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Microsoft Word 98 Flaws
Why CANCEL when you can CLOSE?

By: Pierre Igot

Apart from moving toolbars around, most of the customization in Word 98 is done, just like in Word 6, through the "Customize..." dialog box available through the "Tools" menu. This dialog box has been quite drastically revamped, which would seem to indicate that Microsoft has put some thinking into it. Unfortunately, whatever thinking they put into it didn't make it more convenient or user-friendly. Quite the contrary. In several instances, the design of this dialog box is actually less logical than the design of the Word 6 "Customize" dialog box -- if such a feat can be envisioned.

Recycling Word 6

One of the main reasons for this is that, instead of redesigning the whole dialog box from the ground up, Microsoft chose to update some aspects of it (toolbar and menu customizing) while keeping the rest (keyboard customizing) intact. This makes for an extremely inconsistent interface and a very frustrating user experience.

"Customize..." dialog box in Word 6

The Word 6 "Customize" dialog box used to consist of three nearly identical tabs: "Toolbars", "Menus" and "Keyboard". The advantage was that the three areas were clearly separated. The inconvenience was that, when you wanted to, say, add a new macro to your "Work" menu and define a keyboard shortcut for this macro, you had to go through two different tabs because the dialog box was not "command-centered" whereas your user experience usually is.

"Customize..." dialog box in Word 98

In Word 98, the first two tabs ("Toolbars" and "Menus") have been sort of merged into one single tab entitled "Toolbars", while the second tab is called "Commands" and the third tab is called "Options" and features, in a huge empty space, three lonely options that could just as easily have been included in the "View" tab of the "Preferences" dialog box (also off the "Tools" menu).

What of the "Keyboard" tab, might you ask? Well, it is now available through a button at the bottom of the "Customize" dialog box, located pretty much where anyone familiar with the Mac interface would expect to find a "Cancel" button. Needless to say, I have already, on quite a few occasions, pressed this "Keyboard..." button accidentally when I actually wanted to exit the "Customize" dialog box (the similar looking, tab-based "Font" dialog box accessed through the "Format" menu, for example, features "OK" and "Cancel" buttons in the exact same location). There is no "OK" button either, of course: the default button is called "Close" and its status doesn't change whether you have made changes to your configuration or not.

No cancelling allowed

There is in effect NO WAY to "cancel" (ignore) any changes that you might have made to your configuration in any of the three categories (menus, toolbars or keyboard shortcuts). Even the "ESC" key doesn't work in this dialog box (even though it works perfectly well in the identical-looking "Find" dialog box) and the close box of the window has the same effect as the "Close" button .

I have actually noticed that the "ESC" key does work in the "Customize" dialog box, but only for a short while... For example, if you just open the "Customize" dialog box and then press "ESC", the shortcut works and the dialog box closes. But if you open the dialog box, then press "Keyboard..." to open the "Keyboard" dialog box, then press "ESC" to exit this secondary dialog box (which works), and then press "ESC" a second time to exit the "Customize" dialog box, well, it doesn't work and Word refuses to let you go. Even worse: when it does work, "ESC" actually means "Close" (and validates the changes) rather than "Cancel" like it normally should.

The only way to avoid saving unwanted changes is actually to "close" the dialog box and then close your working template without saving changes. If you have made changes to the "Normal" template, you're going to have to quit Word without saving it (provided that you've not checked the option enabling Word 98 to save the template without asking for your permission) and relaunch it. This is quite incredible when you think about it.

You cannot cancel any changes you might have made to the toolbars, like deleting buttons, moving them, etc. - and since you can waste a lot of time trying to dig a specific command out of the mess of unorganized lists presented in the "Customize" dialog (more on this below), you'd better be careful before you delete something you like. Of course, in order to delete a button, all you need to do is drag it from one toolbar to another and miss the target toolbar by a few pixels - which is bound to happen more often that you'd like. Don't get me wrong: Word is not the only program with poor canceling features (PageMaker 6.5 is another notorious example). Yet one cannot help but think that this lack of a canceling option is consistent with Microsoft's awkward decision to replace the "OK/Cancel" button paradigm (in some instances only) with their "Close" thingie drafted from Windows. Yet another example of bad UI design with disastrous consequences.

This flaw is a perfect example of why a number of users simply don't trust programs such as Microsoft Word -- because they don't know whether they can go back if they make a mistake.

As far as I know, "Close" as a button is not and has never been a standard part of the Mac interface. Normally you close a window (through the close box or the cmd-W shortcut) - but you don't "close" a dialog box: you either validate the changes it contains by clicking on "OK" or hitting the return key (default) or ignore these changes by clicking on "Cancel" or hitting the ESC key. The "Customize" dialog box in Word 98 is actually some sort of a "hybrid" between a modal dialog box (such as the "Preferences" dialog box) and a regular, non-modal window (such as the "Find" window). While Microsoft claims to have made Word 98 compliant with the standard Mac user interface, it's obvious that it still retains a good part of the (clumsy, counter-intuitive) design of Word 6 and this is a perfect example of it.


Once again, Microsoft Word is an unfinished business. While some aspects have been changed or updated to make them compatible with Mac UI guidelines and the "platinum" look of Mac OS 8, other aspects are still directly imported from the Windows world, i.e. a world where interface anarchy reigns.

[Return to Word Customize]

Created: 6/13/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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