May 5th, 2013 • 8:30 am
I have received more feedback about the issue with character-level formatting in the header of a Word document that I was working on the other day.
Yesterday, I indicated that the problem had to do with the fact that the text in the header, even though it didn’t look any different from regular text, was actually a reference to metadata associated with the Word document.
Since then, a couple of readers have written to confirm that, in Word 2010 under Windows, there is a visual difference in the header: “The title is shown within a light blue rectangle with the tag ‘title’.” I obviously cannot reproduce this on the Mac and I don’t have a copy of Word 2010 for Windows to confirm this myself. All I can say is that, in Word 2011, there is no visual difference whatsoever between this header text and regular header text.
Apparently, this all has to do with a feature called “content controls” that was introduced in Word 2007 for Windows. Evidently, this feature was never introduced in the Mac version of Word, but Word for OS X has to be able to open and display Word documents created in Windows. Since these Word documents can contain such “content controls” but Word for OS X does not have a “content controls” feature, what does the MacBU do? It just pretends that the feature does not exist and displays content controls as regular text.
But of course if you start interacting with such text, you end up encountering issues such as the one I experienced the other day. What I had in my document was apparently what is called, on the Windows side, a “plain text content control”:
… if you italicize one word of a sentence that is in a plain text control, all the text inside the control is italicized.
There is such a thing as a “rich text content control”, which can contain formatted text, but of course even if I had wanted to replace the plain text control with a rich text content control in my header, I wouldn’t have been able to do so, since Word for OS X does not have a “content controls” feature.
I still have no idea whether the author of the Word document that I was working on had even intended to use this “content controls” feature himself or it was used accidentally or unintentionally in the process of creating the document (maybe through the use of an existing document template or because Word has some other automatic behaviour that inserts such things without the user really understanding what’s going on).
What seems pretty clear to me is that these “content controls” are primarily intended as some kind of replacement for form fields (which are supported in Word for OS X). But it’s far from obvious to me that there is any benefit to insert a reference to the “title” field in the Word document metadata as opposed to simply typing out the title, whereas there are obvious drawbacks, such as the fact that the “title” field in the metadata only contains plain text.
You also won’t be surprised to hear that, based on the article about content controls mentioned above, the feature is at best half-baked even on the Windows side:
… despite their enormous potential, Microsoft has failed miserably in resolving long standing bugs and in providing enhancements to functionality to fully realize this potential.
What else is new?
What isn’t new either is the fact that Mac Word users are treated as second-class citizens and left to deal with mysterious, unexplainable behaviours all on their own.
Thanks to L. H. and Dan for their additional feedback.