10 cool add-ins for Office users

Add-ins let you enhance your Office apps so they can do more things—and do things better. Susan Harkins combed through the vast sea of Office add-ins to produce this list of winners.


Image: iStock/jacoblund

As good as the Microsoft Office suite is, some features could be better. Luckily, there's no shortage of add-ins to help fill the gaps. Add-ins are files that enhance existing functionality, making it easier for you to get your work done. Sometimes, this added power comes at a price: Not all add-ins live up to their promises. But the following Office add-ins definitely deliver. They'll help you work more efficiently, and some of them will help you do things you might not otherwise be able to do. (These add-ins may or may not work in the online applications; they all work in the desktop versions.)

1. Everything

Although Windows and Office search capabilities have evolved and improved, you might want to take a look at Everything, by VoidTools. Everything isn't a traditional add-in. Rather, it's an administrative tool that locates files and folders by filename. It isn't limited to Office files either, so that's a bit of a bonus. You type in a search string, and Everything displays a list of matching files and folders. The response is almost instantaneous for normal systems. That's all it does, but it does it well. It's faster than Windows and you don't lose the list if you momentarily review another folder, as you do in Windows Explorer.

This tool is free.

2. E-mail Follow-up

Waiting on an email response is tedious—not because you're waiting, but because you forget you're waiting. Well, I do. Then the project slides a bit and it's my fault because once I sent the email request, I moved on to something else. Outlook tries to help. You can assign a reminder to an email when you send it, which adds an item to your To-Do list. Unfortunately, Outlook doesn't support reminders for IMAP accounts—that's a huge disadvantage! E-mail Follow-up lets you set a response time when you create the email or respond to a message. If the recipient hasn't responded by the allotted response time, this nifty little add-in reminds you that you're still waiting on a response. It's extremely handy—certainly better than the post-it notes I use to use!

E-mail Follow-up is $24 for a life-time license. You can download it free for a 20-day trial.

SEE: 10 free alternatives to Microsoft Word and Excel (free TechRepublic PDF)

3. Woodpecker

Although Woodpecker Legal Document Automation is marketed to legal professions, anyone can benefit. This add-in lets you standardize documents—that's its claim to fame. If you write similar letters and documents, you can quickly customize a template. Although Word offers building blocks and templates, this add-in is easier to use. In addition, you don't have to maintain a library of templates.

This add-in is free.

4. FreeFileViewer

Sometimes, the simple stuff is the best. FreeFileViewer lets you view a number of formats so you need only one viewer. Using FreeFileViewer, you can read a PDF, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, and more. You can even play music files. There's not a lot else to say about FreeFileViewer, but as a no-nonsense viewer, it performs well.

This add-in is free. With free but limited online versions of Office apps now available, you might not need a dedicated viewer, but if you frequently work offline, it's handy.

5. ASAP Utilities

This Excel add-in is probably one of the most popular, and it has endured. ASAP Utilities is the go-to application for both frequent and infrequent users, but for different reasons. For the frequent user, it provides an easy-to-use interface that's often more efficient than Excel. Infrequent users will rely on that interface because solutions are easier to find and implement. If you ever find yourself thinking, I know Excel can do this, but how?, turn to ASAP Utilities.

This toolkit costs $49 for a license. You can download it free for 90 days.

SEE: 10 handy ways to get more from Excel (free TechRepublic PDF)

6. Abbreviation List

If you're part of the academic word, this tool is for you. It quickly generates a list of abbreviations (acronyms) and their definitions, noting even the lack of a definition. Use Abbreviation List to insert a table of abbreviations into a document or to search for and fix errors it finds.

It's free! It's also a bit different from most add-ins. There's no installation—you run the task online.

7. VisualBee

A number of presentation add-ins supply presentation templates, but VisualBee is a bit different. It lets you enhance an existing presentation. When you run VisualBee, it analyses the presentation's text and structure and tries to improve what you've done on your own. It doesn't get everything right, but it'll generate a few keepers—and you can easily discard what you don't like. The bank of images alone is worth the download.

It's free, but you might have to do battle with your antivirus software to get it to work.

See all of TechRepublic's free PDF downloads.

8. XLTools

Importing and copying data seems routine to Excel users, but cleaning it up so everything works as expected is tedious. XLTools is the bulldozer of cleanup tools. It reduces all those cleanup tasks to a few clicks.

A one-time licensing fee is $49.95, but it offers more than cleanup tools. You can download free for 14 days.

9. Pop-up Excel Calendar

Pop-up Excel Calendar lets you insert and configure a datepicker control without writing code. Simply click the Pop-up Calendar tab, which is added to the Ribbon, insert the calendar, check a few settings, and you're done. It's hard to find something any simpler. This tool has great value to Office 64-bit users because that version doesn't support ActiveX controls (at least not yet that I know of). If you're using Office 32-bit, it's still a bit tedious to install and register ActiveX controls.

This one is free.

SEE: Microsoft Office has changed, how you use it should too (ZDNet)

10. Pickit

PowerPoint lets you search for images, icons, and other graphics using Bing's image tool. You can search for graphics that are free via Creative Commons, but that doesn't mean there won't be restrictions. Pickit hosts a huge library of royalty-free and unrestricted-use images. In addition, the graphics are guaranteed to look good even when resized—that's something you can't get with PowerPoint and Bing.

It's free if you don't mind ads. Otherwise, plans begin at $1.99 a month.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. 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. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

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By Susan Harkins

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.