Microsoft Word for Mac: STAY AWAY.

2008-06-08 20:41

So, I have to do some writing sometimes which involves things like, say, a standardized template form provided as a Microsoft Word document.

I naively assumed that it would be possible to do this using Microsoft Word. I was wrong.

I’m no fan of Word. It’s always been, by my standards, a bit dodgy. I have never liked it. The autonumbering is a famous pain, and the world is full of people who have tried, and failed, to get it to number documents correctly. The spell checker is, well, no better than most others, and they’re all pretty bad.

So let me be clear: If it were just the usual run of poorly considered UI choices that Microsoft provides, I wouldn’t make a big deal about it. We’re used to it. It’s the cost of their large size.

Microsoft Word 2008, by contrast, is unusable. I do not say this lightly.

Let’s start with the release version. I started editing a document in Word 2008. I double-clicked a word… No effect. Now, in versions of Word since, oh, version 3 or so (which I used in 1988), double-clicking a word has selected it. That’s been true on Mac, and on Windows, and so on. It’s essentially universal. No luck.

So I downloaded the first emergency patch, to version 12.0.1… And suddenly double-clicking worked.

What didn’t?

  • At unpredictable intervals, if there are two windows open, the one in the foreground drops behind the one in the background. You can’t click on it to bring it to the front, because it’s already in the front so far as it knows. You have to click on the other window, and then click back.
  • If one window has little floating menus out, and the other doesn’t, the windows sporadically and unpredictably move up and down the screen when you switch between them, in a way that suggests that Word is trying to make sure that the window doesn’t hide those menus — even though they’re six inches to the right of its rightmost point.
  • Saving the current file (command-S) sometimes causes the window to lose focus.
  • Scrolling through the file usually (and I do mean “more often than not”) causes the display of text to become unrecognizable. Typical behaviors include partial lines of text or two or more paragraphs rendered on top of each other.
  • After you have scrolled, there is no reasonable expectation that the text displayed is actually what you will get if you click on the screen.
  • The text cursor disappears sometimes. Sometimes, it comes back.

Okay, well, let’s try the big update to 12.1.0.

The scrolling problem is still there. Also, a new “feature” has been added. Mac systems have virtual desktops. Pop-up menus, such as paragraph style selections, appear on a different desktop. Why? Who knows why. But they do, so if you click on a paragraph, and try to select the pop-up selector to change its style… The screen shifts to another display.

The clever reader, not being inclined to believe crazy stuff just ‘cuz someone on the internet said so, might try this, and say “hey, it works”. I thought so too. Then I switched to another screen, came back, and found that the problem had respawned.

In short:

  • You cannot scroll through the text of a document and read it.
  • Even if you could, you couldn’t edit it, except by (for instance) doing a select-all and then clicking on the newly-revealed location where you want to edit.
  • Anything that involves a pop-up menu will likely put you on a different display.

This is not merely annoying, it is unusable.

(Why, you ask, don’t I use NeoOffice? Because I’m trying to read comments other people made, and NeoOffice doesn’t seem willing to display them. The closest it has is a supposed “review” mode where you look at changes people made between two versions of a document; it won’t let you Just Look At The Changes. Pages can’t handle some of the formatting quirks in a couple of the paragraphs in the template. Either is much better at the editing task, but neither can handle the carefully-crafted incompatible and underdocumented edge cases of the format.)

Peter Seebach