Tech Forum, I have often used topics which a typical author
targeting developers would never even think of covering. The
article on Excel is one such example. I realise this column
is for the technical community. I also know that typical topics
covered should appear to be Advanced! But I select
the topics based upon their usefulness rather than on hype-value.
I have been observing the usage of technology for over a decade
now. The single most important concern I have is that we have
somehow lost touch with what we have at hand, in the quest
of going behind the so-called cutting edge. Cutting-edge
technologies definitely sound impressive on your resume
as well as in proposals sent in response to RFPs by customers.
But that is not the end of it. There also an unimaginably
substantial amount of impressive stuff you can do with what
is not so cutting-edge.
Therefore, while discussing something that would be considered
basic in the techie parlance, I try to introduce
Advanced stuff that is typically completely ignored
or not known to most of us. I serve two purposes here. One,
it makes me learn more. Two, it makes all of us realise that
there is so much untapped potential in the everyday tools
and applications we use. Once you start realising that, your
approach to looking at technology and your overall mindset
will invariably change for the better. Your eagerness to find
out more about what there is on your desktop or within your
organisation will increase. Once you have this eagerness and
curiosity, techie life becomes much more interesting and enriching.
I hope the readers of Tech Forum like this approach and find
it useful. Your feedback is valuable to me in order to refine
the content and usefulness of the column. Do write to me with
your ideas and comments.
The need for read-only
Now lets get down to the main topic for this week. Nowadays,
Word documents are used very often to send proposals, project
plans, research papers, manuscripts and so on. We often want
the guarantee that the original document sent should not be
editable by the recipient. In addition, we want to ensure
that unauthorised persons are not even able to open the document.
Preventing unauthorised access
To ensure that only authorised persons can see the document
(open it) you simply put in the Password to Open. This way,
before the document is opened, the user is asked to enter
a password. More importantly, the document does not display
plain text even if it is opened in a raw editor like Notepad.
Not many know that assigning a password actually encrypts
the contents of the Word file, so that the plain text is not
visible within or outside Word.
The programmatic way of doing this while saving the document
Activedocument.saveas <filename>,,, <password>
Now, after sending the document to the intended recipient,
you have to somehow communicate the password. This is easy
enough if you regularly communicate with them. In fact, if
you regularly exchange confidential documents with specific
persons, it is a good idea to predetermine a separate password
for communication with each of them.
simplifies the communication further and does not require
you to communicate the password every time you send a document.
Of course, there are better ways of doing this using digital
signature technology. But just consider how many documents
you send or receive with digital signatures as of today, and
then you will understand the elegant utility of my suggestion!
Now we have prevented unauthorised access. But what about
the additional requirement of even authorised persons not
being able to modify the document?
This is also available as a base feature of Word. You need
to specify another password called Password to modify.
You can enter these passwords from the File - Save As dialog
- Tools - Security Options (Office XP dialog. Other versions
have a different set of menus but the password options are
still available). Here is how the dialog looks.
Now when you enter the password for modification and save
the document, the user needs to enter two passwords while
opening the file. Once for opening the file and another if
modifications are to be done to the file. If you put a modification
password and not inform the customer about this password,
the document can only be opened and read by the recipient
but not modified. However, there is a major problem in the
scheme of things in this case. The code for inserting open
as well as modify password is:
Activedocument.saveas <filename>,,, <password to open > _
,,<password to modify>
When you do not have password to modify, you can choose the
Open Read Only button from the password entry dialog.
Now the document opens and displays (Read-Only) in the title
bar. But to your surprise, you can still modify the document!
When you try to save it, the document forces you to save it
as a different file name. If you try to save it using the
same file name, it will generate an error, stating that the
file is read-only.
I would say, this feature does not serve the purpose of making
a document read-only at all. Why do we want the document read-only?
We really want it to become non-editable.
Moreover, we do not even want the chance that the user can
use Select All - Copy and then paste the entire content of
your document into another document and peacefully save it!
S(he) can of course print it for reference. Some customers
have even gone to the extent of saying that even the Print
Screen key should not work! This is rather extreme. But believe
me, with some clever programming, even this need can be satisfied.
Anyway, that would be the topic for another article. For now,
let us find a way of achieving a truly read-only, non-editable
and non-cut-pastable(!) document in Word. This would be a
great achievement in itself.
The trick and the solution
The solution to this problem is not very obvious. In fact,
I have not come across any documentation which specifies the
usage as is mentioned in this article. I myself found this
feature while trying to do something else. Now let us come
to the solution. First I will simply give the steps to achieve
the desired protection. Then I will explain it.
To make a Word document really read-only follow these steps.
1. Write the document as usual.
2. When you finish writing the document, save it. Now save
it as another document to make a copy of the original document.
Why so? Read on to find out!
3. Move your cursor to the end of the document.
4. From Tools menu, choose Customise. A dialog appears listing
available toolbars. If it is not already selected, choose
the Forms toolbar by enabling the checkbox next to it. Click
on close button.
5. Now you will see the Forms Toolbar.
6. This toolbar allows you to make fill-in-the-blanks type
of forms within a word document. We will not go into the details
of these types of forms in this article. But for now, just
click on the first toolbar button from left (where ab is written).
The tool tip for this button is Text form field.
7. Now at the cursor a small grey patch will appear. This
is the text entry form field.
8. Double click on this grey patch. A dialog will appear.
In this dialog, clear the check box labelled Fill-in
enabled. Close the dialog by a click on the Ok button.
9. The grey area will continue to appear. To remove the grey
shading, click on the Form Field Shading button on the toolbar.
Now the grey shading will disappear. In effect, the field
is no longer noticeable.
10. Now all that you need to do is to protect the document.
To do this, choose Tools - Protect Document... menu option.
Another dialog appears.
11. Choose the Forms option and enter a password and choose
Ok button. You will be asked to re-enter the password with
a detailed warning. Take the warning seriously. Believe me,
you yourself cannot edit the document if you forget the password!
Now you know why I asked you to save the original document
with protection. In case you forget the protection password
(which all of us do very efficiently time and again ), you
have a safe editable copy at hand!
12. Now, in order to prevent unauthorised access, choose File-Save
As option and Select Tools - Security options tab to enter
the regular Password to Open. This password should be different
than the form protection password you entered earlier. The
password to open will need to be communicated to the intended
recipient. So the document protection password should be different.
13. Now save and close the document.
Nothing great seems to have happened yet. Actually it has,
but it is not apparent. To see the magic, follow these steps:
1. Open the document.
2. Enter the password to open. The document opens as usual.
Contents are seen.
3. Now try editing the document. Sorry, you cant.
4. Try highlighting the text. No luck
5. Try select all from Edit menu, sorry again. The option
6. Try all the things you can think of to select and copy
the text. Sorry. Nothing works.
7. Try the Save As option. While saving as, you can of course
remove the Password to open. But that is your risk because,
you are making the document prone to unauthorised use. But
yes, in our quest to make the document editable, let us try
that also. Remove the Open password. Save it as another document.
8. Open this newly saved document and again try to select/copy
the text. Sorry sir. Does not work.
of course we are all techies, we know programming. We know
the Word object model. So let us try to get the text programmatically.
Incidentally, the simplest way to get all the text in the
document and paste it into another document is as follows.
Assume that there are two documents open. One document contains
text (filled.doc) and another document is blank (blank.doc)
Here is the code to get all the text from filled.doc into
blank.doc documents(blank.doc).range.Text = _
and effective, isnt it.
Now with this knowledge, try to do the same with the protected
document. Let us say our protected document was called safe.doc.
Open the safe.doc and try the following code.
documents(blank.doc).range.Text = _
Now, you are almost sure it would work. Tough luck! You get
a very nice error as shown below.
The only way to duplicate this document and make changes to
it is to visually see the original document and re-type all
the text and formatting! Of course this can be done but it
is so much more difficult now!
The technology behind the trick
The technology lies in the fill-in-the-blanks form fields
of Word. When you have a form that has a fixed layout and
content and some variable data entry, like say a Leave Request
Form, you use the form fields. Now in order to make sure that
end users enter only the form field data and not change the
base form text, you have to protect the document using a password.
That is what we did. However, we did not want to use the form
field at all. It was a dummy field. So we disabled the fill-in
feature of the form field (the grey coloured text box). Now
nothing is editable in the document. And that is why all the
features related to editingtyping, cut, paste, select
all, mouse based text selectionwere disabled. So we
achieved our purpose effectively.
Lessons to be learned
Exploring features is a great method of enriching knowledge.
It requires great amount of thoughtful design effort to
make features work effectively.
If you are providing programmatic access to your application
functionality, the same restrictions that are applied to
menus must be applied to programmatic usage.
Effective usage of a simple feature can lead to great value.
Even companies that regularly use digital signatures and
various other sophisticated methods for secure document
interchange can still use lots of unprotected documents.
This trick is usable by anyone who has Word.
Apart from obvious usage of a feature, innovative thinking
can lead to additional usage scenarios. The only method
of unearthing these scenarios is curiosity coupled with
Your feedback, suggestions, requests for covering specific
topics or issues are welcome. Please send feedback to email@example.com
the Author Dr Nitin Paranjape is the Chairman and MD of
Maestros (Mediline). He is a consultant with many organisations,
covering appropriate technology utilisation, business
application of relevant technology, application architecture
and audit as well as knowledge transfer. He has authored
more than 650 articles on various technology-related subjects.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org