What I dislike about Windows and Word

Table of contents

Introduction

Bugs in Word 6, 97 and 2000

Bugs in Word 2000 that weren't there in Word 97

A problem in Word 6 that gets worse with every new version

Word 5.1 and 98 for the Mac

Annoying behaviour in Win95, which is worse in Win98

Annoying behaviour in Win95, which is still in Win98


Introduction

In July 2000 I bought a new Gateway 2000 computer (European headquarters), with Win98 and Word2000 pre-installed. To me this meant an upgrade from the Win95 and Word6&97 that I was used to.
It turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Many of the bugs and much of the clumsiness in the old software is still present in the new, and there are new bugs too. One of them impeded my work so much that I had to uninstall Word2000 and re-install Win97.
On the other hand I want to stress that bugs are always more conspicuous than features. I don't discuss the things about Windows and Word I am satisfied about, and especially in Word, there are many. I also knowingly don't discuss some improvements in newer versions. But now for the bugs:


Bugs in Word 6, 97 and 2000

Many of the problems I am going to describe here have to do with tables. So to make myself clear, we need an example. It looks like the table below. But to get the table on your screen in such a way that it fits my description, you will have to adjust the windows width of your browser. The last words of the three lines in the right cell of the last row should ideally be "one", "to" and "word".

Left cell, first row Right cell, first row
Left cell, second row Here is rather long text in a single table cell. It consists of several lines, more than one sentence, and the whole thing is paragraph. Here is a very long non-existent word to complete the : abacadabralilopozodozovivinabupunonbreaking word.
Left cell, third row Right cell, third row

You can also view or download the example table as a Word document (stored in RTF, Rich Text Format, so it works in versions 6, (probably also 95), 97 and 2000 of Word for Windows.

The cursor and tables in Word

Marking text with the cursor keys (Shift plus arrows, End, Home) doesn't work the same in a table as it does in a non-table paragraph:

Storage of styles (opmaakprofielen)

Styles (Dutch: opmaakprofielen) are a useful way to define sets of formatting properties. You define the style's properties in one place, you assign a style to each paragraph, and then the properties apply to all those paragraphs. When formatting properties need to be changed, you change them once, and the change becomes effective for all paragraphs that have that style.
This concept is similar to subroutines or functions in programming languages, and to CSS (cascading style sheets) in HTML.

A very smart idea. The strange thing though, is that in RTF (Rich Text Format) styles are not stored in a way that the concept suggests: The style's properties are stored, there is a reference to the style with the paragraph that have that style, but the style's properties are also stored with every paragraph.. This is true in RTF generated by Word 6, Word 97 and Word 2000. It wastes space, and defies the idea behind styles.

Word and screen resolution

Word's designer are very much aware of the fact that nowadays, disk storage is cheap. But to them, screen resolution seems to be a different matter:


Bugs in Word 2000 that weren't there in Word 97

Again consider a document with a table like this example, except that it is now a lot larger. For example, the document I discovered this problem with had 127444 text characters (but required an awful lot more bytes to store it on disk).

There is a left column with reference numbers (irrelevant for this discussion), a second column with source language text, and a third language that should eventually contain fully translated target language text. Some cells have fully or partially pre-translated text from a translation memory system, some cells are almost done but require editing, and many still need full translation.
Now it is convenient, to save on typing effort and for consistency, to start by searching and replacing some often occurring terms. (The translation memory might have done some of that work, but that isn't the point of this discussion). Only the rightmost column may be changed, the other two should remain unaffected.
If normally do this by splitting the screen horizontally, marking the rightmost column in the upper screen half (so changes will be restricted to that column), and then looking for candidates while perusing the lower screen half. Once I see a candidate, I switch back to the upper half using function key F6. In Word 97, this can be done in less than half a second. In Word 2000 (version 9.0.2812), this takes 45 (forty-five!). This was measured on a laptop computer with a Celeron 500 MHz processorand 64 MB of memory. (45 seconds times 500 MHz means 22.5 billion clock pulses).
This makes Word 2000 completely unusable for me, so I uninstalled it and reverted to Word 97.


File size: A problem in Word 6 that gets worse with every new version

A file that contained a mere 49326 bytes of text (including spaces and newlines), without fancy formatting (except that the text was in tables, as explained above), required the following amounts of disk-space (in bytes) in various Word versions:

Word 6 Word 97 Word 2000
RTFWord RTFWord RTFWord
272 68892 160 347 955181 248 837 386333 824

The same figures expressed in percentages of overhead:

Word 6 Word 97 Word 2000
RTFWord RTFWord RTFWord
453 %87 % 605 %267 % 1598 %578 %

I also compressed the files using PkZip, which gives an idea of the real information content of the files, versus redundancy. (The plain text file compressed to 15784 bytes).

Word 6 Word 97 Word 2000
RTFWord RTFWord RTFWord
23 96525 851 26 20628 709 31 71438 320

Now Microsoft might argue that this file size expansion is because the newer word processors are so much more powerful, and that all those features need to be stored. But I don't want those new features. I’d still use Word 6 if I could put it on my new computer. I can't, because some floppies are bad. I wondered why I never made backup copies. But in fact, you can't because they contain a non-standard number of bytes. Also, when I don't use new features in a file, they need not be stored, and they shouldn't require any space. A well designed file format should have kept room for future expansions in the first place. The size of the zipped files shows there isn't really much extra information in the larger files, but most of it is just wasted space.
Also, now that hard-disks are so cheap, space isn't an issue. But with larger disks, more documents tend to be kept online, and then it does become a problem. For example, I have five years of translation documents and invoices on my disks.
I suspect this file expansion is due to lack of programming skills, possibly combined with ill will, and a tasteless attempt to boost hard-disk sales.


Word 5.1 and 98 for the Mac

In the MacIntosh world too, newer Word versions aren't always better. Read here what Cathy Flick has to say about Word 5.1 and 98 for the Mac.


Annoying behaviour in Win95, which is worse in Win98

Slow start-up

Starting up the computer takes an unreasonably long time with Win95. With Win98, despite a faster computer it takes even longer. Another example of a big problem, which Microsoft doesn't seem to consider one, otherwise I’d expect them to improve the situation. Instead, they made it worse.

OS Processor Clock speed Time from power on till desktop Time from power on vanished hour glass / quiet disk
Win95 Pentium I 133 MHz 0m55s 1m08s
Win95 Pentium II 233 MHz 0m45s 0m55s
Win98 Pentium Celeron 500 MHz 1m25s 1m40s

The measured times are not including checking the disk (scandisk), logging in to Windows or connecting to network drives. Also, there was only a minimum of applications starting at boot-time.

The table shows that the newer operating system with a faster processor starts slowlier. Now the Celeron certainly isn't the fastest Pentium, but it is actually faster than the earlier models I tested on, as shown by the following measurements:

Processor Clock speed Long integer additions per second Floating point multiplications per second
Pentium I 133 MHz 21 million 6 million
Pentium II 233 MHz 58 million 30 million
Pentium Celeron 500 MHz 70 million 32 million

OnNow (ACPI - Advanced Configuration Power Interface) is not the right approach to solve this problem, because it means the hardware stays on in standby-mode. This is a waste of energy and adds to the greenhouse effect, by encouraging people to keep their computers on all the time. Even if stand-by power is minimal, with many millions of computers worldwide it is an important factor.

The real solution is to avoid unnecessary actions during start-up. I have no idea what Windows is doing in all this time, but considering that it equals the time needed for 7 billion integer additions, there must be something very wrong. Possible explanations (just speculations, I don't actually know what's going on):

A reasonable start-up time, for BIOS and OS together, I’d find 6 seconds on an old 468, and 3 seconds on a Pentium. If it's longer it's probably a design error.


Annoying behaviour in Win95, which is still in Win98

Network drives

Under Windows 95 and 98, network drives are not connected on demand. That means Windows usually tries to connect them when failure is likely or even certain, and does not connect them when you need them! Moreover, it doesn't keep track of which letters are used with what type of connexion.

Consider this example set-up: two computers in a connected in a LAN, one that you normally work on, with drives c: and d:, and a backup computer with drives or partitions c:, d: and e:, which are mapped to l:, m: and n: on the work computer. Moreover, there is a remote computer, whose drive is sometimes mapped to drive g: over a dial-up connexion.

Connexions are made in Windows Explorer (Dutch: Verkenner) (not to be confused with Internet Explorer, which is also called Explorer in the Dutch version). No two Windows Explorers look the same for some strange reason, but via menu "Tools" (Dutch: "Extra") or by using a button, you should be able to access the feature "Map network drive" (Dutch: "Netwerkverbinding maken").
You tick the option "Reconnect at logon" (Dutch: 'Opnieuw verbinden bij aanmelden"). If you don't, Windows doesn't initially make the connexion, so you'll have to do it manually when you need it. This can only be done in Windows Explorer, not directly where you need it. If you do tick the option, Windows automatically makes the connexion when starting the computer, because then you log on to the network. This is fine. There are two problems though:

The only point where the drive connexion is made on demand is in the left window of Windows Explorer, when you click on a collapsed drive letter to expand it. It is not automatically connected when entered in a path in the Open File dialog of an application, and not when trying to go to that drive in the Windows console (formerly known as "MSDOS box").
Then when I go to Explorer to connect via "Map network drive", it has the audacity to warn me that drive x: is already connected to path xxxx, (it isn't, why else do you think I'm connecting it?) and whether I want to connect to the (exact same!) path xxxx instead? Yes, but why didn't you already do it yourself instead of bothering me with it?

Now you might argue, why do you use these stupid drive letters in the first place? I agree that they're clumsy, because what is m: as seen from one computer is d: from another, so you can't use the same reference to such a drive from any computer in the network without change.

The way Linux and other Unixes handle this is much better: there you mount a disk drive or partition into a point in the existing tree, so what is a drive letter in Windows becomes a directory, and thereby a part of the path name, in those systems. For example, in Windows, I could have a drive c: for operating system and applications, and a data drive d: for my own documents. In a Unix system, c:\ would be /, and I could mount the other disk to /data (or any other path I choose), so d:\mydir in Windows corresponds to /data/mydir in Unix. The only disadvantage is you get longer pathnames, but BSD-like Unixes can use symbolic links to overcome that.

Windows and Internet offer something similar to mounting a disk into the directory tree: virtual machine names, preceded with two backslashes (slashes on Internet) instead of one. The clear advantage is that such names are the same, regardless of the network computer you are on. But unfortunately, this only works in Windows GUI programs. In the Windows Console (which is no longer a 640 kB MSDOS, and which I still regularly use, because many program simply don't need a fancy GUI interface), you cannot cd (chdir; change directory) to \\machine\rootdir\somedir. That is, the system lets you wait for several seconds, apparently looking for something, but it never finds anything, not even with a valid name.


Copyright © 2000-2001 by R. Harmsen.
Updated 28 January 2001. 20 January 2012: removed donation link.