Let Word Do It

Following up to my last post on outlining, Marc Hedlund, one of the co-authors of Peer-to-Peer (O’Reilly), wrote about Word being too smart. Marc’s thesis is summed up in the last paragraph, where he says, “What the Word team lacks, in my view, is an awareness that, when a user is trying to get his or her own work done, the user is always smarter than the technology. Assuming that smart people aren’t their market is the surest way to produce a bad word processor, which is exactly what I think they’ve done.”

There are really two parts to that thesis. The first is the opinion that Word has gotten too smart for its own good. I’ll talk about that in a bit, but I’d like to first address the factual notion that developing smart technology carries the inherent assumption that the users of that technology aren’t smart—that, in some way, we’ve tried to target Word toward some mythical “average” user who wants a lot of hand-holding.

The distinction I’d made, and the distinction Marc picked out, was the distinction between professional and non-professional writers. The problem, I think, is that Marc saw this in terms of “smart,” “dumb” and “average” users as opposed to just different kinds of users with just plain different needs. Ironically, Marc echoes this very point when he says, “While I think many of the ideas in Adam Engst’s WriteRight proposal are fantastic, for the most part I have no need for them.” [emphasis added]

Making smart software isn’t about handholding allegedly stupid users. Frankly, that kind of thinking is just plain foreign to me. Aunt Tillie is a figment of Eric Raymond’s imagination, and there she should forever remain. I don’t make software for Aunt Tillie. I make software for real people who need to get real work done. These people want powerful tools, and I have no doubt that people like John McGhie would be more than happy to board a plane from Sydney to Seattle to hunt me down and thrash me to within inches of my life if we ever decided to “dumb-down” Word. Now, there are quite a few adjectives I could think of to describe folks like John McGhie, but “average” isn’t on the list.

Which brings me to the opinion that we’ve made Word too smart for its own good, and, while that’s an opinion that quite a few people share with Marc, it is, by no means, a universal opinion. Those of us who’ve spent a great deal of time reading the microsoft.public newsgroups and who’ve spent time talking to people like the MVPs and members of our Customer Council have come to see a pattern that has no correlation to a user’s intelligence or the extent to which she is technologically savvy. People who tend to curse Word have had significant prior experience with some other word processing and/or document producing software. People who don’t have that kind of prior experience tend to find Word’s power and features very helpful.

Now, Marc’s point had to do with intelligent default settings, and I’m sure that his retort would be that there must be some way to come up with default settings for Word’s automatic features that will satisfy some mythical “average” user. But there is a problem with that notion. I’ve read quite a few rants about Word, and a vast majority of the rants end with something like, “Why can’t Word be like [fill in the blank]?” The problem is that the filled-in blank spans the gamut from WordPerfect to nroff and vi.

In that context, it makes no sense, whatsoever, to think in terms of some mythical “average” user. What does make sense is to think in terms of the defaults that will satisfy most users. Removing the feature entirely isn’t a viable option (John, put that bat away!). For the remaining users, you try to find other ways to satisfy their needs, like the auto-recovery work we added to Word XP for Windows and Word 2004 on the Mac. No matter what we do, however, there is no way to satisfy everybody. There will always be people who curse Word, and, unfortunately, the people doing the cursing will always be louder than the people who are busy using Word to get their work done.

So, has Word become a “bad” word processor? Frankly, I have no clue, or, rather, I have no objective basis upon which to make a definitive statement one way or the other. “Good” and “bad” are value judgments that only individual users can make about a product with respect to their particular needs. Word is a powerful word processor, and, like any powerful tool, you can hurt yourself with it. This is neither “good” nor “bad”. It just is.



Comments (38)

  1. Marc Hedlund says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I completely agree with your Aunt Tillie-allergy, and your sentence, "Making smart software isn’t about handholding allegedly stupid users." On some other points I think some clarification might help.

    You write, "…I’m sure that [Marc’s] retort would be that there must be some way to come up with default settings for Word’s automatic features that will satisfy some mythical ‘average’ user." My point was not that there are some perfect set of defaults that are right, where Word’s are wrong. I completely agree that whatever defaults are chosen, some people will be happy and others frustrated.

    Instead, I was trying to point to the method Word uses (and, of course, many other programs use) to act on a perceived need. It is my contention that Word has a very high number of features that automatically act based on an assumption that the user would want something done, and that some percentage of the time, that assumption is wrong and the corrective action is obscure or unavailable.

    What would make me happier? In my opinion Word should do more — a lot more — to educate users about automatic features when they are used, and provide people a way to easily indicate permanent and one-time preferences for use of those features (sometimes it’s great to have asterisks become bullets, other times not so much). (I fully realize I’m headed in the direction of Clippy, but the solution space is larger than that one option.) I see the Office apps getting slowly better at this over time (for instance, Excel now asks if I want to make a List from what I’m typing, but doesn’t explain what a list is or how to get it to stop asking), but in my opinion you need a completely new model for controlling the "auto*" features. Modal dialogs (as in the Excel List case) aren’t the answer.

    You wrap up by writing, "Word is a powerful word processor, and, like any powerful tool, you can hurt yourself with it. This is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. It just is." You make a false analogy — I’m not arguing for replacing the table saw with a butter knife so people don’t cut their hands. Photoshop is a powerful tool, and it almost never does anything automatic unless you ask it to by using a tool or menu item it provides. Word isn’t Photoshop and shouldn’t necessarily use its auto-action model; but that is an example of an as-powerful or more-powerful tool that provides power through control instead of assumed need. I am personally, and I see plenty of people who are also, very badly served by the current model for automatic actions in Word. I think Word needs to provide more control for _all_ users, even if most automatic action applications turn out to be right.

    Two other quick notes. First, if people educated on Word love it while people coming to Word from other programs don’t, doesn’t that suggest that addressing this problem is an opportunity for growth? Second, I’m not sure exactly how you define your categories, but Word is the only word processor I’ve ever used extensively, though I have used other document producing software. I don’t think my objections are based on desire for Word to be more like Emacs (please, anything but that). It’s funny to see how you split people into those groups, though: you seem to be saying that people should adapt to the software instead the other way around. Don’t you have that backwards?

    Thanks again for the response.

  2. Word was never a good wordprocessor. It was always more than adequate for casual users, however. This is what made it popular. It’s optimized for stupid blond secretaries and business users. You are unlikely to run into much problems writing two page memos. It is totally unsuitable for producing highly structured, voluminous content like manuals, master thesises, etc. You need a large bag of tricks to pull that kind of thing of in word.

    I find most knowledgable users actually turn off many of the automation features, which especially for professional users are a major PITA. Many other users that don’t know how to do this complain about mysterious problems with respect to formatting, image positioning, etc. (some of the options are well hidden, so well that I frequently have to click through several dialogs to find them back). Frequently users give up getting things correct (witness the many documents with inconsistent font sizes, strange whitespace around images, etc.)

    What I would like is not the removal of features but merely a convenient way to switch to a non automated, strict mode that specifically does not allow you to override styles by e.g. accidentally pasting some formatted html, uses character styles when you click the bold/italic buttons, applies a bulleted paragraph style when you use the bullet button, warns you when you break a cross reference, etc. So often have I set paragraph styles exactly right only to find some deviating paragraphs in the same document several weeks later. Cut and paste a few times and your layout is already messed up.

    It’s allmost impossible to keep things consistent in word unless you know how to avoid

    all the automation and behind your back formatting pitfalls. Worse, all the default settings actually promote things getting more inconsistent. Writing something like a phd thesis in word or a thick technical manual is a nightmare (I’ve done both). It will easily take a day to fix things if word automation kicks in at the wrong moment (been there, it’s agony).

    Also please fix the damn image support in word. I’ve yet to find a consistent way to paste images, get a numbered caption underneath (and not on the next page) and keep it together without strange blank areas appearing around it, it overlapping the text etc. How hard can it be? My favorite solution is to use tables to get this right (image in top cell, caption in bottom cell). And even then you have to fiddle with many positioning options to keep word from misformatting things.

    I’ve actually learned several workarounds for the problems above and can actually keep my documents fairly consistent (as long as I let noone else touch them). The point however is that these are the things that frustrate professional writers. Frequently you get material from non professional writers, which means hours of agony getting the document in a usable shape. And then if you don’t keep your guard word still messes up your document.

    I and my fellow ‘professional’ users may represent only a small percentage of users but with ms office marketshare that still means hundreds of thousands of users (if not millions). No doubt many non professional users might appreciate some consistency in their reports as well.

    BTW. I ended up converting my Ph D. thesis to framemaker which allthough spartan, obsolete, incomprehensible and unusable is a much better alternative for technical writing. Framemaker functionality with word friendlyness is what professional users need.

  3. Rick Schaut says:


    I should start out by saying that if I thought Word was as good as we can make it, I’d have packed it in long ago and put Word into maintenance mode. There is still room for improvement on a number of fronts, which is why dialogs like this are very good to have.

    Second, I absolutely agree with the idea that software should try to adapt to users rather than the other way around. In reality, however, that’s way easier said than done. As you note, Clippy was one attempt to do just that, and it fell on its face.

    More recently, as I mentioned in the post, we’ve added the auto-recovery features where Word provides an unobrusive notification for every automatic action it takes and gives the user an opportunity to undo that action–even after she’s made a few other changes following the automatic action. The user can also turn off that particular automatic action entirely when undoing the action Word took. I don’t know if it’s an ideal solution to the problem, but it’s an idea that has enough merit to at least try.

    Lastly, I have to confess that I’m not sure what I think about the notion that Word’s automatic actions reflect a perceived need regardless of the user’s preferences. I see the point, but I do know that it doesn’t accurately reflect our thinking about the issue. The conundrum we face is more a question of defaults, and, for these cases, the options are binary.

    The question for each of these automatic actions is whether or not they default to on, thereby forcing people to turn them off when they don’t want them, or leave them off, thereby forcing people to turn them on when they want them. The answer isn’t always easy.

    We have kicked around a number of ideas, including the notion of adding variable weights to the rules that fire in the inference engine for certain autoformatting features, but the added complexity, and significant cost to implement, has yet to be adequately justified by the actual benefit to users.

    This is the really hard part of developing a piece of software, and there are no simple answers. I’m certainly welcome to ideas, though.


  4. Mark Wilkins says:

    Adding variable weights to rules that trigger autoformatting features would make it more difficult than it is to learn how to get a particular desired result from Word, by obscuring some of the variables that lead to a certain autoformatted result.

    At least when all the variables are out there for someone to see, they’re more likely to find a workflow that doesn’t lead to surprises. If Word is making a pseudorandom choice at the boundary between two ways to handle an autoformatting situation, it makes it that much more difficult to predict what a particular sequence of steps will do to one’s document.

    — Mark

  5. Nik says:

    I absolutely ADORE the auto-recovery feature. It has the benefit of letting me selectively set up rules for how Word interacts with the content I write, without ever having to see a preference pane. When I paste text in, I’m a click away from modifying how the text is pasted (is it plain text? styled? follow the "parent" format?). It is not entirely intuitive, but once I got used to it, I saw the light. Best of all, I can keep writing and not worry about it. If I’m not concerned with formatting (or if Word did the paste action correctly by default), I’m all set. If not, I can still finish my thought/paragraph and go back and rectify Word’s "mistake." This ability makes it the very best kind of automated feature.

    As an extension to that ability, I’d love to see the ability to change defaults by document or application-wide, as well as a one-stop shop to undo the defaults that I set or modify them if I wish. Needs change, and the software has to as well. As of now, there’s a great deal of preference window digging to find what I want to find.

    Lastly, I would appreciate a button to turn off all automated everythings, again, either by document or application-wide. If I wish to go back and turn on a select few features, I can do so, but at least I’d know I’m starting from ground zero.

    If nothing else, I no longer compose text in BBEdit and then paste into Word for formatting. That’s a plus.

  6. Mark says:

    What about doing what Visual Studio does, and support the notion of user types? When I launch VS.NET 2003 for the first time it asks me whether I’m a C# user, a C++ user, someone who uses everything, or one of several other options. It then sets a bunch of things – like help filters, editor styles, and so on – to its best guess about my preferences. I can go back at any time and answer that same question differently.

    All of that said – it has always seemed to me that we (Microsoft) do tend to try to build our products to please the lowest common denominator of user. We’ve got people – probably entire teams of them – agonizing over the "first time user" and adapting the interface accordingly, etc.

    It’s why in my opinion products like Linux have the popularity they have – you can tinker with them more easily. Example: My router is running a custom version of its software for example that allows me to specify that VOIP traffic gets priority, or that FTP has less priority than other traffic. You don’t see that in our networking hardware, nor would you – we want "Aunt Tillie" to be able to plug it in and have it just work. I’m very sad to say that my router runs Linux and not our software. Not sad enough to boycott the router though – I like the features.


  7. Let the record show that John McGhie is a real person, and he really would carry through with that threat!

  8. LJ Gould says:

    The big problem with word is that it’s too successful. Word’s never going to please everyone; everyone’s pressured to use Word. Whether for file-format compatibility reasons or by corporate decree too many people who would rather use something else, perhaps something more suited to their task, are forced into Word. As long as this goes on, there will be complaints: you’ll never stop them all.

    That said, a single, easy-to-discover "Stop helping me" button that turns off every single automatic feature that transforms text or formating would go a long way toward pleasing me and the rest of the "You made word too smart" crowd.

  9. Peter E. says:

    Several of the government contractors here in the Washington, DC area have a full-time staff person or two in every office whose responsibility it is to fix problems in Word documents, notably for consistency in styles, for proposals and technical manuals. My father is one of them. We talk not infrequently about his latest battle to get Word (2003/Windows) to do what he wants. It seems that when you’ve inspired the creation of an entire job classification charged with mastering your word processor, the word processor may be not doing the job as well as it could.

    I completely affirm the hopes of Mr. Van Gurp for a "strict" mode — wouldn’t it be nice to be able to lock the styles like you can lock an Excel spreadsheet! If I could impose a style sheet on my own small office, the world would be a happier place.

    As a professional editor, I would also hope that at some point the Word team can upgrade the algorithms that do smart quotes — ’tis a crying shame that rock ‘n’ roll has to be addressed manually each and every time — and then re-corrected if autoformat is done. And don’t get me started on autoformat when quotations are involved. I really don’t want my dashed attributions to be turned into bullet lists.

    That said, recent changes in Word 2004 do seem like steps in the right direction; it’s easier to undo a bad autocorrect.

  10. My friend Ryan wrote something early in 2003 that resonates here (although he was talking about architectural software): "I don’t want my objects to be very smart. That substitutes the tedium of doing the same thing over and over again for the tedium of debugging the relationships between smart objects that are being manic and overly helpful. […] What I enjoy about design is being able to use common materials in uncommon ways. Maybe I want to use a garage door for a dining table. The software says that garage door objects must be in a wall. So this whole smart object concept simply gives up the heart of architecture."

    Does it give up the heart of good writing too? Perhaps it does.

  11. As a former technical writer (now programmer) I confess a deep, abiding hatred of Word. I came to it from FrameMaker, which has a steep learning curve, and the wonderful design philosophy of doing exactly, and nothing more, than what is requested of it. Besides the long list of long document specific features that are superior to Word, it is that simple philosophy that make it both hard to learn, and so damn wonderful to have learned.

    Word, on the other hand, is essentially first serving those who want Word to try to think ahead for them. It’s philosophy is basically ‘I’ll do what I think you want me to.’

    Unfortunately, since MS has strangled everyone else out of the business (it’s telling when your only real competition is free and you still own the market) we’re all forced to use it. So even though I’ve mostly escaped using it by becoming a programmer, my present job is writing an application that is wrapped around Word.

    Of course, all the programmers, and our users, strongly dislike Word. But hey, it’s the standard, right?


  12. Doug Mann says:

    As a Word user I find myself agreeing with arguments on both sides of this issue. For me, the correction features are quite often offset by the incessant endency to change things I don’t really want changed. The ability to turn off specific "features" is a real pain.

    Word needs a "never help me like that" pulldown. Whenever Word uninvitedly changes something, we need a menu item that takes us immediately to a soft switch to permanently disable that feature. it’s not enough to go through the manual and try to figure out which of the innumerable settings might be the culprit "this time". We need easy, intuitive disabling.

  13. Guy Hermann says:

    I am one of those poor souls who is almost an expert Word user. I actually like the autocorrect curly quotes and dashes, but want to control my formatting very carefully and use a handful of styles to do so. Despite a fair amount of experience, I never have figured out how to get Word to stop doing autoformat when I don’t want it. I just got 2004, so it might be better, but I can’t find "Auto-recover" in the help. Frustrating.

    That said, I also use InDesign for about half the documents I produce, primarily when there are more than a few graphics to include. InDesign does zero autoformatting and it is a delight. Everything is always consistent. My assistant can manage styles in ID easily, but is still confused about them in Word. This kind of strictness serves semi-skilled users like me very well, especially when I have a deadline and need to rely on the program not to mess with my layout. But it sure is a pain to edit text in ID–and the embedding of Word documents in an ID document is even more of a pain, partly because of the odd way Word manages bullets. And don’t get me started on Word’s numbered lists…..

    So, I come down strongly in favor of a "strict" mode. Let those of us who want it to turn off absolutely all autoformatting globally, so that we can have a formatting experience as strict and predictable as InDesign.

  14. Chris says:

    I think the overall attitude here is the default is great for people like my boss that still prints a hard copy of every email and puts it in a file cabinet, but that disabling the defaults for a specific purpose is difficult at best and infuriating at worst. I like the autocorrect for my spelling (most of the time) but I hate the autoformatted bullet lists et al.

    I do like being able to copy and paste Excel tables and charts from Excel, but both programs have inconsistent formatting options that usually require workarounds and additional formatting once the document is in Word. Also, Word makes it fairly easy to edit equations, Excel makes it difficult to put simple super or subscripts in a Chart title or axis label. Why can’t I just do it the same as Word? PS, AI and ID all share a text engine, why not Word, Excel, and PowerPoint?

    I think a better overall approach would be to have consistency across the apps. Include a well thought out basic set of features and keep the advanced features for those people that need them enough to bother the learn how to properly use them. I know I’d love to have a formatting pallete like word had for text and use that in Excel. And for the love of god update the equation editor!

    I know everone has heard about the fact that many people prefer to run Word 5.1a. Does anyone at Microsoft know this? Do they understand why? Think about it, if someone is going through all the trouble of running a 10 yr old software product in emulation mode on their 10 min old G5, that’s got to speak volumes about how well that version got work done (and still does. It runs faster in emulation that Word 2004 does natively). Word 5.1a was simple and straightforward for most tasks, those that need more pulled out their manual and their brain and used those.

    As far as long doc support, I can’t speak on that. I’ve never (yet) had to make anyhting longer than about 10 pages or so.Perhaps this an important market segment that Microsoft needs to address?

  15. Tom N. says:

    I just want to say "yes" to the idea of user types. Being able to choose the closest profile to me from a set of user types and having an entire set of preferences be set automatically would be a great time-saver (and it would help lower the frustration level, too).

  16. germ says:

    Word is one of the worst pieces of software I know of. The tragedy is that many people only know about Word (I was one of them 10 years ago….). Another problem is that most users don’t know how to properly use Word (and that’s a design flaw of Word, IMNSHO). Finally, even when you use it right, Word does not work correctly.

    I urge everybody to explore alternatives to Word: Mellel, LaTeX, FrameMaker, etc…. and DUMP microsoft office (use TextEdit or OpenOffice to open Word documents people send to you and complain to them that they are in a non-standard, non-documented, proprietary format).

  17. Tired Dog says:

    The simple act of attempting to type, or paste some text, into a document should NOT result in a complete and incomprehensible alteration of the entire document. And yet, this is what Word does, in the name of being "helpful". If the MS coders who read this take away nothing else from the discussion, a simple button to turn OFF every automatic feature is both simple in concept and would effectively mitigate a large part of the pain of using Word. I’d much rather hunt for the feature I want to turn on than try to figure out why my document keeps magically changing. If you want to put icing on the cake, how about being able to ask Word Help the question "Why did you just do that"?, with Word knowing what it "just did", fessing up to it, and explaining why on god’s green earth it did so.

  18. Mike Z says:

    Nothing aggravates me more in Word/Excel when they auto-correct things that I don’t want auto-corrected. What’s worse is that its not at all intuitive how to disable these features.

    Excel is very bad at trying to turn everything into a link (URL, email addrs, etc), which then becomes un-edittable as text (or the how of this is strongly hidden). Sometimes text is just text.

  19. I also have to use Word because it has become a standard. It is full of stupid automation.

    I would favor starting with NO automation and having a list of features that could be turned on when and if desired.

    Seventeen years ago there was a wonderful small fast program "Write Now" that was very easy to use. Apple Works is also easy to use. "Word Perfect"is complex, but certainly a better and more predictable program than Word.

    Word is a monopoly gone wrong!

  20. Colt West says:

    Word has got better with each version. But there still seems to be bugs that carry over from one version to the next. The most common issue I have is disappearing images. I paste in an image, maybe type a little text on that same page, and my image disappears! Change the view up or down a percentage usually causes the image to magically appear…but not always. Word’s had this problem since Office 98. Am I the only one with this problem? Surely not.

  21. Eric says:

    The Photoshop analogy is _excellent_. I happily cheerfully look forward to using Photoshop and InDesign (the two Adobe products I use most frequently) and, now that you mention it, it’s true: They’re capable of all kinds of automation, customization, and time saving but in no way do they get in the way of anything I do.

    It’s true! Adobe = knows. Microsoft = not so much.

    Why does anyone -have- to use Word? Any number of programs save to text or RTF or PDF.

    Regarding sharing documents, why not save them as PDFs? That functionality is built in to the Mac, isn’t it in Windows?

    The problem with the automation is that Word de facto, if not de juris, keeps me from turning it off.

    A) I don’t know what Word calls it, which is critical to killing the behavior because I don’t know where to go or look or ask for a solution.

    B) The simply arcane menus fight the user and encourage trial-and-error hunting instead of helpful navigation.


    Word opens with a blank page. How do I disable that? I don’t know because I don’t know how to look it up in Help to find out. I’ve tried various combinations of words but Word doesn’t grok "auto blank page open" which I think was my latest guess.

    Why are user options that format text under a menu called "Tools?" I’m concerned about Word’s user-controlled _behavior_, not the mechanism that Word uses to do it. Word re-formatted my text without my permission and it does the same thing all the time. Why don’t I go under Format to stop Word from doing that? It’s a formatting issue, after all.

    Why is it when you type something with "http" and Word messes with it, that that behavior is referred to as a correction? What’s incorrect about -not- having it remain text? Again, it’s a formatting issue, not a correct or incorrect issue. And, again, it’s Word calling it something it’s not making it more difficult to hunt down and kill the automation.

    Why I hate Word is that it’s terribly horribly bloated with things I don’t use — and because it’s so fat it runs the slowest of any program used to create words on my system.

    I imagine its performance would increase if I could turn off the things I don’t want it to do — but Word fights me whenever I try to do that.

    I don’t like programs that fight me, so I don’t like Word.

    I agree with others: Having automation turned off by default, like those really fine Adobe products, or an easy to get to button that would turn everything off would be most appreciated.

    Giving me the option of not installing a trillion megs of "Tools" that make using Word a chore instead of fun in the first place: even better.

  22. Well, someone here has to admit that they love using Word. I use Word all day, almost every day. I especially appreciate some of the little hidden features in Word; they make it so much easier for me to get my work done, and to work in the way that I prefer to. (I jump around in a document a lot as I work on it.)

    I’ve used Word to write, or help write, several books, and I found it wonderfully suited to doing this. (Though I always break up chapters into separate files to keep from having one humongous file.)

    I don’t have Word 2004 yet. I use Word v.X, and I’m pefectly happy with it. It’s dead stable and I’ve never once had it crash on me.

    I’ve helped a large number of users with Word. They all curse the automated features that are on by default. I think that I have identified the problem for these folks. It is actually very simple. You don’t turn off auto-formatting and auto-correction features in Preferences. Users naturally go there, and even when they don’t find the controls for these features there they don’t even consider that they may be located elsewhere. When I tell them that they are easily turned off under the Tools menu, under AutoCorrect…, they complain that that isn’t an intuitive place to find these settings. I think that they are right.

    The same goes for dismissing the annoying Office Assistant. Once again folks look in Preferences to turn off the annoying animation. It isn’t intuitive to expect to be able to click on the Assistant itself and then have an Options… button appear.

    I suspect that if you put all of these controls in Preferences, most of the folks who complain that Word "takes away your control" would be appeased.

    It also wouldn’t hurt to have a simple setup assistant that one could run anytime to take you step by step through the automated features, telling you what they do, and asking you if you would like each individual feature on or off.

    It’s sad how many folks don’t know how to use styles. A short introductory QuickTime movie showing folks how to use styles would be a great idea.

    Finally, I’m not sure that folks who are coming to Word after being longtime WordPerfect/Mac users will ever be completely happy with Word. I sympathize that it is painful to have to unlearn the WP way of doing things and learn the Word way. But I also think that there is a resentment issue (for being forced to switch) that may never be overcome.

    There used to be settings in Word to set up the program’s menus and a couple of other features like Word 5.1. I’m sure that a similar feature for WP users could be implemented. But the time for such a feature to be included was several years ago. It may be too late now.

  23. Dan says:

    I count myself fortunate that I’m a Apple Support techie, and don’t have to deal with MS products that much. We do use Office (both v.X and 2004), but it’s not that much of an issue for us.

    This is because the users in the Studio I support use it for what it was originally intended: to generate text. Word is not a DTP program, however much MS might try to add that functionality in. To make another analogy, we don’t edit images in the camera software, even though it has that functionality added. We use Photoshop, cos that’s what it is designed to do. Trying to do layout in Office is like trying to bang a nail in with a spanner; it works, but is a waste of effort and an excercise in frustration.

    Personally, I’d prefer it if we could drop Office altogether, but our PC IT dept wouldn’t agree to migrating all the PC users to any of the alternatives, and we need something that will reliably deal with Excel docs. Once OpenOffice.org completes the native OSX version, I’ll be pushing it very hard.

    If you need to layout dozens of pages, use the right tools; InDesign, Quark. These are meant to put pictures in text, do backgrounds, footnotes and styled formatting. Leave Word for the secretaries and one page missives from HR.

  24. Priit says:

    Well, although I understand (I think) why the automated features like formatting exist, in my opinion they teach user to do it mostly incorrectly. Ok, it is mostly convinient to format while you write, it’s more effective to do it afterwards. And lot more easier, because you do not have to remove and cahange autoformatted paragraphs – which can be very hard sometimes. Those rare moments I had to help out my coworkers were just that kind of autoformat hells – bulleted lists for example. There’s no sane way often to recever and the only thing is just blindly and madly turn all the features off. Bad thing is you must usually turn them back, people used to them. Simple one button to turn absolutely every auto feature off and restore them later would be a Candy.

    Back to convinience. Office suit is not the most convinient piece of clothing to wear, but we still recuire and wear it. Why? Same with formatting. Write and correct and correct and correct and format then is the right way to do it. Why should Word teach users to do it other way?

    And last but not least. Rick, did you know that Word is used in lot of countries and by lots of user who are not english and do not use local spell checker (they have not). Yes, you guessed right – their documents were, are and will always be formatted with nice red lines all the way up and down…. And there’s no hint nowhere, why does red underlines, what they mean and how to make them go away.

  25. rothko says:

    Fascinating commentary from everyone. I use Word a lot, but am moving toward Latex (shoot me now) for a variety of professional reasons. Sigh.

    The comment I need to bring up was touched on only lightly above: at least in Word, you can turn things OFF and change things you want to change. For god’s sake, why can’t PowerPoint and Excel (part of the same suite, eh?) have the same settings and power in changing menus, keystrokes, and more. That would certainly make me happier. Word itself – well, I mean, it’s what it is, a blated beast used by enough people to make it, uh, used by enough people. It has some great tools, and those seem to be different for everyone. Why can’t the rest of the office suite be as customizable (so that it does only what I want it to do?!).


  26. Maarten says:

    Wonderful discussion.

    I’ll put my vote in for the ‘turn all auto features off’ button.

    And another feature request:

    From the the Best Mac Word Processor of All Time, FullWrite:

    this program had the option of ‘multiple open rulers’ allowing you to see the ruler settings of each line/paragraph and set tabs, indents etc line by line without having to scroll thru them to see the ruler settings.

  27. I’ll add my few comments here-I’ve used Word since version 3 and am one of those who really liked the 5.x versions ("Word Classic") since they didn’t get in your way for writing and formatting (ie they weren’t "helpful"). I’ll take the reduction in features as it would make my job easier from a support perspective.

    I do like Word as it lets me get the basics of something like a quick documentation sheet done in 20 minutes. However I think the ability to turn off all the automation, lock the styles, etc. would be a great boon. Also an ability to ignore aspects of formatting for imported/pasted text (keep bold/ital/underline, discard font & size) would solve myriad problems.

    My problem is that regardless of the number of time I turn off the automation, *something* is turning them back on! Turn off the AutoFormat as I type settings only to discover several days later that somehow they are back on (and I know I didn’t do this intentionally). Turn off Click & Type-back on again, somehow. I’m not mucking with the prefs-but I can’t figure out who or what might be.

    I understand the rise of the "Word Expert"-that’s a role I fulfill as well and if I can’t figure out why these things happen, how can that mythical "First Time User" figure it out?



  28. I like word. I always have. Word 6 was a pain in the ass, but WordPerfect got me through that period.

    however, there’s no product that does what I, and a lot of people need word to do, and that’s the revision comment features. Acrobat kinda has this, but Acrobat is designed by people that hate their users, (just try to use some of the advanced stuff in Acrobat 6 Pro. They have to hate all humans, it’s the only explanation), and there’s no other reasonably ubiquitous product that has this.

    As well in a corporate environment, "almost word" doesn’t cut it. Period. I’ve dealt, and deal with the "almost word" products. For simple documents, they’re okay. Start getting more complex and watch the mushroom cloud. As well, the best argument I’ve seen for Open Office is "It’s not a M$ product." Well, it’s also not a rutabaga. I’m not using anything because of what it *isn’t*. It has to do the job. So far, Word is the best product for doing the job.

    Having said that, I would LOVE to see the next version of Office move in a more Adobe-ish direction wrt componentizing things. Make more of the features plugins, and then publish the plugin API. Most of the real value in things like Photoshop and Quark Xpress and the rest come from the extensibility. If I want to run a leaner Photoshop, I can. If I need to add on I can. Don’t ship 63 versions of Office, but make it easier for people to not use features they don’t want.

    I know the one thing i see from WinOffice that makes me *green* is the wealth of plugins for Outlook. Adding that into Entourage and Office in general would be fantastic.