MacWord annoyances

By Cathy Flick, 11–14 May 2001

In ancient Word 5.1/mac which I purchased back in 1993 (and which still works just fine in OS 9.1, as it did in OS 6.0.5, except it can't do Find File on an HFS+ formatted disk), Word behaved like a proper mac program. The Find and Find&Replace and Spellchecker box (little window) went behind the document whenever you clicked on the document itself, coming to the front again only if you hit the key combo (or chose it from the menu) or clicked on a bit of the box that you might have kept peeking out from under or to the side of your document. So you could keep those boxes handy while going through a doc to fix things.

Also the Spellchecker was quite easy to read, nice "plain text". And I could search for Cyrillic just as easily as anything else, even though only the "plain text" versions of the characters would appear.

It was also very easy to set keyboard commands (through the Commands menu item in the Tools menu) for anything I ever wanted to do, e.g., change colors or fonts on the fly. Same thing would let me put some seldom-used stuff in the menu as well if I wanted.

Now we go to Word 98/mac (same format as Word 97/Windows and supposedly also Word 2000/Windows). As for the Windows world, the Word 98 files are bloated - at least twice the size of the same Word 5.1 file.

No longer do the Find and Find&Replace and Spellchecker box go behind the document with a mouse click as they should in a well-behaved mac program. No, they just sit there, blocking my view of everything, until I close the stupid little boxes. And then when I open the little boxes again, the box pops up in the most annoying place they could pick - I have to move it every time. I dread having to look for anything or do a spellcheck in Word 98 (I try to work in Word 5.1 as much as possible, then open up the doc in Word 98 for a final check and tweaking things like page orientations as necessary before sending to a mac-deprived client).

Forget about easily setting simple-minded keyboard commands for operations like changing color and changing font. I have a Ph.D. in physics and have spent many hours in vain trying to make Word 98 and its stupid macro routine not only do what I want in such matters, but remember how to do it the next time.... I don't know why Microsoft didn't just make a conversion program so that all the commands already defined in Word 5.1 would be automatically converted to their arcane new system. Mac users boycotted Word 6 in droves because it had been downgraded to match the Windows version, so obviously it was Word 5.1 users who they were trying to entice to upgrade to Word 98.

(Oh, by the way, even more ancient Word 4 had a very nice little macro program that came along with it -- the type that just watched what you did and then repeated it on command. No brainer to learn how to use it.)

Then there are tables... Believe it or not, Word 5.1 actually scrolls happily and quickly through the huge tables that I use for my notes files while Word 98 plods through them. The instructions for using tables in Word 5.1 were admittedly not the clearest in the world, but once I rewrote them for myself in real English, the maneuvers were simple enough. And combined with the easy way to add keyboard commands for various operations, I find it very fast to do all the table manipulations I want to do: quickly insert more rows, add columns, delete rows and tables, resize columns, merge cells, copying rows or columns into other tables, etc. At the same time, the control over such operations is excellent - it's hard to do something without intending it.

Word 98, in addition to its sluggishness with large tables, has managed to even mess up the simple operations of resizing and copying rows and tables. Every time I touch a table with my cursor, it seems to do something I didn't want it to do. Columns especially like to resize when I'm just trying to copy-and-paste something. I suppose the developers thought this was an "improvement", but it's not for me. There is also something very strange about the copy routine - I was working on one assignment where I wanted to just copy part of a page including a table into another page and adjust it. Couldn't do it without messing everything up just by trying to copy it in Word 98, it kept doubling columns and doing other strange things (no such problem when I finally just saved as a Word 5.1 file and did my table adjusting there....).

Then of course there was the delightful instability of Word 98 that wasn't fixed with a patch until July 2000. It especially didn't like complex tables, so if I was so unfortunate as to be adjusting a table in Word 98, the odds were that the file would become corrupted and I would have to spend more time reconstructing. I really should have billed Bill Gates for all the hours wasted reconstructing things. It didn't like files with a lot of graphics, either. I had to give up on the idea of just writing over a Russian source text because every time I tried to replace the Cyrillic in a table cell with the English, the file would corrupt. Slow going, needless to say. Oh, joy. Word 5.1, on the other hand, never has done this to me. Microsoft denied the problem for a long time, even though people who had to deal with such things regularly complained loudly. I am told that the multiple Undo function is part of the problem - I know when I was trying to edit someone else's file in Word 98, I kept suddenly seeing stuff appear that I know was never there in the first place and I never put there.... So it was suggested that you should frequently save and close the file, then re-open it to get rid of the bloated undo stuff to improve stability, as well as quitting and relaunching every hour or so (what a program!!!!!). I wish I could just turn off the undo's, or at least limit them to a reasonable number.

Oh, and course in "improving" the way it "handles non-English fonts", Word 98 makes it impossible to search for anything in Cyrillic using Find or Find&Replace. The only way I can search Cyrillic files that come from Word 97 people is to save as a Word 5.1 file. Word 98 doesn't seem able to deal with standard Cyrillic fonts in files from earlier versions such as Word 5.1 or Word 6 (also a Word 2000 file that isn't saved as a Word 97 file will not show Cyrillic properly). The only thing that has saved me is that long ago, I started using a non-standard "transliterated" Cyrillic font that uses lower ascii (rather than upper ascii) for the Cyrillic letters in my notes files - so I can at least search my notes files in clunky Word 98. But people with everything in Word 6 files using standard fonts are out of luck if they "upgrade".

They also managed to destroy the wonderful Find File routine in Word 5.1 when they "upgraded" to Word 98. The Find File routine in Word 98 was so bad that I instantly knew I couldn't draft my translations in it even if I could tolerate the other pesky "features", since I relied on Find File so much to avoid reinventing the wheel. It was so easy in Word 5.1 to pick up all my prior translation files (or files within a certain time period) that had a certain text in it, and then view the files in the little text viewer without ever leaving the routine to pick up the ones I wanted, and then open them all up at once. I don't know why they didn't just do the same routine as in Word 5.1 in Word 98, maybe they just wanted to fancy it up by showing "formatted text" and that broke it. Or maybe as with the other problems, they were too influenced by clunkiness in Windows versions. Someone involved with mac Word 98 development (who was chagrined to see my complaints online in a computer discussion) told me that they were thinking of just having people use the mac's Find File routine (which now is Sherlock) - bad idea, since Sherlock is not very good for text searches (especially compared with the splendid Word 5.1 routine) and requires huge indexes to be speedy enough. Fortunately, pre-OS 9.1 we can get UltraFind and post-OS 9.1 Grappler is quite speedy....

When I use Word 98, I find myself routinely using very uncharacteristic language and really getting annoyed with my computer. That is NOT natural for a mac user.... We LOVE our macs, we don't usually want to throw them out the window -- except when using Word 98!!! I feel as though I'm trapped in the Windows world whenever I use Word 98, even though it was touted as an upgrade that let the mac developers loose from the Windows team. They obviously still started from the clunky Word 6 that had been Windozified, rather than from the excellent and macintoshy Word 5.1.

I suggested to Microsoft that they should maintain Word 5.1 as a simple and fast word processor for people who don't need all the bells and whistles that get in the way for many in Word 98. All they need to do is ensure that Word 5.1 doesn't break in a future mac OS, and it would be nice if they just made it so the Find File routine can handle HFS+ formatted disks (it is still incredibly fast on huge hard disks - I tested it by formatting an external briefly as the old HFS format and plopping about 5 GB of stuff on it) and also add the feature of being able to define different page orientations for different pages in a doc. That's really all most people would want. Anybody really into macros beyond what is provided by Commands can use several standalone programs such as QuicKeys, TypeIt4Me, Keyquencer, etc. and also can use infinite multiple clipboards with CopyPaste (which of course often doesn't work in Word 98, which like most Microsoft programs, doesn't play well with others...). I would certainly pay for an upgrade/patch of Word 5.1 that would keep it current without messing with its nice little interface.

Peace, Cathy Flick