Using Office on netbook computers, part 3

Getting the most from the small screen. We look at options for making Office 2003 or Office 2007 work better in the smaller netbook screens.

In the final part of our series, we’ll look at options for making Office 2003 or Office 2007 work better in the smaller netbook screens.  While we’ve focused on netbooks, the same tricks can be applied to laptop or desktop screens too.

In part one of Using Office on Netbook computers we had some broad advice for selecting a netbook or laptop computer.

Part two goes through the office suite options available.  Both software and online services, free or not and perhaps using software you already have or comes with the netbook.

Getting the most from the small screen

As we’ve already noted, Office 2003 has official system requirements for a screen resolution of 800×600. Microsoft Office 2007 and OpenOffice v3 both recommend 1024×768 screens.

Compare that with a standard netbook resolution of 1024x576 or 1024x600.

A netbook screen is an acceptable width but the screen height is less than what the developers of Office 2007 anticipated. That does NOT mean you can’t use Office 2007 or OpenOffice v3 on a netbook – it just means you might want to tweak them a little to show more document on the screen. The same applies to Office 2003 too.

Most of this article will be about tweaks in Office 2003 and 2007 to make best use of the limited netbook screen space.

Office 2003 and prior

(This section applies to Office 2003 and most of it works with earlier versions of Office as well.)

The main toolbars in Office 2003 applications are on one or two rows.

See the controls for menu and toolbar display by right-mouse clicking on the toolbar or menu and choosing the Customize menu at the bottom (or Tools | Customize from the menu). There are three tabs, Toolbars, Commands and Options.

Word 2003 - Tools - Customise dialog image from Using Office on netbook computers, part 3 at


Under options, uncheck the box Standard and Formatting toolbars on two rows. This will put both toolbars side-by-side. Unfortunately, it also means you won’t be able to see all the toolbar buttons as they’ll disappear off the right of screen. For that reason you might decide to stick with two rows of toolbars.

You could remove toolbars entirely by unchecking them from the long list under the Toolbars tab – then you can work with remembered shortcuts and the menus alone.

An advanced option is to make your own custom toolbar with the icons you want from Standard and Formatting toolbars. You can do that by going to Tools | Customize | Toolbars, clicking New then copying icons from the supplied toolbars to the new one.

Leave off Options | Large Icons – they take up too much room.

Normally we suggest turning on the ‘Always show full menus’ option so you can see all menu items immediately. However, on a netbook screen the menus can scroll off the bottom of the shorter screen so you might prefer to turn on ‘Show full menus after a short delay’. Office 2003 will initially show common menu items plus those you’ve used in the past.

While Office 2003 can use less screen height than Office 2007 (because of the single or dual toolbars) the Ribbon minimization trick in Office 2007 lets you see all the ribbon features when needed and get them out of the way as you type.

Screen Views

To see text while typing (plus your choice of toolbars and menu) choose View | Normal. This removes margins etc and puts only text editing area on the screen.

You can switch to View | Page Layout at any time to see the overall look of the page. Even then you can see more text on the page by choosing View | Zoom | Text Width.

View | Full screen will get rid of toolbars, menus and status bars (again it works best if you start from Normal view). Move your mouse to the top of the screen and the Office menu will drop down. The ‘Close Full Screen’ button is there to help people who switch to this view and can’t work out how to get back to the standard display – all you have to do is press Escape.

Reclaiming screen space

The status bar at the bottom of the screen is controlled from Tools | Options | View | Show | Status bar

In Print View the ‘white’ space between pages (it’s the dark grey area on the screen) can go away by clicking in that area (a hide/show white space tip will appear) or from Tools | Options | View | Print and Web layout options | White space between pages.

The vertical ruler on the left in Print view is controlled from Tools | Options | View | Print and Web layout options | Vertical Ruler.

The horizontal ruler can be toggled on/off from View | Ruler.

Office 2007

The much maligned ribbon interface in Office 2007 has several features which make it ideal for smaller screens – though that’s certainly not what the smarties at Microsoft envisaged when developing the ribbon.

The ribbon is a fixed height which the same height as Office 2003 with three toolbars.

Office 2003 - 2007 height comparison image from Using Office on netbook computers, part 3 at


However Office 2003 can be reduced to two, one or even no toolbars – see above.

Office 2007 has three main virtues for smaller screens:

Minimize the ribbon

You can minimize and restore the entire ribbon when needed. This is quite clever; we’ve talked about it several times before. The entire ribbon disappears leaving just the tabs, the Office button and the Quick Access Toolbar.

Word 2007 -minimized ribbon image from Using Office on netbook computers, part 3 at


The easiest way to get ribbon minimization working is to double-click on the currently active tab or two double-clicks on a non-active tab. Once minimized the ribbon will appear when needed then disappear again.

More details in the Office Watch article – Make the Office 2007 ribbon go away.

Variable Width

Office 2007, unlike earlier versions of Office, copes more elegantly with variable screen widths.

In Office 2003, a long toolbar simply falls off the right-hand side of the window if there isn’t enough room.

The Office 2007 ribbon ‘collapses’ into smaller chunks depending on the width of the window. Chucks / sections of a ribbon on the right are the first to reduce in size (one of our gripes with the current ribbon).

Word 2007 - very narrow window with pop-down menu image from Using Office on netbook computers, part 3 at


Click on one of the down arrows under an abbreviated chunk to see all the usual options.

Keyboard shortcuts

Office 2007 has a powerful set of keyboard shortcuts both new ones and old favorites.

Simply pressing the Alt key will display prompts to keyboard sequences to all ribbon features see Office 2007 – new look – same shortcuts and More Office 2007 keyboard shortcut tips

A common misconception about Office 2007 is that the previous Office shortcuts don’t work – but that’s not true. All (or almost all) the common keyboard shortcuts from way back to Word 1 for Windows are still there even if the menu structure that originated them has gone. Try your favorite shortcuts and see … for example:

  • Ctrl + N still opens a new default document.
  • Alt+F then N opens the new document dialog box.
  • Alt + F then P still opens the Print dialog.

Screen Views

Under the View tab there are some more options for maximizing the working area in Office 2007 programs.

The old ‘Normal’ view has gone in Office 2007 (pity that) but you can get a similar result by choosing Print Layout view then clicking on the Zoom button (the familiar Zoom dialog from Office 2003 and before will appear), choose Text Width.

There is no ‘Full Screen’ mode in Office 2007 however you can choose ‘Full Screen Reading’ then choose ‘Allow Typing’ from the View options menu (top right). All formatting shortcuts will work in this mode, not just simple typing.

Reclaiming screen space

On the View ribbon is the check box to turn on/off the Ruler or click the button on the right side, just above the vertical scroll bar.

Hide the ‘white’ space between Print Layout view pages by clicking in that area when the tooltip appears or go to Options | Display.

The vertical ruler on the left in Print view is controlled from Options | Advanced .