Microsoft’s Rick Schaut on Word 6

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 27th, 2004 • 5:23 am

Microsoft developer Rick Schaut has an interesting blog entry on the Macintosh software fiasco known as Word 6.0 for Macintosh. It is written from a developer’s point of view, so it’s pretty hard-core, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Also interesting are the comments added by readers, and Rick Schaut’s reply to these comments. For example, to a comment from Sandy McMurray about whether the next version of Office for Macintosh (Office 2004) would support Mac OS X’s built-in spell checker and Address Book functionality, here’s Rick’s answer:

Sandy, to be perfectly honest, it would be a serious amount of work to try to use the system spelling checker in Word. One reason is that Word’s spell checking is tied in with grammar checking. However, there might be a way that we can grab the list of custom words from the system dictionaries. I’ll pass the idea on to our proofing tools people.

Well, that says it all, doesn’t it? Why should the user care whether Word’s spell checker is “tied in with grammar checking”? Most of the people I know never use a grammar checker in the first place (not to mention Microsoft’s version of one), simply because the grammar of natural language is far more complex than any software currently available can handle. This means that most of the grammar checking done by tools such as Word’s grammar checker is useless, because it flags as wrong things that are perfectly right, and doesn’t catch obvious grammar errors because it’s not smart enough.

And the fact that the idea of supporting Mac OS X’s built-in spell checker still needs to be passed on to Microsoft’s “proofing tools people” at this particular stage in the development of Office 2004 is, well, to put it simply, ridiculous. Mac OS X has been out for years, and its built-in spell checker has been accessible to Carbon applications for a while too. Do Microsoft people really need to be told at this point in time that Mac OS X users would like Word to support Mac OS X’s built-in spell checker?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you want a system-wide spell checker solution, check out Spell Catcher X. It works in all applications, including Microsoft Word and Excel, and it is also accessible through Mac OS X’s built-in spell checker.

As for Office 2004 supporting Address Book, well, Rick Schaut doesn’t even answer that question. That should tell you how much of a priority it is for Microsoft. (Remember that it’s not in Microsoft’s economic interests to support standards or Mac OS X’s built-in features, unless they can “customize” them in a way to lets them pretend that they support them while they actually don’t.)

I suppose that, in 2011, we’ll be reading the blog entries of someone working for Microsoft who will reminisce about how Microsoft finally understood what it meant to be “Mac-like” and user-friendly after the disappointing sales of Microsoft Office X in 2003. Some things never change…


64 Responses to “Microsoft’s Rick Schaut on Word 6”

  1. Rick Schaut says:

    Hello, Pierre. I was wondering how long it was going to take for you to find my blog.

    While you’re right about one thing, I’m afraid you’re off the mark about a few others. You’re right that Sandy doesn’t care if our spelling checker is tightly integrated into our grammar checker (though you can turn the latter off). At the same time, he doesn’t really care if we use Apple’s APIs to perform the spell check. He really only cares that he has to enter words into two custom dictionaries.

    So, tell me, why should we completely rewrite our spelling code in order to satisfy Sandy’s itch? We’re supposed to screw over those users who actually do find our grammar checker helpful for the sake of supporting your particular notion of some kind of “open” standard? And, while were on the subject of “open” standards, why does Apple’s “open” standard force me to rewrite my code? Why can’t I just get the data from their spelling checker? (I searched. If it is, indeed, possible to do so, Apple have buried the documentation for it rather deeply.)

    Does this kind of standard become “open” merely because Apple published it? We’ve had spelling APIs in place for more than a decade. Why didn’t Apple come to us and ask how they might design their APIs so that we could use them in our code without a significant rewrite? Whatever that is, Pierre, it’s not “open.”

    Oh, and, just because I haven’t said anything about the address book issue doesn’t mean I’m not going to do anything about it. Nonetheless, you will take that silence to mean whatever your preconceptions about Microsoft lead you to believe. If you’re going to be a reporter, Pierre, you might want to try being a bit more objective about it.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: Thanks for responding to my blog entry. I want to stress that this is a personal blog, and I do not write in it as a “reporter”. I’d love to do more reporting about Word in particular if I felt that this could help improve the product in any way. But I have seen no signs of this possibility, so I don’t bother reporting on the same problems over and over again in my more “journalistic” endeavours, i.e. my Applelust columns.

    With regard to the spell checker issue, I don’t think anyone is asking you to rewrite your spelling code. The idea here would be that you would give people the option in Word to use either Word’s existing spell checker or Mac OS X’s spell-checking service. It’s not a matter of rewriting code. It’s a matter of “opening” Word to OS X’s features, i.e. making Word support them (which doesn’t mean you have to fully embrace them).

    In any case, if a single developer working all by himself (Evan Gross, developer of Spell Catcher X) is able to integrate his spell checker with Mac OS X’s built-in spell checker, then surely a team of dozens of developers should be able to do so as well within a reasonable time frame. But I am not even talking about that kind of integration. Just give users the choice.

    The same thing applies to the Address Book. Since Microsoft’s Mac unit offers so little in the way of communicating with/responding to its Mac user base online, we have no choice but to rely on whatever small clues we can get from people like you. So, yes, your silence on the issue is going to be interpreted as inaction. That’s the way it is. If you want to change all this and can get Microsoft to post a list on their web site of the major features that will be included in Office 2004, then maybe that’ll reduce the amount of speculation and over-interpretation.

    I also find it quite interesting that you spend so much time address the issue of “open” standards, when I didn’t even use the word “open” in my blog entry. I didn’t say that everything in Mac OS X was an “open” standard. But I do know, based on existing products and other information online, that the Address Book data is accessible to third-parties. As for the spell checker, the question is whether the Word code can be updated without too much effort to provide access to Mac OS X’s spell checker, the way that Adobe Photoshop does it, for example.

    But even then, I still recommend to people that are serious about spell checking that they get a tool such as Spell Catcher. Mac OS X’s built-in spell checker is OK, but I much prefer the full range of features provided by SCX.

  3. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    OK, so how do I deal with background spell checking?

    That’s the whole problem with this exchange. Instead of telling me what you need, what problem you have that this feature request is supposed to solve, you keep telling me what you want me to do.

    Do you understand the concept of “opportunity cost?”

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: I am not a developer, I am a user. And I am not an accountant either. I am a user. All I know is that it’s absurd to ask the user to create different custom dictionaries for each application that he uses, using that application’s proprietary spell checking engine.

    The “problem I have that this feature request is supposed to solve” is quite simple: I don’t want to have to manage several different spelling dictionaries. I don’t want to have to use a different spell checking feature in each and every Mac OS X application. It seems to me that this is quite obvious.

    Mac OS X comes with a built-in spell checker which, as far as I know, is accessible to third-parties so that they can integrate it into their own applications instead of developing their own spell checker. This, as far as I understand it, provides the opportunity to offer the user a streamlined experience where he only has to create one custom dictionary that will contain all his own additional spellings (proper nouns, etc.) and will be used in all the Mac applications that make use of that centralized spell checking feature.

    What you are saying (as far as I understand it) is that the user should continue to have to handle multiple custom dictionaries, because it’s too expensive or too complicated for Microsoft to adopt Mac OS X’s built-in spell checking architecture.

    I am afraid that is not my problem and that is not a relevant problem to the end user. The complexity of this is a problem that is relevant to the application’s developers, and the cost of it is a problem that is relevant to business people/accountants.

    I am only giving you the point of view of the end user here. The end user doesn’t need to be told by Microsoft that they won’t embrace Mac OS X’s technologies because it’s too expensive or too complicated for them. That’s not his problem. The bottom-line is that, from his point of view, Microsoft is driven by interests other than usability and user-friendliness.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    Nice. So first you try to change the subject by raising technological or economical issues that are irrelevant to the core problem, which is usability. And then you try your hand at character assassination. Always enjoy a constructive debate!

    FWIW, I have been a heavy-duty Mac user for almost 20 years. I have used Word 3, Word 4, Word 5, Word 6, Word 98, Word 2001 and Word X, as well as several flavours of Word for Windows on occasion. During that period I have been offering Mac tech support to scores of people, many of whom are forced to use Office because of Microsoft’s monopoly. They have asked for my help with Microsoft’s products on numerous occasions.

    I have also taught a course about Microsoft Word, and given several training sessions on the product. I have spent countless hours describing Word’s bugs and flaws in great detail, in the hope that that would help improve the product. I have sent numerous bug reports to Microsoft through whatever channels were available (if any). I have spent lots of time in related newsgroups, on forums, etc. mostly giving help rather than receiving it. I have written dozens of Mac columns, including several in-depth articles on Word.

    Sure, I have never conducted a user survey that would qualify as “scientific” in the eyes of statisticians. But over this period I have certainly been able to identify a number of trends. I am not going to go into each and every one of them here today. Suffice to say that if you believe that what I have to say about Word’s usability only applies to one user among several hundred thousands, then you have a serious problem about communicating with your user base.

    That would be consistent with the fact that I have never ever received any kind of constructive feedback from Microsoft on any of my bug reports or product reviews (whereas I have received many emails from Apple in answer to my bug reports, for example), and also that Microsoft still makes use of so-called “MVPs” to handle requests for help, apparently as a way to shield itself from direct interaction with its user base. And with the fact that fundamental questions about whether Word 2004 will finally support long file names or provide the same support for Unicode and XML as its Windows counterpart are still unanswered at this point in time.

    I know you are going to hide behind NDAs and what not — although I have no idea why a company with a virtually monopoly on the word processing market needs to be so secretive. But anyway…

    We are obviously not on the same wave length. I guess I need to try and get feedback from a usability expert at the MacBU rather than a developer. But then, maybe they don’t have one. That would explain a lot of things…

  6. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    It’s good that we’ve cleared up the fact that you’re not a developer. It’s also good that you’ve told me what your actual problem is, and, for that, I thank you.

    It does appear, however, that you are not familiar with the concept of “opportunity cost”. Maybe it’s because you think of yourself as a representative user, when, in fact, your particualr needs may well represent only a small portion of Word users. Anecdotal evidence isn’t helpful. You may know 1000 users who have this problem. Mac Office users, however, number in the 100’s of thousands. Rather than thinking of yourself as representing “the” end user, you would do better to think of yourself as “one” end user.

    Part of the “cost” of doing one thing is the fact that you sacrifice doing something else. The time spent integrating the system spelling checker could also be spent adding better support for HTML/XML for example. This is “opportunity cost,” and it’s not an issue of the particular costs associated with this specific feature request. It’s a question of prioritizing what we do, and we prioritize our work in terms of maximizing the benefits over a variety of users over the amount of time it will take us to implement the features we do.

    In light of this, the only thing absurd in this entire discussion is your claim, based on your own parochial views and not on an objective survey of the needs of all Office users, that “Microsoft is driven by interests other than usability and user-friendliness.” At best, you can only claim that we are unable to create a product that is everything to everybody. But we already know that. Were that not the case, then opportunity cost wouldn’t be a relevant issue.

  7. Rick Schaut says:

    By the way, Pierre, at no point have I said that I wouldn’t try to solve your particular problem. All I have said is that it’s not likely for the solution to involve using the system spelling checker. You might want to keep that in mind before you compose your next response.

  8. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    Well, we certainly aren’t on the same wavelength, because I don’t think I’ve changed the subject at all. The problem you want me to solve is the fact that you have to enter words into two separate dictionaries. In my original response to Sandy, I proposed that we (Microsoft) approach Apple about access to their custom dictionaries.

    Now, clearly that proposed solution didn’t satisfy you, because you took the opportunity to publicly lambast me over the fact that, while I was seeing if I could find a way to solve Sandy’s real problem, I wasn’t doing so in precisely the way Sandy had asked.

    My discussion of opportunity cost was my, unfortunately ill-fated, attempt to explain how the manner in which other programs on the Macintosh have solved Sandy’s problem is irrelevant to what makes sense for us to do in Word. That’s not a change of subject. Indeed, it’s spot on point–which solution is better in terms of the overall picture?

    As to character assassination, you’ve had little compulsion against declaring me, and the rest of my co-workers, completely incompetent. How is that not a character assassination?

    Moreover, nothing I said in my previous post had to do with your character. I said that a particular claim you made is absurd and that your views are parochial. Neither statement has anything to do with you as a person or your competence as a professional.

    Lastly, I’m not sure I understand your rant about usability. I thought the problem is that people have to enter custom spelling words twice. That’s a problem, yes, but I’m not sure how that relates to usability. Are you, now, claiming that the OS X system spelling checker is more usable than Word’s? If so, then it really would have been nice for you to say so from the outset. We could have avoided all the rancor.

    On the other hand, if that is your claim, then I really do have to wonder why “learn” and “unlearn” are so much clearer than “add” and “ignore”, particularly given the fact that Macintosh users have had very little difficulty understanding “add” and “ignore” for more than a decade. If that, indeed, is your claim, then I’m really very intersted in seeing the reasoning behind it.

  9. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: My comments on the excerpt from your blog entry were clearly about your attempts to justify Microsoft’s insistence on using their own system (alleged ties to the grammar checker, which nobody I know uses) and about the fact that I find it highly inappropriate that you would only be talking about “proposing” to approach Apple about the whole issue now, in February 2004, when Office 2004 is supposed to come out in the next few months. The issue of integration with OS X’s core technologies (spell checker, Address Book, long file names, etc.) has been around for ages, and I find it highly disappointing that it would take a comment from one of your blog readers, on an unrelated blog entry (about Word 6) to make you finally “see the light” and propose to approach Apple about the issue.

    This doesn’t reflect well on the MacBU’s work. Does it mean that I should try to raise the issue of support for long file names in a comment on one of your next (unrelated) blog entries to finally get you to possibly “approach” Apple about it?

    As for your “opportunity cost” thing, you still seem to be unable to see things from the perspective of the end user, who couldn’t care less about whether the way other programs use the spell checker is “irrelevant” to Microsoft and Word. From the perspective of the end user, it is highly relevant, because that’s the way he perceives things: Mac OS X is an operating system, and third-party applications are applications running on that OS. The basic requirement is that all these applications operate in a similar fashion. This was, in fact, one of the main achievements of the original Mac OS twenty years ago (same menus, same visual interface, etc.) and I find it mind-boggling that we are still even discussing the issue 20 years later.

    Re: character assassination. As far as I know, I didn’t say anything about you personally at any point. You, on the other hand, started by questioning my ability to “report” on things, then you went on to question the validity of my position as a Word user. And, as far as I know, the first person to use the word “incompetent” on this page is you, not me.

    Finally, the concept of “usability” encompasses a lot of things. It is relevant to this particular discussion in that having to enter the same words into two different custom dictionaries makes the computing environment less “usable” than it would be if the user only had to do it once. “Usability” means “ability to be used”. Anything that makes daily use of the computing environment less convenient and easy than it could/should be means a decrease in “usability”.

  10. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    Pierre, opportunity cost has everything to do with end users, once you grasp the fact that our end users are not a homogeneous group. Nearly every decision we make with respect to prioritizing our work will have benefit to some users while forgoing benefit to other users. This is a fact of life for anyone who attempts to create a product for public consumption. That you should find this discussion “mind-boggling” indicates that you really don’t understand this most fundamental aspect of any business.

    So, please do a Google search on the phrase “opportunity cost.” Understand the concept. Once you’ve done that, come back and explain why not having to enter words in custom dictionaries twice is of more benefit to more users than, say, making styles more accessible, making autonumbered lists more intuitive, improving layout compatibility and data fidelity with more recent versions of Win Word, improving Word’s support for Unicode or making Word a more effective tool for taking notes.

    But, whatever you do, please don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by claiming that statements like the last paragraph of your initial post don’t call into question the competence of everyone in Mac BU merely because those statements doesn’t use the word “incompetent.”

  11. Pierre Igot says:

    The last paragraph of my initial post is: “I suppose that, in 2011, we’ll be reading the blog entries of someone working for Microsoft who will reminisce about how Microsoft finally understood what it meant to be “Mac-like” and user-friendly after the disappointing sales of Microsoft Office X in 2003. Some things never change…”

    How on earth does that amount to character assassination? It’s just a comment on the fact that Microsoft has repeatedly claimed over the years to have finally “got it” when it comes to offering Mac-like products. It does call into question the ability of MacBU people to develop truly Mac-like software, but not their competence in other areas. If people are not even allowed to criticize the quality of Microsoft’s products without triggering an infuriated, paranoiac response, that probably explains why I have never received any kind of constructive response from Microsoft over the years. (For the record, I have been just as critical of Apple’s shortcomings in various areas, and that has never prevented them from getting back to me with a constructive response…)

    As for what I find “mind-boggling”, if you read me carefully, it is the fact that, after 20 years, we are still discussing the relative benefits of providing users with a consistent interface/user experience. Whatever Microsoft’s other priorities are, this should always be a fundamental requirement. Sadly, it has never been one, based on the numerous inconsistencies that still exist in Microsoft’s products today. Your oversensitive response to my comments is yet another illustration of Microsoft’s inability to grasp such fundamental issues.

    Yes, everything is relative. But a company with Microsoft’s resources should have the ability to work on a number of fronts at the same time, instead of (apparently) focusing their resources on yet another round of bloated, marketing-friendly, mostly useless enhancements such as the “Project Gallery” or the latest incarnation, the “Office Project Center“.

    I know, I know, you’re going to tell me that the idea of the Office Project Center is based on your extensive user surveys… Funnily enough, not one of the many Office users that I try to help ever uses any of these fancy new features, and they always ask me to turn them off as soon as I install the product on their machine. And it was an MVP who told me, not long ago, that Microsoft’s own data indicated that more than 70% of Office users only used Word as a glorified typewriter for simple 1-page or 2-page documents anyway…

    Of course, since we never get to see the data of these user surveys or participate in one, you can always claim that they say this or that without providing any evidence.

  12. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    You wrote, “if you read me carefully, it is the fact that, after 20 years, we are still discussing the relative benefits of providing users with a consistent interface/user experience. Whatever Microsoft?s other priorities are, this should always be a fundamental requirement.”

    First of all, “fundamental requirement” is redundant. If it’s a requirement, then it’s fundamental.

    Secondly, as long as we have multiple requirements, there will be times when those requirements conflict with each other. Given that this is true, we will be discussing the relative merits of providing a consistent user interface for as long as software products exist. Why, then, do you find it “mind-boggling” that we are discussing it now?

    Shouldn’t a consistent user interface also be Apple’s priority? If so, given the fact that we’ve had spell-checking in Office long before Apple added it to the OS, why did Apple choose to implement the system spell-checker in such a way that made it inordinately difficult for us to incorporate it into our spell-checker? Shouldn’t you be raking Apple over the coals for this instead of Microsoft? What if Microsoft had done the same thing in Windows?

    Understand both the points above, and you will understand why I think that the closing paragraph of your initial post questions my competence.

    As for providing evidence, I could provide mountains of it. However, expecting me to do so in a comment space that limits my text to 2500 characters is more than just a little unreasonable, don’t you think?

    I will say this. I think far more people will buy Office 2004 in order to get the Office Project Center than would have bought Office 2004 had we used the system spelling-checker instead. And I don’t think anyone needs to have access to in-depth market surveys in order to believe I’m right.

    And, yes, our data do indicate that 70% of Office users don’t use a number of Word’s more powerful features. Does that mean I should be spending my time trying incorporate the system spelling-checker, or does it mean I should be spending my time making some of Word’s more powerful features more accessible to those 70% of Office users? Which do you think _they_ will find to be more valuable?

    I can tell you what our data strongly suggests is the correct answer to that question, but I get the sense that you just won’t believe me if I do.

  13. Pierre Igot says:

    The fact that you consider a consistent user interface only as one particular requirement that might conflict with other equally important requirements speaks volumes about Microsoft’s position. To me, interface consistency is paramount (if such a word makes it clearer to you — the very fact that you think that there are multiple requirements that can conflict with each other contradicts what you said about all requirements being fundamental: fundamental means that it’s above the rest! There’s nothing redundant about the phrase “fundamental requirement”, if you admit, as I do, that there can be multiple requirements that can conflict with each other and force us to make choices).

    Anyway, this is not a matter of semantics. Interface inconsistency is the big plague affecting modern technology (including devices other than computers, such as VCRs, TVs, PVRs, etc.). And Microsoft has a big responsibility in the current chaos that the technology industry has become today in terms of UI. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people at Microsoft trying to correct the situation and make things better, but you don’t seem to be one of them. And it doesn’t seem to be such a high priority, even in the MacBU.

    For example, Office X came with not a single interface improvement over Office 2001 in all the areas that you mentioned (style definition, auto numbering, etc.). Same thing for Office 2001 over Office 98. These things are still as non-intuitive and buggy today as they were half a decade ago. Have you ever tried to painstakingly create a complex document in Word with automatically numbered headings and subheadings, only to see Word screw up the numbering in irreparable ways for no apparent reason? Don’t the Office users that you survey ever complain about these things? If not, then you are not surveying the right users.

    All this is to say that you simply don’t seem to understand the utmost importance of interface consistency. The spell checker thing is just one particular example. And the auto numbering thing is just an example of the other big, fundamental requirement, i.e. reliability.

    Give us a Word and an Excel that are both consistent and reliable. Then we’ll see how many people really want to buy Office for things such as a “Project Center”.

  14. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    To say that interface consistency is of “utmost importance” is equivalent to saying that, if I made a product that was, for example, so slow as to be virtually useless yet still offered “interface consistency,” then you’d be happy. But, of course you wouldn’t.

    There is one objective that is of utmost importance to any product that anyone wants to sell. Please, in your next response, explain what this most important objective is. I’ll give you one hint: “making money” is way too superficial an answer.

  15. Pierre Igot says:

    I don’t care, Rick, I am not in the business of selling software and don’t ever intend to be. I am in the business of helping out fellow Mac users, though — and I have loads of feedback that indicate that I know a thing or two about it.

    As for your first point (about a theoretical product that would be so slow as to be virtually useless), regardless of the highly dubious argumentative value of using fictional extremes to prove a point, you forgot to consider that UI speed is indeed part of what I call interface consistency. And one of my problems with Word X is precisely that it is totally inconsistent with all other Mac OS X applications in that it is the only Mac OS X application that suffers from these extremely annoying stalls while I am typing text.

    Imagine what would happen if Adobe shipped a version of Photoshop where the cursor would stall while you’re trying to move it from point A to point B to create a paintbrush effect. Mac users only put up with Word’s numerous flaws, bugs, and annoyances because they have little choice.

    (And don’t give me that crap about Word requiring too much CPU power and OS X not giving it enough. I have a dual G4 1.25 GHz with 1.5 GB of RAM, for crying out loud. And Word is the only application where typing text is affected by these stalls. It’s a bloody word processor. Typing text is 95% of what I do with it!)

  16. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    In response to my question, you wrote, “I don?t care, Rick, I am not in the business of selling software…”

    Pierre, the question wasn’t limited to software. It was about _any_ product of any kind. And, no, that’s not a change of subject. The point is to ascertain whether you and I have enough common understanding of the business of making and selling products for us to have any hope of conducting a constructive discussion. You’ve complained about not receiving any constructive feedback from Microsoft. If you want constructive feedback from me, then you’ll have to meet me half way.

    So, I’ll ask the question again: what goal is of utmost importance for _any_ product that someone wants to sell?

  17. Pierre Igot says:

    I believe that my analogy is perfectly fine. To me, data integrity is to a word processor what driver safety is to a vehicle. If you cannot trust Word not to corrupt your document after having worked on it for a while or not to throw a “Disk is full” or “Too many files open” dialog box in your face and change the name of the file to a temporary file name, which will then cause the file to disappear altogether when closed, then how can you say it’s just a matter of personal preference or adjusting one’s behavior?

    There are indeed numerous aspects of the car “interface” that are universal and don’t change at all from one manufacturer to the next. These aspects are universal standards that apply to all users equally indeed, and they enable people to switch cars without difficulty. The same level of consistency is needed in computer software, and for that we need all software designers to adhere to certain universal standards — which Microsoft continues to refuse to do in many fundamental aspects of its products, for the Mac especially.

    The analogy with putting the headlight dimmer switch here or there is relevant to some secondary issues with Word, but not to the issues that I am talking about here, which are major usability and reliability issues that Microsoft has failed to acknowledge or fix in a satisfactory fashion.

    The problem with Microsoft’s products (and, to a certain extent, with the Unix crowd, hence some of the current friction with Mac OS X and the NeXT influence) has always been — and apparently continues to be — that you guys only see the GUI (Graphical User Interface) as a “layer”, a façade, i.e. as just one particular aspect of software among several others. And this is wrong. It fails to fully acknowledge the fundamental software revolution initiated by the Macintosh in the 1980s, which showed quite clearly that a good GUI is the only way to make software products usable for the masses.

    Because of this failure to fully acknowledge such a revolution and its consequences on software quality issues such as UI consistency and reliability, we continue to struggle, today, with badly designed software whose feature set is consistently and vastly underused. And I am afraid that most Microsoft products continue to be prime examples of this problem. (Explorer 5 for Mac was an exception, for a while, until it became stagnant and obsolete, and I gave you guys full credit at the time).

    As for the monopoly issue, I’m afraid it would take another long discussion thread… But honestly, do you really believe that Word “won” because it was the best software? And if it won (against competitors such as Mac Write Pro), isn’t it an admission that it has the monopoly now? Do you really believe that there are realistic alternatives out there today? Have you ever worked with documents in the real world, where Word has imposed itself as the standard and people are forced to use the software in order to be able to share their work with others?

    (Remember, the monopoly thing was established in court. It’s not just a figment of my imagination.)

    My standards are not too high. There are several Mac software products that I love and that meet these standards. But Microsoft’s products aren’t part of that group, for obvious reasons that I am trying to make you see.

  18. Pierre Igot says:

    The analogy says something simple that you are still not recognizing: that there are essential things that are above business considerations. In the same way that driver safety is above business considerations and car manufacturers have to issue costly recalls whenever a new safety issue surfaces, there is a standard level of usability and reliability that software products should provide regardless of the costs involved. What I am saying is that Microsoft’s products fail to meet that standard, whereas other products by other software developers with far fewer resources do meet this standard.

    It might be heresy to the ears of an accountant or businessman, but there’s nothing quixotic about it. It’s all about promoting the interests of the end user.

    You know, if I was driven by business considerations, I wouldn’t be spending my time discussing this with you and defending the idea of improving Word’s usability. On the contrary, since part of my business involves helping other people use badly designed, unpredictable, unreliable software such as Microsoft’s products, the fact that these products continue to be lousy guarantees a certain level of income for me.

    But then, if I was driven by business considerations, as a tech support person, I wouldn’t be providing tech support for Mac users. I’d probably make much more money providing support to Windows users! So you see, without being quixotic, certain things can be considered issues that are above business considerations. Basic usability is one of these things. And, again, Microsoft’s products fail to meet that basic standard. Microsoft only sells as many copies as it does because of the monopoly situation.

    As long as you fail to see the need to meet these minimum standards of usability, regardless of the costs involved, there is indeed no ground for continued discussion.

  19. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    I think we’re having a serious communication problem. I don’t think I’m failing to see anything. I certainly agree that any product needs to have a minimum standard of usability. I don’t believe, however, that it’s possible to precisely define that standard in a completely objective manner such that it applies equally to all product decisions.

    Moreover, usability isn’t a standard that applies to all users equally. Microsoft Bob is a classic case. New computer users found it very usable. Experienced users found that the interface got in the way of getting real work done.

    On both these counts, your analogy falls short. A better auto analogy would be the decision to put the headlight dimmer switch on the floor vs. putting the switch on the steering column. Users who’ve grown accustomed to driving cars with the switch on the floor need to adjust their behavior when they drive a car with the switch on the steering column.

    Your monopoly remark is just flat out wrong. First of all, at least as far as Word is concerned, there are a number of nice word processors currently available for Mac OS X. Secondly, what happened to competitors like Mac Write Pro? Is it possible that they failed in the marketplace because they sacrificed overall utility for the sake of meeting a usability standard that was set too high?

    I understand that you don’t care about the costs associated with providing a particular level of usability in any given situation. Unfortunately, as long as you fail to temper your idealism with even a modicum of realism, your criticisms will be of very little value to those of us who actually have to create these products.

  20. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: I don’t see why you insist on my having a shared understanding of the business of selling products. I fail to see how this is relevant to a discussion about software usability. I might be an idealist, but I think that business considerations should not interfere with issues of software usability, because it’s essentially like asking a car driver to accept that his rear left wheel might fall off at any time because it’s not cost-effective for the car company to make sure that it’ll never fall off.

    For years, the software industry has been allowed to get away with unacceptably low quality standards, simply because a software bug or flaw rarely causes bodily harm. But that doesn’t mean that we, as users, have to accept such low standards as an inevitable fact of life.

    My ultimate goal is to help improve the usability of computer software, and business considerations cannot be allowed to enter into the equation. There are people paid for dealing with such matters in software companies like yours. Let them do their job, and let’s focus on usability per se.

  21. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    You wrote, “I might be an idealist, but I think that business considerations should not interfere with issues of software usability, because it?s essentially like asking a car driver to accept that his rear left wheel might fall off at any time because it?s not cost-effective for the car company to make sure that it?ll never fall off.”

    If someone tried to sell a car from which a rear wheel would fall off at any time, no one would buy that car. The car’s ability to perform its basic function would be seriously impaired. If anything, this analogy bolsters my point: it’s all about business considerations.

    There’s nothing wrong with idealism per se. We value that. I just think that idealism needs to have some grounding in reality, or we’d all end up like don Quixote. We have to accept that usability is but one of a number of reasonable goals, that there is a continuum of usability, and that sacrificing idealistic usability for the sake of increasing overall utility is a legitimate product decision. If we can’t accept that, then there is no ground for continued discussion.

    Rick

  22. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    It’s good that we’ve established at least some common ground in this. However, everything you’ve said in your last comment with respect to spell-checking would make sense _if_ Word had no spell-checking whatsoever. That’s not the case. The only thing that using the system spelling checker would provide to Word users is that it would obviate the necessity to enter words into the custom dictionary twice. How often do users have to do this? Not often. Once entered, a word doesn’t need to be entered again, so there’s even a point where it’s simply no longer an issue. Am I wrong on either of these counts?

    As for tightly integrating spelling and grammer checking, I should think the answer’s obvious provided you accept the notion that a good number of users find the grammar checker to be a valuable tool. I only have 2500 characters here, so, please, just take my word on this. Doing both spelling and grammar checking on a single pass through the document is a significant time-saver. It cuts the time spent proofing a document nearly in half.

    Regarding your comments with respect to Word’s more powerful features, I’m afraid you have the issue all wrong. This is a case where usability is paramount. Take styles, for example. Those who don’t use styles tend to fall into two groups. Some understand the power of styles, but don’t use them because the current UI is too cumbersome. Others don’t understand the power of styles, because Word’s UI gives them no indication of what those styles will do or how they help maintain consistent formatting for similar elements in a document (even in one or two page letters). Both will benefit if we spend time making styles more accessible and intuitive.

    Automatic numbering is another. You called it an issue of reliability, but I think that’s the wrong word. If you do the exact same steps with the exact same document, Word will do the exact same thing. The problem is users don’t understand what Word’s doing, and they get confused. Again, there are some significant usability improvements that will allow users to get a much better idea of why Word is behaving the way it does.

    Now, I’m open to a well-reasoned argument, but I find it hard to believe that either of those is less important than saving people the trouble of having to enter words into separate custom dictionaries.

    Lastly, regarding satisfied/unsatisfied customers, I learned a long time ago that some customers will not be satisfied no matter what I do.

  23. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: That last comment was not by me. It was by Betalogue reader “MacDesigner”.

  24. MacDesigner says:

    Rick you said in post #8, “And, yes, our data do indicate that 70% of Office users don?t use a number of Word?s more powerful features.  Does that mean I should be spending my time trying incorporate the system spelling-checker, or does it mean I should be spending my time making some of Word?s more powerful features more accessible to those 70% of Office users?  Which do you think _they_ will find to be more valuable?”

    Considering the importance and use of the spelling-checker how can its value be questioned. Its almost as important to the program as the gas pedal in a car, it’s also so basic a feature many don’t think about it. Those other features are like a cruise control, they make things easier but don’t make or break it. Personally I never add words to my spell checkers because they are all separate. My answer to your question, “utmost importance for _any_ product that someone wants to sell?” would be to make it as usable or necessary to as many as possible. The more people want it the better it sells, and truth be told, sales are all that counts in the long run.

    The problem I have with many of today’s developers is the lack of polishing. A prime example is Adobe in my estimation. As far as I remember, since PS 6.5 Adobe only puts out, at best 1 or 2 updates to their software. Most bug fixes are just rolled into the next release. While this may be economical it does cause problems to grate on the end user. And why should I be forced to upgrade to the next version to have a properly working feature.

    Why does the spell checker need to be so tied into the grammar checker. Wouldn’t the use of a system wide available spell checker diminish the code work needed on the program and allow the resources to be applied somewhere else thus decreasing the overall cost in man hours. How can this be a bad thing.

    As far as increasing the number of users accessing the higher end features, I don’t think adding more features will increase that and making them easier might increase their use somewhat. However, those that never use the more advanced features most likely never will, as far as they are concerned the need for the features are nonexistent. If they needed to use them they would have figured out how.

    I think all of us are able to agree, you can’t please everyone. Someone will always have problems with a product or service, while others will think its gold. And always remember Rick, while satisfied customers are unlikely to praise you and tell only one or two people about you, dissatisfied customers will tell as many people as possible and as loudly as possible.

  25. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    Of course you’ve changed the subject. You keep wanting to reach some coherent conclusion about Microsoft’s understanding of usability. At first you tried to use the fact that we don’t use the system spelling-checker. When that argument proved to be incoherent, you switched to using a software bug, one that even you acknowledged as being difficult to nail down (“obscure” is your word, not mine), in an effort to reach your conclusion.

    Unfortunately, because you insist on constructing these arguments from within your idyllic cocoon that refuses to admit any information as to the realities of software development, neither argument is particularly compelling. This is what happens when people argue from a position of ignorance.

    You’ve also slung around the word “monopoly” to bolster your argument, but the only real thing you can point to is Word’s market share. Market share, alone, does not constitute a monopoly, which is why the supposed parallel between desktop operating systems on Intel computers and desktop applications on Macintosh computers fails.

    The difference has to do with barriers to entry. If you want to make the argument stick, please explain how it’s so difficult for anyone else to enter the market for Macintosh word processors. Without that, your monopoly argument is as specious as the other two that you’ve pressed into service. In fact, absent a reasonable discussion of how it’s so hard to produce a competing product to Microsoft Word, Word’s market share is a point of evidence contrary to the conclusion you wish to reach.

    As for your insinuation that I have misrepresented who I am and what I do, I will note that you can’t possibly provide substantive evidence to the contrary. All other arguments having failed, you’ve attacked my character in the most direct of ways. The honorable thing for you to do would be to retract it and apologize. Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath.

  26. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    I see, when the analogy doesn’t work against the original subject, then change the subject to make the analogy fit. No problem. Both issues have been fixed for some time. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if the disk full issue made it into 10.1.5. I think so, but I’m not sure. Other people are responsible for deciding how and when a particular fix gets tested and released.

    If not, or if downloading the updater is too much trouble, Beth Rosengard has had a workaround posted to the MVPS.org web site for some time (http://word.mvps.org/FAQs/WordMac/DiskFullError.htm). It uses a macro to accomplish the same thing that the fix does.

    I’d take the time to explain just why it took so long to track down what the issues were, but you’ve made it clear that you’d rather sling arrows of spite from the safety of your idyllic cocoon than understand the truth. If I needed any further evidence of this, it shouldn?t be necessary for me to do anything more than to point to your parenthetical remark. The decision of the courts was limited to operating systems on Intel platforms. That you would make reference to it, even parenthetically, in a discussion about desktop applications on the Macintosh platform speaks volumes about the regard, or lack thereof, you hold for the truth.

    And, on that note, I think there really is nothing more either of us can conceivably contribute to this discussion. The horse is dead. How much more do we need to kick it?

  27. Pierre Igot says:

    I just find it sad that you appear to be utterly unable to communicate with your users.

    Disk is Full bug: This “fix” was never properly advertised and is far too complicated to implement for the average user. If the problem was fixed in a recent Word X update, then people need to be told about it! I just can’t believe that such obvious, basic communication standards are not met by Microsoft. As for calling it an “obscure” bug, try telling that to the people who’ve experienced it. What’s obscure is the place where all their data went. Geez. That it took so long for Microsoft to even acknowledge the bug, let alone fix it (whether it’s finally done or not is not even clear) is properly scandalous. I have been documenting this bug for years, and the number of comments by Betalogue readers on this item is a clear indication 1) that many people have been experiencing the bug; 2) that some people are still experiencing it.

    I didn’t change the subject. I just explained my analogy. To me, bugs such as this one are clear examples of how Word fails to meet minimum standards of usability. How does that change the subject?

    I also find it very interesting that, as a MacBU developer, you seem to be strongly involved in business-related decisions, but you are not even aware of what major bugs have been fixed and when. I thought the work of developers was to develop and fix software, not make business decisions.

    As for the monopoly thing, if you can’t see that Word has a stranglehold on the Mac word processor market, you are in total denial. But that would be consistent with the attitude of the company as a whole in the larger monopoly trials. Just because the issue of a monopoly in the Mac market hasn’t been addressed by the courts, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I am just drawing a clear parallel with the situation on the Wintel side and the situation for us.

  28. Pierre Igot says:

    The “obscure” word is in direct reference to the wording used on the MVPS.org web site. It’s not my wording. If you are going to use sources for your argumentation, you’d better check these sources yourself.

    (The sad fact that this “fix” is only available on a non-Microsoft web site is yet another illustration of the careless attitude of Microsoft regarding such essential bugs that threaten the integrity of people’s data. But since it’s the only place where there is a fix, and you referred to it yourself, I am taking it and its contents as a representation of Microsoft’s own position on the subject. If Microsoft has a different position, then it should says so somewhere on its own web site, instead of continuing to deny that the bug even exists in Word X.)

    Of course, over the course of this discussion, we have strayed away from the initial specific topic, which was the issue of the spell checker in Word X. But even in my initial blog entry, I only used this particular issue and your comments on it as a illustration of what’s wrong with Microsoft’s attitude regarding the usability and user-friendliness of their software. So the more general subject of my post has not changed, in spite of your allegations.

    The difficulty for someone else to enter the Mac word processor market is that the de facto file format standard is a proprietary format (.doc) that other developers have to reverse-engineer if they want to ensure full compatibility, which is essential. In addition, since Microsoft keeps changing the format, this reverse-engineering has to be an on-going process and would probably require resources that are well beyond the capabilities of small, independent developers. Some developers provide some level of compatibility with the Word file format, but it’s not sufficient. (I’ve tried several alternatives.) Only a big company with large resources, such as Apple or Adobe, would be able to enter the market with any hope of being able to offer a viable product in the long term.

    I have not misrepresented who you are and what you do. My comments are based on what you have said yourself. You just said yourself that you didn’t know whether that particular bug (which is a pretty major one, since it’s a direct cause of major data loss) had been fixed or not. On the other hand, you’ve had plenty to say about business issues that inform software development decisions, so obviously I am assuming that you are speaking from experience. I fail to see what amounts to attacks on your character here. I am only using what you wrote here and on your own blog to raise issues and try to get you to address them.

  29. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    You have strayed all over the place trying to come up with an argument that supports the conclusion you want to reach. I’ve merely been following you, though you’re leaving me little reason to continue.

    The “disk full” issue has been fixed in the code. I know, because I’m the one who fixed it (that’s called having _direct_ knowledge of a fact). Whether or not the fix has been made available is something I wouldn’t know, because I’m a developer. The lead tester and the lead program manager are the folks who decide both if a fix is acceptable (i.e. doesn’t cause other, more serious, problems) and when the fix should be made available. If you want answers to your other questions, then I suggest you track down someone who has that knowledge.

    None of this changes the fact that the existence of bugs that are difficult to track down has little bearing on the software vendor’s understanding of usability. Well, I suppose you could claim that Apple have a similar lack of understanding of usability given recent problems with Mail.app and junk mail filtering. But, then, you’d to be forced to accept that all software vendors simply don’t know what “usability” means, because all software has bugs that are difficult to track down. This is not an issue by which one can single out Microsoft for criticism.

    Regarding Word’s file format, for those 70% of Word’s users who use it for writing one or two page letters, adequate support isn’t all that difficult. That’s a sizeable market. Why don’t these other programs succeed at that?

    But that’s not all. The full details of Word’s file format have been available on the internet for years (do a google search; it’s not hard to find). So, why don’t other vendors implement better support for Word’s file format?

    I think you need a more compelling argument regarding barriers to entry.

    Lastly, your denial of having insinuated my lack of forthrightness was predictable. As I said, I won’t hold my breath.

  30. Pierre Igot says:

    I should not have to “track down” someone in order to find this out (and I wouldn’t even know where to start)! This should be public knowledge and be indicated to all users in an official Microsoft document, so that users who have experienced the bug know which update they need to download and install. As I said, geez.

    I single out Microsoft simply because it has a horrible track record in that area. I have never said that Apple are perfect and, if you have ever had a proper look at this blog, you know that I spend a lot of time raising issues and identifying bugs in Apple’s own software.

    Re: Word’s file format. Last time I checked, even the simplest document created in Word still weighs several thousands of bytes, even before the user has started typing text. But the truth is that even 1- or 2-page documents can contain bullets/numbered list, tables, etc. — and that’s enough to require a fair amount of reverse-engineering. But obviously I am only a user, so this is an issue that would have to be discussed with other developers. And just because something is available online doesn’t mean that it’s legal to use it.

  31. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    Please, become informed:

    http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayNew.pl?/odonnell/970908od.htm

    No amount of reverse engineering is required. The formats have been published for a long time now–published via the Microsoft Developer Network. It’s perfectly legal to use that information.

    Look, I understand the angst that comes from running into problems with software. But the difference between you and someone like John McGhie, who is no less above giving us “what for” than you are, is that John is both informed and helpful. John won’t spout off on something unless he knows what he’s talking about, and John is eager to roll up his sleeves and help us work out any problems users encounter with our software. That’s what makes him an MVP. He doesn’t just give us his angst. He gives us information that helps us to solve problems.

    Robert Scoble provided a link to an article from the Fast Company on giving feedback. It’s an excellent article. It can be found here:

    http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/80/sgodin.html

    It’s your choice, Pierre. Become informed and be useful, or be just another PITA.

  32. Pierre Igot says:

    Re: file format. This article refers to the Word 97 format. The file format has changed several times since then. (For example, Word 97 didn’t support nested tables. Word X does.)

    I don’t want to criticize a third-party personally here without giving him a chance to defend himself, but since you are mentioning him… I have extensive first-hand experience with John, and I am afraid that this experience demonstrates 1) that he does tend to have opinions about issues on which he’s not well informed, such as PostScript printing; 2) that he does tend to have a disparaging and unconstructive attitude towards people who experience serious problems such as document corruption, unreliable behaviours, etc.

    Again, I repeat, the fact that you are not able to communicate directly with users online and have to resort to volunteer third-parties such as the MVPs (volunteer! with the amount of money that MS makes!) to provide support is a clear indication that you are more interested in protecting yourselves from criticism than to actually listen to it and take action.

    As for giving feedback, at the risk of repeating myself, I have submitted countless bug reports to MS via various channels over the years and have never received any kind of constructive feedback. Needless to say, that explains in part the tone of my responses to you here. Obviously, you are assuming here that all my feedback was always mean-spirited, unconstructive, uninformative, etc. But you don’t have any evidence of this. You are just assuming that, because I never got any response, it must be because I was always rude and uninformative, just saying things like: “Word crashes all the time. It sucks!!” Well, I’ll have you know that I have submitted extensive feedback describing problem behaviours in excrutiating detail. I’ve devoted a lot of time to this. And, again, I have never received any sign that any of it was ever taken into account. So why should I bother any longer?

    Interestingly, your comments on your page about Word 6 mention that the best avenue to submit wishes — I don’t know about bug reports — is the mswish thing. But I have email messages from McGhie that I can quote to you that say that such “wishes” are usually only considered for the version that will be released in 4 years, due to MS’s development cycle. And then, what’s the Feedback page on Mactopia for? Maybe if you want to receive good feedback from your users, you first need to establish a communication line that works and is clear to your users. Apple has a Bug Report page with clear instructions on how to submit feedback — and obviously it works, since I’m receiving all kinds of responses to my feedback through it.

    It’s your choice, Rick. Either you become a responsive company, or you continue to shield yourself from criticism in the way that you’ve been doing so far.

  33. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    File format: Are you saying that the 70% of Word users writing one or two page letters are using nested tables? There’s still a very huge market available to anyone who wants to support features up to Word 97 and place their own users in the same boat as current Word 97 users. There really must be some other reason that other software vendors haven’t gone after that market.

    As for responsiveness, there are two points. First, I’m not sure how I, as an individual, have a decision to become responsive as a corporate organization. The second is that there is extensive evidence that the Mac BU organization is responsive to people other than Pierre Igot and that Mac BU doesn’t “shield” itself from criticism.

    As for me, personally, if I’d wanted to shield myself from criticism, I wouldn’t have started a weblog. I’ve asked that the criticism be of value, and I’ve repeatedly pointed out why your particular criticism is of little value to me: because you refuse to become informed of the realities of software development. And, at every turn in this discussion, rather than endeavor to understand these realities, all you’ve done is turn up the rhetoric.

    While you’re correct in saying that I don’t know precisely why you’ve not received feedback on the particular issues you’ve sent to us, I can observe a pattern of writing, both in this thread and in other posts to your weblog, that fails to distinguish between opinion and analysis. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, and to remain as informed or as uninformed as you wish, but I’ve yet to see any actual useful analysis in anything you’ve written.

    So, yes, Pierre, there’s ample evidence to support a conclusion that what you have sent to us has just been flat out useless in terms of what we need in order to solve the problems that users have with our software.

    I’m reminded of that first e-mail exchange we had. You were complaining about a pause in Word, and I noted that this was a complaint we hadn’t heard. I expressed an obvious conclusion: that there must be something unusual about your system that’s causing the problem. I didn’t say that the problem was not in Word itself. Yet, you accused me of dismissing the problem. Rather than going back and getting more information for me to use, you went into a tirade about how I was blaming the problem on something else. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was going to have to get useful information from some other source.

    So, yes, Pierre, I’m more than willing to respond to criticism. All I ask is that you give me criticism I can use.

  34. Pierre Igot says:

    Re: “I?ve yet to see any actual useful analysis in anything you?ve written”. This is becoming a bit rich. I cannot quite believe it. Have you actually done any research on what I have written? Did you try to search for “Word X” in my blog (Advanced Search/All Terms/In Title) and review what I have written? Did you check out the 16 lengthy reports that I submitted to the MacFixIt forum on Microsoft Office a while back?

    Just to give you one example: The “Disk Is Full” bug has been around for a long time. And long before Microsoft did anything about it (except deny that it existed), I wrote about the possible workarounds and ways to avoid it in various forums, in my Applelust columns, in the Microsoft Office for Mac newsgroup, and in my blog entries. Is that not useful? If that’s not useful, then what is? Just saying: “Oh yes, that’s a bug in Word, but don’t worry, Microsoft will fix it… within 6 years.” Mmm. Much more useful, isn’t it?

    I just cannot believe that you would even say such a thing, based on the total of everything that I have written about Word and done to help out fellow Word users.

    Face it, Rick. You guys are in total denial, and whenever there is the slightest hint of (fully justified) exasperation on the part of the Word user writing about a bug or flaw, you guys take it as personal attacks and totally refuse to actually analyse the information provided and do something about the bug/flaw reported on.

    You guys seem to be simply unable to listen to criticism without throwing a fit — or at least that’s the clear impression one gets from 1) the persistence of numerous exasperating flaws and bugs in Office over periods of several years; 2) Microsoft’s complete refusal to acknowledge bugs, respond to bug reports, and post information about when bugs are fixed; 3) your current response in this thread.

    Yes, I get pissed off at Microsoft Office, and with good reason. I have lost days of productivity because of its stupid flaws, and in spite of all my efforts to customize it and tame the unpredictable behaviors. I have spent hours trying to get Microsoft or its “representatives” (whatever MVPs actually are in the scheme of things) to acknowledge the seriousness of numerous bugs and try to get Microsoft to do something about it. All this without any kind of constructive response in return.

    Any reasonable human being should be able to understand that this can lead to exasperation. But I have never ever insulted anyone personally. My criticism has always been about the product. If I say that Word is an idiot, that’s not the same as saying that you guys are idiots! Geez, we’re talking about Psychology 101.

    As for the stalls, you still seem to think they don’t exist, even though they only affect Word, of all Mac OS X applications, and Evan Gross, the developer of Spell Catcher for OS X, has even had to develop a clever trick with imperceptible mouse movements to work around it so that his product could perform reasonably well with Microsoft Word X. I suppose even that is not enough evidence to prove that they exist and that they affect Word users. And I suppose that it is not something you guys can “use”. A reminder: this is something designed by a Mac developer, and one who just happens to have developed one of the best writing tools around. I think he must know a thing or two about word processing on the Mac. I don’t think it’s in his imagination. And I don’t think he would have spent time developing a “fix” if he didn’t feel it was needed.

    I admit I just have to shake my head in disbelief. This is just too rich.

  35. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre and Henry,

    Thank you for your feedback. Despite the rantings in this thread, I really do appreciate it.

    I do, however, want to expand on the notion of “useful” information in this context, and the “Disk Full” issue actually provides an excellent opportunity to do so.

    Merely telling me that you’re running into a problem is but one data point. The problem with this is that it gives me no information about how you’ve run into the problem. It may well be possible that the fix I have in mind was incorporated into 10.1.5, but that Pierre has found another facet of the problem of which we are not yet aware. I don’t know, and I have no way of knowing from Pierre’s rant.

    Here’s a list of information that will help me:

    1) OS version and system information; on OS X, go to the Apple menu, and select “About this Mac”. Then click on <More Info…> This will bring up the system profiler. Select File/Export/Plain Text. Include a copy of that file in any report.

    2) Detailed information about what you were doing when the problem occured. How long had you been editing the document, how many saves had you made (roughly), what kinds of changes did you make, did those changes involve replacing text, applying formatting or making changes to drawn objects? As many questions as you can answer, with as many details as you can give, will help to track down the issue. If you can send me a copy of the document you were editing at the time, that would be helpful (though we understand that confidentiality issues may well prevent this).

    3) If you really want to be helpful, the next time you run into the error, open the terminal window and type: lsof | egrep Microsoft.+TemporaryItems > ~/OpenFiles.txt. Include a copy of that file in the problem report.

    4) Pierre, if you still have my e-mail address, you can send all that information to me. If not, then post it to microsoft.public.mac.office.word. I can’t guarantee that someone will respond, but we’ll notice the information and make use of it.

    Lastly, Henry, there’s another possibility: that Word is a very complex piece of sofware; that the feature set it provides requires that a number of trade-offs be made none of which are easy; that, being human, we still make mistakes yet we endeavor to do the best we can to solve some very complex problems. In general, this option would be obvious to anyone who has knowledge of the complexities involved in creating a large piece of software, but it wouldn’t be obvious to those who steadfastly refuse to learn about these complexities. Those who do steadfastly refuse to learn about these complexities are likely to, as Pierre has done in this weblog, say that we are simply too lazy to fix a problem rather than consider the possibility that even tracking down the full nature of a problem is exceedingly difficult.

    And, Pierre, I’m having difficulty understanding how “too lazy” applies only to Word itself and not to my coworkers and me. Perhaps you can explain? Or perhaps you can admit that your attitude, no matter how much you feel that attitude is justified, does not help us to resolve any issues?

  36. Henry Neugass says:

    Thanks to Mr. Schaut for making himself available for this unprecedented dialog.

    Speaking as a longtime user of Word, I would like to propose that the underlying issue, the one that has generated so much passion in this and other forums is that Microsoft does not appear to design/implement/ maintain Word consistent with the fact that some of us depend on Word for our livelihoods.

    We really don’t have any other choice. It is a fact of life that bosses/clients/customers overwhelming specify “deliver it in Word format”. Source documents are almost always made available to us in that format. (Just for fun, search the web for the phrase “Word format” and then for “WordPerfect format”. Compare hit counts.)

    If Word met our needs, there would be no problem, right? Yes, for sure, but please consider the following:

    Reliability. I simply don’t find Word to be sufficiently reliable. The simple crash rate these days is about the same as for other major applications. But no other application I’ve ever used is so susceptible to file corruption. That’s document files, templates, and preferences. As a result, I keep very extensive backups — which is not such a bad idea anyway– but it isn’t very effective against accumulating latent corruption as apparently occurs. (How about a diagnostic reader/fixer utility? Even better: How about making Word more robust?)

    Overall, I’m simply _afraid_ of using Word for fear of losing work. When I use Word because I have no choice, I’m afraid to use headers/footers, anything more than trivial tables, and I’m very careful around section breaks.

    Control. I’m not confident in my ability to control Word. Make it work the way I want? Eventually, maybe, I can figure out how to modify Word’s behavior to meet my needs. There are a lot of settings, scattered throughout the GUI, some with very nice explanatory help, some without. (How about a consistent scripting interface to set, save, and restore all options?)

    Usability. Key operational details are configured –and sometimes vary from major release to release– in ways that seem arbitrary and unrelated to practical use. Adjusting styles comes immediately to mind: It appears that Word has been designed to make detailed adjustments as difficult as possible — how many menu levels do you have to drill down? How many different ways can the style menus be re-arranged without reducing the need to drill down? Styles, so central to the process of building a document, shouldn’t be hard.

    Option implementation. While the list of optional features is awesome, details don’t always stand up to close examination. Some options don’t work very well, don’t do enough, or are too difficult to use. Word page layout capabilities falls into this category. (Oh, yes, based on published warnings from MVPs, I don’t even try to do automatic numbering.) When a client says, “do it in Word” and we know or discover that it can’t be done, we feel trapped.

    ***

    This is my experience over many years of using many versions of Word. I don’t claim that it represents the experience of every user, but I also don’t accept that my experience is necessarily atypical, either.

    It could be said that that Microsoft is doing a great job of making Word just barely good enough — from one point of view the truly admirable genius of the company.. Another is that there is no plan; Word simply has “happened”. Finally, there’s the possibility that the Word folks are truly talented and committed, but they have simply never walked a mile in the shoes of a user who is utterly dependent for his/her living on the quality of their work.

    Thanks,

    Henry

  37. Josh says:

    Oh man, gotta love Microsoft Word and its erroneous “Disk is Full” error message. It first bit one of my clients, a lawyer working on a lengthy brief, a few years ago. I remember unearthing this hilarious Microsoft Knowledge Base article:
    http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=289545

    For the record, File Sharing *was* off on his machine and he wasn’t saving to a networks. Word was the only program running and he was working on one document at a time. And whenever he was working on an important, time-sensitive document… he’d judiciously save every few minutes… and after about an 90 minutes, he’d be told that his 60 GB hard drive (with 40 GB free) was full (!)

    It seemed (and still seems) utterly preposterous to me that Microsoft was suggesting that he was “saving too often” and that he should “monitor his saves” so that he could remember to close the document after every 20 saves. I remember thinking – isn’t this software supposed to be making our lives EASIER? Why couldn’t THEY monitor for me? Give me a warning or do something proactive about it? Not to mention the irony that “saving a document many times” implies that the document in question is very important…. and that these are the documents most likely to be in jeopardy of getting stuck with this bug.

    Since then I have seen mentions of this bug affecting earlier versions of Word (on both Mac and Windows.) And I remember laughing that although Office v.X was advertised as being “completely rewritten to take advantage of OS X” yet it shared this completely egregious bug. Not to mention the lack of long-file-name support. So much for a “complete rewrite.”

    It amazes me that M$ hasn’t addressed this properly for years. And if it has been fixed in the latest update to Office v.X, they certainly haven’t mentioned this anywhere — perhaps to avoid the embarrass themselves that it’s lasted this long?

    Don’t even get me started on the update procedure for Mac Office v.X. 10.1.2, 10.1.4, 10.1.5? Where’s the combined updater? Where’s the version checker? There’s no consistent way for me to even KNOW what version a client is running… I end up just installing all three updates to be sure. And it still has bugs.

    Thanks, Microsoft. You make me appreciate Apple all the more.

  38. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: The level of complexity of the software design itself is largely irrelevant to the end user. The complexity that he is concerned about is the complexity of using the software. In that respect, there are simple tasks in Word that are still way too complex for the average user. McGhie, for example, says that manual formatting is a scourge that contributes to document corruption. Yet everything in the Word interface seems to make using manual formatting easy and using styles difficult. I, for one, am very disciplined about using styles for formatting purposes (including character styles), but I always have to deal with documents created by other people in which they mostly used manually formatting. This simply increases the likelihood that we’ll experience document corruption down the road — and there are very few signs that Microsoft is willing to do something serious about this (i.e. design Word in a way to encourage more people to use styles). There are very simple things that could be done right away. You can use the way InDesign handles styles as an example. We need a proper preview of the style in full size in the text itself. We need a cleaner interface for changing the various characteristics of the style. We need a clear distinction between paragraph styles and character styles. Etc. All these things could be accomplished without changing the underlying architecture for styles in Word. It’s just a matter of making styles more usable for the average user.

    People are perfectly willing to accept that you guys are human and make mistakes occasionally. But when buggy and flawed things are left unchanged for years, people have a right to question your willingness to fix these mistakes.

    Is it “laziness”? Is it a lack of communication with users? Is it an inability to see where real priorities are? I don’t know. Since Word doesn’t communicate with us about these bugs and try to get us to help them fix them, we can only speculate.

    I fully agree that occasional exasperation doesn’t help resolve any issues. But that doesn’t mean that you can dismiss everything I have ever said by saying: “I?ve yet to see any actual useful analysis in anything you?ve written”. Your job as software developers is to see past the user’s (justified) exasperation (he too is trying to get work done, after all) and try and understand what the causes of the problems he’s experiencing are. If he’s not providing enough information, ask for more. If he’s really motivated about helping fix the problem, he’ll do his best to provide that additional information, as I have just done regarding the Disk Is Full bug.

    But if it takes a week-long discussion long enough to fill a book to finally get someone at Microsoft to acknowledge the existence of a bug and request more information from the user, you can understand why I question Microsoft’s ability to communicate with its users on such matters.

  39. Henry Neugass says:

    Rick:

    Thank you for your comments.

    At the risk of duplicating some of Pierre’s most recent comments, which just this instant were posted:

    > Lastly, Henry, there?s another possibility: that Word is a very complex piece of
    > software….

    Very eloquently stated.

    > In general, this option would be obvious to anyone who has knowledge of the
    > complexities ….

    I take from this comment the implication that you are faulting Pierre because he is unwilling to acknowledge the daunting complexity of the Word code base.

    If that is what you intended then I disagree: The implementation details should be orthogonal to use — that’s fundamental to how computers work for us. Pierre is no more responsible for those details than for understand the characteristics of the compiler you use, for the configuration of the transistors in the CPU, or the fundamental physics that make all this possible.

    I _am_ an engineering professional, I _do_ write software, and –in scale– I _am_ aware of complexities that can arise. As such, I even more strongly object to your point that we users have any responsibility for application internals. We don’t.

    ———-

    Let’s be specific. This reminds me of a colloquy I had a while back with an MVP. It went something like this:

    1) I’m having trouble when I work around paragraph breaks, section breaks, and the last paragraph mark in the document. I lose formatting.

    2) That’s no surprise; there’s a lot of information stored “in” those marks, you risk confusing or corrupting it.

    3) But why do I have to worry about _how_ Word operates internally and protecting Word’s internal data structures? My work is writing and formatting a document, and I have neither interest, energy, or knowledge sufficient to meet Word’s requirements in this respect.

    4) You just do.

    Yes, it seems to be so. You, Rick, are in a position to know for sure. Is this correct? If so, could you provide additional information so we users can more adequately do the job of protecting Word’s internal data?

    > Those who do steadfastly refuse to learn about these complexities are likely to, as Pierre
    > has done in this weblog…

    Tracking down software bugs can be exceedingly difficult. But the potential difficulty doesn’t automatically mean any particular case is difficult or easy.

    Pierre does get heated up sometimes in this weblog, as in other forums to which he contributes. (I hope you will forgive me, Pierre!) He has ample cause.

    Please explore Pierre’s body of work further. I think you will find that he has devoted a significant amount of time and energy to characterizing Word “issues”. His reports are complete, technically astute from a user’s point of view, and also quite readable. Oh, and while he does not hide his frustrations, expressing them doesn’t get in the way of his providing some really great material. These are the kinds of bug reports I would like to get for my projects — in my dreams.

    Pierre, could you provide some links to your reports?

    —–

    Trouble is, from our point of view out here in user-land, no one is listening to our reports, good or bad, full of rants or not. We’ve come to the conclusion that the newsgroup offers the best possible chances of getting through. However, the results aren’t very good in practice. Yes, I have noticed some items mentioned in newsgroups are eventually addressed in a later release, though the delay is often much too long and the fixes are often awkward. As for MVP’s, they are dedicated and sometimes offer real solutions, but we’re too often frustrated by the disclaimers of knowledge and/or responsibility we hear from them.

    Rick, just by your involvement in this discussion you offer hope that the corporate culture can change, that Microsoft _can_ listen and work in partnership with its customers.

    Thanks,

    Henry

  40. Warren Beck says:

    This has been a very interesting discussion. My opinion is that Rick’s responses have transparently revealed a telling defensiveness about the quality of Microsoft’s apps. Problems like the ones Pierre has pointed out here and in his previous writings run throughout Microsoft’s operating systems and application software, both on Windows and for the Macintosh. The big problem that we users face, and that Rick is clearly defending in a frustrating way, is that Microsoft has no real incentive to fix these usability problems. In fact, by not fixing them, Microsoft directly encourages users to purchase upgrades in the vain hope that they will have been fixed.

    On the Windows side, for instance, I have read reports that no significant changes have occurred in Microsoft Word since Word 97. On the Mac side, the architecture for Word is similarly frozen since Word 6, and all that we can hope for are interface improvements; for instance, the task panes that appeared in Word XP and Word v.X on Mac OS. But these interface accoutrements simply call the underlying procedures using VisualBasic macros. The underlying engine for word processing, typesetting, and page layout has been essentially static since about 1996, and all of the flaws that are in place since then will probably never be fixed if they do not cause tremendous stability problems, and by that I mean _everybody_ crashes instantaneously owing to some underlying code.

    I wonder if the actual problem at Microsoft is that no one who is on the team there really understands how the the engine in the Word app works; alternatively, it is probable that the production process at Microsoft penalizes efforts to fix underlying problems in the code because they do not return anything that Microsoft can advertise as improvements or new features. For instance, can you imagine a big advertisement in MacWorld with the headline, “Office 2006 for Mac OS XI: No more mysterious pauses and out-of-memory errors!”

    The solution to this problem is to avoid using Microsoft Word in professional work. The key to this is the ability to round-trip .doc files so that we can provide publishers, for instance, perfectly good .doc files without having used Word to make them. At this point in time, for instance, the word processor module in OpenOffice.org can open .doc files that even Word on the Windows side cannot open. While OpenOffice.org is not a solution that I can stomach on the Mac, yet, there is always the hope that development of simpler and better word processors on the Mac side will continue. I point to the work that is on-going at Nisus, where the developers have stated that styles will be provided in the next release, and at Redlex with the Mellel word processor. As time goes on, these apps will include better and better .doc round-tripping, and as this progresses we will increasingly be able to avoid using Word in the actual creation of documents. Alternatively, there are better apps available now for most technical and professional document work. For instance, many publishers use Adobe FrameMaker for the actual publishing process even though they will accept (even preferentially) .doc files; in my work, the American Chemical Society publishes its professional journals using FrameMaker. (Of course, there is the continuing uncertainty about Adobe’s commitment to produce a Mac OS X version of FrameMaker, but I am happy for the foreseeable future to run it under the Classic environment.)

  41. Warren Beck says:

    Henry,

    Your points are very well taken. I agree that we should work on getting Microsoft to improve because it is the de facto standard and because it has, on paper at least, a satisfactory feature set to get nearly every job done. I have a hard time using it because, as Pierre has noted, it has so many nagging problems. I also have a hard time using it because I think that Microsoft doesn’t really care about the users that have purchased its products.

    But in 1987, when I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation, Word 3 on the Mac was really a great product. I would be really happy if Microsoft would step back to Word 4 at the latest and do an ab initio port to Mac OS X. The result would be a really great product on an improved platform, a real step forward. They should hire Pierre as a consultant to make sure the product had a nice interface and worked reliably (like Word 4 did).

    As to FrameMaker, I prefer it because it is absolutely rigorous and dependable; there is no doubt what will happen when you use a certain command or feature. Once learned, FrameMaker is very friendly, indeed; I think that it offers the rigor of the Word 4 or 5 environment with many advantages in terms of layout and long-document features. It is not a reasonable choice for most because it is very expensive, except for academics like me who are afforded a generous discount.

  42. Henry Neugass says:

    Warren:

    Thanks for your reply.

    Every time I think of that feature list, I feel I’m trapped in a Dilbert cartoon. Many of us have learned to discount marketing claims for what they are. But somehow a whole generation of managers seem to believe that Word really can fully address all their document tasks. In this regard, I lay all the blame on those managers, not MS — they are only doing a brilliant job at what they are supposed to be doing.

    I have my theories about Microsoft’s reasons for/strategy of maintaining Word, but I don’t think they add anything to this discussion.

    Until proven otherwise, I will continue to believe that the MS Mac developers are dedicated professionals who really want to do a good job.

    Certainly MS has the opportunity to work with expert users all over the spectrum to improve the product. I would really like to see them take a creative approach. I wonder what would happen, for example, if they released some components –not the central engine– to Open Source? Let the world maintain and improve some of those troublesome old modules. Now, however, I now recall hearing word leak out that Word is one huge pile of spaghetti code, and –if so– this would be near-impossible. Doubly unfortunate.

    As for stepping back, following your hunch, it is possible that the Word 3 source tree simply no longer exists! Anyway, I don’t think a step-back is in the cards. Even the brilliant marketeers couldn’t spin “Word 3 for MacOS X”.

    Right, FM is rigorous and dependable, though a bit stiff and clunky. I find that context switching, particularly screen repainting is awkward in Classic. Classic works well, but not perfectly.

    I haven’t heard of anyone in my environment who would even consider FM for a document for literally years. I’ve been using it for some public service work, but I’ve got a copy of the latest InDesign, and I’ll probably use that instead.

    Maybe Adobe would release FM to Open Source, since it really isn’t going anywhere and I’d guess isn’t generating much revenue.

    Henry

  43. Henry Neugass says:

    Warren Beck:

    I find I generally agree with you, but, may I suggest that we restrict our discussion to Word? It’s hard enough to understand the motivations of a single person, let alone a large company, and I think it clouds the discussion.

    I think MS has little enough incentive to fix Word issues simply because the return-on-investment can’t compete with alternative ways of spending the money. Sure, there are broader issues, but I’m pretty sure flogging Mr. Schaut about them won’t do any good.

    It’s occurred to me that Word has been fairly static for quite some time. I’ve noticed that many fundamental operations –and “issues”– have remained the identifiably the same through recent major versions on the Mac. I must acknowledge that some widely-discussed bugs have been fixed, albeit slowly and sometimes inharmoniously.

    I like to assume the best of everyone, so it did not occur to me that problems might remain unfixed because no one understands the code. I have heard some second-hand information that some modules in current versions date back to Word For Windows. That would be daunting –nightmarish– to the most skilled programmers!

    I have a document somewhere produced by Mac Word, somehow corrupted so it can’t be read by Mac Word any more. But it can be read by the latest version of Win Word.

    Yes, I’ve kept the latest versions of both, side-by-side on a Mac and PC, in order to try to avoid some cross-platform issues. Even so, it’s the exception when someone to whom I send a doc file reports it is fully intact on his/her platform. I’m simply not optimistic about round-tripping .doc files when even MS can’t do it very well.

    The goal of avoiding Word seems unreachable for the foreseeable future, unless of course, the .doc format can be stabilized as a public standard. (OK, stop laughing!)

    I don’t find FrameMaker in Classic to be a very friendly environment, and FM has certainly not progressed very much in the recent past.

    As far as “better apps”… I’m not sure there are, but the issue is that, apparently, the majority of managers are convinced that Word can do everything required for word processing and desktop publishing, a truly admirable accomplishment on the part of MS marketing.

    I’ve been surveying as many open-source projects as I can find to see if it is possible to bootstrap a diagnostic reader for Word files. It would be really nice to know more than “Sorry, can’t read that file”. Thus far, I haven’t had any success. Do you have any ideas about this?

    Thanks,

    Henry

  44. Rick Schaut says:

    Henry and Warren,

    Your continuation of this discussion has been fascinating. I’ll talk about defensiveness here. I think the rest of what I’d like to say should be saved for an upcoming blog post.

    I get defensive when people make presumptions about my motives when those presumptions are based on faulty or incomplete evidence. As an example of this, consider Warren’s notion that the architecture of Word has been “frozen” since Word 6.0. Here’s a data point: there are 565 .c and .h files in Word (there are more sources, even some generated from other files, but these will suffice for the point). Of those 565 files, only 6 are still at version #1 in the source control system. Of those 6 files, four were added since the beginning of the Word 11 project. That means that all but 2 files in the entire project have been changed at least once since we started work on Word 11 (2004).

    Henry’s remark about no one understanding the code is another example. I don’t know that it’s accurate to say that no one understands the code. It may be accurate to say that no one understands all of the code, and it’s certainly accurate to say that, with 565 source files, it’s impossible to get one’s head around all of the complex interactions that can take place. But that’s not directly why problems persist.

    The persistence any given problem has to do with the reproducibility of the problem under controlled circumstances. The overall complexity of the code means that you can’t fix a bug just by looking at the code. Were that the case, we’d never ship a product that had unforseen bugs. I have to be able to see what the code is doing with the data when the problem occurs. I have to examine the problem “in the lab” as it were.

    A full discussion of this point isn’t possible in any comment space, so I’ll save it for a weblog entry. That said, I hope the above suffices to make the point: people try to reach conclusions about why things are fixed or not fixed, and they do so based on faulty evidence. That’s when I get defensive.

    Rick

  45. Paul Robertson says:

    Paragraph 2 Line 4

    That should have read “..become more and more unstable and buggy, as unforeseen interactions cause…”

  46. Rick Schaut says:

    Paul,

    The question of complexity asymptotes and how they might relate to software quality is an “interesting” question–“interesting” in the sense that I can’t do justice to it here. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to do it justice in a blog post.

    The idea of a “Word-lite” is one we’ve kicked around in various flavors for some time (which even included a proposed project named “Mini-Me”). At the present, nothing is in the works. Your suggestion is, however, noted.

  47. Henry Neugass says:

    Rick:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Whoa, hold it! Please re-read my posts: I was careful to label what I had heard as unproven fact, rumor, or something similar.

    We speculate about your motives and those of your company simply because we have no better source of explanations of the phenomena with which we users must cope — good and bad. If we know more, we can speculate less.

    Your single data point constitutes, well, a massive improvement in my knowledge about Word. I had no idea if Word was built from 50 source files, 500, 5000, or 50000.

    The information you offer is certainly welcome. In my view, 500 files is a reassuring number, whereas 50 would indicate a disaster and 50000 would indicate… a different kind of disaster. The revision level data you offer is only slightly reassuring because all you’ve said is that almost all files are different from their original releases — no clue on how different.

    I don’t expect to hear even this much about company internals. If some of those files contain spaghetti, I would not expect you to admit it, though it would be nice if you could.

    As for the need to and difficult of reproducing bugs: Yes, of course. Please consider that some of your users, even your strong critics, have done as much as any user of any software could do to characterize and report bugs. I hope you’ll get to see some of Pierre’s excellent reports.

    Maybe you are conveying the message that, in the case of Word, nothing any user can do can be of any real help in tracking down significant bugs. I sincerely hope that is not true!

    Thanks,

    Henry

  48. Paul Robertson says:

    Rick,

    I’ve been following this discussion for the past few days and it has proved very insightful. (I should point out I’m only an average user and have little knowledge of software development)

    Looking at your previous comment, surely the MS Word project is heading towards a brick wall of complexity. Over time as the project continues to gain complexity it will become harder and harder to isolate bugs so that the software will over time becomes more and more unstable and buggy, as unforsen interactions cause problems.

    With each new version the marketing department can tout one new feature or another, but the underlying program will become less usable.

    At some stage, I hope sooner rather than later, MS is going to have to take a step back from this situation and look to finding some solution. Whilst I don’t have any answers for the main Word project, for most people, who use currently Word as a typewriter, how about introducing a lite version of Word, perhaps based on Word 4?

    Although I know this is unlikely to happen as it would have to be sold at a lower price point and would canibalise the sales of Word, but I still think it would satisfy most users needs.

  49. Rick Schaut says:

    Sorry, Henry, but I wasn’t being clear. I hadn’t meant to imply that you were making errant assumptions about my motives. In fact, I had meant to thank you for at least assuming the best, and it slipped my mind as I was trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say without you reacting the way you did :-).

    The point is, whatever assumption you make about my motives, favorable or unfavorable, that assumption is based on faulty information. I was pointing to your remark with respect to the information being faulty, not with respect to the validity of the assumptions you’ve made.

    And, certainly, I’m not trying to say that users can’t help me track down bugs! Actually, my purpose is exactly the opposite: help users understand what they can do to help me track down bugs, and part of that includes some discussion of how user assumptions about me and user inferences about Word colour how they approach the whole issue.

    Again, this is a complicated question that really needs to be treated fairly, and I don’t think I can do that here. I’ll be posting something to my weblog, hopefully within the next couple of days. I have a couple of subjects that I’d like to discuss, and some are a tad more pressing.

    Rick

  50. Pierre Igot says:

    Rick: I think it’s quite clear that there needs to be a decent facility for reporting Mac Office-specific bugs to you guys. Right now, there’s just the generic “Feedback” page at Mactopia, which is for any kind of feedback, and just has a couple of form fields, with no instructions on what information to provide, etc. Microsoft might have a more specific bug report form elsewhere on their site, but no Mac user is going to use it because 1) the rest of the Microsoft web site is quite Mac-hostile in its layout and behaviour; 2) the form would not be Mac-specific and would not provide for Mac-specific information. If you guys at the MacBU are a self-contained unit within Microsoft, then you need to have your own bug reporting system, so that users are sure that they are providing the right information and that things are getting through to you.

    The Mactopia site itself needs to have a bug report form, with several fields and clear instructions, and also the ability to send attachments. The Bug Reporter feature at Apple is a decent example. It’s not perfect, but it works. I know, because I use it all the time, and obviously my feedback is useful since Apple is getting back to me (not always, of course, but at least sometimes).

    You can always require some kind of user registration with a valid email address and Office serial number in order to make sure that you don’t get flooded with all kinds of irrelevant or abusive requests.

    I just don’t think a blog entry on your blog is the solution here either.

  51. Rick Schaut says:

    Pierre,

    The whole question of customer contact with respect to bugs is a huge problem. I’ll talk a bit about that too.

    For now, though, the most effective place for users to go with issues is the appropriate microsoft newsgroup.

    Yeah, I now that’s lame. There’s a lot we have to work out before we come up with something less lame.

    Rick

  52. Henry Neugass says:

    Rick:

    Thanks for your clarification. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say.

    Abstracting from Pierre’s latest post: There are two vital elements, one that some interest be shown in receiving bug reports –a few mac-specific customizations would go a long way– and the other than some kind of acknowledgement occur at least some of time.

    Of course it would be even better to work _with_ knowledgeable users. Think of Pierre posting to the newsgroup comments to the effect that he’d been able to resolve a long-standing issue by working with you or your colleagues!

    I would like to observe that MacOS X has greatly improved, user-visible facilities for debugging over previous versions of the OS and –to my limited knowledge– over most versions of Windows. (I guess XP “may-I-phone-home” bug reporting probably has similar capabilities, but the detailed data doesn’t seem to be available to users.) To me lack of use of these new capabilities on the part of MS is ample justification for speculation.

    Thanks,

    Henry

  53. William Shepherd says:

    A very interesting discussion.

    I switched to Mac from WinTel about a year ago, when I got sick of the constant operating system crashes (experienced on several computers over many years, so it wasn’t “my particular system”). Unfortunately, WordPerfect, which I consider a superior word processor, is long out of development on Mac. So I had to switch to MS Word. Yes, my publisher demands files in .doc format.

    I spent a good part of the next six months converting my library of WP reference files into Word format. These were moderately formatted–a lot of hanging indents, some automatic numbering, various fonts, little else. It was a heck of a job. Hanging indents were a mess. Automatic numbers were gone. Fonts were consistently (and irrationally changed). This was the case, no matter whose conversion engine I used (Corel, MS, or third-party).

    Now it’s all done, except for minor mistakes. Am I going to convert all these files to some other format in the future? Not likely. They tell me Mellel is great, but it has trouble with MS compatibility. Obviously creating a usuable .doc format is not as easy as Rick claims. I’m stuck with Word.

    As for the “pause in entering text bug,” it happens all the time, on practically any document. Sometimes I’ll type something, and the last letter will not appear until I hit another key.

  54. Henry Neugass says:

    William Shepherd:

    Thanks for your addition.

    I have an XP system literally next to my Mac. Both (historically, at least) have the latest version of Office, and I maintain both systems quite carefully. I don’t use the XP system much, so it is relatively close to a “stock” system.

    Why duplicate? Because I had a client which specified documents in Word format, and which I knew uses PCs exclusively. The last thing I needed was to deliver a document that had messed-up formatting when read with Word XP. So I can compare … side-by-side.

    Yes, relatively simple structures transferred over reasonably well. Anything beyond that.. well, there were always glitches. Since I avoid using any Word feature I don’t absolutely need for fear of crashes and/or document corruption, I can’t say how advanced things like auto-numbering transferred.

    Fonts, and thus some page layout, didn’t always work very well. Now, this may in fact be due to some fundamental differences between fonts on the Mac and the PC, and I’ll allow for that. To a point. Does MS advertise cross-platform compatibility, or doesn’t it? Either it works or it doesn’t.

    (I have to throw this in: I wanted to submit my material in FrameMaker, because my client had a documentation department on Macs using FM, and I had confidence in my ability to deliver near-final manuscripts that would render correctly after delivery. At some point, the client laid off all those folks, got rid of the Macs, and made no plans for supporting that function beyond having Word on the PC of every remaining employee. Eventually I was told that I would no longer be given writing assignments, not because my work wasn’t high-quality, but because they weren’t ever able to publish it.)

    Having latest copies of Word on two different platforms has given me some interesting opportunities. For example, somewhere I have a Word file from my Mac that will no longer read correctly on the Mac, but it reads and looks fine on Word XP. Huh? If that doesn’t indicate inherent problems within MS’s formats and readers, I don’t know what would. If MS can’t provide reliable cross-platform transfers, I would not expect any kind of success translating from completely different formats, sorry to say.

    Mr. Schaut asserts that the Word file format is public. Mr. Igot respond that the cited formats are for Office 97 — yes, the link Mr. Schaut gave is to an article dated 1997. Mr. Schaut replies that Word 97 formats are sufficient for “A huge market…” Huh? What year is this? Has the format changed since Word 97 or hasn’t it? Are the changes orthogonal or not?

    As I said in an earlier post, I’ve done surveys to see if I could find either specifications or actual code embodying current Word file formats. I even downloaded the source for OpenOffice (or the its cousin, I forget) — an astoundingly large amount of code, which overwhelmed my source browser. All in all, the quarry is quite elusive. I’ve never succeeded in finding anything that is both current and comprehensive. Now that Google has significantly increased their page count, maybe I’d better try it again.

    What I have discovered thus far is that the file format engineering design may not be either robust or easily transferrable. If I’m correct –and I may not be– you _must_ use MS development tools to reproduce the “container within container” object model they use. Again, I’m not sure, but I get the strong feeling that any given “thing” (maybe a paragraph) at some level of containment is vulnerable to corruption at some higher level (maybe a section). This is at least consistent with the problems of document corruption I’ve observed, though it is by no means proof.

    By the way, I’ve _never_ observed the “pause in entering text” bug.

    Thanks,

    Henry

  55. Pierre Igot says:

    Henry: In Mac OS X, you can actually use PC TrueType fonts directly without any kind of conversion. PC TrueType fonts usually have the “.ttf” extension. They work in OS X as well. I’d be curious to know if you’ve observed problems between Mac and PC with documents that only use such “.ttf” fonts.

    Thanks for your FrameMaker story. I guess it’s a perfect example of how Mac users are forced to use Microsoft Word.

    As for the file format, my guess is that, if we had a really free market where products can compete with each other in a healthy fashion, and if the Word format was truly available to any developer without requiring reverse engineering or huge development costs, then surely by now there would be a number of decent competitors for Word X under OS X. A simple example is the use of “frames” in Word — this pseudo-page layout tool that lets you put text or pictures anywhere on a page. I constantly receive 1- or 2-page documents that contain at least one such frame that was used to place some kind of logo or header in the document. Even Word’s own default behaviour creates such a frame in the footer of a document when using the Insert Page Number command, which many people are likely to use without noticing (that it inserts a frame instead of a simple page number text string). Is it easy for third-party developers to write a word processor that is compatible with Word documents that contain frames? I doubt it… Yet I keep receiving documents with such frames, because Word inserts them automatically in certain cases or people think that they can use Word for page layout purposes. Same thing for automatic bullets/numbering. Since it’s on by default and takes over when a user starts typing a list, people use it even without knowing.

    The end result is that even a single page document created by an ordinary Word user with no advanced knowledge of the product can end up being a very complex file that contains tables, frames, field codes, automating numbering, and what not.

  56. Pierre Igot says:

    William and Henry: Obviously not everyone experiences the stalls or notices them. But surely there are enough people out there who do experience them and are annoyed by them. This bug is far too obvious, even on my fast system. It is simply shameful that Word cannot perform the most fundamental task in word processing properly, i.e. typing text. Yes, I am a fast typist, so what? Is it illegal? Is it too much to ask that a dual GHz computer be at least able to keep up with my typing, especially considering that, in most circumstances, my CPU usage stays at approximately 30% on each CPU unit? All other programs are able to keep up with my typing just fine. Why not Word X?

  57. Henry Neugass says:

    Pierre:

    Thanks for your comments:

    No, I haven’t tried using True Type fonts for portability, but I will, next time I need this capability. It seems to me that an application that promises cross-platform portability ought to provide at least some framework of support. Hmmm, what about something like this on Word XP: “This document was created on a Mac, with the following non-TrueType fonts. You’ll likely get better results –more equivalent look and placement– if you replace these fonts before transferring the file to the PC platform.” And vice-versa.

    About frames, etc.: If I recall correctly, one of our favorite MVPs has strongly and publicly discouraged us from using them, an admonition I appreciate greatly –it confirms my own impression– and I’m glad to heed. If I recall correctly, frames don’t even work reliably with respect to to one file for one user on one platform. I think there’s also a rather complete and very negative appraisal of Word’s auto-numbering, possibly from the same source.

    About file formats: Thanks for pointing out that the most trivial document may invisibily contain rather complex structures. From what I’ve seen by observing file sizes and looking at hex–ascii file dumps, you are correct. Now, there’s no sin in preparing a sophisticated structure when a Word file is created. After all, Word can’t know if the file will end up being one line or 1000 pages long. Equally, there’s no inherent problem in using a complex mechanism to support a convenience like autonumbering. Well, there is _one_ problem: It seems you and I all too often discover that such mechanisms are non-robust, never mind that we sometimes having trouble controlling them. I wonder: it is just us who experience this instability, loss of formatting ranging to unrecoverable file corruption? I would certainly like to hear what other users experience. It seems unlikely that it is just you and me.

    About typing stalls: I’ve been a Unix user on and off for maybe 25 years. With respect to the Unix command line, I’ve observed a kind of natural rhythm, which includes some stalls. This has continued on the MacOS X command line and I’m OK with it. That said, if you run 10 major GUI apps, 9 of them don’t show this behavior, and one does, it is very reasonable to finger that app. Pure speculation: there’s something unfortunate about Word’s design and/or implementation history that requires a task to be done between characters. No harm done on some systems, and serious stalls on others. Hmmm, want to spend some time comparing system configurations? Maybe we could narrow this down.

    Thanks,

    Henry

  58. Pierre Igot says:

    Henry:

    The fondamental problem with frames, autonumbering and all these other things that do not work reliably enough and dramatically increase the complexity of the document is that, due to Word’s default behaviours, Word users who didn’t turn various default options off end up using them without knowing it! That is why Rick cannot claim that 1-page or 2-page documents should be easy enough for compatibility purposes with other applications. The frame around the page number is a typical example. If you are in Word X with a new blank document and you go to the “Insert” menu and choose “Page Number…” and just click on the “OK” button, Word inserts a page number in the footer of your document and that page number is… inside a frame! That’s the default behaviour!

    As for the stalls, the problem with your hypothesis is that, as far as I can tell, Word is doing absolutely nothing during those stalls. It’s not doing anything else. The simple proof of this is that you can interrupt a stall by moving your mouse pointer. (That’s precisely how Evan Gross was able to work around the problem in Spell Catcher X 10.1. He uses sub-pixel mouse movements generated by his software during the typing process which interrupt the stalls when they occur and have no incidence on the actual position of the mouse pointer.) You can also interrupt the stall, like William says, by hitting another key on the keyboard. (I often use the Left or Right cursor key to interrupt a stall – although thanks to Spell Catcher X 10.1 I rarely have to do that anymore.)

    If you can interrupt the stall without any consequence, that’s clearly proof that the stall doesn’t correspond to any essential activity that Word cannot do later. (The other indication that nothing is going on is that there is no change in CPU activity and no hard drive activity during a stall.) That would also explain why Word is the only application exhibiting the behaviour. (It’s a flaw in Word, not in the Unix architecture of Mac OS X.)

  59. Henry Neugass says:

    Pierre:

    I was always uneasy about that “Insert … Page Number…” anyway. It seems, well, uncoordinated with the explicit commands. (I need to check my records. I think I heard some helpful information about the relationship between these two a while back.)

    As for stalls, I’m still stuck on the fact that I don’t experience them.

    Wild speculation: Let’s say Word has some (obscure) reason to check that the machine’s network interface is “connected” between keystrokes. In my machine, with DSL, that’s not a problem. On yours, with dial-up, there’s a different mechanism and –as a result– different timing. There may also be further variation depending on dial-up or related configuration.

    If Word does nothing visibly different whether the answer is “yes”, “no,” or if the inquiry is aborted by user activity, that would be consistent with what we all observe. (Right?) It’s a bug from your point of view and invisible to me. I’m not surprised that there’s no visible difference, either at the level of Word or in overall CPU activity — a inquiry of this type would simply be too small to register in any case.

    It’s moderately believable that MS hasn’t been able to reproduce this issue, but there are, unfortunately, less innocent alternative explanations. Without further information…

    …And further information would include data on the prevalence of reports of keyboard stalls, especially, if they appear to be relatively configuration-independent.

    If Mr. Schaut is listening, I would request that he consider his situation if he personally experienced this issue. Please stand aside from Pierre’s quite justifiable expressions of frustration and share with us what you would do.

    thanks,

    Henry

  60. Pierre Igot says:

    I really doubt that Word keep trying to connect to the Internet at regular intervals. It’s crazy, but not that crazy :). (On the other hand, I keep seeing these “Connecting to the printer” messages in the status bar when saving documents, so who knows…)

    It would indeed be interesting to do a detailed comparison of the configurations of the various people who do experience the stalls, in order to isolate a possible source. But that’s Microsoft’s job to do, not mine!

    It should also be noted that the stalls affect not just typing in Word, but also various other elements in the interface. For example, often when using the Find/Replace dialog, there is a stall after clicking on one of the button before the corresponding action takes place. Here again, jigging the mouse a bit interrupts the stall and causes Word to proceed.

  61. Henry Neugass says:

    Pierre:

    OK, the internet, a printer, the mothership, whatever. I simply wanted to provide a plausible model for what’s possibly going on — a process that doesn’t actually do anything other than record the status of some external device or process.

    Could you summarize your success thus far at getting attention from MS, the MVPs, or Mr. Schaut on this particular issue? Any acknowledgement? Have you tried the Apple discussion boards? Do you have any ideas about how many people are observing keybard hesitations in Word? (Sorry, I just haven’t followed this issue.)

    Your comments jiggle my brain a little bit about the Mac human interface. Most apps allow the MacOS to draw standard dialog boxes — it’s a look-and-feel consistency issue — and let MacOS handle keyboard+mouse input for these. I _think_ almost everything you ask the OS to do is capable of “calling back” to application-supplied routines to take care of the details. Thus, it’s possible that a dialog drawn by the OS could depend on console I/O routines supplied by Word. If so, there may be a way of asking the OS to tell us more about what it is being hot-wired to do. On the other hand, if Word draws its own dialogs it may also simply supply most of the underlying keyboard and mouse handling, down to the virtual ROM toolbox. In that case, it still might be possible.

    I get a strong feeling that what we’re seeing here is _something_ built in to Word a long tim ago that has been carried forward over the years and is now biting some people. The original reason –if anyone remembers it– for the mechanism may have even been some limitation of the MacOS (rather “System”) of the day.

    Thanks,

    Henry

  62. Brenda Talbot says:

    I found your blog by googling “Word X sluggish” and have read your posts on the Word stalls. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve experienced the same exact problem since I installed Word X on my iMac G4/1.25 with 768 MB RAM. Extremely frustrating. Significantly degrades my productivity. Looking for light at the end of the tunnel….

  63. Henry Neugass says:

    The Microsoft view is entirely pragmatic: They try a method. If it works — possibly it is sufficient if no important customers complain– it _is_ right.

    The alternative view is that there exists some kind of objective standard of “rightness” and that a single individual can judge an implementation against that standard.

    These discussions with Mr. Schaut get nowhere because of vastly differing assumptions.

  64. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    Rick said: “the only thing absurd in this entire discussion is your claim, based on your own parochial views and not on an objective survey of the needs of all Office users, that ?Microsoft is driven by interests other than usability and user-friendliness.?

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmm … I was looking for information on a MSFT Word bug that has been plaguing Windows users since Word 6 was a pup. It’s STILL plaguing me in Office XP, so there are at least two users with the “parochial” view that Microsoft doesn’t care about the users. They don’t care about devellopers either – I just tried using Word’s filtered HTML with the MSFT HTML Help SDK and it borked on me. Their tools can’t eat their own dogfood!

    I think the light at the end of the tunnel is found at openoffice.org because it does as good a job of reading MSFT Office as any one version of MSFT Word does at reading any other version (if it can read them at all). And there is a MacX version :)

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