Word 2004: Automatic capitalization in tables

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
March 1st, 2005 • 2:42 am

There are days when you feel that Microsoft has made things totally unpredictable in Word just in order to irritate Word users worldwide.

Yesterday, I got a call from my mother-in-law who, like millions of Word users out there, had just encountered the dreaded “AutoFormat As You Type” set of features in Word and was rather irritated.

You have to understand that my mother-in-law barely ever uses Word. And she’s a good typist. So she simply doesn’t forget to capitalize the first letter in her sentences. Ever. But yesterday she had to type out a document with a list of numbers and a footnote with an asterisk that consisted of just a few words. And she didn’t want to capitalize the initial of the first word of that footnote.

But of course Microsoft Word knew better and capitalized the first letter of the footnote text for her just the same. And she had no idea why it was doing this. So she called for help.

When I first installed Microsoft Word on her machine, I did turn off as many “automatic” things as I could remember. The trouble is that these automatic features are spread over half a dozen different dialog boxes, and it’s easy to forget some of them. Obviously I forgot this one — which is under the “AutoCorrect” tab in the four-tabbed dialog box invoked by using the “AutoCorrect…” command in the “Tools” menu.

My idea of a “tool” is something that only does its thing if you actually elect to use it. Microsoft obviously has different ideas. Its “tools” are actually automatic features that are often turned on by default. So even if you have never actually been to the “Tools” menu in Word, you are still forced to deal with features that are accessible only through that menu.

And that’s what happened to my mother-in-law. Of course, I was able to explain to her how to turn it off over the phone. But she still had to endure the irritation of having to deal with a software program that does things for her without asking for her permission first.

Supposedly Microsoft has improved things in the latest version of Word (Word 2004) by making this little animated blue thing appear under the automatic correction. (My mother-in-law has Word X, so she wouldn’t have appreciated this “improvement” anyway.) You can actually turn the feature off through the contextual menu that pops up when you click on that blue thing.

But that doesn’t change anything to the fact that the feature is still on by default. When, oh when will Microsoft finally get the message and turn all these features off by default? By the beginning of the 22nd Century, presumably.

And then there is the fact that what is clearly visible in Word’s interface is only half the story.

It goes without saying that this feature that automatically capitalizes the first letter of a sentence has been off on my own computer for ages. Yet today I was creating a table and typing text in the cells of that table — and all of a sudden Word started capitalizing the first letter in each cell for me!

I checked and double-checked and the “Capitalize first letter of sentence” option in the “AutoCorrect” dialog box was definitely not checked. And yet Word was still capitalizing the first letter in table cells!

Fortunately, I am in Word 2004 and I was able to click on that little animated blue thing and turn the feature off using its contextual menu. But why was the feature still on in the table when I had actually turned the feature off in the dialog box?

I have no idea. But I also know that I am not the only one. I clearly remember people complaining about this particular problem in the Microsoft newsgroups or in a mailing list that I used to be suscribed to.

It looks like a bug to me. But it also looks like a bug that has been there for a very long time, and that Microsoft has never bothered to fix properly. What else is new?

The bottom-line here, however, is that this feature should never be on in the first place. For every scenario where having it on by default might be a good idea (for lousy typists), there is another scenario where having it on by default is a bad idea (for my mother-in-law). And surely it is quite obvious that having it on in tables is even more stupid. Tables are precisely one of the contexts in which one tends to type isolated words and not full sentences. Isolated words should not have their first letter capitalized if the user doesn’t want it to be!

A smart word processor would be context-sensitive and would turn the feature off by default in tables. Word is not just not smart, it’s actually deliberately annoying: even if you turn the feature off by default in Word, you might still encounter it… in tables, of all places. In other words, exactly where the feature is needed the least.

Ah, Microsoft. How many millions of users are you irritating daily the world over? I am quite sure there is a very real health cost associated with Microsoft products. Surely all this frustration, annoyance, anger cannot be good for the human body. Maybe we should impose a special health care tax on Bill Gates’ fortune.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.