World famous, multiple-award winning writers/editors/authors and IT/MS Office experts
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the internationally
known, and world famous writers/authors, Ed Bott and Woody Leonhard.
With two 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.
Woody has 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
Ed and 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 2003.
Q: Ed/Woody, it’s a
real pleasure interviewing you two. You both bring a wealth of
experience and knowledge to our audience—thank you!
W: Thanks for the
E: Good to be here.
Q: 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?
W: I 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,
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 nights!
Q: What unique
processes and qualities make for award-winning writing?
W: You have to understand
the technology, and be able to explain what’s really happening
without putting people to sleep. Much easier said than done.
E: That's 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.
Q: You must share your
most interesting (often humorous) stories?
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!
Q: Who should read
your latest book? Why would someone want to carefully study this
book—what makes this book particularly unique and special?
W: I 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
E: We 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!
Q: How have your
experiences contributed to the writing of this book?
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.
E: After 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.
Q: What unique and
useful features (in essence upgrades) are there in the 2003 versions
of Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and FrontPage?
W: Outlook 2003 runs
rings around any version of Outlook that has come before, with
dozens of key improvements.
E: The spam-filtering and
message sorting features in Outlook 2003 are absolutely amazing.
W: Excel and PowerPoint,
in particular, benefit from the new collaboration environment.
E: The new Excel is
particularly good at managing lists.
W: Access hasn’t changed
E: Where 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.
Q: Which features
don’t you like in Office 2003?
W: I’m 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.
E: I 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.
Q: Can you comment on
working with the Internet using Office 2003?
W: Microsoft has woven
the Internet so tightly into Office 2003 that if you aren’t
connected, you’re working at a significant disadvantage.
E: I 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.
Q: Any predications
about the future of Microsoft Office and new features we will see?
W: One 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.
E: 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.
Q: Do you have a few
particular “little known secrets” to share?
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?
E: Well, 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
Q: Can you describe
future projects, books, and articles?
W: The 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 primary pre-occupation.
E: I'm 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!
Q: Any predictions
about specific technologies, future trends, winners and losers;
W: It 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.
E: Here's 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 Tablet PC.
Q: 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 over time?
W: IT 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.
E: I've got one word for
you: Security. If you can keep bad guys out of a network, you can
write your own ticket.
Q: What are your top
ten recommended references and resources for business people and IT
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 well
E: I 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 else.
Q: Where do you see
yourself in two, five, and ten years?
W: Right where I am now –
on the beach in Phuket, Thailand.
E: Writing about Windows
and Office and computer security.
Q: Describe your
W: Windows XP
peer-to-peer network with six machines, 802.11g wireless hub, and
(heavens be praised!) 256K ADSL.
E: I 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 everything secure.
Q: If you were to do
it all over again?
W: I’d move to Thailand
E: I would have tried to
meet my wife Judy 10 years earlier.
If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask
of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
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?)
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!)
Q: Ed/Woody, thank you
for sharing your many hard-won insights, considerable knowledge,
in-depth wisdom, and fine humor with our audience.
W: You betcha.
E: My pleasure.