Excel 2004: Lousy text wrap mechanism

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
March 30th, 2007 • 4:54 pm

This is further evidence (if it was needed) of the utter lack of polish of the supposedly “mature” applications that are part of Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac OS X.

It’s very easy to reproduce. Open a new blank document in Excel and select the first cell in the spreadsheet.

Using the “Alignment and Spacing” section of Excel’s Formatting Palette, apply the “Wrap text” option to the selected cell:

Check 'Wrap text' option

This is supposed to ensure that, when the text entered in the cell is longer than what can be displayed in the cell in its current size, Excel wraps the text within the width of the cell and automatically increases the height of the cell by the number of lines that are needed to show the the text in full.

Now, in another application, select a string of text that you know will be longer than what would fit in this particular cell with its current text formatting options and size. In this example, I typed “Lousy text wrap mechanism” in BBEdit and selected and copied that text.

I then went back to my Excel spreadsheet and pasted the text into the cell with the “Wrap text” option checked. And here’s what happened:

Text pasted in cell

As you can see, Excel pasted the text using the cell’s default text formatting options, but completely neglected to adjust the cell’s height in order to show the wrapped text!

Why did this happen? In my opinion, it’s because, when they implemented the text wrap mechanism in Excel, Microsoft’s developers only made sure that it worked properly when people enter text in cells manually by typing it out—and completely “forgot” to make it also work automatically when people enter text in cells by pasting it from the Clipboard.

Now, you can actually force Excel to adjust the cell’s height by first double-clicking on the cell as if you wanted to edit its contents, which forces Excel to display the text in full:

Editable cell

And then you just need to exit the cell by clicking elsewhere or tabbing to the next cell:

Wrapped text after cell exit

As you can see, by pretending to edit the cell’s contents and then exiting the cell manually, you actually trigger the text wrap mechanism, which finally kicks in as it would have if you had typed the text out manually.

But really, it’s very sloppy on Microsoft’s part. Copying and pasting is a perfectly natural and normal way to enter text in any application, including Excel. By failing to implement a text wrap mechanism that properly supports this very common mode of text entry, Microsoft’s developers just show how far removed they are from the reality of day-to-day computing.

And by leaving this bug unfixed in a supposedly very mature product that they have had time to polish and fine-tune for years, they show that they simply do not care.

(If you need further evidence that they don’t care, check this post about the ugly white smears that Excel still displays around anti-aliased text when it’s highlighted. Do you think that this will finally be fixed in the next version of Office for Mac OS X due out this year? I have serious doubts. After all, it’s only been five years since Apple introduced Quartz Text Smoothing and Microsoft supposedly embraced it in its own applications.)

4 Responses to “Excel 2004: Lousy text wrap mechanism”

  1. Schwieb says:

    Thank you for the bug report, Pierre.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Do I detect a hint of irony? :)

    I don’t file bug reports with Microsoft for the reasons highlighted here. If Microsoft ever comes up with a decent bug reporting facility (similar to the one provided by Apple through Bug Reporter, for instance), and gives some indication that they do actually process the bug reports and try to do something about the bugs (even if it takes years, like it does sometimes with Apple), then I’ll start submitting stuff again.

    Otherwise, sorry, but Google newsgroups simply ain’t good enough for me—and is not worthy of a company with Microsoft’s resources.

    (If there is no irony, then allow me to find it rather shocking that, after all these years, Microsoft’s teams of expert user interface field testers haven’t noticed such an obvious bug and that it actually still needs to be reported.)

  3. byundt says:

    Text wrap works the same way in Windows Excel 97, 2000, 2002 and 2003. So Microsoft might describe the behavior you note as a “feature” rather than a bug.

    If you want the Text wrap feature to work the way you were expecting, paste the text in the Formula Bar rather than directly in the cell.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    I suspected that it would “work” the same way in Windows… I just thought that maybe Windows users never use cut-and-paste :).

    Pasting in the Formula Bar is not really an acceptable substitute, especially when you are working on a 30″ screen :).

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