Running With the Popular Crowd

I’ve written in the past about the approach we took to organizing options in Office 2007, including a misguided detour in creating an “expert mode.”

Today I want to start a discussion of some of the options available in Word 2007 by sharing those settings you’ll see on the first page as soon as you open Word Options.

The Options dialog boxes of each program have been reorganized and redesigned; they have a list of sections along the left side and the whole dialog box is resizable (as really most UI should be here in the 21st century.)

The first section of Options is called “Popular” and it contains the list of settings we think people are most likely to want to tweak. We know that although most people don’t change options, to the extent that they do, user interface tweaks are the most popular kind of option to change. So we’ve organized the user interface options together into one section right at the top.

Word 2007 Options (click to enlarge)

Here are the Word options and what they do:

  • Show Mini Toolbar on selection: I’ve blogged about the Mini Toolbar (codename: floatie) many times. Basically, whenever you select text, a little ghosted toolbar appears and provides the most commonly used formatting features directly next to your cursor. If you don’t like the appear-on-selection behavior, you can turn it off here. The Mini Toolbar will continue to show up as part of the context menu.

  • Enable Live Preview: As you hover over choices in a gallery or menu, Office shows exactly how the document would look if you applied the formatting or option. If you don’t like this feature, you can turn it off here.

  • Show Developer tab in the Ribbon: Most people aren’t developers and don’t use the advanced functionality in the product aimed at developers. Turning these features off by default simplifies and shrinks the command space. If you do want to access these features, check this box and a “Developer” tab will appear in the Ribbon.

  • Open e-mail attachments in Full Screen Reading view: By default, when you open a Word attachment from e-mail, it opens in Word’s full screen Reading View to help you get the maximum screen real-estate possible for the document along with the reviewing and annotation tools for marking it up. If you would rather have Word open up documents in the normal editing mode, you can uncheck this option.

  • Color Scheme: You can choose between Blue, Silver, and Black.

  • ScreenTip style: By default in Office 2007, we show little descriptions of what every feature is used for in the feature’s tooltip along with little illustrative pictures and links directly to help for the feature. (Yes, tooltips are called ScreenTips in Office for some reason. Don’t ask.) If you don’t want these enhanced tooltips and want just normal “command name only” tooltips, you can switch back using this option. You can also turn off tooltips altogether. (Don’t forget, even options have enhanced tooltips.)

  • Always Use ClearType: If you are running on Office on Windows XP or Windows Server 2003, Office text is rendered with ClearType regardless of the system setting. This is because all of the Office fonts have been optimized to run in ClearType but most people don’t know about the setting in the OS. If you don’t wish to use ClearType, you can turn it off here and Office will follow the system setting. If you are running Windows Vista, Office will always follow the system setting. (This option isn’t listed in the picture above because I took it in Vista.)

  • User Name/Initials: These are used primarily for when you are reviewing a document. Your changes are annotated with your name and initials.

  • Language Settings: Office can be configured to write in many languages and, in some versions, can switch UI languages on the fly. All of this can be configured from the Language Settings dialog box.

Except for the Reading View option (which is Word-specific), each of these settings are available in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the Outlook editor.

Comments (51)

  1. John Topley says:

    What’s the justification for Office respecting the ClearType system setting in Windows Vista but not in Windows XP?

  2. Adam says:

    What is it with you guys and Application-specific cleartype settings? That had better well not be on by default. The damn IE group have tried that and recieved no end of stick about it.

    Even your fellow employees agree that application-specific settings (for cleartype in particular) are "idiotic":

    Note that this has *nothing* to do with whether any particular individual likes or dislikes cleartype. I have my own opinions on the matter, but they’re not relevant as the point is that if there is a system-wide setting for a particular feature, applications should respect that setting.

    If I want some system-wide setting on (like cleartype, because I like it, or because it stops me getting headaches, or because I like shiny new tech), I don’t want to have to enable it in the system and separately in all the applictions that have decided that they’re "too good" for the system-wide setting and rolled their own.

    Similarly, if I want to *disable* a system-wide setting, (e.g. cleartype, because I’m not using an LCD, or because I want to take screenshots to put on the web, and screenshots with the wrong cleartype setting will look *bloody awful* on other people’s LCDs with a different RGB sub-pixel order, or because it gives me headaches, or whatever), then I want to do that in the place where the system-wide setting is, and *not* have to do it separately for all the applications that think they’re "too good" for the system-wide setting.

    *Stop with the application-specific versions of system-wide settings*

    If you want to pop-up a dialog on first use to tell the user "Hey, you don’t have cleartype on and it could make things nicer. Do you want to do so? [Yes] [No] [Tell me more…]", then fine.

    But *don’t* override my previous decisions, *whatever they might be* (on *or* off), behind my back.

  3. Jack Mathews says:

    I’m not sure I understand…  "Expert" was a failure because you tried to classify a large section of people.  Now, you’re just doing the same thing by classifying "Popular"?  I mena "Show Developer Tab in the Ribbon" is Popular?  It’s an option 99% of your users will want off, and an option almost all of them will set once?

    I think you just walked into the same wall with this one as you did with "expert."

    I’d take a cue from Trillian and just put a search box in there for people.

  4. Anton Kokin says:

    Hi. When we will access for new update for color scheme (Silver) in Word 2007?

  5. Grant says:

    "I’d take a cue from Trillian and just put a search box in there for people."

    How are people supposed to find options using a search box if they don’t know the options are there, or what they might be called if they are there? I always thought the search box in Trillian Preferences was a little silly… "Please search for a setting you don’t know Trillian has, or what it might be called if Trillian does have it"

    "What’s the justification for Office respecting the ClearType system setting in Windows Vista but not in Windows XP?"

    Brian answered this: Fonts in Office 2007 are optimized for ClearType. ClearType is on by default in Vista, and off by default in XP. Therefore without an application specific ClearType setting, most users won’t ever have ClearType turned on in XP.

    However, I must agree that maybe it might be a better idea to have Office 2007 detect that ClearType is not enabled on XP/2003 on first run and offer to enable it. Of course, most people would just click No because as we know, ‘The default answer to every dialog box is "Cancel"’ (

    Ultimately the ClearType debate will never be resolved. If you turn it off by default people will wonder why you are using ClearType optimized fonts and not trying to get people to turn ClearType on, if you turn it on by default you are "deciding what is best for people". Regardless of whether you use ClearType or not, you can always turn it off in Options and Office 2007 will honor the system setting. It’s not like you have to turn it off every time, it’s something you do ONCE, when you first install Office 2007, and then never worry about again.

    Brian: is there a group policy setting to turn application-specific ClearType off in Office 2007 for all users in a corporate environment?

  6. Bob Snyder says:

    Regarding the ClearType setting,   why not have three choices:

     ( ) On

     ( ) Off

     ( ) Use Windows setting

    …and make the third option the default?

  7. jensenh says:

    In terms of the ClearType setting:

    * Most people are totally unaware of ClearType or the fact that an OS setting exists to change it.

    * Yet, most people prefer the look of the new UI and document fonts with ClearType enabled, because they were designed totally with ClearType in mind.  If we followed the OS setting, they would simply not look nearly as crisp to most people.

    * At the same time, we know there’s a small but vocal set of people who hate ClearType and want to turn it off, so we provide the option.

    So it’s a case where we optimize for the out-of-box experience and give people a chance to change it if they don’t like it.

  8. jensenh says:

    Re: The Developer tab being on the first tab:

    Everyone who uses the Developer tools will turn this option on.  Even if that’s only one-half of one percent of the user base, that still is enough to make it one of the most popular options in Word by far.

    People simply don’t change options very much.

  9. Dan McCarty says:

    "The Options dialog boxes of each program have been reorganized and redesigned; they have a list of sections along the left side and the whole dialog box is resizable (as really most UI should be here in the 21st century.)"

    Interesting point.  I would like to add two things:

    1. Not only should dialogs be resizable, but they should remember their previous sizes, preferences, and window positions, even (for some settings) across application sessions.  This isn’t easy to do when you consider cases such as the user changing resolutions or even multiple monitor issues between instances of the program.  A big source of frustration for me is to perform two or three basic steps on a commonly-used dialog every time it opens just to get to where I want to start using it.  Programs that get this idea right it can be so much easier to use.

    2. The changes to Office12 seem "thin"–i.e., there’s a cool new ribbon and first-level interface, but once you get into the second- and third-level dialogs, they’re mostly the same as previous version of Word.  How do you justify that with the above statement of having "21st-Century dialogs"?

  10. Jeff says:

    Why would the Word team choose default fonts that only look good if you have ClearType on?

  11. LDR says:

    "The Mini Toolbar will continue to show up as part of the context menu."

    I don’t dislike the Mini Toolbar, but I do dislike how it pops up when I right click.  Unfortunatly, turning the Mini Toolbar off doesn’t turn it off when it is useless.

  12. Francis says:

    Is having few but overfilled dialog panes (e.g. Proofing and especially Advanced) a genuine improvement over having many but lean tabs?

    The new Options dialog shifts the complexity from the outline to the body. This means the user will have to do a lot of weeding through irrelevant options to find what he wants.

    The Options dialogs should be intelligent enough to only show options relevant to the user.

    If the language of my Windows and Office installations are not Korean, my regional settings are not Korean, the Korean IME/layout is not installed, my address is not in Korea, Korean proofing tools are not installed, and I do not open Korean documents, do not display three options for Korean under "Proofing" (as well as numerous Asian text options under "Advanced"->Layout Options.)

    The same goes for every other language there. "German: Use post-reform rules" and "French/Arabic/Hebrew modes" are only relevant if German/French/Arabic/Hebrew proofing tools are installed. Otherwise, the option does nothing!

    Graying out text is not enough–it does not simplify the dialogs. Hide the text. If need be, you can always provide a master toggle, "Show options for other/non-installed languages" under Personalize.

  13. Francis says:

    "…user interface tweaks are the most popular kind of option to change.

    If this is true, why is "Show all windows in the Taskbar," for instance, secreted away on the second page of the "Advanced" options?

    Also, why is there both Display and Save panes and Display and Save sections under Advanced? Why is there a Print section under both the Display and Advanced pane? Why is my address not stored alongside my name and initials (but buried under "Advanced?")

    Though it looks clean, in the details it is a more convoluted design than the old tabbed dialogs.

  14. Step says:

    Jensen, as always thanks for the post and openness.

    First question:  How do we enable true-type in XP?  I just took a quick look, but didn’t find it.  You’re right, most users have zero idea about this – nor would we (me) really know whether to turn it on or not anyways.  🙂  I know fonts aren’t your area, but since you mentioned it…

    Second question: suggestion for next version, really.  I think the search box is an excellent idea, with the major problem that the user wouldn’t know what to search for.  But if you’ve solved that with the tooltips and supertooltips, by describing the features, perhaps search would be more effective by including all the information about a feature?  

  15. Colin Banfield says:

    I have a rather benign question.  What are you officially calling the left hand list of options that appear on dialog boxes like the Options dialog box? I’ve seen the term "tab" used, although the list looks nothing like tabs and therefore "tab" is bound to confuse folks. Above, you refer to "a list of sections." So, can we assume that each item in the list is officially a "section" and not a "tab?"

  16. Zian says:

    Here’s how to get ClearType in XP:

    1. Right-click in your desktop and click "Properties"

    2. Click on the "Appearance" tab

    3. Click the Effects button

    4. Change the selection on the 2nd drop-down menu to ClearType

  17. Adam says:

    Jensen > I don’t hate Cleartype. I just want Windows applications to respect my system-wide setting, *whatever that may be*, by default.

    If I change my display from an LCD to a CRT (e.g. when the LCD goes in for repair), where Cleartype does not work as there are no addressable sub-pixels to manipulate, I want to be able to turn it off in *one* place. One. Not three. One.

    When my LCD comes back and I can take advantage of it again, I want to be able to turn it back on in *one* place. Again, not three. Not two. One.

    Fortunately, there *is* one place I can do that. It’s called the system-wide setting. Why is it called that? Because it’s *supposed* to be *system-wide*! As in – applies to *all* applications on the system.

    What part of that do some of you guys (Office + IE) not understand? How can you not understand it – it’s a Microsoft OS and you’re writing Microsoft applications, for Microsoft. Surely it’s not hard to get hold of the documentation that tells you what *system-wide* means. Do you just choose not to understand it? What? I don’t get it.

  18. tt says:

    "Always Use Cleartype" Yes/No

    is extremely vague wording.  If I select No, does that mean it sometimes uses Cleartype?  I don’t mean to be merely pedantic…  what does it mean to "not always use ClearType"?

    It really needs to be "Use ClearType" with options "Always in Office", "Never in Office", and "Default to System Setting (currently on/off)"

  19. Mark says:

    Adam, the problem is that Office has no way of knowing whether ClearType is off because you really want it off or whether it is off because that is the default in Win XP.  

    The argument Office is making is that the overwhelming majority of users have not made a conscious decision about ClearType -AND- most of these users prefer the smoother fonts that ClearType produces in Office applications.

    When Win XP was released, ClearType was not as advanced and most displays were CRTs.  Thus the off by default setting made sense.  As Office 2007 is being released now, things are much different.

    It seems like a pretty good solution to provide great-looking fonts by default and the ability for sophisticated users to switch to a different setting.

  20. CS says:

    Why not run an assistent at the first start-up of an Office application visualizing the difference? E.g. "That’s what your Office fonts would look like with ClearType turned off or on". If the assistent is skipped, just enable ClearType.

    This would make sence for other options as well, such as "show Mini-Toolbar", "color scheme" and maybe an animation to show how "live preview" works.

    As far as I remember Office is prompting the user for user name and initials, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to get those "set once" options done?

    Btw: why are these options on the "popular" tab anyway? All these are options usually set once and then left alone.

    PS: search function for options? No, thanks. But how about one for the command well?

    Thanks and please keep posting (it’s the second site I check every day right after Dilbert).

  21. Mario Goebbels says:

    I’m taking a completely different stance and just say that the ClearType folks need to get the crap together. And that is by offering a monochrome mode. WPF can do that (yes, it’s ClearType with a monochrome subpixel filter instead of a RGB one), but the ClearType in Windows can not. What’s even worse is that the Windows developers refuse to implement that monochrome mode into Win32 CT.

  22. Well, I’m impressed. But what about those ‘silver themes’? Will the revised UI appear in Beta 2 Technical Refresh? When will B2TR appear?

    I’d also like to make a point – quite a lot of customisability has been lost or cramped with this new options box. But otherwise, it looks like you’ve put in a lot of effort. Well done.

  23. C. Moya says:

    The new Options dlg is nice. But how about Office’s (specifically Word’s) hyper-old and unintuitive other dlg’s… like the ‘Modify Style’ and AutoText dlg’s and the like???

    Do you guys have a developer spend 2 years working on a single dialog box? So much so that you feel that it necessitates a blog entry??? No wonder Microsoft moves as slow as mollasses nowadays. MS needs to fire the managers they’ve put in charge for the last five years if you ask me.

  24. Mike says:

    I know many on this blog gave up on Office 2007 providing real customization months ago, but I’m hoping entries like this make it crystal clear how intrinsic customization is to an application with a broad user base like Office.  Usability studies may provide a better default, but that’s it; customization must be available to adjust the UI beyond that because we are not all the same users.

    Where I work, several hundred users (not sure if it’s the majority, but it’s probably close) still have CRT’s and that’s not going to change for at least another 2 years (until the equipment lease runs out).  Also, of the 100 or so recently upgraded users (who got LCD’s) many are over 50 and find ClearType harder to read. Again proving the need for customization and not making assumptions based on statistics and studies.

  25. TC says:

    There’s no reason why Office can’t have a screen in the setup program (or on first-run) that says "ClearType is [description blah blah blah]. Currently, ClearType is off. Here’s a preview of how some things would look if you had it on. Would you like to enable ClearType?" Then, make it so there’s no default option, so they click on which one really looks better to them. Problem solved.

  26. Warren Crowd says:

    Great looking dialog, However, two of the labels are not intutitive:

    * How am I supposed to know what the Mini Toolbar is if I am not a blog reader? The label should be more deescriptive: "Show the tiny toolbar when I select something"

    * Renaming tooltips screentips is the only really rediculous thing I have heard on this blog. You tell us not to ask, but this is clearly an instance of sacrificing user experience for internal politics. It’s called tooltips in 99% of all other applications, why not yours?

  27. It’s ironic that this entry is named "running with the popular crowd," whereas the popular crowd (of applications) is exactly who you’re ignoring. That is, with respect to ClearType and ScreenTips/tooltips.

    Respect user settings. Use an into dialog box if you have to, but respect user settings.

    Respect system-wide terminology. You want to invent something new, like the Ribbon, fine, you can call it whatever silly thing you want. (Where’s the Spool if that’s the Ribbon? What’s it wrapping—is there a Present? Can I make Bowties with it? …) But you reinvent tooltips, and you don’t get to call them screentips.

  28. Seth Miller says:

    Calling ToolTips "ScreenTips" is just silly. Please tell me in what way this is customer-focused? This is obviously some sort of struggle between the Office team and the Windows team. Well guess what, your not in the business of slapping the other team on their fingers, you’re in the business of serving your customers.

    Honestly, if your customers could pick a name, which one do you think they would prefer?

  29. m says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the name "Popular" in the settings tab, which could infact even slow down most people.


    I want to change some certain option, say changing the default language.

    1) I’m not sure if it’s a "popular" feature or not

    2) If i check in the popular tab and scroll through all the options, I might miss it, in which case I will have wasted some time. So i might not look at the tab at all

    3) I will therefore check anywhere else rather than "popular" because I suspect "popular" is a  synonym for "commonly used options"

    4) I will fail to find it

    5) In my angst I will finally look in popular options

  30. steveg says:

    The new options dialog box is IMO, Close But No Cigar. It’s a pretty interface, but needs a few more categories to sort out the mess that is the Advanced tab.

    Conceptually, I don’t think Add-ins, Trust Centre + Resources (WTH does Resources *mean*, are we talking memory usage, graphical assets, wheat & coal or what?) really belong in this dialog box — they just don’t seem right to me.

    I recall the keyboard interface being a bit naff in the options dialog box, too. Don’t have it here to refresh my memory.

    Can you explain how Options came to be a *button* on a *menu* and why did you think it was better than a *menu item* on a menu?

    I agree whole-heartedly with an earlier comment that pointed out the new-style dialogs aren’t used application wide. Consistency and all that.

    Finally, putting on the 10 years from now cap, I think we’ll remember O2007 as an unpolished gem.

  31. Stephen says:

    Jensen – the full screen mode for word documents openned from emails. Can I ask what sort of response you’ve had to that?

    Personally I turn it off straight away in Office 2003 if I was reinstalling, and I don’t know anyone that actually likes it. There’s a few that were running with it on as they weren’t aware they could turn it off though.

  32. Dan Dautrich says:

    Wow, from the sound of the comments, it seems the redesigned Options dialog has hit a lot of nerves.  I’m not sure I like the "Popular" moniker either, mostly because it seems more friendly and natural than the names I’m used to seeing in software today (not that it’s a bad thing).  I’m sure that I will get used to it fairly quickly though, moreso than when RTM comes around and the ribbon gets renamed to something catchier.  I swear I’ll probably still call it the ribbon a year from now. =)

  33. PatriotB says:

    "Yes, tooltips are called ScreenTips in Office for some reason. Don’t ask."

    Well, we are Microsoft’s customers.  We have the right to ask.

    Jensen, if even *you* refer to the reasoning behind it as simply "for some reason", then I’d wager that there is no good reason.  Other than historical sentiment.

    And if historical sentiment isn’t enough to keep a menu bar around, it shouldn’t be enough to keep the term ScreenTip around.  If in your blog entry, you use the word tooltip repeatedly when describing the "ScreenTip style" setting, then maybe that’s a clue that it should be called Tooltip style?

    Now’s the time to make the change.

  34. Earlier this week I ran into a colleague who has been using Beta 2 for quite some time now. "I’m really…

  35. Scott says:

    Notice that the screentips option doesn’t have the little "more info" i-in-a-circle thing either.  So you can’t answer "what the heck is a screentip?"

  36. C. Moya says:

    So much in Office 2007 is just so bait-and-switch "rearranging" of things (like 2003’s Outlook Preview Pane on the right-side? How much code did it take to do that???)… with no real productivity enhancements.

    Give us tabbed documents or a true single document interface in ALL Office apps… like Word does it…

    Make wading through a long Word document easier where you can actually SEE "sections" visually (Lotus WordPro did this years ago).

    Make hidden characters like paragraph marks, margin and table marks, grey and faded so my users stop asking me "will that print on the printer???"

    Overhaul all the dialog boxes so that they’re actually intuitive (Hint NOBODY uses Styles because the Styles Dlg is UNWEILDY).

    The Ribbon is nice… good idea… but its just an exploded menu.

    In other words… stop with the eye-candy, renaming stuff (screentips??? *eye-roll*) and actually do something revolutionary.

    I used to like this blog. But after Beta 2 I just find all the recent entries downright humorous. You guys (Office Team) are so lost.

  37. [ICR] says:

    Okay, here are some scenarios:

    Scenario 1 – I am a joe average user. I don’t know about Clear Type, thus it’s not turned on. But it looks good in Office.

    Scenario 2 – I am a joe average user. I use Office and it tells me to turn Clear Type on. I do so taking a few clicks, whilst confusing and scaring me a bit.

    Scenario 3 – I am a power user. I like Clear Type. Office uses it. Great.

    Scenario 4 – I am a power user. I don’t like Clear Type. I take a few clicks to turn it off.

    People seem to think a majority on this blog constitutes a majority of users. It doesn’t. It constitutes a majority of power users. You know what you’re doing and you can waste a few clicks to turn it off. I would far rather that than scare lots of users and waste their clicks for something they don’t care about.

    If usability studies show that a well worded wizard doesn’t confuse users, then I guess, yah, that’s a possibility. I agree as much as possible we should respect system wide settings (*cough* skin. But that’s another issue with it’s own discussion and reasons) this is definately a valid exception.

  38. Adam says:

    ICR > Why would it take "a few" clicks and scare someone?

    "Office Installer has detected that you don’t have Cleartype on, but that it could make the fonts smoother in all your applications. Do you want to turn Cleartype on?

    [[Yes]] [No] [Tell me more…]"

    One click. How is it scary?

  39. Anna Salmonne says:

    Naming ToolTips "ScreenTips" only tells me one thing: Microsoft still doesn’t care what their customers think.

    It’s like if Ford would refuse to put in cupholders because they think that a banana-holder would be better. Running a business this way simply is not sensible.

    You have amazed me in the past with your stories about all the work you do with usability testing. This destroys all the good-will you have built up doing that. Going against the wishes of your customers just because you think you know better is the most classic mistake a company can make.

  40. david3864 says:

    I’ve been searching for some way to give Microsoft a simple suggestion for Word. All I can find is support options that cost big bucks! I know this isn’t relevant to your blog, but perhaps you will be a kind person who will send this suggestion to the proper place for me.

    Anyway, my suggestion is very simple: Microsoft Word needs a new command-line option to open a file in read-only mode! It should create a read-only shortcut that uses it, when installed. More complex designs involving access rights might not be understood by new Office users or perceived as user-friendly.

    (Sorry this isn’t on the cutting edge, but I think protection from changing the contents of a document has its place.)


  41. MH says:

    The fonts in Office 2007 UI (starting with C) have probably been tested with standard font smoothing as well. Is there an easy way to enable (w/o ClearType) it as well or simply use the font settings that have been set in Windows Desktop Appearance?

    (Font smoothing on pixel sizes below 12 should be optional)

    BTW… The screenshots in Outlook guide

    are using Tahoma 11px and that’s how I’d like to use my Office as well. 😉

  42. Jeff says:

    "* At the same time, we know there’s a small but vocal set of people who hate ClearType and want to turn it off, so we provide the option. "

    Perhaps the one of the reason the anti-Cleartype people are so "vocal" is because the way to turn it off is so counterintuitive.  Why would a user prefer Cleartype in Word but not Outlook?

    If Cleartype really bothers someone, they will find out how to turn it off at the OS level- it makes so much more sense than expecting each application to have separate settings.  And then being told that they are a small minority doesn’t win any friends either.

    Haphazard application settings just make the whole user experience setting more frustrating in the long run.

    Thanks for the original post though- it helped me figure out how to turn it off.  (Now I just have to do it with each of the other Office apps).

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  44. It was with a bit of surprise that I read a flurry of stories on Friday with breathless headlines like…

  45. "Open e-mail attachments in Full Screen Reading view"

    I hope this is not the 2 pane reading layout that everyone disables right away. I wonder how this feature has ever passed usability tests in Office 2003. If it is pleease set it off by default.

    It might have looked like a bright idea but because it completly messes with the page layout, it really renders document contents in a very useless way.

    Great blog, great postings, keep up the good work.