It's the holiday season and to celebrate, I want to share some of my favorite free online Office resources. Regardless of your level of expertise, you're sure to find helpful hints and techniques at these sites. All of these sites offer expert advice for no charge in different formats: articles, tips, downloads, and Q&A forums. Some also sell products and offer development and consulting services. Neither I nor TechRepublic.com endorse any of these products or services.
Microsoft.com has an amazing network of tutorials in written and video formats. They also share technical content from several subscription-based publishers. Begin your search at one of the following hubs:
If you're not familiar with Microsoft.com's many support sites, the sheer volume can be overwhelming. Refine your search string is the most helpful advice I can offer.
You already know that TechRepublic is one of the largest and most comprehensive technical content sites available, but are you taking full advantage of everything that's available? Use the Comments section that follows every article to ask (and answer) questions. TechRepublic doesn't require authors to answer questions, but many do. More importantly, other readers do, and they're both knowledgeable and helpful. TechRepublic also maintains public forums where you can spark discussions and ask questions. Other readers and experts frequent the forums and offer excellent advice.
This site doesn't offer free technical content. Rather, this organization's claim to fame is its technical lists, including lists dedicated to MS Office and MS Access. You're probably familiar with the listserv technology, which is an e-mail based community rather than an online forum. It's my go-to network of experts, and it's open to the public.
I've been part of this community for years (many, many years). Unlike most online resources, this organization isn't ad-based; no one makes money off this site or its lists. I have no financial interests and won't make a penny if you join one or more of the available lists.
Most Value Professional (MVP) is an honorary title for professionals who share their knowledge of Microsoft products, for free. This program, created and maintained by Microsoft, is a way for Microsoft to say thank you to these experts and to publicize the efforts of these dedicated people. MVP web site lists web sites that the MVPs host. You can often find tutorials and more advanced articles.
Microsoft also offers an MVP search page. Enter "Office" or one of the Office apps in the Technical Expertise control, and click Search to review a comprehensive list of active MVPs.
If you need information on data exchange, especially if Outlook's in the mix, start your search at Helen Feddema's site. Years ago, I had the privilege of writing for Woody Leonard, and that's how I met Helen. The woman is a force like none other. Visit her site, and you'll see what I mean. She also knits, which makes her a kindred soul, no matter how she makes her living.
I consider Chandoo's work a personal challenge — I try to bust his solutions and I rarely do (but I have). By bust, I mean to find a simpler solution. He uses a lot of code and makes Excel sing. I can't make Excel sing; sometimes it hums along with me (occasionally, it laughs at me).
Nobody knows their way around PowerPoint like Ellen Finkelstein. You'll love her techniques and her willingness to share so many visual tricks. Her list of free articles is longer than Santa's naughty and nice list. Thankfully, Ellen's list is really nice!
What Chandoo does for the seriously obsessed Excel developer, Allen Wyatt does for the rest of us. Now, Allen shares a lot of dynamite code, but he also offers advice that the casual to power user can apply without hurting oneself.
My least favorite app in the Office suite is Outlook. It's difficult for the lone wolf to manage, and so much can go wrong — and often does. When you need help, check out Slipstick.com. Sue Mosher founded the site, and Diane Poremsky now owns and runs it. Both are MVPs and Outlook wizards, and the amount of great information at this site is staggering.
Graham Mayor offers a long list of Word articles that heavily lean toward the developer side. He's definitely mastered the application. Grey Maxey, like Graham Mayor, leans toward the developer side, and he has a lot of slick techniques that'll have your Word gremlins on the run! Dian Chapman, the human behind MouseTrax, offers a number of Office-based email lists (she calls them support groups), but she specializes in Word.
Several experts volunteer to answer questions at AllExperts — a large public Q&A forum for many subjects, not just software. This site is unique; experts list their areas of expertise, and you can choose the most appropriate expert to field your question. One of those expert volunteers, Suzanne Barnhill, is one of the industry's most knowledgeable Word experts. You'll also find AllExperts forums dedicated to Excel, Outlook, and Access.
What about you?
Thanks to the internet, we all have access to a lot of free information. Weeding through the hype to get to the good stuff takes time, so please share your favorite free online resources for Office in the discussion thread below.
It wouldn't be a holiday without lots of hugs and kisses. Thank you for being such a wonderful group of thoughtful and polite readers over the years. Your thoughtfulness renews my faith. Almost every private request or "thank you" that I receive is kind, thoughtful, and polite. If you tried to contact me but didn't receive a response, I apologize. Either I had no solution to offer or your message just fell through a crack. Thank you and happy holidays! Thank you also to the Office experts who freely share their expertise in the comments and forums.
Send me your question about Office
I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise, nor do I ask for a fee from readers. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.