Word X and window handling

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 13th, 2004 • 1:09 am

Here’s a very simple example of how Microsoft Word breaks fundamental user interface conventions on the Mac.

When you hit cmd-F or select “Find” in the “Edit” menu, Word opens a new window called “Find and Replace” (even though it should actually be called “Find and Replace and Go To”, since these are the three panes it contains).

The thing is that this window can stay open even if you return to your main document window. It is not a modal dialog.

Yet if you go to the “Window” menu, you won’t see it listed there. In other words, if, by accident (after switching to another application and then switching back to Word by clicking on a document window, for example), you bring a Word document window back to the foreground, the “Find and Replace” might become hidden behind the Word document window. And there is no intuitive way to bring it back to the foreground. You have to press cmd-F again to bring it to the foreground, or move your document window so that the “Find and Replace” becomes visible again in the background and you can click on it to bring it to the foreground.

So what kind of window is this exactly? It’s not a document window, but it’s not a dialog either. In order to distinguish between a regular document window and the “Find and Replace” window, Word adopts the following behaviour: If you bring the “Find and Replace” window to the foreground, a great number of elements in the Word interface become greyed out (disabled). This includes most menu items, as well as toolbar buttons — because obviously they don’t apply to the contents of the “Find and Replace” window, which is not a Word document window.

But here’s the kicker: Even when you are in the “Find and Replace” window, there are some menu commands that are still available, including document-specific ones such as the “Normal”, “Page Layout”, and “Outline” view modes in the “View” menu, which do not apply to the “Find and Replace” window and actually apply to the document window in the background behind the “Find and Replace” window!

This, to me, is a typically example of how Microsoft simply does not get the Mac. The Windows OS is a mess of windows and menus that makes no sense. But on the Mac we want an interface that makes sense and respects the conventions that we are used to. Microsoft software fails in that department at a very fundamental level. And it’s been the same story for years. It simply is shameful.

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