Edit, 16/4/12: with its latest update to Office, Microsoft has added Lion-style full-screen mode to Word. However, I still can’t cmd-V into the search box…
In my day job I use Microsoft Word. I also use Excel and PowerPoint, but Word is my main tool. I use it for around 40-45 hours each week.
I work on files sent to me by my client, so absolute compatibility is essential. There are lots of alternatives out there that will open Office files on the Mac, but none is fully compatible. There’s always some little aspect that doesn’t convert quite correctly. So Word it is.
For many years I used Word in Office:mac 2004. I didn’t upgrade to Office:mac 2008 because Microsoft removed Visual Basic support. This meant that I couldn’t run macros: an important factor, because I use a couple of macros to put a lot of things right before I start work on a document. However, I did upgrade to Office:mac 2011, because it saw Visual Basic reinstated, and also touted improved stability, functionality, speed, and a full-screen mode.
So, having used it for a few months how do I find this piece of software? This software which I use day in, day out, which cost millions to develop, and cost around 100 of my hard-earned pounds?
I suspect you can guess.
Word has me pulling out my hair and gnashing my teeth and swearing every ten minutes. I can’t impress upon you how much I hate this program.
[Takes deep breath.]
So, having got that off my chest let me give you a few of the reasons why.
One of the main features that attracted me is full-screen mode. I like the way it focuses on the task, brings the work to me.
There are two types of full-screen mode in Word: writing and reading. I use the writing mode, because the reading mode is no good to me: the zoom is too small and there are no tools to speak of. Perhaps understandably, given it’s been designed for reading. When I’m using Word I’m proofreading/copy-editing, so I’m usually writing as well as reading, making changes to a document as I go along. So, writing mode it is. Fair enough.
However, when I switch to full-screen writing mode Word does not remember the zoom I’ve previously set, reverting to the default 125%. Every time. And although I can increase the zoom, there’s no option between 200% and page-width, and for me, 200% is slightly too small, while page width is slightly too large. But you can’t adjust the page width. Hmm.
If the screen-saver kicks in while I go to make a coffee or something, Word drops out of full-screen mode. So I have to switch back, reset the zoom, etc. As if being dropped out of full-screen wasn’t enough of an inconvenience, when this happens the page jumps up slightly, so I have to undo what I just did to see where I was on the page, then redo it before continuing.
You following this?
I have a hot key combination to set letters in lower case – I often need to change multiple words from title case to lower case, so instead of selecting each letter and typing the lower case version, I simply block the offending words, hit the hot keys and ba-boom – job done. The only problem is, when I do this in full-screen mode in Word 2011, the program drops out of full-screen mode again. So, I have to switch back, reset the zoom, etc.
Switching between apps using command-tab drops Word out of full-screen, too.
You get the picture.
Oh, and neither can I split the view in full-screen mode – a useful trick if I need to compare two separate areas of a document. To make matters worse, the tools I use most – highlight, format painter, show nonprinting characters – are not available in full-screen, and the full-screen toolbar is not customisable.
Okay, like I said, when I’m using Word I’m proofreading/copy-editing. In truth this is neither reading nor writing, so it could be argued that Word’s full-screen function was not designed for such a task. But come on: surely I should be able to customise the full-screen toolbar so it includes the highlight button, shouldn’t I? The format painter? Split the screen? Is that asking too much?
Oh, then there’s the find/replace function. (This isn’t available in full-screen. Only “find”.) When I want to find/replace, I have to open the side bar. If the find/replace function’s not open, which it usually isn’t, I have to click the little magnifying glass. Often I’ll copy something I want to search for so I can paste it in the search field – this is easier than re-typing and makes sure I get the spelling correct. But in Word 2011, I can’t just paste in what I’ve copied with command-V. Oh no: I have to right-click and select paste from the contextual menu. This might seem minor, but means changing habits and also feels slower and less instinctive than command-V.
Often I want to highlight every entry of something in a document. In Office:mac 2004, I could just hit command-H and use the find/replace function. To do this now, I have to use “Advanced Find & Replace”, which I have to select from a drop-down box, etc, etc. (This took me a while to find when I first got the program, and I had a few moments of despair in which I thought it had been removed.) There’s about eight clicks involved in performing a basic find/replace action.
When I do search for something, Word lists all entries in the sidebar. Now this is handy, as I can review them without having to go to that particular part of the document; if they all need changing I’m good to go. But if I change one of those entries rather than performing a global find/replace, my search results are cleared from the sidebar, so I have to search again. Sometimes I still have a short section of text selected in the main document, so when I do search again, Word only searches that little snippet, meaning zero results. That means I have to go back into the main document, de-select, perform the search again.
Here’s an example of how frustrating this program can be. I’m working in full-screen mode, editing. I have to search for something to check consistency of spelling. So to use find/replace I drop out of full-screen mode and split the screen so I don’t lose my place in the document. I hit command-F. This puts the cursor in the search box at the top. I habitually try command-V but of course I can’t do that so the Mac boops at me. So I right-click and paste. OK. Then I realise I need to ignore the case. But there’s no option to ignore the case in the find box. I have to open the sidebar. But opening the side bar removes the split screen, so I lose my place. And I can’t paste in the sidebar, I have to right-click and…
You get it.
Word is also stuffed to the gills with all kind of crap I will never use, ranging from languages to templates. And while Microsoft hasn’t seen fit to include any of the tools I find useful in full-screen mode, or make the full-screen toolbar customisable, I can choose from one of 15 cheesy page backgrounds for full-screen.
Compare this with Scrivener, which is a hugely versatile, solid, stable program that does everything and more – so much more – than Word, and costs just £30. I use Scrivener to write pretty much everything (blog posts I’ll draft on my phone using a combination of WriteRoom and Simplenote, then finalise them in Scrivener before publishing). It’s a writer’s writing program. If I could work on my Word documents in Scrivener I’d be very happy indeed. Heck, if I could work on my Word documents in anything but Word, I’d be happy. But sadly it’s not to be.
I know people who love Microsoft. I know people who don’t like Macs because they think Apple’s stuff is “too easy to use”. Personally, I want hardware and software that allows me to do what I want to do with the minimum of fuss. I don’t care how it does it, I just want it to let me get the ideas out of my head, and get my work done. I’ve given up trying to use full-screen in Word now. It just doesn’t work.
My recommendation is that unless you absolutely must have Microsoft, use one of the alternatives: Scrivener, Mellel, Nisus Writer… there are loads of them out there.
Trust me, you’ll use far fewer four-letter words…
- OK, I’ve just discovered that shift-command-H opens find/replace in the sidebar, but not advanced find/replace, but this still isn’t perfect and all the other annoyances – and plenty of others – remain…
**Ha ha – hit command-H and it opens find/replace in the sidebar, but the cursor’s in “replace”, even though you haven’t assigned a search factor…