STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

Vol 45, Issue 4

March/April 2006

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

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STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Book Review

Degunking Microsoft Office

by Robert Delwood, Senior Programmer-Writer

Degunking Microsoft Office
by Christina Palaia and Wayne Palaia.
350 pages, $24.99.

The funny thing about using computers is that they get used. Documents lay around in odd places, system files mess up, and electronic trash—like dust around the house—just sort of accumulates whether we intend for it to or not. In short, the computer gets “gunked up.” Not only does Microsoft Windows gunk things up, but Microsoft Office is notorious for doing it.

What it is

Degunking Microsoft Office, by Christina Palaia and Wayne Palaia, addresses this problem and presents some ways of avoiding it. Gunk collectively refers to anything that slows down the computer, interferes with your operations, crashes applications, or loses data. Gunk could be anything from slow processing, files that horde disk space or eat RAM, to information being hard (or impossible) to find. Gunk also includes anything that wastes time.


Degunking is the act of removing gunk. Degunking can be specific esoteric functions involving low-level operating system details, the registry, or system administration. However, degunking is more a set of practices, hopefully that becomes habits, of continually getting rid of unwanted files and using Office to get the results you want. The truth is we should change our habits a little to conform to Microsoft Office, but those changes are good practice anyway. According to Degunking Microsoft Office, in Office, gunk is caused by three sources: complex operations, disorganization, and careless practices.

Complex operations

There was a subtle change with Microsoft Office 2003. It stopped being a suite of four tools and became a “system.” The intended seamless interaction among the applications comes at the cost of more complexity behind the scenes that inevitably causes problems.

Upgrading to new versions of Office can gunk up your computer. At best, a Typical install can overwrite existing preferences or load features you didn’t ask for. At worst, it can leave behind unneeded files or corrupt previously good ones (although this has become less common in the last two releases).

As with any upgrade or new software, different dynamic library versions (commonly referred to as “DLL Hell”) or conflicting registry entries can gunk up the system. If these files break, there is not much you can do, other than trying to repair or reinstall Office.

In staying with this complexity, Office seems to be going out of its way to create gunk. In one case, it’s the proliferation of temporary files. For example, to open a document, Word actually opens a copy of the file.

However, if your PC or Word crashes before it can close the copy properly, it leaves behind two files. One is an oddly named file (“~xxx.tmp,” xxx being part of the original file’s name). The other is a small file of the same name (with the .doc ending). Over time, these files clutter your system. If Word is not running, you don’t need these files and they can be deleted safely. Use the Windows Search tool to locate *.tmp, funny looking *.doc file names, and *.bkw (back up) files.

Another thing you can do is use the Disk Cleanup utility (Start->Programs->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Cleanup) to remove more temporary and less obvious files. It’s possible that the files got corrupted; you may see error messages when you open a file. Try to open a backup version of the file or a recently saved version. You can try to use the Office backup feature (after you open a file, a list of backup files appears in a separate window ). Use the Open and Repair option on the Open Dialog (the Open button will have several dropdown options). As a last resort, open Word in Safe mode to minimize outside influences (hold down the Ctrl key when you open it).


We are all creatures of habit, and we tend to use applications in the same way over time. This includes experimenting with features as our curiosity gets the best of us or using the same routine over and over. The result may be a disorganized methodology that does not efficiently use resources. The amusement of this wears off when the gunk builds up. This may mean documents take longer to open, scroll, or save. They can also become unstable over time, causing crashes or corrupting data within the file.

Degunking Microsoft Office reminds us that, fortunately, prevention is as simple as tailoring Word to meet your needs. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting or trying new features; Word was designed for this. But keep in mind that each operation can leave behind a trace, a new file, or unwanted preferences.

The trick is, when you create a process, you really want to perform the process only once. For example, set your template (such as the default so that the font, autotext, and styles are consistent each time you create a new document. Although this practice may be an obvious time saver (and have to be performed less frequently than you would guess), the degunking implication is that a myriad of different styles and temporary settings don’t get created.

Careless practices

We all get sloppy in our bookkeeping from time to time, and place files in odd locations. Although this practice is seemingly minor, it becomes harder over time to find files—and wasted time is a type of gunk.

One culprit is the My Folders location. It was never intended to be a single storage location for all your documents; rather it was meant as a convenient location on a computer that is shared among different users. It’s logical to think that, if all your files are in one place, they’ll be easy to find. In practice, the opposite is true.

One thing you can do to avoid this problem is to change the default Open and Save As locations, a feature that is useful as you change projects at home or work. Select Tools->Options->File Locations, and highlight Documents. Click Modify, navigate to the new folder, and click OK.

Understanding how Office stores files is an advantage. For instance, Word uses the last place you saved a file rather than the last place you opened one. E-mail attachments are stored in odd default locations as well, such as C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\OKL7. As a result, it is easy to forget or even lose a file. It gets worse with saving Web source files.

Three time-saving suggestions presented in Degunking are to enable AutoRecover, background saves (but not fast saves), and backup copies. These options are on the Tools->Options->Save tab. They are similar but serve distinct differences.

  • Autorecover is the first line of defense by saving the document periodically as an *.asd file. When Word recovers from a crash, it automatically looks for these files and presents an option to open them. They are displayed as “filename (Recovered)” and are complete files, independent of the originals. You can even specify where those files are stored (Tools->Options->File Locations tab, click Autorecover, and click Modify).
  • Background saves is a shortcut, saving your document periodically. This option is the same as selecting File->Save, but it doesn’t interrupt your typing.
  • A backup file is a copy of your file before edits. Macintosh users will recognize this as the Revert option; it allows you to go back to the file as you opened it. Like most things in Word, this option is not straightforward. Word creates a backup file only after you have saved the original twice. The first Save (or Save As) creates the original document as usual. On the second save, Word saves the edits to the original document but also saves a copy of the file before your last set of edits (with the name “Backup of filename.doc”). Backups can create gunk by making too many of these files.

Other suggestions

Other suggestions that the authors make include showing recently used documents on the File menu, customizing Autocorrect, using picture placeholders in large documents, not using master documents, and customizing spell checking.

Degunking Microsoft Office asserts that it may take a little effort to get and keep Microsoft Office in prime condition, but there’s a payoff. The payoff comes from having fewer crashes, not losing files and, finally, preventing that feeling of wanting to throw your computer out.

For additional information, see: Degunking Microsoft Office.

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