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The Secrets of the Office XP Task Pane

This article is not meant to teach you how to use Office XP, but more to explain how to use the new Task Pane to find some of the Office features that were hidden or missing in previous versions. Also, if you are used to Office 97 or Office 2000, or receiving instructions on Office that tell you to go to the blahblah menu and choose blahblah and you can't find blahblah, the odds are it's now in your Task Pane. Many users, including myself, got Office XP and immediately went to the View menu and turned off the Task Pane to conserve screen real estate, then were angry because every time we made certain menu choices, it kept coming back. So, I finally stopped trying to get rid of it and decided, instead, to check out just what it can do, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that, in many cases, it actually saves me keystrokes or mouse clicks.

Here's a basic tour. Not everything is included here, but these examples should get you familiar with the Task Pane and how it works.
General Task Pane Features
At the top of the Task Pane in all the Office programs, there's a bar that looks something like this:

You can use the buttons at the top of the Task Pane to easily move from one Task Pane to another, without having to search through the menus.

The contents of the Task Pane is usually divided into two parts. The information in the main upper portion generally shows you the options available to you in that Task Pane, and the smaller section at the bottom shows you how to navigate within that Task Pane or get Help.

What I will explain to you now are the different Task Panes available to you in each of the Office XP programs.


Access's Task Pane has less in it than the other programs.

1. New File - this is where you can choose whether you want to open an existing database, a new blank database, or a new template, web page, or email message. It generally replaces that window you used to see when you first opened Access.
2. Clipboard - this replaces the little clipboard toolbar/viewer you had in Office 2000, where you could paste multiple copies of stuff without having to copy it again. The nice thing about this is you can delete just one item from the clipboard by clicking on the dropdown arrow beside the item, that you see when you hover your mouse over the item.
3. Search - this one allows you to search your hard drive for specific files or files containing specific text.


The top three items in Excel's Task Pane dropdown are basically the same as Access. The addition is Insert Clip Art, which allows you to search for clip art based on key words. As I mentioned in the section above on Access (Clipboard), there are dropdowns that appear beside any selected item in the Task Pane when you hover your mouse over the item. I recommend you look into these. For example, if you hover your mouse over any clip art in the Task Pane and see the dropdown arrow, click on it and you will see this list of choices:

If you click on the Preview/Properties, you can quickly use the < and > buttons to move through all of the clip art and see a preview of it. Notice that you can also edit the keywords, which is really cool, since I don't always agree with what Microsoft gives me when I type in certain keywords. Now I can remove keywords from any clip art, or add my own. This window looks like this:


FrontPage also has a pretty generic Task Pane and only includes the New Page or Web, Clipboard, and Search features. However, if you go to the Insert menu and choose Picture, then ClipArt, the Clip Art Task Pane appears. Go figure.


 Sorry gang…Outlook doesn't have
a Task Pane , and I don't know why.



NOW WE'RE TALKIN' TASK PANE!! If you are having any problems understanding PowerPoint 2002 (especially all the new animation features which are so cool), I highly recommend you use the Task Pane, and don't forget those dropdowns beside the items.

1. Slide Layout - this replaces the dialog box that used to pop up every time you chose to add a new slide and now there are many more choices. Instead of choosing a layout with one bulleted list and one picture, then having to add additional pictures or text boxes manually, now you can start out with exactly the layout you want. For example, look at the choices below. Now you can have a slide already laid out for you that includes a bulleted list and an org chart or table, without going through the whole "Insert Object>Create New" process). Also, you can quickly change the layout of any existing slide by simply clicking on the item in the Task Pane, while the existing slide is displayed on your screen. Just hover your mouse over any of these layouts for a description of what they include:

2. Slide Design - Design Templates - Want to quickly change the template the selected slide is based on? Just use the dropdown beside the items in the Task Pane to apply the template to the slide, or to all slides.

3. Slide Design - Color Schemes - Again, a quick way to change the color scheme on one slide or all.

4. Slide Design - Animation Schemes - This is a nice new addition to PowerPoint for people who don't have the time or inclination to add Custom Animations to every object on every slide. Select a slide and choose one of these animation schemes, or hold your control key down and select multiple slides in the Slide Pane on the left of your screen and apply an animation scheme to a bunch of them in one shot, and immediately see a preview of that scheme.

5. Custom Animation - Well, this is an entire article in itself, since Microsoft has finally recognized the need for a timeline and motion paths in PowerPoint animation. Now, using this Task Pane, you can add multiple animations to one object, set different objects to animate at the same time, and even manually draw the path the object takes as it moves across the screen. What a blessing this one is! I highly recommend you spend some time here.

6. Slide Transition - This replaces the Slide Transition dialog box that you used in the earlier versions of PowerPoint, and, like the animation schemes, can be applied to multiple slides in one step by using the control key to select them in the Slide Pane.

I'm not even sure why Microsoft left Slide Sorter View in the program, since it appears you can now do everything right in the normal view, by using the Slide Pane and the Task Pane together.


Publisher had to be different and has its Task Pane on the left side of the screen, instead of the right like all the other programs. Who knows why? Most of what you see in Publisher's Task Pane replaces what you used to see when you ran the wizards.

1. Quick Publication Options - let's you easily choose a layout for your publication.

2. Publication Designs - let's you choose one of Publisher's pre-defined styles.

3. Color Schemes - this is where you choose all your colors.

4. Font Schemes - and here's where you choose the fonts for your publication. Note the dropdowns beside the items which let you apply the font scheme from the existing publication or change the font scheme for any part of the publication.

5. Styles and Formatting - Those of you who are familiar with Styles in Word will find this Task Pane pretty handy. Just click on the button that says "Create New Style" and do your stuff!

6. Mail Merge - This one takes you through a four-step wizard which easily sets up your mail merge for you.


1. Styles and Formatting - As with Publisher, if you are familiar with Word Styles, this Task Pane gives you easy access to modify, delete, or "match" styles already in existence. These choices are available to you from the dropdowns beside each Style listed in the Task Pane.

2. Reveal Formatting - OK you ex-Word Perfect users…it looks like Microsoft finally heard your pleas to "Reveal Codes". Check this one out if you want to see all of the attributes of any word, paragraph, or section in your document. (But don't forget that understanding Styles in Word is still very important and don't let this kid you into thinking that formatting is now handled the same as in WP. If you don't understand Styles, read Dian Chapman's great tutorial here: )

3. Mail Merge - This walks you through the six step Mail Merge Wizard and replaces the dialog box you saw in previous versions. Most of it is pretty similar to the earlier versions, but the main advantage to this upgrade for me is that the e-mail merge actually works flawlessly! Glory be!

4. Translate - In here, you can translate selected text in your document or type the word in directly. I just tried it and it worked. I typed vous in my document, highlighted it, chose "Current selection" in the Task Pane, chose French to English in the Dictionary dropdown and hit Go. It told me this:

1. personal pronoun subject: you; object: you; (to) you; à vous to you; yours;
2. reflexive pronoun yourself, yourselves;
3. reciprocal pronoun one another

So, there you go. Task Panes 101 is now complete. Once you understand how the Task Panes work, I think Office XP should be pretty easy for you to adapt to.

Oh…one last thing: If you still don't like the Task Pane and don't want to see it all the time, check out the checkbox at the bottom of the New Document (or New File, New Workbook, or whatever you see, based on which program you are in)…it says "Show at startup". Uncheck this and you won't have to see it unless it needs to be there.

Hope this was helpful to you. If you want more information about how to use the Office programs, check out my Office classes, eBooks, and instructional CD.






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This site was last updated on Friday, June 14, 2013 . copyright © 2000 - 2013, Linda F. Johnson, Linda's Computer Stop. All rights reserved.