Word 2004: Is this document window active or inactive?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 24th, 2006 • 2:41 pm

This is a regular source of irritation and frustration for me. Take a look at the following screen shot:

Active/inactive document window in Word

I’ve blurred the text out, because it is completely irrelevant. Just look at the window’s UI elements. The three buttons in the top-left corner are coloured, even though the mouse pointer is not hovering over them. This clearly indicates that the window is in the foreground and is, therefore, the currently active window in Word.

(There are other UI items that seem to indicate that the window is in the foreground, including the Aqua blue elements in the ruler at the top of the window, but this is misleading, because these Aqua blue elements stay blue and look active in all Word windows, even background windows. Microsoft’s support of Mac OS X interface standards does not extend that far.)

However, normally, if a Word document window is the currently active document window, there are other UI elements in the window that should also be active, including the blue scrollers in the vertical and the horizontal scroll bars, as well as the button indicating the currently selected view mode in the bottom-left corner.

Yet, as you can see in the picture above, these UI elements are not in Aqua blue. They are not active. So, in effect, what we have here is a Word document window that is both active and inactive at the same time. How is that possible?

You’ll have to ask Microsoft’s engineers. I have no idea how this is possible. In all other Mac applications, document windows are either active or inactive. They can’t be both at the same time. Somehow Microsoft’s engineers have managed to invent a third mode.

I don’t know how to reproduce it. All I know is that it happens to me on a regular basis. And all I can tell you is that I am a Mac OS X user that tends to switch from the mouse to the keyboard and back all the time. This means that sometimes I switch from document window to document window using the mouse (i.e. by clicking on document windows) and sometimes I use the keyboard (i.e. the keyboard shortcut for the “Cycle Through Windows” command that is supported in all Mac OS X applications, including Microsoft Word).

In fact, I often prefer to use the keyboard shortcut, because it preserves the current selection in the document window, whereas clicking on a background document window to bring it to the fore with the mouse in Word loses the selection, and sometimes you really don’t want to lose the current selection.

So it could very well be that this particular problem that I encounter has to do with the fact that I don’t always switch windows with the mouse pointer. But that’s no excuse. All Mac OS X applications are supposed to support cycling through windows with the keyboard properly. And all Mac OS X applications do—except for Microsoft Word, of course.

And it’s not just a cosmetic problem. When this happens, the window is indeed both active and inactive at the same time, and there are a number of things that do not work. For example, even though the window appears to be active, the Page Up and Page Down keys do not work. In order to get them to work, you actually have to click somewhere inside the window first with the mouse pointer, which magically makes the UI elements that still look like they are in the background come to the foreground and become Aqua blue at last.

When your hands are on the keyboard, it’s yet another source of irritation.

Like I said, I have no idea how to reproduce this reliably. But it happens to me often enough.

Is Microsoft aware of this bug? Who knows? Whether they are aware of it or not makes no difference. They are never going to fix it. They don’t fix bugs that can be reproduced 100% reliably. Why would they fix bugs that are (somewhat) harder to reproduce?

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.