BY CHARLES BREWER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
If you use Microsoft Office regularly -- and most of corporate America does -- there's a publication you simply must read.
It's called Woody's Office Watch, and it's a weekly free email newsletter about the applications that make up MS Office: Word, Excel, Access and Outlook.
I became a regular reader of WOW (that's what the newsletter calls itself) about a month ago, after the newsletter reported a very serious bug in the Excel 97 spreadsheet program.
The Excel "recalc bug" undoubtedly has screwed up lots of spreadsheets. In tech talk, what happens is this: When you change an Excel 97 spreadsheet, Excel makes a list of all the cells that need to be recalculated. In some circumstances, some cells that should be in the list get omitted, and that can cause all kinds of errors in the spreadsheet.
If you want to see exactly how it works, you can read the March 4 issue of WOW at the newsletter's web site at http://www.wopr.com/wow/wowv3n9.shtml. The issue gives directions on how to recreate the bug -- which should help users understand if their spreadsheets may be affected.
(I should add that the bug is found only in Excel 97 for Windows, and doesn't affect earlier versions of Excel or Excel 98 for Macintosh.) After the story appeared in WOW, Microsoft scrambled to release a "patch" to fix the Excel 97. The patch appeared on the Microsoft Web site a couple weeks later, but WOW reported that the patch really didn't fix the problem. Or fixed the problem in some instances, but not in others.
To see an example of how Excel 97 works (or doesn't work) even after the patch is applied, see WOW v.3 n.13 http://www.wopr.com/wow/wowv3n13.shtml .
Microsoft is working on another patch, which it promises will be released "in early April." You can read Microsoft's version of the problem, as well as find the necessary files to update your Excel 97, at Microsoft's Excel web site http://www.microsoft.com/Excel/default.asp .
Woody's version is that the bug is actually quite deep in Excel's program code and could be very difficult to fix. In the meantime, the Woody's web site offers a work-around solution, as well as a clever macro program to make the work-around easier.
To permanently repair this problem in Excel, you'll need Office 97 Service Release 1, and the big patch for Excel, which Microsoft is now calling Excel 97 Service Release 1, even though it still isn't available.
Woody's newsletter isn't just in the business of pointing out flaws in Excel, it also warns you about problems in Microsoft Word. And it even pointed out a recently discovered flaw in Microsoft Office 98 for the Mac: in some cases, when you run the "uninstall" program, the Mac's system folder ends up in the trash! (Microsoft has released a fix for this problem too, which can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/macoffice/default.asp .
The newsletter offers timely advice about macro viruses (they now affect Excel and Access files as well as Word files), problems and improvements in Outlook 98 (the Office email - collaboration software), Year 2000 issues and lots of tricks and tips.
The new Access macro virus, called AccessiV, was a major topic in the most recent issue, and as usual, WOW offers a way to skirt around the problem, since no commercial virus checker yet looks for Access macro viruses.
There's also an opinion column called YODA (Your Office Devil's Advocate) which has been known to skewer the Redmond behemoth for problems such as these.
To subscribe to the newsletter, just visit the WOW web site at http://www.wopr.com/wow and leave your email address.
And who is Woody? He's Woody Leonhard, a contributing editor to PC Computing and author of several books about Word, Excel and Microsoft Office. He and a group of colleagues produce the newsletter.
Mr. Leonard also sells Woody's Office Power Pack, a package of numerous software utilities that greatly improves how Office applications work, and work together. You can download a free 30-day trial version at the site.
Both the newsletter and the utilities are a great value - at the right price.
Send e-mail to Charles Brewer at CBrewer@enquirer.com.