ISSUE 17.18.0 • 2020-05-11

The AskWoody PLUS Newsletter

In this issue

ON SECURITY: BSoDs can be a good thing — really!

BEST OF THE LOUNGE: Patched Win7 versus Linux: Which is safer?

LANGALIST: A weird “Known Folders/Event 1002” error

SMALL BUSINESS COMPUTING: COVID-19: Protecting your customers

OFFICE: The new Office for Android

On Security

BSoDs can be a good thing — really!

Susan BradleyBy Susan Bradley

If your system crashes with an infamous blue screen of death, consider it a cry for help!

BSoDs have always been an ugly side of Windows. Almost invariably, when Windows takes a powder, it’s at a most inopportune moment: right when you’re on deadline, right when you suddenly remember you haven’t hit Save for a while, right when your system is rebooting from an update. I like to joke that computers somehow know when you have to get something done — and now would be a great time to crash or otherwise malfunction. But blue screens of death are honestly a good thing. They are trying to tell you something is wrong with your computer.

BSoDs have also had a humorous side — when they happen to others. Most of us have at one time or another chuckled when seeing the distinctive blue screen at an airport, shopping mall, or movie theater. Who hasn’t been grateful that BSoDs don’t show up in cars? (The only thing possibly worse was Windows rebooting itself in the middle of a TV weather report. Scattered amounts of reboots, anyone?) Need a bit of a laugh? Check out this Oddee post: “12 Most Hilarious Blue Screen of Death Appearances.”

So why is a blue screen of death good?

A BSoD — aka, stop errors, aka fatal exception errors — indicates that a PC has reached a point of extreme instability. BSoDs can result from the failure of almost any system component: hardware, software, drivers, and so forth.

Win10 BSoD
Figure 1. Win10’s BSoD might look a bit friendlier than XP’s or Win7’s, but it still spells trouble.

In most cases, a BSoD displays some sort of error code designed to help a developer or tech find the point of failure. Unfortunately for us mere mortals, the message is gibberish. But then even pros can have difficultly deciphering the clues.

Years ago, we started seeing a rash of BSoDs right after Patch Tuesday. That month saw several updates, so just figuring out which patch was the culprit proved challenging. (This was back before our current all-or-nothing updating.) We were forced to uninstall and reinstall the various patches in an attempt to pinpoint the source.

This was back in 2010, and the miscreant turned out to be update MS10-015. Almost immediately upon its release, Microsoft started receiving calls and posts that customers were in trouble — big trouble. The affected machines wouldn’t boot — not even to Safe Mode! PCs were turned into the proverbial door stop.

In a decade-old YouTube video, Microsoft veteran Dustin Childs discusses the challenges and consequences of updating Windows and Office. About 20 minutes into his talk, Dustin describes how a customer called in to get help with a severe crash problem (MS10-015) from MS Support. Microsoft wanted to solve this issue quickly, for obvious reasons, but couldn’t reproduce the problem in its lab or acquire useful system telemetry. (If a system suffers a BSoD and reboots, it can send event data back to Microsoft.) So the company took the extraordinary step of purchasing the broken machine from the customer.

Eventually, Microsoft discovered that the crashes were a side effect of a malicious rootkit. MS10-015 was reacting to code that wasn’t Microsoft’s. As Dustin says in the video, this patch turned out to be an excellent Windows rootkit testing tool, because it crashed when it sensed defective code entered by hackers. Great for Microsoft, but not so much for its customers. The company then changed Windows kernel updates so they would fail to install when encountering counterfeit code. And it’s also one of the reasons Win10 now has kernel hardening and BIOS protection.

(For the record: Dustin has moved over to the Zero Day Initiative and still writes about Patch Tuesday issues.)

Win10 has fewer BSoDs, but …

Crashes resulting in blue screens of death are far less common in Windows 10 than they were with XP and Win7. I rarely see them these days. In fact, if you’ve ever noticed Win10 “blink” and rebuild the system tray, you’ve probably suffered what would have been a BSoD in those older OSes. Now those events are just a momentary annoyance.

But let’s just say your Win10 system does crash with a classic blue screen. What will help resolve the problem? As long as the system did not completely stop, Windows should generate a BSoD memory-dump file (memory.dmp). And the tool I like best for examining that information is NirSoft’s BlueScreenView. (The NirSoft site has an excellent collection of PC diagnostic tools.)

The utility lets you see what’s in the dump file, giving you — or a service tech — clues as to the root cause (see Figure 2). If the file is saved to the default c: \Windows folder, BlueScreenView will find it. (Note to advanced users: You can move the memory.dmp file from a crippled machine to a working system and view it with BlueScreenView.)

View of dump file
Figure 2. A Vintage BSOD from a Win Server 2012 R2 system: the crash was triggered by Bitlocker and outdated firmware.

The object of the dump file is to help reveal what file or driver was involved in the crash. BlueScreenView shows you the crash information in date order. Typically, the older the data on a driver issue, the more likely you can ignore it — the driver probably has been fixed or replaced by now. On the other hand, recent entries probably provide a clue to the incident.

For example, if particular drivers are listed in the lower part of the viewer pane, they were in memory when the system crashed — and are good candidates for further investigation. I often find old video drivers listed, in which case I search for newer drivers. In other cases, Googling the stop-error code will give me a hint as to the cause.

Yes, most of the information in a dump file will be gibberish to the average Windows user. But any crash information you can glean might help service techs — or members of the AskWoody Lounge — find a solution.

Bottom line: The next time you get a BSoD, you’ll know that your computer is informing you — in dramatic fashion — that it has a significant problem. Even if you’re not a Windows troubleshooting virtuoso, use NirSoft’s BlueScreenView to gather crash information. And remember, one of your best resources for general computing help is the AskWoody forums.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

In real life, Susan Bradley is a Microsoft Security MVP and IT wrangler at a California accounting firm, where she manages a fleet of servers, virtual machines, workstations, iPhones, and other digital devices. She also does forensic investigations of computer systems for the firm.

Best of the Lounge

Patched Win7 versus Linux: Which is safer?

Upgrading to Windows 10 isn’t everyone’s idea of creating a safer computing environment. Some people are weighing whether to harden their Win7 environment to the extent possible or to take the more challenging step of veering away from Windows altogether.

For Plus member Larry B, staying safe and comfortable online means keeping Win7 fully patched, working in a standard user account, and running a battery of security apps: Microsoft’s EMET, ZoneAlarm Free Firewall, Kaspersky Free AV, and Firefox 75.0.0 in a sandbox. Well, mostly comfortable. As noted in his forum post, Larry prefers to use Linux Lite (more info) for online financial tasks and visiting unfamiliar websites. Larry’s question for fellow Loungers? Which OS is safer to use? And the debate is on.


Resident all-things-Apple guru Nathan Parker regularly delivers advice and information to current and would-be macOS users on the AskWoody forum. In a recent post, Nathan answers a Mac newbie’s question about printers — and other Lounge denizens add their tips.


It’s easy to be confused by Win10’s evolving patching tools. Fortunately, Da Boss PKCano is continually updating the AskWoody post “AKB2000016: Guide for Windows Update Settings for Windows 10.” The guide walks users through the maze of settings that help manage patching in Win10 Pro and Home editions. It’s an excellent resource for both individuals and small-business owners.


Plus member gwilki‘s ThinkPad X220 laptop, running Win10 1909, refused to connect to the Microsoft Store. Instead, the machine displayed “Error code 0x800704cf.” But two desktops would connect. Not one to give up easily, gwilki tried various fixes — including connecting to the Web from a McDonald’s parking lot. Fellow Loungers offered their suggestions, but none proved the cure. Sometimes, the fastest and surest solution is to reinstall Windows.


You might be still vigorous at 80+ years, but most likely your hands are no longer as steady as they once were. This is the dilemma for Plus member dmwood when using a mouse. A jiggling pointer is especially frustrating when precision is called for. Forum members offer tips for changing mouse settings plus programs that can help keep things steady. Do you have a suggestion that might help computer users with age-related issues? Come on over and share!

MS Office

Plus member Casey H is running Microsoft Office 2010 on a laptop. When Casey clicks links in a document, the message “This operation has been canceled due to restrictions in effect on the computer. Please contact your system administrator” pops up. But the links work fine on another PC running Office 2016. Casey tried numerous possible fixes before finding the solution — turning Internet Explorer 11 back on. Ode to Microsoft.

Windows 10

So you’re conscientious about keeping updates current and like to view your machine’s patch status. But as Plus member hms discovered after upgrading from Win7, Win10 Pro doesn’t display all updates in one place. With help from Lounge members, hms now knows where to look for Windows Defender patches.

If you’re not already a Lounge member, use the quick registration form to sign up for free.


A weird “Known Folders/Event 1002” error

Fred Langa

By Fred Langa

Windows’ system-managed Known Folders (Documents, Desktop, Pictures, Music, Videos, etc.) rarely cause problems. But when they do, the fix can be messy.

There are basically two options: a detailed diagnosis and repair — with uncertain outcome — or a crude but almost sure-to-work end run around the problem. It’s your call!

Vague error message foils troubleshooting

Longtime AskWoody member Mark Guenin encountered an unusual problem:

  • “I’ve been having trouble with my Dell laptop, and I tried your advice in “Unrelenting flood of EVTX files chokes 1TB drive” (AskWoody Plus 2020-04-20) to troubleshoot it. (I’m running Windows 10 Pro version 1903.)

    “For the past few months, I’ve had intermittent app-lockup problems. For example, when using Chrome and downloading a PDF from a website, the browser will hang when it gets to the Save As dialog box. At first, I used Task Manager to close Chrome — but then other already-open windows stopped responding.

    “So I tried terminating Windows Explorer in Task Manager — and that sometimes ‘woke up’ the Chrome Save As dialog box. (Interestingly, when you highlight Windows Explorer in Task Manager, the action button changes from End task to Restart.) In some instances, Windows Explorer wouldn’t stop, and I might get the error message “Task Manager (not responding).”

    “Anyway, I’ve viewed my Windows event logs, and there are dozens of “Event ID 1002” entries that involved the Microsoft-Windows-Known Folders API Service.

    “Any thoughts?”

Yes … mostly sympathetic ones. I’m afraid you’re in for a bit of a ride.

Mark did exactly the right thing in examining event logs. It not only let him find 1002 events, it also showed that they were related to “Known Folders API Service.” (Event ID 1002 usually refers to some kind of compatibility problem. An API is the “application programming interface” by which other apps can access whatever service or functions the API offers.)

Windows’ KnownFolders class is a special type of storage location in Windows (Microsoft info) that contains user content. Known Folders include default Libraries (Documents, Downloads, Desktop, Pictures, Music, Videos, and so forth) plus optional/add-on locations such as HomeGroups, removable devices, and media servers. Access to Known Folder locations is mediated through the Known Folder API.

Based on Mark’s description of the problem, the error occurs when an app — i.e., his browser — tries to use the API to save something to a Known Folder location such as Documents or Downloads.

Knowing what Mark knows — when and how the problem occurs, that it’s an Event 1002, and that it specifically involves the Known Folders API Service — it sure sounds like enough information for effective troubleshooting, doesn’t it?

Ha! After most of a morning spent wading through a pile of documents and posts on TechNet, Microsoft.answers,, and numerous other message boards, no definitive answer popped out — no “do this …” to cure the problem.

Instead, I found an entire constellation of vaguely related problems, any one of which might generate that kind of error. Sigh!

So, what’s the next step? There are two possible approaches. One involves a lot of careful diagnostic work, spelunking different parts of your PC setup and tinkering with its software. If you go this route, you could spend oodles of time and effort — with no guarantee of success. Issues with mangled security settings, for example, can be a nightmare to sort out, and attempted repairs can cause more problems than they cure.

The surer and probably faster option is a full reinstall. And the upcoming Win10 2004 release presents an opportunity to install a fresh, from-scratch, once-and-done setup. For certain, this is the more drastic of the two solutions, but it’s almost sure to resolve your problem in less time and with less hair-pulling frustration than trying to manually track down and correct a deep-seated error with many potential causes.

If it were my system, I’d choose the sure cure — a full reinstall. But it’s up to you.

To help you decide, here’s an outline of both routes. In each case, I’ll assume you already have a full, current, known-good backup; that your PC is fully up to date (OS, drivers, apps, etc.); and that there are no other known glaring malfunctions present in the PC.

Fully manual diagnosis and repair

Start with your hard drive. Problems with the disk(s) — slow spin-up, file corruption, high fragmentation, mechanical issues, driver issues, and so forth — can cause Event 1002–type problems. You’ll want to verify that your HDD or SSD is operating properly, that it’s not saddled with logical (i.e., chkdsk-detectable) problems, and that all drive-related drivers are current and fully Win10-compatible.

These articles can help:

  • Tools for monitoring drive health – AskWoody Plus Newsletter 2020-02-03)
  • Let your PC start the new year right! – AskWoody Plus Newsletter 2020-01-13 (Scroll down to the Check drive health section.)

If your drives are healthy, check next for software compatibility issues.

The easiest way to tell whether you’re experiencing an OS- or app-level issue is to start Win10 in Safe Mode, which boots your PC with no (or as little as your system allows) add-on software. (See the Safe Mode refresher included in “Sweeping out ‘undeletable’ logs,” AskWoody Plus 2020-05-04).

If the problem persists in Safe Mode, Windows itself may be to blame. Run the system file checker sfc /scannow (info) to find and correct problems with Windows’ core files.

It’s also smart to make sure Windows Update didn’t drop the ball in some past action. See Microsoft’s guided article “Fix Windows Update errors.”

If the Event 1002/Known Folder errors are not generated by Windows’ core files, then some add-on app, driver, or utility (one not part of the core Windows setup) is likely to blame. Exit Safe Mode and begin disabling, uninstalling, or otherwise removing your PC’s user-installed applications, utilities, and drivers to reveal which software was causing the issue.

Start with low-level utilities or apps that insert themselves into the flow of data between your hard drive and other apps, as this intrusive behavior could cause trouble in finding or accessing Known Folders.

For example, third-party anti-malware or security tools may examine literally every byte of data coming from or going to the hard drive. That can delay or alter OS access enough to generate an error. Third-party indexers, disk-maintenance tools, or anything else that performs heavy file work or disk accesses can have a similar effect.

So disable or uninstall all such apps — one by one, rebooting between each change — until the problem goes away. Once you’ve found the problematic software, remove it permanently and find a better, more-compatible replacement.

Still no luck? Look to the rest of your apps. A built-in Win10 troubleshooting system can check apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store for compatibility issues. Type “troubleshoot” into the search box and click Troubleshoot settings when it appears (or click to Settings/Update & Security/Troubleshoot). On the Troubleshooting page, you’ll usually find the Windows Store Apps tool at the very bottom of the right-hand pane, as shown in Figure 1. (For more information on fixing apps from the MS Store, see the related help page.)

Windows Store app troubleshooter
Figure 1. The built-in Windows troubleshooter tools can fix numerous issues — including compatibility issues with Windows Store apps.

Note: Unfortunately, the Troubleshooter can’t help with apps obtained from outside the Windows Store. For those, you have to slog through a trial-and-error process, removing the apps one by one until you identify (and possibly replace) the culprit. I suggest you start with your oldest programs, as they’re more likely to have compatibility issues with Win10.

Still no dice? Try resetting Permissions/Security on your PC — at least for the problematic Known Folders. You’ll find detailed permissions/security-settings info in “Win8 upgrade error locks user’s files” (AskWoody Plus 2015-05-21); the same techniques can work on Win10.

However, keep this in mind: That older article was about the relatively safe prospect of unlocking user files on an external drive — not messing with fundamental security or permissions settings for the system’s Known Folders. (It’s especially problematic when we have no idea of what caused the problem in the first place!) For me, blind tinkering with security settings is simply too risky to make this a practical option. But that’s just me.

So you can surely see why this isn’t my go-to solution. Tracking down all the possible reasons for the Event 1002/Known Folder issue could take literally days — and still not deliver the results you want. In fact, you could go through all that and end up worse off than before, especially if you’ve altered core system files or changed system-managed permission/security settings along the way.

The ‘full-reinstall’ option

When confronting an obscure, deep-seated, difficult-to-resolve system error, I prefer to go with a full Windows reinstall. It’s the sensible, efficient, and expedient solution.

Using installation media on a bootable flash drive or DVD lets you set up a fresh Windows system completely from scratch — with absolutely nothing carried over from the current (and failing) installation. It gives Windows a 100-percent clean slate and increases the odds of getting everything (including the Known Folders) set up properly from the start.

Yes, a full reinstall is no walk in the park. It’ll likely take at least several hours to get everything reinstalled and running. But that’s usually less time and far more certain to work than laboriously wading through exhaustive, multi-layered, one-app-at-a-time diagnostic steps, hoping that maybe you’ll find a solution that won’t cause other problems.

You can do a full reinstall anytime using a fresh copy of the current Win10 installation files, downloaded for free from Microsoft (see the “Create Windows 10 installation media” section on the MS Download Windows 10 page). Or wait a while and use the new Spring 2020 (aka “2004”) version of Win10 — preferably when it gets the thumbs-up from Patch Lady Susan Bradley or one of your other trusted sources.

Either way, the Win10 full-reinstall process has been extensively documented. For example, check out “How to clean-install a Windows 10 upgrade” (Windows Secrets 2015-09-10). Skip down to the section “A bare-metal install … .” Or see the Microsoft article “Start fresh with a clean installation of Windows 10.”

Although I think the bare-metal reinstall is your best bet, you can also try the Reset/Remove everything option that’s built into Win10. You’ll find that technique documented in “Removing bloatware and OEM mods from new machines” (AskWoody Plus 2019-12-09). It is, however, less thorough than a bare-metal install and may not solve your problem.

Also, take your time reinstalling your software. If the problem pops up again, you’ll have a better idea of who the miscreant is.

Bottom line: I wish I could offer an easier solution, but I truly think a full, clean reinstall will get you a correctly working system in less time and with greater certainty than trying to finesse manual repairs on the current, malfunctioning system. Good luck!

Send your questions and topic suggestions to Fred at Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Fred Langa has been writing about tech — and, specifically, about personal computing — for as long as there have been PCs. And he is one of the founding members of the original Windows Secrets newsletter. Check out for all of Fred’s current projects.


COVID-19: Protecting your customers

Amy Babinchak

By Amy Babinchak

As an IT-services firm that often works directly with our clients, we’ve had to develop policies for safely returning to the field.

Those policies aren’t just for our safety; they are also designed to give our clients the comfort and confidence needed to let us back into their offices. (This is a two-way street; we must be assured that the customer has plans for our safety, too.)

This requirement isn’t unique to IT firms — every service business needs to establish post-pandemic plans for working with customers, face to face.

Just today, I received an advertisement from a local appliance repair company advising that they are open again for business. The ad also noted how the company is protecting employees, and what it expects from customers. All service-industry businesses should do something similar. Not doing so will tell you much about the company and its concern for customer safety.

Here, as an example, are the slightly edited “Appliance Requirements for Safe Service,” detailing what is expected of the customer.

  • Clean appliance and have an uncluttered area six feet around the appliance;
  • No children or pets anywhere near appliance or technician;
  • No one in home with a temperature, sick, or in quarantine;
  • No one in home coughing or sneezing;
  • Customer to remain 12 feet from technician during repair;
  • Clean and available area for technician to wash hands.

Plans will, of course, vary depending on the type of work, the location, and local regulations. But again, every service business needs a policy.

Complicating matters is the rapidly changing list of state rules — many delivered via executive order. If you manage a business, you’ll have to keep up with the evolving safety requirements. In Michigan, for example, this week saw significant re-opening of stores — but also a requirement to wear protective masks while in public. Previously, using a mask was a suggestion; now it isn’t. In addition, county health departments are issuing their own requirements.

At times, these quickly changing rules might seem capricious. But here are two things to keep in mind: we are all learning as we go along, and what medical researchers know about the virus is constantly changing. That means new theories, new ideas, and making adjustments when previous understandings prove to be wrong.

In short: Our plans must be flexible.

Safety aside, legal liability is a compelling reason to develop a back-to-business plan. I suspect that employers will soon get health-plan requirements from their insurers. So we might as well be ready for that obligation. Again, employees have a right to be safe at work, and customers have a right to feel safe when your staff enters their businesses. The trick will be to both balance and meet these requirements, lest we hear from an attorney sometime in the future.

Below, I’ve provided a blueprint for my business’s safety plan. Don’t simply adopt it (or any other business’s plan) for your situation — you must come up with one of your own, based on consultations with your lawyer, accountant, and any other advisor you trust. Consider this just a way to start thinking about the task.

An outline: “How we will protect our clients”

We must come up with messaging that clearly conveys to clients that we care about our employees — and theirs. The document will let customers know what our procedures are going to be, and what we expect from them.

  • To the extent possible, we will continue to do our work remotely.
  • When we must be onsite, clients will provide a clean and healthy space for our staff:
    • Before a technician arrives onsite, clients will sanitize all equipment our techs might touch — including but not limited to computers, peripherals, phones, copiers, cameras, alarms, time clocks, and so forth.
    • All solid surfaces — desks, chairs, counters, door handles, bathrooms, etc. — should be clean and sanitized.
    • Business staff not wearing masks and gloves should stay more than six feet from our techs.
    • Everyone in the locations where our techs might be present should be free of symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as coughs and fevers.
  • Our staff will adhere to a specific health and safety regimen, including:
    • Take and report their temperature at the start of the workday;
    • Clean and sanitize any computer equipment, tools, and computer bags they might carry into a client’s office;
    • Put on disposable protective gloves and a mask before entering a customer’s business;
    • Limit the total daily time spent in clients’ offices to no more than four hours, regardless of whether it’s one site or several;
    • Remain out of locations where social distancing is not possible;
    • Refrain from joining gatherings at customer locations;
    • Join business meetings only via voice/video conferencing.

We will also document — daily — that we are following our own health-and-safety requirements. Bottom line: If it’s not recorded, the precaution didn’t happen.

To manage that process, we’re creating a custom app using Microsoft 365 tools — no coding required. The documentation process will consist of a simple form.

Building a health-and-safety check-off app

The goal of our custom “Daily Health and Safety Verification” form is to give staff a quick and simple method for ensuring compliance with the new policies. At the start of each workday, every employee must document that they’re healthy and properly equipped for safety — before traveling to any client site.

Using Microsoft Forms, we created an app that runs on a Web browser or mobile phone (see Figure 1). The form is interactive, and the entered information is stored in Microsoft 365. (Click here to try the form yourself.)

Daily Health and Safety Verification form first screen
Figure 1. The opening window of our Daily Health and Safety Verification form

The form starts with just two questions: your current temperature and the health of everyone in your household. Depending on the answers, the form then branches to other screens. In Figure 2, I’ve clicked Yes to “Are there any people in your household with COVID or flu-like undiagnosed symptoms?” A third question then appears.

Question 3
Figure 2. If the answer to Question 2 is Yes, a box for details pops up.

If the employee clicks “No” to the second question, the form displays a different Question 3 (see Figure 3) — whether they will they be visiting client offices today.

Question 3 - Office visits
Figure 3. The Health and Safety form keeps things fast and simple.

If the tech will be at a client’s site, a series of additional questions appears in the form, as shown in Figure 4. (Clicking “No” to the “visiting clients” question simply closes the form.)

Safety preparation questions
Figure 4. This part of the form gets to the heart of COVID-19 safety preparation.

The main point of these questions is to give each of our staff a checklist of required safety steps before they leave their office. (Most of our techs work from home when not visiting customers.) To some extent, this is an honor system. But it also creates ongoing documentation that the techs have been following company requirements.

Before a tech is allowed to enter a customer’s office, all of these questions must be answered with “Yes.” But we’ve added an “Other” field, should they need to record a comment or explanation.

Evaluating the answers

By default, MS Forms gathers the answers into an Excel spreadsheet (see Figure 5). Because the main purpose of the form is to remind our techs of these new policies — and to verify that they’re following them — we decided that keeping the information in Excel is sufficient.

Summary of completed H&S forms
Figure 5. The collected Health and Safety entries are easily reviewed in a simple Excel sheet.

Forms also lets you review completed forms individually (Figure 6). I find it easier to scan through the Excel-based summary. But the choice is yours.

Viewing a completed form
Figure 6. MS Forms natively offers a form-by-form view.

Allowing our techs to complete the form on their mobile phones (see Figure 7) makes the entire process faster and easier. They can even have a thumbnail for the app on the phone’s home screen.

Mobile H&S app
Figure 7. Our custom form runs as an app on mobile phones.

Some businesses might opt for paper-based forms. But in our situation — and, I suspect, many others — that simply isn’t practical. We’d have to ensure staff send them in, find a suitable way to store them, and then review them one by one. Browser-based solutions are better than paper, but they require an Internet connection. These days, everyone has a smartphone in their pocket — which means a simple, phone-based app such as ours will work under almost any circumstances.

All of us in business have a new set of obligations that we would never have imagined just a few months ago. But we also have the tools to make them manageable.

Stay safe out there.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is also always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Amy Babinchak is the owner of three IT-related businesses: Harbor Computer Services, Third Tier, and Sell My MSP. She has been working in the IT field with small and medium businesses for more than 20 years. She’s also a Microsoft MVP and has received numerous leadership awards.


The new Office for Android

Lincoln Spector

By Lincoln Spector

Microsoft recently took a major step in letting us do some work while we’re running around town (which we look forward to doing again, someday).

For years, MS Office on Android phones and tablets wasn’t really Office; it was a collection of separate and watered-down versions of Word, Excel, and so forth. But the new Office Mobile for Android (info page) combines Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, along with some additional capabilities, into a single app. The new Office is now a fairly useful suite … for use on smartphones and tablets, especially because it’s still free!

Which isn’t to say that it’s perfect. Some of the choices Microsoft made seem extremely odd. But overall, Office Mobile is a major step forward. (You can still download separate versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, OneDrive, and others. There’s also a new Office Mobile for iOS; it mostly looks and works like the Android edition — but oddly, it’s not optimized for iPads.)

Of course, “free” is relative. The Mobile edition is an even better tool if you have an Office 365 account. If you don’t, you can’t, for instance, track and review changes or turn Excel data into maps. Because Office 365 includes a terabyte of cloud storage, subscribers can potentially access all their files from Office Mobile (assuming they’re in OneDrive and you have an Internet connection). Microsoft posted a list of the additional features that come with an Office 365 subscription.

Let’s take a look at the app!

Getting started

When you launch Office Mobile, it opens to a homepage with a list of recent documents (see Figure 1). Simply tap one, and it opens.

Office Mobile Home screen
Figure 1. Office Mobile’s Home screen shows recently accessed files.

But let’s take a step back. Take note of the three icons at the bottom of the screen. Tapping the first one, Home, won’t do anything — you’re already there.

To create a new document, click the icon in the middle: a plus sign within a circle. Of the three options that appear, select Documents. The screen that opens next will give you options for new Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents (see Figure 2).

Create new documentTITLE
Figure 2. The create-new-document screen lets you add content, open a blank document, workbook, or presentation, or start from a pre-made template.

“Blank document” is obvious, but creating a document from templates requires some explanation. When you tap that icon, you get a choice of 24 templates — pre-made layouts created by Microsoft. But what about the custom templates you’ve already created in the full version of Word? As near as I can tell, there’s no way to add your own templates to the list.

There is, however, a workaround — though it’s somewhat annoying. At the Home screen, tap the folder icon near the upper-right corner of the screen. From there, you can access your own templates folder, whether it’s in OneDrive, Dropbox, your phone, or wherever. Once you’re in that folder, you can find and tap the template of your choice, and a new blank document opens.

Working with files

Someone, probably Steve Jobs, decided that people should not have direct access to their smartphone-based files. Unfortunately, that causes problems with office apps. As with the template problem, there’s a workaround, though it takes a bit of effort.

In short, be extremely careful about opening and closing existing files. If you leave an Office file open in Windows, you can mess up the document in Android. Yes, the app will tell you that there’s a newer version of the file than the one you have in front of you, but the message is small and near the top. It’s easily missed.

And then there’s file location: Office knows where it wants to save newly created files, but it doesn’t know where you want them saved. Be sure to always select the Save as option. From there, you’ll have control over where the file is stored.

Working with Word

Ever try to read, let alone write, a full-page document on a phone’s screen? It’s really impossible. In Office Mobile, Word has an icon that looks like a phone (see Figure 3). If it’s showing, you’re in Print Layout mode. (Sometimes it’s near the top-right corner; other times, in the bottom-right.) Clicking the icon switches the window to Mobile View — which is the mode you’ll want to use for writing or editing tasks.

Word document
Figure 3. When entering text, be sure you’re in Mobile View. If a phone-like icon is showing, click it.

Note that you can’t simply open an existing Word document and start typing. You need to first tap the Edit icon, which looks like a pencil.

We all know about the trials of text entry on a smartphone — especially if you tap, tap, tap. Using dictation and swiping will enable reasonably fast data entry. Either way, you get a rudimentary form of spellchecking. But the new Office has the real deal — a spellchecker nearly as capable as the desktop version. That’s especially useful if, like me, you have an Android tablet with a real keyboard.

“Nearly” is the operative word. In Windows Office, I use AutoCorrect to type faster. For instance, I’ve set Word so I can type int and get Internet. I can’t do that in the Android edition.

Excel doesn’t always excel

Don’t even think about setting up a new and complex spreadsheet on your phone. The limits of the screen size will drive you crazy. But mobile Excel (Figure 4) is useful for viewing, adding, and otherwise modifying data — or for creating simple spreadsheets with just a few columns.

Mobile Excel
Figure 4. Mobile Excel has a lot to offer, but a phone’s small-screen format makes any complex task difficult.

Here’s one nice touch: If you select a range of numbers, a banner appears, giving you stats about the selection — including sums, averages, counts, numerical counts, maximum, and minimum. What’s missing? Median!

The new mobile Excel offers some fine tools. You can, for example, create and name sheets, filter data, and change colors. You can even photograph a printed table and turn it into a spreadsheet — although it doesn’t always do it right.

One thing really annoyed me. You know how in Windows Excel, you can enter a series of numbers such as 1, 2, 3 into a column and then pull down the selection to autofill, say, 4, 5, and 6? It doesn’t appear to be an option here.

PowerPoint: Just for show

Again, you’re not going to do much
creative work on the mobile edition of PowerPoint. You’ll want to build presentations on a PC and then use the phone only for quick fixes — and, of course, for putting on an actual show.

When you do make changes to the layout, hold the phone horizontally; it’ll be significantly easier to see your work (see Figure 5). On the other hand, you might find editing text easier with the phone held vertically.

Mobile PowerPoint
Figure 5. The mobile version of PowerPoint is mostly useful for quick changes and making presentations.

In any case, entering or editing text can be a bit tricky. First, tap the text block you need to change — that brings up a horizontal menu, and the last option on that menu is Edit Text. This puts a cursor at the end of the text block, enlarges the view (an excellent idea), and pops up the virtual keyboard.

You can change fonts and color, add bullets and numbering, and so on. But as I said, it’s much easier to do the bulk of the work in desktop PowerPoint.

Taking action: Some smaller features

On the app’s Home screen is a pull-down menu of Office tools (see Figure 6). Along with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, it lists PDF, Media, and Notes — minor-but-still-useful features in Office Mobile for Android.

Dropdown menu
Figure 6. Clicking the down arrow next to “Home” provides quick access to Office Mobile features.

PDFs: Have you ever downloaded a .pdf that needs your signature? You can sign your name on your phone, save it, and then place and size it anywhere on a PDF. Saved PDFs can be marked up with digital pens (see Figure 7). Various types of files — Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and images can be quickly saved as PDFs.

Scan and convert to PDF
Figure 7. In this example, I scanned, signed, and annotated a movie ticket.

Media: This is more of a place than a tool. It’s a collection of photos you’ve used within Office — for instance, the hard copies you’ve scanned. You can share these images in their original form or as PDFs, and you can, of course, delete them.

Notes: Microsoft’s excellent and powerful note-taking tool is OneNote. It’s available as a separate and free app for Android, but Office Mobile doesn’t include it. Instead, Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, gave Office Mobile an unbelievably weak substitute called … Notes. Its capabilities are limited to text formatting, creating one level of bullet points (they can’t be collapsed), and inserting photos.

Stick with OneNote or the note-taking tool of your choice.

All-in-one Office

Again, many of the tools in standard Office are available as individual — and hobbled — apps for Android. They’ve improved over the years, but you still have to use them as separate programs. On a phone, putting the key parts of the Office suite (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) into one app makes for a faster and easier experience. But there’s still lots of room for improvement; let’s hope Microsoft continues to make enhancements that will benefit mobile workers.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains the blog, His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.

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