To check incoming files safely, try out a freeware viewer

By John McCormick

To check incoming files safely, try out a freeware viewer

Whether you love or hate Microsoft Corp. products, you have to admit the company gives away a fair amount of free software. Even offices that frown on downloading freeware should not object to these useful patches and fixes.

''One especially valuable category is Microsoft's free viewers for documents and worksheets in proprietary file formats. Many government users have access to Microsoft Office and can easily open each other's Word, Excel or PowerPoint files. But the recent virus and worm scares were an unwelcome reminder that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

''Merely opening a file in Microsoft Word will let macro viruses, if any are present, start executing before the user is aware of them. Even users with the latest version of Office should download Microsoft's free viewer for opening Word files from unfamiliar sources.

Unlock docs

''A second reason to download the viewer is that other government offices with word processors predating Word 97 cannot open its .doc files.

''To get the viewer, go to www.microsoft.com/msdownload/ and select the 3.8M Word 97 file viewer, wd97vwr32.exe. It prevents macro activation on opening a file.

''You cannot edit Word files within the viewer, but you can read, zoom or block-copy from Word documents to other programs. The Microsoft freeware also can be distributed to others without licensing hassles. It might make a useful download from your Web site for citizens who want to read your Word 97 documents but who use other word processing programs. It serves as a free alternative to Adobe Acrobat.

''While at Microsoft's Web site, check out 02ksec.exe, a white paper explaining how to deal with macro virus attacks in Office 2000. According to the white paper, the key is using digital signatures to identify who created documents. You need not worry about every document that comes in, just ones from unfamiliar senders.

''Office 2000 has an option for the user to designate acceptable senders whose files will be received without question and without a security warning.

''Although a digital signature alone won't rescue careless users, it at least will make management of newly downloaded files easier by eliminating needless warnings. You will still see warnings for files created by unknown senders.

''All by itself, this is an important security feature because it eliminates many false warnings. Anything that makes it easier for people to follow proper procedures will improve security.

''The Office 2000 white paper is a Word 97- and Word 2000-compatible document. If you don't use Word 97, you will need the free viewer described above to read it.

''Yet another good download from the site is a template for producing Outlook 97 calendars from within Word 97.

Moving pictures

''If you are just starting to work with multimedia, the 650K Microsoft Camcorder utility does screen captures for Office. This useful download lets you save a movie as a standard .avi file or as an .exe file, which embeds the Camcorder viewer software so that anyone with Microsoft Windows 9x or NT can run it without add-ins.

''Visit other download sections of the site for similar utilities for other applications. For example, the Excel 97 section has templates and an Excel 97 viewer for sharing Excel files.

''Does your office have lots of old software on old computers but no money to buy new? If you plan to continue using Office 95 next year, get o95y2k.exe from the Microsoft download site.

''The 5.4M file, according to Microsoft, will bring Word 95, Project 4.1, Excel 95, Access 95 and PowerPoint 95 up to date for 2000.

''The site reveals little about what fixes are made, but it's a good bet they are necessary. And you can't beat the price. n

''John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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