Word X: Cursor movement in field area

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 10th, 2003 • 10:49 pm

Put your blinking cursor in a field area in Word — for example, a page number reference such as the one below:

A picture named FieldCursor.jpg

(I have field shading always on in Word, hence the gray shading behind the number.)

If you use the cursor keys to move to the right or to the left in the number, Word moves the cursor one character at a time. However, if your cursor is at the beginning of the field and you press shift-right, instead of simply selecting the first character (number) in the field, Word selects the entire field — as if you had actually pressed cmd-shift-Right. It does the same if your cursor is at the end of the field and you press shift-left. (It behaves as if you had pressed cmd-shift-Left.)

If you put your cursor in between two characters in the field and press shift-Left or shift-Right, Word’s selecting behavior will depend on where exactly you are. If the next character to the left or to the right is the first or the last one in the field, then Word, again, selects the entire field. If not, it simply selects the next or previous character, as it is supposed to do.

In other words, the only time Word behaves as expected, i.e. consistently with its own conventions (shift-Right selects one character to the right; shift-Left selects one character to the left) is the last situation. In all other situations, Word behaves in a totally unexpected fashion.

I suppose someone at Microsoft thinks that this is convenient — that, in most situations, people will want to select the entire field/page number, and not just a single character inside it. The problem is, however true this might be, it is not consistent with the behavior elsewhere. And consistency is the #1 characteristic of well-designed software.

In this case, the inconsistent behavior is all the more unnecessary because keyboard shortcuts for selecting the entire word (page number) already exist and are readily available: cmd-shift-Right or cmd-shift-Left.

I am afraid this particular behavior is a typical example of what’s wrong with Microsoft Word (and, indeed, with Microsoft products in general), at all levels of the application’s design. It might seem like a small, unimportant thing to you, but it isn’t if you are a user who actually uses these shortcuts and unconsciously develop keyboarding habits that Word then punishes you for developing.

As I said, typical.

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