Dojo (HowTo)







  Easter Eggs




  Martial Arts

Microsoft Word 98 Flaws

By: Pierre Igot

This page is the first in a series of articles discussing Microsoft Word 98 from the perspective of interface design (or the lack thereof). I am a long-time user of Microsoft Word on the Macintosh (since version 3.0) and have done my share of cursing and swearing at all the things that I have always felt were blatant design flaws that showed a complete disregard not only for Macintosh user interface guidelines, but also quite simply for the needs and wishes of the average user.

What I would like to do in this series of articles is highlight and describe in detail some of these numerous flaws. I will not pretend that I know what the perfect word processing software should be, but I think it is quite obvious that Word 98 is still very far from it and I would like to show some of the reasons why -- from the perspective of interface design. I do not pretend to be an expert in that area either. My comments will be mostly based on my own personal experience as a user and what I feel is simply "not right" because it goes against common sense and productivity. I will probably occasionally touch other areas as well, but interface design is and will remain my main focus.

In this article, I would like to focus on the customization features of Word 98. The reason why I would like to start with such an arcane feature of Word 98 is not only because it exemplifies that Word 98 is really just a "paint job" that was applied to Word 6, but also because, if you are a "power user" of Word 6 and are still wondering whether you should upgrade to Word 98 or not (given that you've done so much work configuring Word 6 to suit your needs), there are some things that you should definitely know.

From the ground up?

One of the claims of Microsoft in their Office 98 advertising campaign was that Word 98 was rebuilt "from the ground up". One would then expect an entirely new program, but, after a few minutes of using Word 98, anyone familiar with Word 6 will realize that this is not at all the case and that Word 98 is mostly Word 6 with a paint job (and not a very good one at that), with a few extras thrown in for good measure.

I believe that the only possible explanation for this advertising slogan is that Microsoft actually rewrote the code of the program from the ground up (instead of simply recompiling Windows code), optimizing it for the Power Macintosh, and added compatibility with the Mac OS 8 "platinum" appearance. It is true that, in some areas, the program feels more responsive and faster than Word 6 -- but not much work was conducted in the area of program design. Not much thinking went into issues such as what a word processor should do, how it should do it and for whom it should do it. For the most part, the architecture of Word 98 is pretty much the same as the architecture of Word 6 -- and Microsoft still has to convince me that this is the best possible one for a word processor.

List of Topics

  1. The most immediate customizability aspect of Word 98 is the ability to hide or show toolbars and move them around. Read Don't Move to see how well (or rather badly) this ability is implemented and the problems it can cause.
  2. Apart from this 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 revamped, however. Read Why CANCEL when you can CLOSE? to see why the new interface doesn't comply with the Mac UI guidelines and can be downright dangerous.
  3. The procedure used to assign keyboard shortcuts to Word commands hasn't changed since Word 6. Read Practice Your Wrist Moves to know more about the painful steps you still need to take.
  4. The Word 98 "Customize..." dialog box features some sort of a "logical" structure and a number of lists of categories or commands through which you will need to browse repeatedly. Read New MS Word Order to see how Microsoft has managed to make using the dialog box and browsing these lists a pain in the neck and reached a new level of interface inconsistency.
  5. Finally, the next stage in customizing Word 98 is to create your own macros and make them an integral part of the user interface. While this is feasible, Microsoft has once again managed to make life more difficult than it ought to be. Read Macronames for Macros to know why you'd better give your own macros very short names...


To me, it is simply quite amazing that such a large amount of bad design and flaws can be concentrated into one single dialog box -- and yet, that's exactly what Microsoft developers have managed to do (and I'm quite sure I have overlooked quite a few here). I am afraid I have to say that this phenomenon is not limited to the "Customize" dialog box. Each Word 98 dialog box is packed with features -- some tedious to use, some useless, some simply not working, some bugged. The Office 98 ads are a lie. Word 98 has not been rebuilt from the ground up. If you -- at least occasionally -- are a "power user" and feel the need to scratch under the surface of Word 98, be prepared to experience a lot of frustration and spend a lot of time learning things that you shouldn't have to.

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

Top of page

Top of Section