Two world famous
authors share their insights into IT and MS
Interview by Stephen Ibaraki,
week, Stephen Ibaraki I.S.P., has an exclusive
interview with the internationally known, and world
famous writers/authors, Ed Bott and Woody Leonhard.
decades of trusted experience as a writer and
editor, including at leading publications such as PC
World, PC Computing, and Smart Business, Ed is one
of the world’s most respected voices in computing.
His coverage has included every version of Windows
and Office. Ed won an international award of merit
from the Society for Technical Communication for his
book on security. He is a three-time winner of the
Computer Press Association Award. And, for two
consecutive years, he and Woody won the prestigious,
Jesse H. Neal Award (the “Pulitzer-prize” equivalent
for business writing) for their work on PC
Computing’s Windows SuperGuide.
more than 20 book credits and is publisher of the
very successful Woody’s Office Watch (WOW)
e-newsletter. More than 500,000 readers subscribe to
WOW and Woody’s Windows Watch e-zines.
Woody has won eight Computer Press Association
Awards, and the two Jesse H. Neal Awards with Ed. In
addition, his team of cohorts are responsible for
the top add-on to Office, “Woody’s Office POWER
Woody have considerable influence and reach millions
through their web sites, edbott.com and wopr.com.
Amongst their most recent books is the readers’
choice, Special Edition Using Microsoft Office
Ed/Woody, it’s a real pleasure interviewing you two.
You both bring a wealth of experience and knowledge
to our audience—thank you!
for the opportunity, Stephen.
to be here.
Please provide a profile of your careers leading to
the present. What motivated you to get into
computing and writing? What challenges and lessons
can you share with our audience?
picked up a master’s degree in computer science in
the late 1970s, spent five years in computer
planning and security in Saudi Arabia, then moved
back to Colorado and wrote a novel using this
new-fangled computer program called Word for Windows
1.0. I had so many problems with WinWord (as we knew
it back then) that I published a 280-page electronic
book of bugs and workarounds. Many other writers
were having problems, and several downloaded the
book. One of the people who read that original
Hacker’s Guide to the Universe asked if I would
write a computer book for him – and that became my
first meatspace book, Windows 3.1 Programming For
Mere Mortals. I’ve written a couple dozen books
since then, mostly covering Office, Windows, and
E: I've been addicted to writing since I was a small
child, and I've worked in publishing in one fashion
or another since my days at UCLA in the early 1970s.
Back then, programming a computer meant carrying a
box of punch cards from one building to another, so
I stayed far away from the science and engineering
folks, preferring to focus on political science,
debate, and communications. I bought my first IBM PC
clone in 1983 and was immediately hooked on
programming. Several years of editing consumer and
technical magazines earned me the job at PC World as
managing editor in 1987. I moved to the late,
lamented PC Computing in 1991 and was named editor,
but found after a few years that I still preferred
writing. I wrote my first two books for Que's User
Friendly Using series in 1995, on Office 4 and
Windows 95. Today, it's pretty much all I do.
Because I typically write books about new products,
the biggest challenge is compressing an incredible
amount of work into the short time between when a
product first becomes available and when it is ready
to be released to the public. That usually means a
lot of long days and at least a few sleepless
What unique processes and qualities make for
have to understand the technology, and be able to
explain what’s really happening without putting
people to sleep. Much easier said than done.
right. It also helps if you can figure out where the
reader is likely to make a wrong turn when trying to
use a program. Any hack can write a book about how
the software is supposed to work; the hard
part is knowing where people are likely to get lost
and helping them get back on track, quickly and
without making them feel like a dummy.
must share your most interesting (often humorous)
E: When I
was writing my first book, I wasn't prepared for the
intensity of the schedule and the deadlines, so I
wound up working very late. Once, I fell asleep
while working on a chapter, but apparently my eyes
were open, my brain was still working, and my
fingers continued typing. The result was a bizarre
stream-of-consciousness narrative that my editor
gently suggested I might want to rewrite!
should read your latest book? Why would someone want
to carefully study this book—what makes this book
particularly unique and special?
think Ed and I have put together the most complete,
totally independent, guide to Office 2003 on the
market. It’s geared to the intermediate to advanced
user, and it explores many specific problems that
are often neglected or glossed over in other books
and the official documentation.
figure someone who buys our book is smart enough to
figure out the obvious stuff and to learn from the
Help files how major features work. We enjoy finding
the really cool and useful tips, tricks, and
techniques that most people don't think of. We also
try to explain the basic concepts underlying the
programs in Office 2003, which aren't always obvious
to a non-technical user!
have your experiences contributed to the writing of
W: Ed and
I have been using Office since... well, since before
Office was Office. We’ve both contributed an
enormous amount of school-of-hard-knocks practical
advice, both on using features in general, and on
solving specific problems that we’ve encountered.
4 million or so published words on Windows and
Office, I think I've got the mechanics down. As
Woody says, it helps that we use this software, day
in and day out. When Microsoft releases the software
to the public, we've usually been using it for our
daily work – "dog-fooding it," in Microsoft-speak –
for close to a year.
What unique and useful features (in essence
upgrades) are there in the 2003 versions of Outlook,
Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and FrontPage?
Outlook 2003 runs rings around any version of
Outlook that has come before, with dozens of key
spam-filtering and message sorting features in
Outlook 2003 are absolutely amazing.
and PowerPoint, in particular, benefit from the new
new Excel is particularly good at managing lists.
hasn’t changed much.
you particularly notice the differences with all the
programs is on a business network with Windows 2003
Server. The ability to create SharePoint document
libraries in that environment really makes it much
easier to cooperate on shared projects.
Which features don’t you like in Office 2003?
still a fundamentalist. I don’t think Microsoft has
done enough work on improving the fundamental
features that we use every day. For example, it’s
still deucedly difficult to send a message or letter
to a specific subset of your Contacts – a Christmas
card list, say.
think Word is an amazingly powerful program that is
still too complicated for most people to understand
without technical training. The interrelationship of
styles, templates, outline levels and formatting is
incredibly confusing, and I wish Microsoft could do
a better job of helping people "get" that.
you comment on working with the Internet using
Microsoft has woven the Internet so tightly into
Office 2003 that if you aren’t connected, you’re
working at a significant disadvantage.
agree. The ability to download new templates and
clip art is built right into every program. If you
have a Web site or a SharePoint server, you can
open, edit, and save files directly from the server,
without having to go through transformations on your
own computer first.
predications about the future of Microsoft Office
and new features we will see?
predication’s for sure: Microsoft will continue to
leverage its monopoly on the desktop back to the
server – sell more server software as an adjunct to
Office - and offer more “value added” services
inside Office to maximize its income.
Fortunately, they're doing an awfully good job of
making those two sides work together, so the results
should be pretty attractive to anyone in business.
you have a few particular “little known secrets” to
W: If you
start Outlook with Word as your email editor, then
start Excel, press Alt+F12, click the File menu and
hold your breath until it hurts... oh, I guess that
one’s pretty well known already, isn’t it?
the Office 2003 Student and Teacher Edition costs
$149 (US) or less, includes the four key Office
programs, and allows you to install it on three
computers in your home. And you don't have to prove
that there's a student or teacher anywhere in your
household to install it. Pretty great deal!
you describe future projects, books, and articles?
free Woody’s Watch ezines are expanding as our
readership’s needs change. We have half a million
subscribers now, and their concerns are quite
different than they were just a couple of years ago.
Keeping up with their demands – and holding
Microsoft’s feet to the fire – continue to be my
just getting ready to begin working with the next
version of Windows, code-named "Longhorn," which is
still more than two years away from release!
predictions about specific technologies, future
trends, winners and losers; “killer apps?”
pains me to see a great application like OneNote
tied to a boat anchor technology like tablet PCs.
Tablets still have a long way to go. I hope that
OneNote is still around.
one place where Woody and I just plain disagree. I
have a Toshiba Portege 3500 Tablet PC, and I
absolutely love it. Sure, the technology needs a
little refinement, but it's been a major
productivity enhancer for me. OneNote is great on a
What are the hottest areas in IT? Which skills and
knowledge sets must businesses and IT professionals
have to remain competitive? How will these evolve
fads come and go, but the ability to understand and
explain complex technologies, and the willingness to
tell the plain truth are traits that will never go
out of style. IT professionals need to learn to tell
their bosses what they need to hear – not what they
want to hear.
got one word for you: Security. If you can keep bad
guys out of a network, you can write your own
What are your top ten recommended references and
resources for business people and IT professionals?
W: Top on
my list is the free Woody’s Watch ezines, of course
www.woodyswatch.com. Time spent learning how to use
the Knowledge Base and Google (particularly Google
Groups, which is overlooked far too often) is time
don't think there are 10 general-purpose reference
sources anymore. The ability to use tools that can
aggregate content from a variety of sources into
convenient summaries is more important than anything
Where do you see yourself in two, five, and ten
where I am now – on the beach in Phuket, Thailand.
Writing about Windows and Office and computer
Describe your computer setup?
Windows XP peer-to-peer network with six machines,
802.11g wireless hub, and (heavens be praised!) 256K
build most of my own computers. My main machine is a
2GHz P4 with 2 gigabytes of RAM (no, that's not a
typo!) and four hard disks. I also have a test
machine that I install stuff on and wipe clean every
so often so I can start over, a big Dell server
running Windows 2003, and an amazing program called
VMWare that allows me to create "virtual machines"
that can simulate a computer for testing purposes.
I've got a pair of 19-inch flat-screen monitors on
my desktop so that I can always see what I'm working
on and what I'm writing about without having to
switch away. I'm connected to the Internet via a
zippy cable modem with a router and firewall keeping
you were to do it all over again?
move to Thailand sooner.
would have tried to meet my wife Judy 10 years
Q: If you were doing this
interview, what three questions would you ask of
someone in your position and what would be your
W: Here are the three questions I
hear most often: Why do you work so hard? (A: I have
this thing about survival.) Is Microsoft really as
bad as people say? (A: No. Except in a few cases.)
What do I need to do in order to become a computer
book writer? (A: I don’t really know, but… are you
really sure you want to?)
E: Do you know Bill Gates? (A:
We've met, but he's never invited us over for
dinner, darn it.) Why are Windows and Office so hard
to use? (A: Want to try Windows 1.0, circa 1986?
We've come a long way, baby!) How many cats do you
have? (A: Two. Katy and Bianca are amazingly smart
and affectionate, and I make sure that both of them
get into every book I write. You can see for
yourself how hard Katy works by looking on page 132
of Special Edition Using Office 2003!)
Ed/Woody, thank you for sharing your many hard-won
insights, considerable knowledge, in-depth wisdom,
and fine humor with our audience.