NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2011
Free “Cheat Sheets” for Software and Hardware
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host, Columnist, College Professor, and deputy sheriff
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Recently, I was asked to teach an eight hour non-credit class on Excel to the employees of a local company. I know by experience that handouts are a popular adjunct for any class, so I had to find some useful handouts for this Excel class; so called “cheat sheets” are as good as any other handout, so I proceeded to print a set of Excel cheat sheets for Excel versions 2003, 2007, and 2010. The information on those cheat sheets alone was more than adequate for a one-day class, and could have also been used for a longer class.

In this context, a “cheat sheet” is not a device used by a college student in an act of academic dishonesty, but a digital or printed copy of instructions for a software product that clearly explains and shows how to use the features and functions of that product. In addition to the various versions of Microsoft Office, free cheat sheets are available for many other PC, MAC, LINUX, and other computer related software and hardware products. While most of the free cheat sheets are for software products, some cheat sheets, called by their publisher “Make Use of Guides” (http://www.makeuseof.com/pages) are for hardware and services. Some of the nearly three dozen available include: How To Easily Build Your Own Cheap Computer, The Awesome Automation Guide for Mac Users, The (Very) Unofficial Facebook Privacy Guide, The Office Worker’s 101 Guide to a USB Thumb Drive, The Windows 7 Guide: From Newbies To Pros, The Ultimate Guide To Gmail, Your Guide To Create Professional Documents on Word, The Internet Music Guide For The Audiophile, The Essential Guide To Digital Photography, A Newbie’s Getting Started Guide to Linux, The Mac Manual, The Underground iPhone Guide, The Big Book Of iTunes, and about 25 other such titles.

One of the best sources of free software cheat sheets is Custom Guide’s “Quick References”, available online at http://www.customguide.com/computer-training/quick-references

On this Quick Reference page are free PDF format cheat sheets for Office 2010, Excel 2010, Outlook 2010, PowerPoint 2010, and Word 2010. With free registration, the user can also access the full collection of Custom Guide’s Quick References, including the 2007 and 2003 versions of the Office products, as well as Microsoft’s OneNote, Project (2007 and 2003), Publisher, SharePoint, and Visio. There are also Quick References for Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Apple users may also find these Quick Reference Guides useful, as there are guides for Appleworks, MAC OS, Microsoft Entourage, and the Apple versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Some of the guides for Adobe products are available for both the PC and MAC versions, and include Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash, and Photoshop.

Almost all of the Custom Guide’s Quick References are of a similar design and format as downloadable PDF files. The guides are in full color, and typically two pages in length. They all display the opening screen of the product with all of the features labeled with a clear and concise explanation of each item. If there is a ribbon or menu bar in the software, the guide labels each function on the image of the item, and presents a summary of the functions in a table adjacent to the image. Most of the products covered by the guides also have a selection of “keyboard shortcuts” displayed that can be used to increase the speed and efficiency of the user by using these shortcuts rather than clicking on menu items. Commonly done tasks like copying something can be accomplished by utilizing the common Windows shortcut CTRL-C, and then pasting the item with CTRL-V; this is much quicker then clicking on the menu and then scrolling to COPY, and repeating the menu process and clicking on PASTE. In many Office products (including competitors to Microsoft Office), formatting can also be done with intuitive shortcuts, such as CTRL-B for bold, CTRL-U for underline, CTRL-I for italics, and several other similar shortcuts; these shortcuts are among the dozens displayed in the Quick Reference guides. The guides also include information (as appropriate) for formatting, graphics, editing, styles, animations, special effects, tables, and other functions of the software. There is a lot of very useful information crammed into these two-page guides, and they would be ideal for all users of these products, regardless of experience level. These are precisely the handouts that I use in my non-credit software classes.

The “MakeUseOf Guides” available free from http://www.makeuseof.com/pages are also downloadable in PDF format. While these guides are free, a one-time registration is necessary to download them. In addition to the “MakeUseOf Guides”, there are also dozens of other free guides available for download (free registration required) at http://www.makeuseof.com/pages/downloads

Some guides that I have used to learn shortcuts include guides for Firefox, Gmail, Linux, and Internet Explorer. MAC users may find useful the shortcut guides for OS X, and the MAC versions of Firefox. Since its release, I have been using Windows 7 as my primary home computer, and have found “The Ultimate Windows 7 Guide: From Newbies To Pros” a very helpful document. This free 50 page guide (PDF) to Windows 7 is written in an easy to read and understand format, and contains useful information and tips for Windows 7 users of all levels. I have used “The Essential Guide To Digital Photography” to help me with my digital camera, and since it seems that almost everyone today has a digital camera, this guide may be invaluable. I know a lot of people who use Google’s Gmail service as their email provider, and the “The Ultimate Guide To Gmail” is 35 pages full of Gmail hints, tips, and ideas. “The Incredible Free Manual For Every Mac User” is a 69 page ebook (PDF) with a treasure trove of information for MAC users. In all, there are 32 such ebooks available.

With all of this free information available for computer users, there should be several titles that would be of interest to just about everyone. I use some of these “cheat sheets” in the classes that I teach, and recommend them as needed to my students and coworkers. You too may find them very useful.

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