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Spider's Online Diary

28 August, 2005--How to make Microsoft Word STOP rewriting your copy

© 2005 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.

I just got Microsoft Office 2004. Tonight I tried to type a list of characters' names in Word. I was not allowed to.

If you bought Office recently, it’s probably happened to you, too. Gather, and I shall tell you the Secret Handshake that makes the world’s most ubiquitous word processor actually usable.

I typed the name “Kathy.” Word offered me a suggestion to follow it, highlighted: the last name of my sister-in-law Kathy. Rather startled that Word had ever heard of her, I hit Return, telling Word that I did NOT want that suggested last name to be inserted, and I wished to start a new paragraph instead.

Word defied me. It typed the unwanted last name for me, and did NOT start a new paragraph.

Naturally I hit Delete. I intended to backspace, a character at a time, until I had removed the offending last name.

Again, Word defied me. At the first touch of the Delete key, it selected, highlighted, and deleted THE ENTIRE NAME, both first AND last names.

So I started over. I typed “Kathy.” Waited. Nothing. Then I typed a blank space. At once, Word AGAIN typed, selected and highlighted the last name of my wife’s sister. AGAIN, I was not permitted to correct Word's error. It knew better than I did what I wanted.

After experimenting, I found that the ONLY way to delete the unsolicited last name was to place my insertion point one character BEFORE the last character of the name--NOT after it--then hit Delete until everything BUT the last character was gone. THEN AND ONLY THEN was I permitted to place the insertion point AFTER that final character and delete it as well.

I also discovered by experiment that the same thing happened any time I typed the first name of ANYONE WHOSE NAME WAS FOUND IN MY ENTOURAGE 2004 ADDRESS BOOK. Without consulting me, Word was consulting the rest of my Microsoft software, before deciding what I would be allowed to type.

Between them, Word and Entourage had decided I was forbidden to write the first names of anybody but people I knew.

Such impertinence is intolerable, so I went looking through the Help sections of BOTH programs for a way to disable this "feature." It is nowhere mentioned, specifically or by inference. I went to Microsoft's website and wandered there for hours. Nothing. I e-mailed Microsoft asking for help, and I will wait for you to stop laughing before I proceed further.

There. Thank you, I deserve it.

Finally I asked my Wizard friend, Ray Maxwell. Ray said it acted like a mistaken Spell Check operation. At his suggestion, I looked at the Spelling and Grammar menu item, and found an obscure Options button, and tried that, and found a place where I was offered the opportunity to check a box that would force Word to make spelling suggestions ONLY from its own main dictionary, rather than from any Custom dictionaries.

Perhaps, I reasoned, the boneheads that wrote this mess thought the address books of unrelated software were custom dictionaries, even though their own company had written that software and they must have known better. So I checked that box, and looked to see if I had just solved my problem.

I had not.

Well, actually, I HAD. Really.

It just didn't LOOK like I had, you see. The reason it didn't look like it was, Word had lied to me by omission. It had failed to tell me that checking that Options box WOULD NOT TAKE EFFECT UNTIL I QUIT AND THEN REOPENED WORD.

I learned, totally by accident, that I HAD successfully debugged Word of its Character-Name-Overwriter about two hours later, when I opened it up again to show someone the unbelievably stupid planned-bug....and found it gone. He thought I was crazy...

What imbecile at Microsoft decided to make it the DEFAULT CHOICE that users may only write the names of people they exchange e-mail with? And worse, WHY did he/she make it very nearly impossible to correct his/her spectacularly bad judgment?

WORST, though, why did Microsoft release the product without any beta testing at all? The bug would have been grossly obvious within the first day to nearly any beta tester. It simply is not possible that I am the first user who ever wanted to type a stranger's name. Thousands of you must have tripped over this by now.

In the same way, nobody working on Entourage, the Office 2004 e-mail application, ever noticed that it does not appear to be possible to insert a hotlink into an e-mail. How often does THAT ever come up, right? Only every other message....

It actually IS possible, but Microsoft's interface "designers" worked very hard to make it seem impossible..... and then, in a real burst of humor, fixed things so that if you DID accidentally stumble onto the secret (and stupid) method of inserting a hotlink, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU DIDN'T. That is, even after you do make typed text a hotlink in Entourage, it DOES NOT turn blue and underlined. The recipient will see it that way, but YOU can't, unless you .cc yourself.

(How to insert a hotlink in Entourage: simply type it as stupidly as possible. That is, type out the universally redundant prefix “http://” and then the fast-becoming-redundant “www.” prefix as well, and THEN the URL. All it will look like is a bunch of text, like all the rest....but it is now a hotlink to its recipients. Albeit one twice as long as it needed to be.)

While we're at it, has anyone got even a wild-ass GUESS why the geniuses who "designed" the Office package decreed that no user may Switch Identities in Entourage, (again, something that only comes up several times a day) WITHOUT FIRST QUITTING WORD, POWERPOINT, EXCEL AND/OR MESSENGER?

That's right: you can't use more than one e-mail account without constantly quitting and reopening THE ENTIRE OFFICE SUITE OF SOFTWARE. In what imaginable circumstances would that NOT be a waste of time?

This is inexcusably bad interface. This is disgraceful. Shame on whoever said Office 2004 was ready to ship. Microsoft Word, which has been rammed down the throats of ALL users everywhere, is now unusable for any writer..... and even if you guess how to fix it (which is the only way to find out), it looks like you didn't.

These guys are putatively the best in the world at what they do, people. Our civilization rests on their efforts, now. Be afraid. Be very afraid...