Word 2004: Insufficient changes to non-contiguous selection feature

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 14th, 2004 • 4:17 am

One of the very few new features introduced in Word X was non-contiguous selection, i.e. the ability to create a selection in Word that is made of several non-contiguous parts in a document.

In order to achieve this, you need to make a normal selection first, then hold down the command key and select more text elsewhere in the document. This makes sense because the shift key is normally used in Mac OS X applications to extend the existing selection in a contiguous fashion, and the command key is used to make a non-contiguous selection in the Finder, for example. (In a list of files in a Finder window, you can select several files that are not next to each other by using the command key to add to the primary selection.)

The problem in Word X was, as is often the case, that Microsoft was sloppy in implementing the new feature and seemed to forget that command-clicking already had a use in Word when used in the left margin of a document window (the area between the left edge of the window and where the text actually begins). In that area, the mouse pointer changes from a left-pointing arrow or insertion bar to a right-pointing arrow. If you just click somewhere in the area (without a modifier key), Word selects the line of text in the document corresponding to the vertical position of the mouse when clicked. If you double-click in the area, Word selects the entire paragraph. If you click in the area with the shift key down, Word extends the selection below or above the current selection, depending on the vertical position of the mouse.

But if you click in the left margin of a document window with the command key down (or if you do a triple click), Word X selects… the entire document. This shortcut existed before the introduction of non-contiguous selection in Word X.

So what did Microsoft do about this when they introduced non-contiguous selection with command-clicking in Word X? Precisely nothing. If you tried to make a non-contiguous selection by command-clicking in the left margin of a document window, it simply didn’t work. Word X selected the entire document, regardless of what the current selection was.

This meant that, in Word X, there was no easy way to add entire lines or paragraphs to a non-contiguous selection. People like me, who were used to selecting entire paragraphs by double-clicking in the left margin of a document window, were forced to refrain from moving the cursor to that area altogether when making a non-contiguous selection with the command key. Instead, we had to stay in the main document window area and add non-contiguous paragraphs to a selection “manually” by command-clicking with the insertion bar at the beginning of the paragraph and dragging the cursor to the end of the paragraph. It was very frustrating.

In Word 2004, Microsoft appears to have become aware of the conflict between the use of command-clicking for non-contiguous selection in the main document window area, and the use of command-clicking for selection in the left margin of the document window. But unfortunately, they have only fixed half of the problem.

Now, in Word 2004, if you have an existing selection and want to add a non-contiguous bit to it by clicking in the left margin of the document window, you can do a single click with the command key down in the left margin and this will add the line corresponding to the vertical position of the mouse in the left margin to the current selection. But if you double-click in the left margin with the command key down… nothing else happens! Instead of selecting the entire paragraph, as expected, Word only selects the same line as it would have with a single click!

So I guess by the time Word 2007 hits the store shelves, things will finally work correctly. Until then, we’re stuck with a half-baked feature yet again, and the Word interface continues to be utterly inconsistent and unpredictable to the uninitiated.

5 Responses to “Word 2004: Insufficient changes to non-contiguous selection feature”

  1. Warren Beck says:

    Pierre: for those of us who haven’t gotten our copy of Word 2004 yet, can you comment on the overall performance or lack thereof of Word 2004 compared to Word v.X? There have been a lot of reports that Word 2004 feels a lot slower. What do you think?

    Thanks again for your highly informative comments on this area.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I’m not in the best position to comment on Word 2004’s performance, because I have a dual 1.25 GHz G4 with lots of RAM, which, while 1.5 years old, is still a fairly powerful machine. I remember how painful it was to use Word X on my previous machine, a G4/450.

    That being said, I can definitely tell that Word’s performance has taken a hit in Word 2004. Many things feel a bit sluggish, even on my fast machine. It’s not to the point that it annoys me, but I can imagine that it would be rather irritating on a slower Mac.

    Simple things like cutting and pasting text often seem to cause a short delay. I suspect that this is in part due to the addition of several new “interactive” behaviours that cannot be turned off, such as this idiotic Paste button that shows up in the middle of nowhere for about 2 seconds after you’ve pasted something. Grrr.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Warren Beck says:

    Pierre: Thanks for the heads up about the performance hit. Maybe I should wait until I get a new Powerbook–a 400 MHz processor doesn’t sound like a good fit.

    I just don’t understand why Word keeps being shipped with more and more stuff in it that makes the program slower during its main task, text entry and editing.

    On the PC side, a lot of people say that the best version of Word that you can (maybe still) get is Word 97. Nothing of significance has been added since then, but there is plenty of cruft. So this business of adding bloat in order to make business for MS is not confined to the Mac side, it’s just the MS way. (Where do _you_ want to go today?)

    On the Mac side, one might have expected Word 2004 to be optimized at this point for the Mac OS X environment. Apple was still making major additions and changes to Mac OS X when Word v.X came out–MS released patches for Office v.X apps four or five times. The 2004 release should have taken advantage of Panther’s quasi maturity–it should have been possible to clean up the messy bits.

    But noooo, the MacBU adds a whole pile of slippery new stuff for us to have to work around. ( I’ve mentioned before how Word inexplicably breaks established add-ons.)

    Maybe MS should release “Office 2004 Professional,” with the Pro version leaving out as much as possible of the animation, automation, and aggravation. :-)

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    The problem is that adding new features doesn’t necessarily have to cause a performance hit. Look at Mac OS X itself: plenty of features have been added since 10.0, yet there is no doubt that the system has also become much faster, thereby extending the life of many older Mac computers.

    The problem can only be that Microsoft is unable to add new features without using hacks that make the existing stuff slower. And they obviously know very little about fine-tuning their applications for performance. When is the last time you saw an incremental update for Word that promised “improved performance”. Most of the performance gains in Word X were due to the improvements made by Apple to Mac OS X as a whole.

    Everyone has their “favourite” (i.e. least despised) version of Word. For some it’s Word 97 (for Windows). For some it’s Word 5 (for Mac). As far as I am concerned, no version of Word has ever been close enough to a state that would deserve the title of “favourite”. My favourite version of Word is one that doesn’t exist, and probably never will, because Microsoft will never listen and take the necessary actions.

    Even if they turned off all the automation in Word, it would still be a poor performer. I know, because I turn most of it off myself :).

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    One small correction to one of my comments above: You can turn off the floating “Paste” button that appears each time you paste something in Word 2004. In “Preferences”, under “Edit”, there is an option that can be unchecked.

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