February 10th, 2011 • 4:37 pm
When Word 2011 came out, one of its big selling points was, as usual, a claim that it was faster than its predecessor, particularly for launch times.
And I can confirm that, generally speaking, Word 2011 does launch significantly faster than Word 2008, although it still happens far too often that, for no apparent reason, it has to rebuild its font cache (“Optimizing Font Menu…”), which significantly lengthens the duration of the launch. Apparently, it’s still beyond Microsoft to design an application that does not periodically require this process, even though Pages ’09 has never had such problems and launches with the same promptness each and every time.
But what of Word 2011’s performance levels once the application is actually running?
Well, sadly, I have to report that things are still frustratingly slow. The slowness is not obvious, but it’s significant enough that it severely affects the usability of the application, especially if, like me, you are a user who likes to work fast.
Three things are particularly noticeable.
One is that scrolling up and down a document in “Print Layout” view mode (the only usable view mode, since the “Draft” view mode is rendered unusable by atrocious font kerning issues with many fonts), with a scroll wheel or by sliding your finger on the surface of a trackpad or Magic Mouse, you will notice that the scrolling is constantly interrupted by little breaks of a fraction of a second. These breaks are not long enough to be obvious, but they are long enough to make the scrolling less than smooth and, for users who work fast and tend to use very precise gestures, this is intensely frustrating. Quite often, because of these small breaks, my brain mistakenly thinks that I haven’t scrolled far enough or that I have scrolled too far, and I automatically correct my gesture before I have had time to realize that this was a mistake and that the discrepancy between my gesture and what is going on on the screen is due to these “hiccups” in Word 2011’s scrolling.
The other one is that, whenever I switch from one document window to another, even if they are side by side, and whether I use a click of the mouse or the keyboard shortcut for cycling through document windows, there is always a short pause before I can start scrolling or typing in the document window that I’ve just switched to. (And I am still forced to switch from window to window all the time just for scrolling because Word 2011 still won’t let you scroll through a background window just by hovering over it, like a properly designed Mac OS X application is supposed to do.)
Again, it’s something that’s particularly noticeable if you like to work fast, because it forces you to slow you down.
And the same thing goes for the commands for copying and pasting text. Here again, far too often, there is a short pause after I use such a command before I regain control of the application.
Sure, it does not make the software unusable, but I can clearly feel that I am less productive in Word 2011, because of this sluggishness. I can feel myself being forced to slow down to adjust to Word 2011’s speed, or lack thereof.
And all this is on a 2009 Mac Pro with 12 GB of RAM, the same machine on which I use Pages ’09 without any such problems. Pages ’09 executes all these commands (scrolling, switching documents, copying and pasting) instantly, with no noticeable hiccups — except sometimes when the document contains a large table.
I have a fast machine, so on slower machines I suspect that the situation is even worse.
If you think that Word 2008 is too slow and are considering upgrading to Word 2011 to enjoy better speeds, think again. Apparently, Microsoft’s word processor is still too complex an application to be able to run smoothly even on a fast, powerful computer from little more than a year ago.