There's a certain wonder in finding anything that - like Batman's utility belt - can do more than you thought it could. It's hard to imagine that anyone, upon first picking up a Swiss Army knife, could avoid the desire to pull out every section, just to see what it's for. Like a coat with unexpected extra pockets, or a phone with a plethora of applications that have little in common with phoning, it's not so much the utility as the excitement of discovery that tickles us. What the hidden extra does is, temporarily at least, of less concern than finding out that it exists at all.

For those familiar with Excel, or Word, or PowerPoint, or Outlook, Microsoft's Office suite might seem to offer the same; lurking amongst the big names, the established and renowned applications, are a few smaller programs waiting to be discovered. However, unlike some of the less obvious prongs on the Swiss Army knife, the lesser lights of the Office group do serve real purposes, and serve them well. For those who haven't encountered them lately, they deserve something of an introduction.

Welcome to OneNote

OneNote fulfils a number of roles, all aimed at making it easier for you to turn notes, scribbles, thoughts and ideas into something permanent, usable and effective. With OneNote, anything you can see or hear can be captured and used; handwriting can be scanned in and speech recorded, with the results automatically converted into text, while any images and videos are immediately ready for use in other applications, such as Word or PowerPoint.

Indeed, OneNote can be used in tandem with other Office software - allowing you, for example, to record an idea for improving your creation in Word and inserting your note straight into the document. OneNote also makes it easy to collaborate on your work, whether by sharing your notes and pooling your resources, or by brainstorming, with OneNote converting the ideas of the brainstorm session into something clear and tangible.

Introducing InfoPath

More than just another excuse for Microsoft to abandon spaces in their brand names, InfoPath makes it easier for you to gather key information from colleagues, clients and customers. Without any need for coding expertise, InfoPath allows users to create effective and professional electronic forms, to help you get the vital details you need quickly and efficiently. What's more, forms can be uploaded to SharePoint lists, and future forms can be created at a touch of a button from any fields you've used before. Mixing and matching necessary fields in this way is both easy and a handy timesaver; after all, the less time you spend on the means to collect information, the more time you can spend making use of it.

Calling on Communicator

Communicator's name, on the other hand, speaks volumes - it does exactly what it says, and what you'd expect from the title. The raison d'ĂȘtre for this application is to work in tandem with other parts of the Office suite, and to enable users to communicate freely, easily and accurately, enabling ever better collaboration and understanding. Providing a range of different media for communicating - including instant messaging, video conferencing, telephony, application sharing, and file transfer - the software integrates seamlessly with Outlook's tools for scheduling and contact list management, and makes it easier to keep in touch with all your important contacts whenever you need them.

Similarly, Communicator can integrate with Word or PowerPoint and allow co-authors of a document or presentation to see instantly if their colleagues are available, and to communicate with them without leaving the program - whilst OneNote can be used to attach your own notes to saved Communicator conversations.

SharePoint Workspace, formerly known as Groove

The last stop on our tour of Office's sleepy backwaters was known as Groove, until being rebranded as SharePoint Workspace for Office 2010. SharePoint Workspace, as the name suggests, is designed to work with SharePoint, Microsoft's service for storing and accessing Office data online, and for sharing and collaborating; Workspace's specific role in this is to provide access to shared files for colleagues and co-authors who aren't likely to be online at the same time, or who might not have the same security clearance.

Any SharePoint libraries can be synchronised with Workspace, and then accessed, viewed and edited from anywhere and at any time - and the changes and additions that are made will be automatically synced back with the library, where they'll then be accessible to others. In this way, a number of individuals scattered across the world can be confident that, using Workspace, the work they do together will be fully consistent and coordinated, with time and distance posing no problems.

Take a look for yourself

If you provide Microsoft Office for your business (or are thinking of doing so), there are clearly advantages to be had from considering what the lesser lights of the suite can offer you.

It's easy to overlook these smaller programs, less well-known as they are, and more limited their functionality. But the roles they play, though narrower than those of Word, Excel or PowerPoint, are highly specialised and effective - and with a short training course in getting the most from Office, you might well find that these tools can bring significant benefits for your organisation. And as integral parts of the professional Office suite, many companies will already have these applications without making use of them, and letting resources go unused is never a positive step for any enterprise.