As many of you know, my old computer Fermat recently died. After a respectful period of mourning, I got a new one. Its name is “Gödel.” (I name my computers after mathematicians, in alphabetical order, starting at E. My first computer was named “Euler,” my second was “Fermat,” and so this one had to be “Gödel.”)
This week, when I opened up Microsoft Word to work on an assignment, I noticed something funny—the Endnote toolbar was missing. Endnote is the reference manager software that I use on pretty much all my school assignments.
I had this problem before, when I first installed Word on Fermat. The problem was that I installed Word after I installed Endnote. I thought it was the same problem, so I reinstalled Endnote. This didn’t help.
So I tried Googling the problem. I tried using the Endnote “customizer,” but that didn’t work. I tried repairing the disc permissions. Eventually, I called Thomson-Reuters technical support who had me go through all the steps I already found on the internet, and eventually told me that I had to re-install Word.
I reinstalled Word and Endnote, but to no avail. My reference manager was still unavailable.
I called Microsoft technical support, who had me do all sorts of things—making new users on my computer, shift-restarting, repairing disc permissions again. This was also fruitless, except that they were able to identify that it was a problem with Visual Basic, which is necessary for Endnote-Word integration apparently.
They told me that my installation of Word was corrupted somehow, since Visual Basic was not able to access the folder for Visual Basic macros. They thought it might have something to do with my anti-virus software, and told me to reinstall with my anti-virus turned off.
I did this, but it didn’t help at all.
So I tried thinking about what was different between Gödel and Fermat: Fermat was running Mac OS X 10.6, and Gödel was running 10.7, but that was the only thing I could think of, until I realised that I had named my hard disc “Gödel”—including the two little dots over the O. I renamed the hard disc to “Godel,” and started Word.
Endnote worked immediately.
So the moral of the story is, if you want to break Visual Basic in your installation of Microsoft Word, just put a non-standard character in your hard disc’s name.
Okay, I promise that after this, I will stop posting about the shortcomings of Word. Just two more things, I swear. And they’re little things too.
First, every time that I open a document (a new one, or a saved one), the horizontal scroll bar seems to indicate that I could scroll just a little bit to the right, or that I’m not quite zoomed out far enough to see the entire document.
This is, of course, not true. The instant that I resize the window, Word realises that the width of the document in view is the full width of the document, and removes the horizontal scroll bar, but it really bothers me that it’s always there. I shouldn’t have to resize my document window every time I open it up, just to get rid of the horizontal scroll bar. It’s sloppy.
Second, if I push command-N, which makes a brand-new Word document, then save it, without changing any of the formatting or even entering any text or doing anything to it at all, I get a “Save as” sheet like the one shown in the attached image.
What I don’t like about this is that the default settings give me a yellow exclamation mark in a triangle and red warning text that says, “Compatibility check recommended.”
To get rid of the red text and yellow triangle, I need to click on “Compatibility Report …” then run a compatibility report, and of course, it turns up that there’s nothing to worry about, and it goes away.
Why should Word give me a warning when I don’t do a single thing that could possibly offend it? I’m trying to save a blank Word document. I should only get red letters and yellow exclamation marks in the case that I’m doing something strange. Maybe if I had inserted a linked document or a table or something like that, then I could expect it to warn me that saving it would have some compatibility issues.
Then again, maybe this is a commentary on the compatibility of Word with other versions of Word.
It’s the little things that really make me wonder about this software.
In Word, you can have multiple windows open for the same document. Go to the menu along the top, click Window > New Window. In this way, you can have two pages of the same document open at the same time. It’s great for editing. Good feature. (Thanks, Microsoft!)
What’s bad is that if you try to insert a citation while having two windows of the same document open, the citation will be added to the first window of the document that was opened, regardless of which window has focus. This can be confusing.
Also, if you try to add a citation in Word using Endnote while in full-screen mode, it won’t let you, because it thinks you’re in Publisher Mode.
In my beloved typesetting programme of choice, TeXShop (a Mac front-end for LaTeX), if you click on the “Tags” drop-down menu, it gives you an ordered list of all the chapters, sections and subsections in your document, so you can see the structure of your document at a glance and skip to the part that you’re interested in.
In Microsoft Word, there’s a feature that’s similar to the one from TeXShop. If you open the “Document Map Pane,” you get a little panel along the side of your Word document window that has all the chapters, sections and subsections laid out for you.
Word even indents subsections that are nested in sections above it, so you can see the document structure that much more clearly. This is wonderful.
What’s confusing is that Microsoft implemented the disclosure triangles incorrectly. There are little triangles beside sections in the Document Map Pane that have subsections, so you can show or hide parts of the document structure. In every other Mac application, disclosure triangles are indented when the section that has subsections is itself a subsection.
I have attached an image of a Finder window in list view with disclosure triangles that are done properly for comparison.
When I first saw the disclosure triangles, I thought that I had somehow messed up the formatting of my document. (Here’s another reason why I wish there was a non-WYSIWYG editor for Word.) I spent a good 5 minutes trying to figure out what I had done wrong before I noticed that the text headings were indented, and that it was just either a design decision not to indent the disclosure triangles, or just a bug.
Dialog boxes vs. sheets in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011
Sometimes I think that the programmers for Microsoft Office found the most un-Mac-like way to write this programme, while still keeping it functioning.
Word opens up dialog boxes for some things (see attached image, “Word—Insert file”) and then for other things, it uses sheets (see attached image, “Word—Save as”). This is not only frustrating because it makes for an inconsistent user experience, but also because it makes the software harder to use.
The nice thing about sheets rather than dialog boxes is that when a sheet opens up, it’s attached to the document window. What’s nice about that? Well, I can still drag the window around while the sheet is open.
For example, when I want to insert a file, a dialog box opens up. Because it’s a dialog box, I can’t move the document window. If I try to click on the document window, I get an angry beep from my computer. Even if I try command-dragging the window, I still get the angry beep. (If you command-drag a window, in most cases you can move it without bringing it to the foreground.)
This is frustrating because when I’m inserting a file, this is exactly the time when I would want to be able to look at things behind my document window. I don’t want to have to click-click-click all the way to the file I want using the dialog box. Often, the file is sitting right on my desktop or in a Finder window right behind my document window, and if I could just see it, then I could drag the file from the Finder or my desktop onto the file selector. But I can’t because the people at Microsoft decided to use a dialog box rather than a sheet.
Other design flaws
I have written previously about how I dislike the way that Word has broken the command-up/-down function. This is one more example of how the programmers of Word have written their software in a deliberately un-Mac-like way.
Also, when I open a large file—and not even a very large file: this happens to ones that are only 6 or 7 pages long—the vertical scroll bar does not reflect the document’s length accurately at first.
You have no idea how scared I was the first time I saved, closed and re-opened the Word version of my thesis. The vertical scroll bar indicator took up most of the scroll bar, which (in every other application) means that the part of the document that is in view is most of the document. When I scrolled down (using the page-down button, since the command-down doesn’t work the way it should in Word), I found out that the rest of the document was actually still there.
Still, this is a bug. In every other programme with a scroll bar like that, the size of the indicator shows you how much of the document is visible in the window, so if you have a tiny indicator, then that means that a lot of the document is outside the view currently displayed.
For the main document view, the size of the vertical scroll bar changes to reflect the size of the document, once you’ve scrolled to the end. The Document Map Pane has the opposite problem—the vertical scroll bar is tiny tiny, no matter how many items are in there. I only have 11 items in my Document Map for chapter 1, for example. There’s space for probably 30-40 in the Document Map Pane, and yet the scroll bar is so small as to indicate (in any other context) that there were dozens of pages of items in my Document Map. If I scroll down, a tooltip appears, giving me the name of an item in my Document Map, and I have to scroll to the very bottom of the window in order to select an item that’s pretty much at the top of the Document Map Pane. This is just annoying.
Serious bugs in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011
Above were examples of things that are just design flaws. Someone could conceivably disagree with me about whether the things I pointed out were bugs or features.
I will outline one non-serious interface bug, and one more serious bug.
Interface bug with the Document Map Pane
When I open files for which the Document Map Pane is open, the split view button initially covers the vertical scroll bar, as shown in the attached image.
The split view button is a useful one that that you pull down when you want to view two parts of the same document but you don’t want to see the intervening space between them.
The offending split view button disappears the second that I resize the window, but it’s really annoying that I have to resize the window every time I open it, if I plan on using the vertical scroll bar.
As far as I can tell, this bug occurs because the split view is not available for some reason, when the Document Map Pane is open.
Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 crashes my computer
The most serious bug that I’ve found is that I have been able to consistently crash my computer by trying to adjust the weight of a line in the Microsoft Word publishing layout. And I do mean crash my computer, not just crash Word. The whole thing freezes up, command-option-esc doesn’t work, and I have to hold down the power key in order to get out of it.
If you want, I can provide you the file I was editing in order to make it happen, and give you instructions as to how to crash your computer too.
I can’t even remember the last time my computer crashed before this, but I am able to consistently and repeatably cause it to do so by using what I would think was a fairly simple part of the programme.
I paid a lot of money (like $1,000,000 in “grad student dollars”) for this software, and the free software did the job a whole lot better.
Maybe Microsoft will release a patch that fixes all these problems to my satisfaction. I can hope, right? ;)