By: Pierre Igot
Microsoft reinvents the wheel
The "Customize..." dialog box in Word 98 includes some sort of "logical" structure and several lists through which you need to browse repeatedly. Since this can be a tedious task, one would expect Microsoft to have made using the dialog box and browsing these lists at least as easy and fast as possible. No such luck...
Old Word 6 order
Once you are in the "Keyboard" dialog box, for example, defining shortcuts works exactly the same way it used to in Word 6. You must first select a category of commands in the left field. Depending on the category you select, Word displays a list of corresponding commands in the right field. What are the categories? Here's the list:
The logic in the order in which these categories are presented leaves me somewhat puzzled. In the first part of the list (until "Window and Help"), this order obviously corresponds to the order in which the menus appear in the menu bar -- except that the "Font" menu which normally appears between the "Format" and "Tools" menu surfaces in between "Macros" and "AutoText", for reasons best left uncovered. After that? Your guess is as good as mine... Why "Drawing/Borders/Mail Merge" rather than "Borders/Drawing/Mail Merge" and why "Macros/Fonts/AutoText/Styles/Common Symbols" rather than "AutoText/Common Symbols/Fonts/Macros/Styles"? I'm afraid nobody really knows... In Microsoftland, the universal appeal of the good old alphabetical order has obviously been lost to some.
The menu bar that is a toolbar -- but not really a toolbar
What about toolbars and menus now? Well, as you might expect, this is the area where some drastic cosmetic changes have been implemented. First of all, the "Customize" dialog box now consists of two tabs called "Toolbars" and "Commands" (rather than "Toolbars" and "Menus" in Word 6). What this means at first is that you have no idea where the menus are gone. At first glance, the "Toolbars" tab lets you show, hide, create or delete any toolbar and the "Commands" tab provides a list of categories of commands on the left and toolbar buttons on the right for each selected category that you can drag and drop on any visible toolbar.
So where are the menus? Well, a good half-an-hour spent trying to figure out how the new Word 98 Help feature works will yield the following results: the menu bar is now, for customization purposes, considered a toolbar as well. Actually, if you had been careful enough, you would have noticed that the list of toolbars in the "Toolbars" tab includes a "Menu Bar" item! The problem here, once again, is that this list of toolbars is organized in some alphabetical order from outer space. Here is the list as it appears in the dialog box (you can only see down to "Shadow Settings"; for the rest of the items, you need to scroll down the list):
Would you have seen the "Menu Bar" item in this list if I hadn't told you it was there? In effect, what used to be, quite logically, an entire customization tab in Word 6 is now buried in a structure-less list of toolbars, half of which you will probably never use or want to customize ("Microsoft"? "Visual Basic"?) but still seem to be more important than the menu bar itself.
Never mind is the order of the day. Once you've found this "Menu Bar" toolbar, clicking on it will actually display a SECOND, identical menu bar right below the actual Word 98 menu bar and this second menu bar now behaves like a toolbar and can be customized as such. When you want to insert a new command in any of the menus, you need to go in the "Commands" tab, select the desired command and drag it onto the appropriate menu, which will then pop down like a regular menu and let you position the command in the exact spot where you want it. This is sort of okay, except that if you want to rename the menu item, you need to use a contextual menu by control-clicking on the menu item and the menu item name actually appears in the contextual menu as an editable field in which you can click and type! Better learn to master sticky menus now! Editing the name of a menu item is simply impossible if you don't use sticky contextual menus. I have never seen any other Mac program offer such a feature. I guess that's what a well-know US citizen called William Gates likes to call "innovation".
New Word 98 order
The list of command categories in the "Commands" tab itself is not any better organized than the list of toolbars in the "Toolbars" tab. Here's the list of categories:
If you compare it to the list of categories in the "Keyboard" secondary dialog box (see above), you will notice that (1) it contains many more categories (2) there is no separator, which makes the list order even harder to figure out (3) the shared categories are not even in the same order (the "Fonts" category now appears between "Format" and "Tools" while it appears between "Macros" and "AutoText" in the "Keyboard" dialog box).
What's the logic here? I am afraid it's quite simple: the "Commands" tab is a new Word 98 feature while the "Keyboard" dialog box is a recycled Word 6 feature, which Microsoft simply "forgot" to update to make it consistent with the rest of Word 98's customization features. The end result is that, as mentioned elsewhere, many commands do not appear in the same category whether you are in the "Commands" tab or in the "Keyboard" dialog box, which forces you to memorize two different organizational structures for the same set of commands!
This is a perfect example of Microsoft engineers forcing you to learn things that you shouldn't have to spend your time learning. Why two sets of categories? Not because it makes things easier for the end user, not because it follows some hard, pure conceptual logic, but simply because, instead of rebuilding a word processing program "from the ground up", Microsoft simply took an existing, flawed product and patched it in a disorganised, illogical way, making it, in several cases, an even more flawed product.
Incidentally, the exact same problem is replicated in the lists of commands themselves for each category, which are not any more alphabetically sorted than the list of categories is - which all causes you very unnecessarily to spend an abnormally large amount of time finding the commands you are looking for.
And let's not even mention the fact that the last two categories, "Built-in Menus" and "New Menu", are not categories of commands. The first one is a list of all built-in menus, in case you've lost any of them - and believe me, this is one thing that can very easily happen to you - and I must say it's altogether quite reassuring to find an item referring to a list of categories next to items referring to the categories themselves (in no particular order). I tend to suspect that no one at Microsoft holds anything close to a Master's Degree in taxonomy.
So, to sum things up, if you want to, say, restore the "File" menu in your menu bar, first you need to click on the "Toolbars" tab in order to make the menu bar appear below the actual menu bar, then you need to click on the "Commands" tab and select the "Built-in Menus" category of commands (which is not a category of commands) and drag what is supposed to look like a replica of the "File" menu title to the menu bar that's actually a tool bar (for customization purposes) but not really one on a regular basis. Nifty. And you thought Word 6's customization features were bad...