Data processing

Without such metadata, it can be virtually impossible to find exactly the music track or image you want without trawling through all the files. With Office documents, at least you have a better chance that the filename (itself a form of metadata) will be meaningful, and the new indexed search capabilities in Vista along with Windows Desktop Search make it feasible to search for words within the text of the documents, although it can return a large number of matches if your search terms are common words. If your search terms are found in the metadata of a file, it will appear at the top of the results list, since it will be deemed more relevant than if the term were merely found in the body content.

Data processing

Office 2007 has a new user interface for setting document properties, called Prepare | Properties, which you’ll find under the Office button. It shows a Document Properties pane at the top of the window, between the Ribbon and the document itself, and by default you’ll see metadata here for Author, Title, Subject, Keywords, Category, Status and Comments. In Word 2007, you can also put these and other document properties into the text of the document by using Insert | Quick Parts | Document Properties – this inserts a content control into the text in which the value of the selected property is displayed and editable. Content controls grow a blue outline and label when you’re editing their content, but this doesn’t disturb the layout of the rest of the document. Putting such content controls into the body of your document allows you to collate metadata as you go along when creating the document, rather than having to do it all as a separate step later. Many of the cover pages, headers and footers in Word 2007 include content controls for exactly this reason: type the document title on the cover page and it’s automatically shown in the page headers and stored as metadata to help the search engines.

You can still get at the old Office Document Properties dialog by clicking the drop-down arrow in the top-left of the Document Properties pane and choosing Advanced Properties, and on the Custom tab of the resulting dialog you can create any new property you want and assign it a type and value. Unfortunately, such custom properties can only be shown in the document via old-style fields, not in content controls, so you can’t use them nearly so easily.

If you store your documents in a SharePoint document library, you can create any number of fields in that library, and those fields are automatically promoted to be properties of the documents in that library and can be used in content controls in the text. So if you have a SharePoint folder containing, for example, project proposals, you can add columns for the customer name and the status of the document as well as its title. Those fields can be inserted as content controls into the document’s text, so that the users of the proposals can fill in the data and, when they save the document, the data will automatically become available in the list of files in the library. To help with the creation of the documents, you’d edit the template document for the library to set it up with a cover page, page headers and footers, section headings, table of contents and so on. Then, when a user comes to create a new document in this library, half the work is already done and the documents will all have a consistent look and feel. You can edit the template from the Advanced Settings dialog, and if you enable content types in a library you can have many different templates in that library, each with its own set of metadata columns, workflows and more.

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