. Don't miss the Xobni Analytics feature, which tracks how much email you send and receive every day.

18 ways to tweak Outlook

MAPILab Toolbox is a pile of 18 Outlook add-ons bundled into one big package. Some of the tools are simple; one, for instance, hides fax numbers in contact searches. Others are pure genius, such as a plug-in that scans outgoing email for phrases such as 'see attachment' and displays a reminder if you forget to attach anything. The toolbox is free for 30 days and then costs $US24 thereafter.

Redact text in Word

You know how the police black out sections of documents it deems too sensitive (or embarrassing) for public consumption? You can too, if you download Microsoft's Word Redaction add-in for Office 2003. You can read your own redacted text; but when you export the documents in redacted form, the marked portions can't be read (or edited, if you choose this limitation).

Share Excel files

You can share an Excel file without using a web-based collaboration system. The eXpresso plug-in for Excel lets you store the file while working in Excel, locking it while one user meddles with it and then making it available for others to edit. Email alerts tell you when the file is unlocked. You can even lock specific portions of a spreadsheet to prevent others editing them.

Add demographic data to Excel

A spreadsheet is only as good as its data. But manually adding information (such as the population or the average income in a postcode area) is tiresome. CDXStreamer does the hard work for you.

Install this Excel plug-in and configure it to find information about a region you're interested in. CDXStreamer then grabs the latest content from the web. More than 100 pieces of demographic data are indexed to each postcode.

The free trial lasts 14 days; regular service costs $US30 per month.

Get real-time stock quotes in Excel

Obsolete stock data in a spreadsheet does you no good. The MSN Money Stock Quotes add-on for Excel inserts MSN stock prices (which are delayed by 15 minutes) into any Excel spreadsheet, with updates every time you change the spreadsheet.

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PC Advisor staff

PC Advisor (UK)
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