File Properties in Office

We have a look at the File | Properties dialog in detail.

No doubt you know that you can open any Office file, click File | Properties, and get at a bunch of worthwhile information about the file – when it was created, who created it, and so on.

If you’ve ever used File | Properties, you also know that the data in those boxes is pretty much on the honor system. You can change the “Author” field to “William Gates”, for example, simply by typing in Bill’s name. You can also change the creation date and anything else, if you know how.

All Office applications start by using your name (Tools | Options | User Information) for the Author value, and your company’s name (the one you entered when you installed Office) for the Company value. Word fills in the Title entry using the first few words of the document. PowerPoint uses the title of your presentation.

You might not know that programs can get at that information, and use it in all sorts of ways. For example, you can rig up a Word template with a simple macro that automatically prompts the user every time a new document is created based on that template. The prompt might say something like “What is your email address?” and the user’s response could get stored in a File | Properties entry called _AuthorEmailAddress .

You also might not know that you can create custom File | Properties entries, and have them assigned bookmarked values inside a Word document, or named ranges inside Excel.

The easiest way for most of us to use these File | Properties “meta data” entries is by hijacking one of the built-in slots and coercing it to do our dirty work. The Comments entry is a good candidate.

Say you have a weekly status report that, among many other things, highlights the Employee of the Week. After a few weeks, it’s hard to remember which employee was given the award. Here’s an easy way to use Word’s Comments property to locate the status report that honored a specific employee:

> Set up a template for the status report. You probably have one already, but if you don’t, start with a clean document, click File | Save As, in the Save as Type box pick Document template, and save the new template.

> Put this field in the template:

{ comments { fillin “Employee of the week?”} }

If you can find a location in the template where the name of the Employee of the Week would naturally appear (for example, in a heading that says “Congratulations to XXXX, Our Employee of the Week!”), stick the field in that location. If there isn’t a good place to park the field, just format it as hidden (Format | Font | Hidden).

> Save the template. Every time you create a new document based on that template, Word will prompt you with a dialog box that says “Employee of the week?” Whatever you type in response will be placed in the document’s File | Properties | Summary | Contents box.

But that’s not all…

> Back in Windows, open up My Documents (or whichever folder contains the status reports). In Windows XP, click on Start | My Documents. In most other versions of Windows, double-click on the My Documents folder, on the desktop.

> Make sure you can see the file details. Usually, you do that by clicking View | Details.

> Right-click up on the bar that says “Name”, “Type”, “Size” and check Comments.

See that? Your comments – in this case, the Employee of the Week’s name – appear inside Windows Explorer. You can even sort by comments inside Windows Explorer itself – list your Employees of the Week alphabetically – although you have to contend with a few weird comments fields that sort high or low for no apparent reason.

You can search on all of these “meta data” File | Properties entries. Using Word 2002’s Search pane, or earlier versions’ File | Open | Tools | Find, just look for the entry you want under “Text or property”.


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