Word 2004: Proprietary (and flawed) behaviour for file name extensions

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 9th, 2004 • 5:29 am

In most Mac OS X applications I use, when I want to save a file, there is a check box called “Hide Extension” somewhere in the “Save As” dialog box. This check box is the visible manifestation of a “smart” behaviour used by such applications when it comes to file naming conventions.

Since Mac OS X recommends the use of file name extensions — such as “.rtf” for Rich Text Format files, “.pdf” for PDF files, etc. — these applications will always append the file extension to the file name. If the check box is not checked, then this file extension appending mechanism will be visible to the user, i.e. he will see the “.xxx” suffix automatically appended to his file name in the “Save As:” field. If the check box is checked, then the user will not even see the extension, even though the application still appends it to the file name.

What’s smart about this mechanism is what happens if the user chooses, for some reason, to type out the “.xxx” extension himself manually as part of the file name. If the user does that, then obviously the application should not automatically append the same extension again to what the user has typed, so that the file name doesn’t end up including a duplicate file extension (as in “myfile.pdf.pdf“). The application is smart enough to know that. In addition, since the user has typed out the extension, it is now obviously visible in the “Save As:” field. Consequently, the application automatically unchecks the “Hide Extension” check box to reflect the fact that the extension is now visible.

What does all this have to do with Word 2004? Well, as usually, Microsoft Word has its own way of doing things, unfortunately. Instead of this standard “Hide Extension” check box, Word’s “Save As” dialog box has a check box labelled “Append file extension“.

In other words, the use of file extensions in Word is still not mandatory. Coming from another software developer — such as Bare Bones Software with BBEdit — I would interpret this as a reluctance to embrace Apple’s use of file extension instead of the invisible file/creator meta data that was used in the classic Mac OS and is still supported in Mac OS X. But coming from Microsoft, and considering that one of the main uses of Office for the Mac is to create files that can be shared with Windows users, this unwillingness to embrace Mac OS X’s file naming conventions makes little sense.

In addition, the behaviour of this “Append file extension” check box is flawed. For example, you can check that check box, which causes Word to add a “.doc” extension to the name in the “Save As:” field, but then you can still select the entire contents of that field, delete it and replace it with a name that doesn’t even a file extension. If you then click on the “Save” button, Word will save a file with a name that doesn’t include a file extension, even though the “Append file extension” check box is checked. This is not acceptable. If the check box is checked, then Word should always include a file extension when saving the file, even if the user accidentally deletes it while editing the “Save As:” file name field.

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