Word and Pages: More on keyboard selection in table cells

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Microsoft, Pages
March 18th, 2005 • 2:02 am

There aren’t two ways about it: Microsoft Word punishes you for wanting to work quickly and efficiently.

In order to work efficiently and quickly, I use keyboard selection a lot. This means that, instead of grabbing my mouse each time I need to select something, I keep my hands on the keyboard and select what I need to select with keyboard shortcuts. Most of the time, using keyboard shortcuts for text selection is much faster and less error-prone than using the mouse.

I have already discussed various problems with selecting text in tables.

The fact of the matter is that many of these problems boil down to a handful of bugs and flaws. But it doesn’t make them any more palatable. One fundamental flaw in Word is that, when you type paragraphs of text inside a table cell, all the paragraphs in the table cell have the usual invisible paragraph mark at the end of them except for the last one. The last paragraph in the table has no paragraph mark.

Why? Because that’s the way Microsoft has designed Word.

Why is it a problem? Well, when I need to select a paragraph of text in Word, I often use the option-shift-Down keyboard shortcut. If the insertion point is at the beginning of a paragraph, option-shift-Down selects the entire paragraph. If the insertion point is somewhere inside a paragraph, option-shift-Down selects the text from the insertion point to the end of the paragraph (including the paragraph mark).

But not in table cells in Word. In table cells, if the insertion point is somewhere inside the last paragraph in a cell, option-shift-Down selects… the entire cell (including the text before the insertion point)!

And that, dear reader, is intensely irritating. Because it’s inconsistent — and therefore, no matter how many times you do it, you cannot get used to it. (Fortunately, if you press option-shift-Left immediately after pressing option-shift-Down in this situation, you do end up with the selection you needed, i.e. the remainder of the current paragraph, and nothing else. But that doesn’t make the inconsistency any less inconsistent.)

Now, I am afraid I have to report that things are not much better in Apple’s Pages. Here again, when you have several paragraphs of text inside a table cell, the last paragraph in the cell does not appear to have a paragraph mark. And if you try to use option-shift-Down or option-shift-Up while in a table cell, you’ll notice that the shortcuts don’t work at all for selecting text. Instead, they are used to select table cells. So I am afraid that Apple too is punishing me for wanting to work quickly, and is introducing yet another kind of inconsistency with these keyboard shortcuts.

However, in Pages, option-shift-Down never selects the entire contents of a cell, including what’s above the insertion point. So Pages isn’t quite as dumb and counterintuitive as Word. As well, Pages is smart enough to have a context-sensitive “Select All” command. If you are inside a table cell and press command-A, Pages selects the entire contents of the cell, not the entire document as Word does.

In other words, when it comes to keyboard selection in tables, Apple gets a B-, and Microsoft gets a D-.

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