Return of the file sharer

This week your intrepid InfoTech correspondent is writing from an internet café in Iringa. I am working on a computer with a dodgy keyboard, and few of the usual applications I would use to write an article – namely Microsoft Word. The built in styles, word counter and spell checker are unavailable to me. I am using WordPad, a simple text editor that comes with all versions of Windows. To be honest, apart from the features I mention above, WordPad provides everything a person needs to sit down and type a document. I found resources to check spelling (www.spellonline.com) and count words (www.wordpeddler.com/wordcounter.htm) on the web! Since it lacks many of Word’s features it runs much more quickly.

It is a kind of bare bones programmes that does what you really need and nothing more. If you want to try it, you will find it in the Accessories folder in the Start menu. If it is not there, you can install it from your Windows CD. A lot of useful software comes bundled with Windows and is often overlooked in favour of expensive and thus better marketed programmes.

Sharing documents

What I really want to talk about this week is sharing files. A couple of weeks ago I told you how to share files within an organisation using Windows’ built in networking rather than inefficiently sending a document around the world in order to get in onto the computer of someone sitting next to you. That covers internal sharing of documents. What about sharing with people in a different office? Obviously this is where email is the most efficient method of sharing files. The big issue when it comes to sharing files with people outside of your organisation is compatibility – will the person you send a document to be able to open it? It is easy to make the assumption that everyone has Word and that a document created in Word can be read by anyone you send it to. While most people are likely to have Word, or a word processor that can open and edit Word documents, there are so many versions of Word out there, with all kinds of different features, you can’t say for sure if your carefully formatted document will actually appear the same way on the recipient’s computer. Even when using the same version of Word on both machines, differences in templates, page margins, and printers can spell disaster for a CV that relies on complicated layout for example.

Rather than lose the impact of an eye catching document by simplifying the formatting, there are a few options open to you. One of the neatest is to save your documents as PDF files which are read using Adobe Acrobat. Many people think that this requires purchasing the expensive full version of Acrobat. It doesn’t. When Adobe created the PDF format, they publicised the workings of it so other programmers could use it. Many people are surprised to find that there are free programmes out there that enable you to create PDF documents. The simplest to use is CutePDF Printer, available from
www.acrosoftware.com. CutePrinter installs itself as a virtual printer on your machine. To save as a PDF using CutePDF Printer, simply click on Print, select CutePDF Printer as the printer from the drop down list, and print. You will then be asked where you want to save the resultant PDF file.

The benefit of sending PDFs is that the recipient will see exactly what you saw when you worked on the document regardless of how their computer is set up. An additional benefit is that the recipient cannot make changes to the document. The drawback is that the recipient must have Adobe Acrobat Reader (www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html), the current version of which is a pretty hefty 8.7 Mb download! All the same, many people will have Acrobat.

Where formatting is less important, an option that will enable almost anyone to open a file is to save it as an HTML document rather than Word. You do this by selecting the HTML file type in the Save As… dialogue in Word. Anyone with a web browser will be able to open the document. The down side is that formatting in HTML is a little more flexible than with Word. However, unless you are relying on very complex layouts in Word or including pictures, an HTML version will usually give a presentable version. Another option is to save as RTF, which has much less formatting than Word or HTML, but can be opened by almost anyone. Finally, if all else fails, try saving in text format – this has no formatting at all. The recipient will just get your words, which at the end of the day, is often the most important thing of all.

Originally published in Arusha Times 300

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