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Word 5.0 Wishes

Last week we talked a bit about the good things Microsoft did with Excel 3.0 and whenever you think of Excel, Word inevitably surfaces as well. Little has come out of Microsoft about what Word 5.0 will look like or what new features will be included, but we can make some educated guesses about likely changes, and a recent discussion on Usenet indicated the places Word currently has trouble. We haven't heard anything about when Word 5.0 might show up, although it's a good bet that the time will come right after System 7.0 ships. Think about it - the date in the About... box on at least one version of Word I've seen is April 10th, 1989. Two years without an upgrade is a long time when competing products the caliber of Nisus come out.

Microsoft has said that its strategy is to reuse as much code as possible for an application between different platforms. That's all fine and nice for Excel, but the Microsoft word processing programs (Word for the Mac, Word 5.5 for DOS, Word for Windows, and Write) are currently enough different that it's unlikely that Microsoft will be able to completely standardize a single interface. Nonetheless, that's the trend, so look for Word 5.0 to have a Toolbar like the one in Word for Windows. Word for Windows also has a macro facility that might show up in the Macintosh version, particularly since AutoMac III, the free macro program bundled with Word, isn't terribly impressive, to say the least.

Probably the main complaint discussed on Usenet (and experienced by thousands of users everywhere) is Word's poor human interface. Microsoft ignored Apple's programming and interface guidelines, which is why you get such gems as "Select All" being "Move the mouse over to the left gutter (which is tiny on a 9" screen) so that it points right instead of left, then hold down the command key and click in the left gutter." Egads! To be fair, there is a keyboard equivalent, Command-Option-M, though no one has ever explained why they didn't use Command-A like the Finder and most other Macintosh applications in the known universe. Another major contributor the interface headaches is the "Short Menus" feature (I've heard an instructor in a class once say that Short Menus is a bug, not a feature.). With Short Menus turned on, most of the menu items disappear, resulting in complete and utter confusion when the user wants to perform an action whose menu item no longer exists. To quote a tire salesman with whom I once had the pleasure of doing business, "Scrog it."

A number of Word's features were appreciated by people on Usenet, but they saw plenty of room for improvement. For instance, Word can make an automatic backup of the file you are working on when you save, but it can't do so automatically after a certain amount of time, like WordPerfect, or after a certain number of keystrokes, like Nisus. In addition, Word can't store the backups on a different volume, which is essential for data security. The backups also have to be started by selecting Save As... after the file has already been saved once since the Make Backup button isn't available until the file already exists. That's just sloppy, as are those irritating little Word Temp files that hang around in everyone's System Folders. Unlike most programs, that only leave temp files around if the Mac crashes, Word's temp files are seldom erased unless you use something like the freeware INIT Temperament. Style sheets are one of Word's most useful features, in part because they import directly into PageMaker and because Word was one of the first programs to have them. However, Word's style sheets are paragraph-based, so you can't define a style that will affect only a few words, for program name, for instance, because it will affect the entire paragraph. Nisus and WordPerfect have character-based styles and can optionally use paragraph styles as well, a far more powerful scheme. Finally, Word has extensive keyboard shortcuts, even allowing you to use them in dialog boxes. However, there's no way of finding out what the shortcuts for the dialog boxes are on the fly. Nisus solves this problem by displaying the keyboard shortcuts only when you press the Command key. And although you can change the keyboard shortcuts in Word, it doesn't come close to competing with the way Nisus allows you to assign more than one alphanumeric key to a shortcut, thus making Page Setup... be Command-P-S (or whatever you want).

Suggested enhancements from Usenet include built-in print spooling, a facility for numbering and re-numbering sections, graphics, references, and the like, faster response time when working with tables (which are perhaps the most popular feature of Word 4.0 despite the fact that commands to work with them sit in three separate menus), and the ability for the speller to ignore a word for a single document, but without adding it to the dictionary (which is what the ~Spell style does in Nisus).

These enhancements will help, but looking at the competition offered by Nisus and WordPerfect 2.0, Word needs a serious upgrade. Both of those programs offer sophisticated macro programming abilities and relatively powerful internal graphics abilities, and Nisus has PowerSearch and PowerSearch+ (GREP for those of you who use Unix boxes) for unparalleled searching power. I gather that FullWrite has one of the nicest interfaces of the powerful word processors, but it's the only one I've never used. Luckily for Word users, Microsoft is paying some attention, to judge from a Microsoft "One-To-One with Microsoft" newsletter I received recently. It talks about the Microsoft Word User's Conference held in October. Evidently Microsoft felt it got a lot of good feedback from the conference, though it would be better if Microsoft would put a representative on Usenet and America Online (I don't know if the company supports CompuServe) to better keep in touch with the people who use Microsoft programs day in and day out. Then people might even find out about new versions of the program (I seem to remember that Word is up to 4.00e, but you have know what the bugs are when you call to get that version from Microsoft).

Microsoft -- 800/426-9400 -- 206/882-8080

Information from:
John F. Mansfield -- John_Mansfield@emal.sprl.umich.edu
Dennis H Lippert -- macman@unix.cis.pitt.edu
Stewart Tansley -- dswt@stl.stc.co.uk
Steve Baumgarten -- baumgart@esquire.dpw.com
Chaz Larson -- clarson@ux.acs.umn.edu
Brian Aslakson -- aslakson@cs.umn.edu
John T. Chapman -- ke2y@vax5.cit.cornell.edu
David Palmer -- palmer@nntp-server.caltech.edu
John Wilkins -- typ125m@monu6.cc.monash.edu.au
Richard Kennaway -- jrk@information-systems.east-anglia.ac.uk
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