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The glittering and the dull
By Jean-Claude Elias - Dec 22,2016 - Last updated at Dec 22,2016
There are the glittering topics and then there are the more down-to-earth but oh-so-useful ones.
The casual conversation about IT that two people may engage in, often after hours, will usually revolve around topics such as fibre optic Internet connection, artificial intelligence, virtualisation of servers, drones for smartphones and ransomware viral attacks. This is the glittering, the impressive, the trendy and the flashy. It is not necessarily what you have to deal with on a typical day.
There are more mundane — sometimes dull — topics in the realm of IT and it is often more rewarding and more useful to tackle them than to keep thinking of and talking about the more sophisticated, elusive ones.
It is astonishing to notice how much users tend to stay at the surface of most tools and applications, rarely pushing their knowledge of any given product beyond say 60 per cent in the best case and 20 per cent in the worst. And yet, the applications we are given to use today are nothing less than fantastic, provided one makes a little effort and spends a little time learning, going deeper into the hidden functionalities that are at reach.
Microsoft’s Office Suite alone remains largely underused. How many users know that you can search by colour in an Excel sheet, or by font or style (italics, etc…) in a Word document? Or that that you can select a vertical portion of a text (just keep the Alt key depressed before moving the mouse to select), or simply ask Word to speak the typed text out loud, making proofreading and translation tasks much easier.
The text-to-speech functionality has been dramatically improved since MS-Office version 2010. The speech now is smooth, flowing, sounding natural, and its speed can easily be controlled for maximum convenience. Excel also has built-in text-to-speech capability and that can be activated by column or by row; an ideal tool for checking long lists of numbers against a printout for instance.
Many complain that after having thousands of e-mail messages stored in MS-Outlook, both incoming and outgoing, the place tends to be messy. This is simply because the available rules for automatic filing and sorting are almost never applied — or are never learnt in the first place.
The same goes for MS-Access, the advanced database that is available if the pro version of MS-Office. When Excel is just not enough to process long lists, Access constitutes the dream solution. Whereas developing full-scale programmes under Access remains the work of professionals, the casual user can perfectly use the built-in wizard to create simple yet extremely useful databases. When you think that the concept of database is behind the overwhelming number of applications today, the importance of Access becomes obvious, and not using it at all is simply wrong.
Underusing available software tools is a phenomenon that extends to smartphones apps, though perhaps it is not as dramatic as underusing MS Office Suite programmes. We still tend to be happy making a rather shallow use of all these little applications on our smartphone. Even the famous WhatsApp, that virtually every person on earth uses every day, has nice little settings that are ignored by the majority of consumers.
The glitter may be nice, but the practical aspect of technology is what living everyday with computers, smartphones and the Internet, is about.
How well do you know Word and Excel, or any other similar, compatible office suite application for that matter? How many of the functionalities do you really know or use? Aren’t you missing some precious time savers and work enhancers there? Investing a little time and effort in learning advanced functions, commands and hidden tricks may prove very useful and open new horizons.
Apart from games and perhaps photo processing software, most of the applications we use are some forms of database.
A new mobile messaging application called FireChat is empowering nearby smartphone users to stay in touch even when there’s no cellular service or Internet connection.
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