Favorite MS Office Add-ins

I have a confession to make: I love Micro$oft Office 2007 (and 2010). After using Word, Excel and Outlook frequently over the years I had become quite used to the standard menus, features, and keyboard shortcuts; so I was initially quite skeptical when v2007 was announced. But someone challenged me saying, “Just give it a try, and promise yourself you won’t uninstall it until you’ve given it two whole weeks.” So I did, and sure enough I had begun to love the new “ribbon” toolbar, the instant previews, and other new fast formatting features so much that I haven’t gone back since.

Of course, Office 2007 didn’t solve every need, and I still love a good add-in to fill in the feature gaps. So in today’s post I’ll list some of the Office Add-ins that I find essential and/or interesting.

First off, the can’t-live-without add-ins (all free!):

  • Save as PDF or XPS—Generally I depend upon PDFCreator to “print” miscellaneous files as PDFs. But this add-in for MS Office 2007+ (only) easily exports beautiful-looking PDFs; the image quality especially is better than most print-to-PDF options.
  • Search Commands—Office 2007’s ribbon interface is great for quickly accessing the overwhelming majority of often-used commands. But sometimes it can be hard to locate the rarely-used features, and this is where this simple add-in from Microsoft helps you find them by typing related words into a search box.
  • ASAP Utilities—pretty much any feature you might have thought was missing from Excel is included in this Swiss-Army-knife add-in. Especially since my Excel use can be unusual sometimes (I am not necessarily crunching financial numbers, but more often log files or command lines), these additions are perfect. Note that the license is free for home or student use only, so if you’re going to use it at the office please pay for a license so they can continue making this great tool.
  • Chart Advisor—This handy tool helps you decide which charts might be appropriate for visualizing the data you have selected, and helps get the formatting and such ready for you in a jiffy.
  • Forgotten Attachment Detector—It surprises me that this feature isn’t automatically enabled in Gmail and Outlook by default, because it’s so easy to forget to attach the files you mean to send. I’ll admin I haven’t used this particular add-in much, because some time ago I customized a bunch of Outlook functions in VBA and my script included such a feature. But otherwise this add-in is a must.
  • Total Access Analyzer—I’m no big fan of MS Access, but it is unavoidable in today’s workplace. A few years ago I was involved in a big project to update all of the company’s heavily-used Access databases from v97 to v2003, and tools like this one proved essential. Don’t convert without it!

Next, I’ll tell you about a few recent discoveries:

  • pptPlex—the Microsoft Office Labs have released this tool which totally changes the way your PowerPoint flow can work. So far, I like what I see, and am eager to make a presentation in this style very soon.
  • PowerPivot for Excel 2010—This is an extension of Excel’s “pivot” function for data analysis which helps with importing the data from different sources and then presenting it with some powerful drill-down features. Again I haven’t had a need for this yet, but I’m looking for ideas to test it out.
  • MZ-Tools—Generally I would say, “Friends don’t let friends write VBA macros.” But when you must, you must… and this set of additions to the VBA IDE look like they’ll be handy.
  • Miscellaneous Excel Add-ins from J-Walk & Associates—John Walkenbach, maker of a great non-free suite for Excel called the Power Utility Pack (or “PUP”), also wrote some free tools for very specific purposes, including things like conditional row deletion and selection-by-format. His code is quite good, so I would say you can trust any of his tools when you need ’em.
  • Trim Spaces—Could be useful for normalizing your imported CSVs, TSVs, and text files.
  • ChangeUnits—It always bugs me when I have to make new formula columns and look up unit conversion math particularly when converting metric to English measurements. Until the USA really starts using the world-standard metric and its simple base-10 math, this add-in will continue to be useful.

Well, that’s it for today. I hope you find some of these productivity tools as useful as I do!