This article is not meant to teach you how to use Office XP, but more to explain
how to use the new Task Pane in Office XP to find some of the Office
features that were hidden or missing in previous versions.
Menu instructions are generally fairly straightforward when using Office 97
or Office 2000. However, when using Office XP, if you're given similar Office
97/2000-type instructions telling you to go to the blahblah menu and
choose blahblah option, but you realize you can't find blahblah option
in Office XP, odds are that it's now in your Task Pane. Many Office XP users,
including myself, immediately upon switching to this version of Office, went
to the View menu and turned off the Task Pane in an effort to conserve
screen real estate. But frustration soon set in every time we'd made certain
menu choices and the Task Pane would come back. I finally stopped trying to
get rid of it and decided, instead, to check out just what it can do. I was
pleasantly surprised to find that, in many cases, it actually saves me keystrokes
or mouse clicks.
Here's a basic tour. Not everything is included, but these examples
should be enough to get you familiar with the Task Pane and how it works.
General Task Pane Features
At the top of the Task Pane in all Office XP programs, there's a bar that resembles
the image below. You'll have the Previous and Next arrows to move
through other Task Pane choices. The Name of the particular Task Pane
you're currently in will be displayed next. Then a dropdown menu allows you
to reveal all the Task Panes available to you in whichever program you're using.
Finally, the Close Task Pane button is at the right end.
You can use these Task Pane arrow buttons to easily move from one Task Pane
to another, without having to search through the menus.
The contents of the Task Pane is usually divided into two parts. The information
in the main, upper portion generally shows you the options available in that
Pane. A smaller section at the bottom shows you how to navigate within that
Task Pane or how to get Help.
Let's take a look at all the different application Task Panes available to
you in Office XP.
The Access Task Pane has the least available options, as compared to the other
- New File
This is where you can choose whether you want to open an existing database,
a new blank database, or a new template, web page, or email message. It generally
replaces the window you used to see when you first opened Access.
This replaces the little clipboard toolbar/viewer you had in Office 2000,
where you could paste multiple copies of stuff without having to copy it again.
The nice thing about this is you can delete just one item from the clipboard
by clicking on the dropdown arrow beside the itemwhich you'll see when
you hover your mouse over the item.
This item allows you to search your hard drive for specific files or files
containing specific text.
The top three items in Excel's Task Pane dropdown are basically the same
Insert Clip Art is an additional option on the Excel Task Pane. This
allows you to search for clip art based on key words.
As I mentioned in the section above regarding Access (Clipboard), there are
dropdowns that appear beside any selected item in the Task Pane when you hover
your mouse over the item. I recommend you look into these. For example, if you
hover your mouse over any clip art in the Task Pane and see the dropdown arrow,
click on it and you will get a list of choices, such as Copy, Delete and so
on, as displayed in the image below.
If you click on the Preview/Properties, you can quickly use the <
and > (less than/greater than) buttons to move through the clip art
images to see a preview of each item. Notice that you can also edit the keywords,
which is really cool, since I don't always agree with what Microsoft gives me
when I type in certain keywords. Now I can remove keywords from any clip art
or add my own. The image below shows details of the Preview/Properties window.
FrontPage also has a pretty generic Task Pane. It only includes selections for
the New Page or Web, Clipboard, and Search features.
However, if you go to the Insert menu and choose Picture, then
ClipArt, the Clip Art Task Pane appears. Go figure.
Outlook doesn't have a Task Pane and I don't know why.
NOW WE'RE TALKIN' TASK PANE!!
If you are having any problems understanding PowerPoint 2002 (especially all
the new animation featureswhich are so cool), I highly recommend you use
the Task Pane. And don't forget those dropdown arrows beside the items.
- Slide Layout
This replaces the dialog box that used to pop up every time you chose to add
a new slide and now there are many more choices. Instead of choosing a layout
with one bulleted list and one picture, then having to add additional pictures
or text boxes manually, you can now start out with exactly the layout you
For example, look at the choices in the image below. Now you can have a slide
already laid out for you that includes a bulleted list and an org chart or
table, without going through the whole Insert Object/Create New process.
Also, you can quickly change the layout of any existing slide by simply clicking
on the item in the Task Pane, while the existing slide is displayed on your
You can hover your mouse over any of these layouts for a description of what
- Slide Design/Design Templates
Want to quickly change the template the selected slide is based on? Just use
the dropdown beside the items in the Task Pane to apply the template to the
slide, or to all slides.
- Slide Design/Color Schemes
Again, a quick way to change the color scheme on one slide or all.
- Slide Design/Animation Schemes
This is a nice new addition to PowerPoint for people who don't have the time
or inclination to add Custom Animations to every object on every slide.
Select a slide and choose one of these animation schemes, or hold your control
key down and select multiple slides in the Slide Pane on the left of your
screen and apply an animation scheme to a bunch of them in one shot. Then
see an immediate preview of that scheme.
- Custom Animation
Well, this is an entire article in itself, since Microsoft has finally recognized
the need for a timeline and motion paths in PowerPoint animation. Now, using
this Task Pane, you can add multiple animations to one object, set different
objects to animate at the same time, and even manually draw the path the object
takes as it moves across the screen. What a blessing this one is! I highly
recommend you spend some time here.
- Slide Transition
This replaces the Slide Transition dialog box that you used in the earlier
versions of PowerPoint, and, like the animation schemes, can be applied to
multiple slides in one step by using the control key to select them in the
I'm not sure why Microsoft left Slide Sorter View in the program, since it
appears you can now do everything right in the normal view by using the Slide
Pane and the Task Pane together.
Publisher has to be different and have its Task Pane on the left side of the
screen, instead of the right like all the other programs. Who knows why?
Most of what you see in Publisher's Task Pane replaces what you used to see
when you ran the wizards.
- Quick Publication Options
Let's you easily choose a layout for your publication.
- Publication Designs
Let's you choose one of Publisher's predefined styles.
- Color Schemes
This is where you choose all your colors.
- Font Schemes
And here's where you choose the fonts for your publication. Note the dropdowns
beside the items which let you apply the font scheme from the existing publication
or change the font scheme for any part of the publication.
- Styles and Formatting
Those of you who are familiar with Styles in Word will find this Task Pane
pretty handy. Just click on the button that says Create New Style and
do your stuff!
- Mail Merge
This one takes you through a four-step wizard which easily sets up your mail
merge for you.
The Word Task Pane is just about what you'd expect.
- Styles and Formatting
As with Publisher, if you are familiar with Word Styles, this Task Pane gives
you easy access to modify, delete, or match styles already in existence.
These choices are available to you from the dropdowns beside each Style
listed in the Task Pane.
- Reveal Formatting
OK, you ex-Word Perfect users
it looks like Microsoft finally heard your
pleas for Reveal Codes. Check this one out if you want to see all of
the attributes of any word, paragraph, or section in your document. But don't
forget that understanding Styles in Word is still very important and don't
let this kid you into thinking that formatting is now handled the same as
in WP. If you don't understand Styles, read Dian Chapman's tutorial at this
- Mail Merge
This walks you through the six-step Mail Merge Wizard and replaces
the dialog box you saw in previous versions. Most of it is pretty similar
to the earlier versions, but the main advantage to this upgrade for me is
that the e-mail merge actually works flawlessly! Glory be!
In here, you can translate selected text in your document or type the word
in directly. I just tried it and it worked. I typed vous in my document,
highlighted it, chose Current selection in the Task Pane, chose French
to English in the Dictionary dropdown and hit Go. Word replied
with the following information:
1. personal pronoun subject: you; object: you; (to) you; à vous to
2. reflexive pronoun yourself, yourselves;
3. reciprocal pronoun one another
So, there you go. Task Panes 101 is now complete. Once you understand
how the Task Panes work, I think you'll find adapting to Office XP pretty easy.
Oh, one last thing. If you still don't like the Task Pane and don't want to
see it all the time, check out the checkbox at the bottom of the New Document
(or New File, New Workbook, or whatever you see, based on which program you
are in). You'll notice it says Show at startup. Uncheck this option and
you won't have to see it unless it needs to be there.
Hope this was helpful to you. If you want more information about how to use
the Office programs, check out my Office classes, eBooks, and instructional
CD on my website at this link: http://www.personal-computer-tutor.com.