Tag Archives: software


Following up to my previous post on affordable Office solutions. I tried the Microsoft Windows Live Skydrive last night. I had a document that I created in Word at home. I didn’t feel like getting out my USB drive or printing the document. Remembering that I had opened a Skydrive account on Windows Live I uploaded until I got to work this morning.

Skydrive lets you upload a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document. You can view it online and print it. However, it can’t be edited online, like Google Docs. If you have MS Office on your computer you can open directly. But this only works in Internet Explorer.

Right now Skydrive is a great place to park and share MS Office documents. You still need to buy Office to make full use of it. From what I have read, the new MS Office 2010 will make it easier to edit the documents online. I’m not sure how that is supposed to work, though. As far as I am concerned, Skydrive is still only half a solution.

Find a good office software package and don’t spend an arm and a leg doing it.

Have you ever needed to finish an assignment, but you couldn’t make it to the computer lab and you didn’t have office software to finish the assignment? And Microsoft Works just won’t because your instructor doesn’t have it. There are several options you can use to get an office package and not break the bank.

Just to define terms. An office package consists, at a minimum, of a word processor or editor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation package. Sometimes it will have a database manager, a web editor, and other programs.


Microsoft Office is the current standard. Office includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and some auxiliary software. It is used almost universally. But it can be expensive. If you buy a new computer you may have a trial license. Be careful. It can be expensive.

As a student you are eligible for a reduced cost student package. Check out Staples or another office store. Sometimes it is even offered on sale. Anyway, the student package is a substantial discount from full costs. You can also check the Penn State computer store to see what deals they have to offer.

One more thing, a new version of Office (2010) will soon replace Office 2007. It is rumored to have greater online capabilities.

ooo-main-logo-col_200px.gifWhat about a free office package? Open Office is what you may need. It has everything you need to complete your assignments. Although the Open Office programs have their own native formats, they can save documents in the Microsoft Office components’ formats. If you want to try it before downloading you can use Open Office in the computer labs. I think I will include a few Open Office assignments in next year’s FORT 120 class.


If you don’t want to download a huge file to your computer you can use Google Docs. All you need is a Gmail or Google account. Google Docs works in your browser. All the files (documents, spreadsheets, or presentations) stay in the clouds on Google’s servers. This way you can work on your assignments on any computer that is connected to the internet. You can download the files in a number of formats. When it comes time to submitting your work all you need to do is publish the file and send a link to the instructor. For team projects you can have multiple people work on the same project. There is also a big library of special gadgets, or small programs, that can be inserted in your documents. At first you may be concerned about leaving your work out there. I have been using Google Docs for the past three years and haven’t lost anything yet.

Google has a blog aimed at students that does show examples of real college students using Google Docs for their assignments. To be fair, Microsoft has been running many ads recently about its cloud computing options. Although everything I have seen so far is aimed at businesses, they may create something aimed at college students. Another good online package is Zoho. Its free version has a great interface and more tools than Google Docs. It’s well worth a look.

Whatever solution you choose, plan ahead, and don’t panic!

Lessons Learned

The more I use ArcGIS the more I realize that it is a very complicated piece of software. You have to be careful to understand each function to deal with problems as they arise.

Here are a few tips I have learned the hard way:

  • Always make sure that the projection of the data frame is defined. This sets the stage for all new data that is added.
  • When exporting data from one data layer to a new data layer choose to put the new data in the data frame projection. This really helps when using data from the PASDA GIS server. It will also help when doing calculations.
  • Always try to put data in a geodatabase rather than leave it in a shape file. The geodatabases recalculate the shape area values by default.
  • When you want to determine the areas of polygons in a data table there is a calculate geometry option that lets you put the areas in any units, not just the data frame units.
  • Take advantage of the export map option to use a map document as an image file, like this map below.

  • Project_Boundary.jpg