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Chapter 3. Office File Management for Ex... > Using and Customizing Common Dialog ...

Using and Customizing Common Dialog Boxes

The Open and Save As dialog boxes used throughout Office have a series of shortcut icons on the left side, called the Places Bar (see Figure 3.3), designed to speed navigation through common file locations. As we noted earlier in this chapter, the Office version of the Places Bar looks identical to the one available in the common Open and Save As dialog boxes found in other Windows programs. However, with a small amount of effort, you can easily customize the Office version. The default icons are as follows:

  • My Recent Documents— Opens the Recent folder, which contains shortcuts to files and folders that you've worked with. When you click this icon from within an Office program, Office displays only shortcuts appropriate to the application you're using.


    Don't confuse the Office Recent folder with the Windows system folder of the same name. Office manages a separate Recent folder for each user profile on a system. To manage the Office shortcuts from an Explorer window, enter %appdata%\Microsoft\Office\Recent in the Run dialog box or in the Address bar of an Explorer window.


    The Tweak UI utility allows you to turn off tracking of recently used files throughout Windows; its settings affect all Office programs. To clear the Most Recently Used Files (MRU) list for all Office programs, fire up Registry Editor (Regedit.exe) and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Common\Open Find. Delete the entire Open Find subkey to remove all MRU lists for all Office programs. Office will begin building a new set of MRU lists the next time you use an Office program. This procedure is documented in excruciating detail in Knowledge Base article 312968, http://support.microsoft.com/?scid=312968.

  • Desktop— Opens or saves files on the Windows desktop. Use the desktop as a holding area when you want to create a file and move it elsewhere using Windows Explorer. Using the desktop as a permanent storage area is generally a bad idea because most Office applications have a tendency to create temporary files in the same location as the file you're working with.

  • My Documents — Opens the personal data folder for the user currently logged on. As noted earlier in this chapter, Windows allows you to change the target folder that Office opens when you click this icon.

  • My Computer— Displays icons for local drives and document folders.

  • My Network Places — Lets you manage files stored in shared folders on your network or on WebDAV-compatible servers.

Figure 3.3. Customize the Places Bar by adding shortcuts to commonly used data folders; to see more choices, use the Small Icons option.

In Open and Save dialog boxes, Office includes two features that make it easier to find a file by name:

  • As you type in the File Name box, the AutoComplete feature suggests the first name that matches the characters that you've typed so far. Keep typing, or press Enter to accept the suggestion. Note that the list of files does not scroll as you type.

  • If you click in the list of files and then type a character, Office selects the first file that begins with the letter or number that you typed. If you quickly type several characters in rapid succession, the selection moves to the first file that begins with those characters. If you pause for more than a second between characters, this type-ahead feature resets. Note that as you select files in this fashion, Office does not fill in the File Name box.

To adjust the display of files in the Open and Save As dialog boxes, use the Views button. The drop-down arrow lets you choose from a list of views, or you can click the button to cycle through the following icon arrangements:

  • Thumbnails, Tiles, Icons, and List views mirror their counterparts in Windows Explorer.

  • Details view displays size, file type, and other information, as shown in Figure 3.4; click any heading to sort the list by that category. (If you think that the information in the Type column is useless, we agree. Skip to the “Secrets of the Office Masters: Details, Details” section at the end of this chapter for our suggestion on how to make the Details view much more useful.)

    Figure 3.4. Click the Views button to change the arrangement of icons in the Open and Save As dialog boxes.

  • Properties displays summary information about the selected document in the right half of the dialog box.

  • Preview displays a thumbnail version of the document in the right half of the dialog box as you move from file to file in the list. In general, you should avoid this option because of the performance penalty you pay: As you scroll through a dialog box, the program that you're working with has to open each file; find an import filter, if necessary, and generate the preview. Switch to this view when you want to quickly verify that the file you're about to open is the correct one, and then switch back to List or Details view after peeking at the file.

  • WebView uses an HTML template to display files stored in a SharePoint document library.

Some files, especially certain Excel worksheets, can't be seen in the Preview pane. For suggestions on the possible reasons, see “No Preview in Common Dialog Boxes,” in the “Troubleshooting” section at the end of this chapter.


To manage files in Open and Save As dialog boxes, select the filename and right-click. Shortcut menus here work just as they do in an Explorer window. You can move, copy, delete, or rename a file, for example, as long as the file that you select is not currently open.

Customizing Common Dialog Boxes

The Places Bar can be customized to make it easier and faster to get to frequently used folders. To add your own folders to the Places Bar, select the icon for the folder that you want to add, and then choose Tools, Add to “My Places.” To remove a custom location from the Places Bar, right-click its icon and choose Remove from the shortcut menu. (You can't rename or delete the five default locations on the Places Bar.)


If you add more icons than can be displayed in the Places Bar, small scroll arrows appear at the top and bottom of the list. You can see more icons in the Places Bar if you right-click it and choose Small Icons. Put no more than 15 locations in the Places Bar; with any more, you'll spend too much time scrolling.

To rearrange folders in the Places Bar, right-click an icon that you want to move, and choose Move Up or Move Down.


Both the Open and Save As dialog boxes can be resized by clicking and dragging on any of the edges or corners.

Changes you make to the Places Bar apply to all Office programs.

Naming Documents

Office documents must follow these file-naming rules:

  • A filename may contain any alphanumeric character, including the letters A to Z and numbers from 0 to 9.

  • A filename may be as short as 1 character and as long as a total of 255 characters, including the full path—drive letter, colon, backslashes, and folder names included.


    The rules governing maximum length of a filename include the full path. For this reason, moving a file with a long name can cause problems, especially when the destination folder is deeply nested. In practice, you can avoid this problem and still have descriptive names if you keep filenames to a maximum length of about 40 characters.

  • The following special characters are allowed in a filename: $ % - _ @ ~ ' ! ( ) ^ # & + , ; =.

  • You may use spaces, brackets ([ ]), curly braces ({ } ), single quotation marks, apostrophes, and parentheses within a filename.

  • You may not use a slash (/), a backslash (\), a colon (:), an asterisk (*), a question mark (?), a quotation mark ("), or angle brackets (< >) as part of a filename. These characters are reserved for use with the file system, and you'll see an error message if the name that you enter includes any of these characters.

  • Office files typically include a three-letter extension, which is added automatically by the application that created the file (such as .doc for files created by Word). However, a file extension is not required, nor are file extensions restricted to three characters. To force an Office program to use the exact name and extension that you specify, enter the full name, including the extension, between quotation marks.


    If you use a nonstandard file extension, you might be unable to open the file from an Explorer window. Also, files that include unregistered file extensions do not appear in the Open dialog box unless you choose All Files from the drop-down list of file types.

  • A filename may contain one or more periods. Windows treats the last period in the name as the dividing line between the filename and its extension.


Windows filenames are not case sensitive. Office ignores all distinctions between upper- and lowercase letters when you enter a filename in an Open or Save As dialog box.

Using Alternative File Formats

By default, Office applications save data files in their own binary formats. That's the correct choice in most circumstances, but when you share files with a co-worker who does not use a recent version of Office, you might need to open or save a file in a different format.


In previous Office versions, Rich Text Format (RTF) was often your best choice for saving a file and using it with other programs, especially from software companies other than Microsoft. No more. Nowadays you'll probably find that the easiest way to share data is HTML, which is virtually guaranteed to be readable by any other person, even on a computer without a single byte of Microsoft code.

Office includes a wide range of file converters to help translate files into other popular formats, including those for earlier versions of Office. Normally, Office programs open any file created in a compatible format without requiring any extra work on your part. The file that you want to convert might not be visible in the Open dialog box if it ends with an extension that the Office program doesn't recognize. To see all files with extensions normally associated with a given file type, such as WK1 and WKS files for Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet files, select the appropriate entry from the Files of Type drop-down list. (If you can't see any extensions in Explorer windows or dialog boxes, open Windows Explorer and click Tools, Folder Options; in the Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab and clear the Hide File Extensions for Known File Types check box.)


To see all files in the Open dialog box, regardless of their extension, choose All Files from the Files of Type drop-down list. Some other distinctions in this drop-down list are less obvious but still useful. For example, selecting Word Documents filters the list to show only files with that file type and the *.doc extension, whereas All Word Documents includes Web pages (*.htm) and Word templates (*.dot), as well as ordinary Word documents. Likewise, the All PowerPoint Presentations choice includes any HTML file in addition to PowerPoint presentations and shows.

To save a file in an alternative format, choose File, Save As. In the Save As dialog box, choose an entry from the Save as Type drop-down list.

Office displays the full range of compatible file types in both the Open and Save As dialog boxes. In some cases, you might need to supply the Office CD to install a particular converter before opening or saving a file in that format.

→ To help ensure that Word files that you create can be accessed by users with other versions of Office, seeAvoiding Compatibility Problems,” p. 414.

→ To learn more about Excel file compatibility, seeFile Compatibility Issues,” p. 648.

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