Word 2004: Refuses to change the font of a bullet character to Wingdings

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
December 2nd, 2004 • 3:29 am

Only Microsoft can come up with such absurd behaviours/bugs.

Type a bullet character in a document using the Times New Roman font — the TrueType font supplied by Microsoft.

(On my Canadian CSA keyboard, the bullet is option-shift-8. It might be something else on your keyboard.)

Then select the character and try to change the font from Times New Roman to Wingdings — again, the TrueType font supplied by Microsoft that’s part of the Office package and is installed by Word the first time you run it, whether you like it or not.

What happens? Word refuses to change the font. Your bullet stays a bullet, instead of becoming the symbol of a pair of scissors that it should become in the Wingdings font.

You can still get the scissors symbol by changing the font to Wingdings first and then typing option-shift-8.

But really, how ridiculous is this? This goes against one of the most fundamental rules of text formatting in a Word processor, which is that, if you have text in a certain font, select it and apply another font, all the characters in the selection are changed to that other font.

Now, I know that Word has this weird, proprietary behaviour where symbols inserted using the “Symbol…” command in the “Insert” menu do not behave like regular characters and are not affected by font changes. (This presumably is intended to preserve special symbols when changing the font of blocks of text.)

But that’s not the case here. The bullet symbol was insert by simply typing option-shift-8, without going through the “Symbol…” command in the “Insert” menu.

In other words, someone at Redmond has decided that, whenever I want to change the font of a bullet character, I don’t. Actually, it will change the font if I change the font, say, from Times New Roman to Arial — presumably because the character inserted by pressing option-shift-8 in Arial is also a bullet. But it won’t change it when I change from Times New Roman to Wingdings (or to the Symbol font, for that matter).

So first Microsoft introduces a proprietary, non-standard behaviour for characters inserted using the “Symbol…” command in the “Insert” menu. There’s nothing in the user interface that indicates that characters inserted using this command which behave that way, but fine. At least the behaviour is limited to characters inserted using this command.

But now it’s spilled over! I checked in Word X, and this new behaviour doesn’t exist there, so it’s obviously something new introduced by Microsoft in Word 2004.

Why, oh why do they have to do these things? I am quite convinced that this was decided by some developer in the name of user friendliness — Microsoft-style, that is. But do these developers ever actually stop and think? Do they realize that they keep adding more inconsistency, more unpredictability, and keep making their software more user-hostile in the process?

Unbelievable stuff.

8 Responses to “Word 2004: Refuses to change the font of a bullet character to Wingdings”

  1. ssp says:

    Perhaps MS tried adding some Unicode support in the newer versions of their apps?

    Any reasonable application shouldn’t change the character it displays just because you change the font. If you entered a bullet you should keep a bullet whatever happens. The same goes for scissors.

    To me this sounds as if MS were trying to go the right way. And perhaps didn’t get it quite right for their old time users (or general logic).

  2. Olivier says:

    A friend of mine has a similar problem. He’s used to writing text in Times and then change some a’s into alpha’s by switching to Symbol. It does not work anymore for him in Word 2004, although it does for me.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    ssp: Some Unicode support this is :).

    Your argument doesn’t hold weight, because the bullet is not a font-independent character. Each font has its own “bullet” character, they are not always the same. The very fact that the bullet changes from the Times New Roman bullet to the Arial bullet when you change the font from TNR to Arial proves it, even if the bullet looks identical in those two fonts. Like other forms of punctuation, bullets can have a “style” that’s specific to a particular font.

    No, the problem here is that Word refuses to change the font only when the destination font is something like Symbol or Wingdings. This makes even less sense precisely because changing the font to Symbol or Wingdings is not something that you would typically do to a large block of text. When’s the last time you changed a whole paragraph of text to Wingdings or Symbol?

    Olivier: I am unable to reproduce this either. On my machine, Word only refuses to change the bullet. Totally arbitrary.

  4. ssp says:

    Pierre: Of course the bullet isn’t font independent. There are different glyphs for the bullet but it’s always the same character. As is the Scissors symbol.

    In the old world of 8bit fonts there wasn’t enough space for a font to contain both the bullet and the scissors, say. In the Unicode world there is enough space. And a standard strategy in the Unicode world because not every font contains all glyphs is to simply use the glyph of another font in case the font you use doesn’t contain the glyph you need.

    In particular, once you’ve entered a bullet, it will always remain a bullet. No matter how you change the font.

    Or, in yet another way: In the Unicode scheme the characters should never change. Whereas in the old scheme the same positions in the font could be different characters, depending on the font.

  5. Pierre Igot says:

    ssp: I realize this, and it makes sense. But what doesn’t make sense is that this behaviour only applies to the bullet, at least on my machine. Based on your “theory”, if I have a “&” symbol in my text, it should remain a “&” even if I change the font to Symbol. Well, it doesn’t. So why only the bullet?

    I realize that we’ll continue to struggle with such issues as long as we continue to use “incomplete” fonts or old 8-bit fonts where symbols take the place of normal roman characters. But I am also afraid that we’ll continue to struggle with Word’s pseudo-support for Unicode for a long time.

    The bug with Postscript fonts is a blatant example of how sloppy Microsoft were in their implementation of Unicode in Word 2004. This strikes me as another example.

  6. ssp says:

    Pierre: I agree that this doesn’t make sense for the &.

    I only tried to make sense of the example you described and took it to be unusually positive thing for Micro software. Apparently they didn’t go all the way (or just ended up buggy).

    That said, let me stress once more that I can’t judge this from any practical experience and that I encourage everyone to live without MS software. TextEdit handles what you describe nicely ;)

  7. Pierre Igot says:

    OK – as usual, I stress that I would definitely live without MS software if I had a choice :).

  8. ssp says:

    You know I just need this little conversation every now and again ;)

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