Chris Pratley’s blog entries on Word

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
April 30th, 2004 • 7:11 am

Chris Pratley is the manager of the Word program management team at Microsoft, and he’s started publishing a blog in which he’s sharing quite a bit of information about the product and the way it has been and is being developed, etc.

It is quite an interesting read. While the focus of the blog entries is obviously not on the Mac versions, we all know that Word for Windows and Word for Mac have a lot in common, including large chunks of code and the vast majority of their feature set. And Chris does mention the Mac product on several occasions.

Before getting into some of the details that are more relevant to the Mac version, I cannot help but comment on the following paragraph:

I’ve been a little gun-shy of blogging about Word for fear of being inundated by what are as far as I can tell a gang of “net thugs” who roam the net making outrageous claims about Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc in every public forum they find (none of which information they are privy to, little of which they have evidence for, and basically all of which I find personally offensive, not to mention incorrect – since they often are implicitly about me and therefore I for one know them to be incorrect). But enough about that – let’s just dive in and see what happens. Hopefully the net-dwelling paranoid delusional conspiracy theorists won’t descend upon me… :-)

With or without the smiley, I find this paragraph very problematic. Once again, it confirms my worst suspicions about the attitude of Microsoft employees regarding the feedback that they receive, directly or indirectly, from a good portion of their clientele. What Chris (and other Microsoft employees, including some more closely involved with development of the Mac version) seems to be unable to grasp (maybe the constructive feedback he’s getting on his blog will change his mind) is that the “thuggish” behaviour and language that can be indeed observed from time to time is the direct result of the years of accumulated frustration with a product that fails to do even simple things reliably and consistently.

For example, nowhere in his blog does Chris mention (so far) the major issue of document corruption. Is it really surprising, given the persistence of this issue (and many other important issues, both in the Windows and in the Mac versions), and given Microsoft’s failure to address it, that, over the years, people have ended up commenting on “Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc.“? When a company refuses to acknowledge problems and solve them, in spite of extensive reports on the problems and the very serious impact that they have in the real world on people trying to get work done, then obviously people are going to get frustrated, and they are going to accuse Microsoft of things, even if they don’t have the evidence to support them.

How is this amount to being a “thug” or a “conspiracy theorist”? People come up with conspiracy theory in spite of all the evidence that proves them wrong. But we do not have any evidence that Microsoft is taking the problem of document corruption seriously. Or the “Disk is full” bug — just to mention two of the most crucial and dangerous problems.

Personally, I find it insulting that people who, out of frustration, try to come up with theories about Microsoft’s motives are lumped together with conspiracy theorists. The fact that high-ranking Microsoft employees are starting to speak openly about their work, like Chris Pratley is doing, is a good sign that Microsoft is finally becoming aware of the need to provide users and commentators with the information needed to make more informed judgements on Microsoft’s products and practices. But we still have a long way to go. And people like Chris Pratley would do well to leave this tendency to lump vocal critics together with conspiracy theorists behind them.

10 Responses to “Chris Pratley’s blog entries on Word”

  1. Edmund says:

    This has happened to me personally. I have several (big) documents that Word has somehow corrupted. It is a horrible, horrible feeling that an application will destroy the weeks of work that went into creating a document.

    I even have one document that cannot be opened with Word for Mac any more. Word simply crashes each time you try to open it. Luckily the document still opens under Windows. But for how long?

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for sharing, Edmund. This is exactly my point. I too have been burned, and the loss is enough to make me seriously question the true motivations of Microsoft engineers. Does that make me a “thug” or a conspiracy theorist? You be the judge…

  3. Ernesto says:

    Microsoft has his own rules because they are the defacto standar on word processing. I’ve been thinking which could be Apple movement on this field and IMHO they should just do nothing, even not release an AppleWorks 7. I’ve got great expectations on OpenOffice 2.0 and it’s port to the Mac. It’s only trhough competition that Microsoft will listen to feedback.

  4. Radardan says:

    I keep thinking that MS Word for Mac has so many problems that someone is going to sue them. After all, when things like tables, text boxes, printing page setup, collaborative editing, etc., don’t work as advertised and indeed are corrupting documents everday, the cost at the user’s end is a cost that needs to be bucked back for Microsoft to bear.

  5. Patrick Wynne says:

    Hell, it ain’t just Mac Word that sucks.

    My mother (Win98/Office97) received a .doc file that caused her toolbars to start blinking on and off and then crashed Word. So she sent it to me and I used my machine at work (Win2k/Office2k, opened with no problem and Norton showed no viruses) to convert it to an .rtf and sent it back.

    She still can’t open it without her Word crashing. From a simple RTF file!

    I’ve also seen Word2k choke on RTF files saved by TextEdit, which AFAIK saves a simpler subset of RTF than Word does.

    Regardless of platform, the app is a piece of crap.

    And I guess that makes me a “net-thug”…

  6. Chris Praltey says:

    Actually, I did not lump people who have legitimate complaints together with people who prevent sensible dialog – I made that very clear in my post and in subsequent comments. The “net thugs” do not represent a “good portion of our clientele” – rather they do not represent our clientele at all, if they are to be believed. By their own description, they tend to run other products, or they brag about running cracked/warez versions of our products – i.e. they are not customers, and at worst they are pirates. Real customers do not exhibit the patterns of behavior I mentioned in the paragraph you quoted – although you are correct that sometimes they vigorously complain – but that is completely different.

    I did not mention document corruption or other issues specifically because my post was about history, not a catalogue of bugs. You are quite welcome to visit the blog and ask any questions you might have. I especially welcome people who have a different opinion from mine, as long as they remain civil and are willing to entertain arguments that differ from theirs (unlike true net-thugs).

    BTW, we have done extensive work on document corruption, both in avoiding generating it and in trying to repair it when we see it. OfficeXP (Word2002) added implicit corrupt doc repair on open and the explicit “File/Open/Open and Repair” option, and Word2003 improves on this. Where possible some of this work has been released in Service Packs for older products. Of course, if you stay on an 8-yr old version like Word97 then you are not going to see improvement year on year except for the most critical security issues.


  7. Pierre Igot says:

    Chris: Thanks for your (belated) response. I always use the very latest version of Word, but over the years this has not prevented me from experiencing document corruption first-hand and with other Word users that I provide tech support to. Given that this is such a serious issue, Microsoft would do well not to keep such improvements under wraps.

    There is no “Open and Repair” option in Word for the Mac that I can see. There is no “‘Document Repair” utility. There is no mechanism preventing Word from choking on documents in a user-hostile fashion.

    Just yesterday, I opened an RTF file and Word (2004) became unusable — not frozen (Dock icon was still working properly), but unusuable in that no controls would respond: keyboard, mouse, nothing. I ended up having to force-quit. I can send you the RTF file in question if you’d like me to. It’s exactly the type of behaviour that should never happen: If Word experiences difficulties with a document, it should “degrade gracefully” and provide some kind of protection against application-wide crashes or freezes.

    Document corruption needs to be taken as seriously as (possibly more than) security issues, especially on the Mac platform, where security issues are pretty much non-existent. We are talking about real data loss here.

    At this point, in spite of your assurances, I see little sign that Microsoft is indeed taking the issue as seriously as it should. We need a web site devoted to it. We need a repair facility. We need a proper reporting facility where people can submit documents that cause their application to crash, so that Microsoft can identify the source and fix the problem. We need a Word architecture where document corruption cannot bring the entire application down — only, at worst, force the user to close the offending document.

    If I see signs that Microsoft is changing its tune and finally taking this seriously, then I’ll be the first to congratulate you. But I am still waiting — and I have been waiting for years.

  8. Chris Praltey says:

    Well, I cannot speak for the Mac team – I build the Windows product. We haven’t kept these improvements under wraps – but that doesn’t mean the whole world has heard about them either – I only wish it were that easy to communicate with the user base (FWIW blogs touch only maybe 20K out of 400-600million). We could spend a billion dollars and still not reach a majority of those users with a message about specific improvements.

    We have the Knowledge Base on our web site, where you can search for known issues and find solutions if available. Many issues are caused by user-solvable problems (e.g. Anti-virus software, add-ins, etc)

    We take document corruption very seriously, as I described. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as having people send us their documents. There are significant legal and privacy concerns and liability around that (it turns out). We’re still working on it. In the meantime you can send me the RTF file if you like (

    BTW, on Windows, when Word crashes or hangs, you can report this and we will collect what data you have allowed us to collect to help track down the bug. We have fixed many such bugs in service packs and in the current release. I know for a fact that Word2003 is much more stable than any past release, because using the voluntary Customer Experience Improvement Program (only on Windows version) we can measure its mean time to failure (MTTF) in the real world on our customers’ machines. MTTF is now several months of elapsed usage for the average user.

    I completely agree with you about graceful degradation. In fact that sort of thing is what we are working on for the future. As an example, WinWord now has a “safe” mode, where you can hold down Ctrl when launching it to avoid certain problems.

  9. Pierre Igot says:

    Chris: In order to reach the millions of users, the best solution is probably to put a command in the “File” menu called “Repair Document” or to build the document corruption tools into the interface in another way. Instead of having an interface to deal with such problems, Word… hangs or crashes. Not exactly helpful.

    The Knowledge Base is a bit of a mess.

    The “legal and privacy concerns” for submitting problem documents are a lame excuse IMO. Just put some legalese saying that any document sent to MS become MS’s property or something like that. Apple doesn’t seem to have any trouble with their Bug Reporter system, where files of up to 50 MB can be submitted.

    As far as I know, when Word 2004 hangs, there’s nothing you can do to report the problem. The “crash reporter” thing only works for crashes, not hangs. With a hang, you have to force-quit, and nothing happens after that.

    In my experience, the Office 2004 applications are less stable than the Office X applications were with all the patches applied. On my system, the “MTTF” is a few days at best!

    The graceful degradation thing should work for all users at all times and not require a “safe” mode.

  10. zlatan24 says:

    For Word files use next application-word repair tool,effectively recover information from corrupted Microsoft Word documents and templates,can work with text files of various formats: Microsoft Word documents and templates of various versions (.doc, .docx, .dot, .dotx files) and Rich Text documents (.rtf files),recover information from corrupted Microsoft Word documents and templates located on corrupted media (floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, Zip drives, etc.).

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.