Word 2004: Clicking on a background document with a selection to bring it to the fore loses the selection

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
September 14th, 2004 • 4:56 am

Say you have more two document windows open in Word, Document A and Document B. You are in Document A and select a paragraph of text, with the intention of copying it to Document B. Before you actually copy it, you first want to locate the exact destination in Document B. So, while the paragraph is still selected in Document A, you click on Document B to bring it to the foreground.

First problem right here: The selection in Document A (which is now a background window) becomes invisible. Instead of doing what other similar Mac OS X applications do and changing the selection highlighting from your user’s default selection colour to the shade of grey that’s indicative of a selection that is in a background window, Word changes the selection highlighting to… nothing. Once a Word document window is in the background, it’s impossible to tell whether anything in it is selected.

But that’s only a “cosmetic” issue. What is worse is what happens after you’ve located the section you want in Document B and click back somewhere on the Document A window to bring it back to the foreground.

Unfortunately, this mouse click does two things: it brings the Document A window to the foreground, and it moves the insertion point to the location in the document window where you’ve just clicked — thereby losing the paragraph selection that you had before you switched from Document A to Document B.

This is simply wrong. It assumes that the user wants this double behaviour. Yet in all other similar Mac OS X applications (Mail, TextEdit, BBEdit, etc.), clicking on a background document window only does one thing: it brings this window to the foreground. It does not change the selection in the document window. In other words, the exact location of your click on the background window has no impact.

So the user is used to this behaviour in all other Mac OS X applications — but in Word, the mouse click triggers this two-fold response and causes the document window to lose its current selection and move the insertion point to the location of the click.

This is, in a way, another unwanted “click-through” behaviour. Like the one affecting the rectangular buttons at the bottom of a background Word document window, this unwanted “click-through” behaviour only occurs when you switching Word windows within Word. If you click on a Word document window in the background from within another Mac OS X application, Word does only one thing: it brings that window to the foreground. Clicking on the document window in the background doesn’t affect the existing selection/location of the insertion point in that document window.

I find this behaviour extremely irritating, because it constantly causes me to lose my selection. I can avoid it by using the keyboard shortcut for the “Cycle through Windows” commands instead, which only does one thing, that is switching between windows (without affecting the existing selection/location of insertion point). But sometimes my hand is on the mouse and it’s more convenient for me to bring a Word document window to the foreground by clicking on it. And again and again I get burnt.

This is also a perfect example of a Word irritant that doesn’t just affect “Word power users”, but anyone who uses Word to edit more than one document at the same time. I realize that there are many Word users out there who use only one document window at a time, especially on the Windows side, where people tend to work in “full screen” mode. But on the Mac side, having more than one document window open at the same time is a very common thing, and I am sure that there are many other people who do this on a regular basis and have to put up with this small, yet significant irritant.

5 Responses to “Word 2004: Clicking on a background document with a selection to bring it to the fore loses the selection”

  1. Michel Ricart says:

    Another irritating wrong click-through behaviour: Cmd-click and hold on the title of a background window allows to move it *without* having the focus changed to it. This is great, and works fine with many applications. Now, guess what, this does not work with 2 Word windows. The click brings the background window in the foreground. To add inconsistency, Excel implements the right behaviour…

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Right, another awful one. I ought to have a separate blog entry about it :).

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Actually, I’ve already written about it here :-).

  4. George Fowler says:

    I agree this is a nuisance. It’s not just Word, there is inconsistency in this all over the place (lots of apps have some, but not consistent, click-through reactions). My method of avoiding the loss of a selection in Word or anything else is to try to click on the border of a document when bringing it to the front. That will normally leave any selection alone.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    I compared Word to programs that offer comparable functionality (i.e. windows where you type in text), such as BBEdit and Mail and TextEdit. In that category, Word is the only one with this annoying behaviour. I know there are all kinds of problematic click-through behaviours all over the place in Mac OS X, and indeed in Apple’s own applications, but this particular problem is mostly a nuisance in Word.

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