Office 2004: Another basic problem with the Formatting Palette

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
October 4th, 2004 • 4:03 am

I’ve already had several opportunities to review the Office 2004 UI failure known as the Formatting Palette.

One of the most fundamental problems with it is that it is no substitute for the actual dialog boxes that it is supposed to replace. For each section (“Font“, “Alignment and Spacing“, etc.) of the palette, you can easily find essential commands that are missing and that require a trip to the corresponding dialog box instead.

The problem is compounded by one obvious oversight on Microsoft’s part: There is no way to go from one section of the Formatting Palette to the corresponding dialog box. For example, the “Font” section of the Formatting Palette should contain a control that opens the “Font” dialog box. But it doesn’t.

So the user needs to apply some character-level formatting to a selection of text. He goes to the Formatting Palette with his mouse pointer, opens the “Font” section, looks for a specific option and… he can’t find it. What next? Well, he needs to go to the “Font” dialog box instead. And instead of being able to invoke it directly from where his mouse pointer currently is, he has to go all the way up to the “Format” menu and select the “Font…” command there.

It’s a waste of the user’s energy. At the very least the palette should make it easy for the user to invoke those options that are not available within the context of the palette itself, yet are obviously related to the functionality of the palette. The selection of options available through the Formatting Palette is arbitrary. There is no way that the user can predict which some formatting options are included in the palette and which are not.

2 Responses to “Office 2004: Another basic problem with the Formatting Palette”

  1. George Fowler says:

    “Arbitrary”… Well, I’m not sure it is completely arbitrary. There’s an obvious sense in which MS has attempted to include the most common commands there. So under Font it includes the big ones that used to be on the W5 ribbon, as well as Small Caps, All Caps, and a few more, but neglects some rarer options like Emboss. The same applies to other categories in the Formatting Palette.

    On the other hand, it sure would be nice to be able to customize what’s there and what isn’t.

    For myself, I built a custom toolbar that has all my most crucial commands, even abbreviated font and style menus. In fact, once I built this custom toolbar, I quite keeping the Formatting palette open all the time.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    The selection of options is certainly not random, but it’s arbitrary in that, like so many other aspects of Microsoft’s software, it appears to be based on some software engineer’s idea of what the average word processor user needs. And no matter what MS says, their sense of what the average user needs is very poor indeed. Otherwise, they would have turned off all these automatic features long ago.

    Anyway, the point of my post was first and foremost that one effective way to alleviate the irritation caused by the arbitrariness of the selection of options in the FP would be to have a shortcut to the full-blown “Font” dialog box that has all the options. But MS does not appear to be in the business of alleviating user irritation.

    I too have customized my Word environment and barely ever use the FP. But when I do use it, or when I have to explain to another user how it can be used, well, I can only shake my head and sigh.

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