Word 2004: Fails to replace current selection with new insertion

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
April 25th, 2006 • 9:21 am

The normal behaviour in Word (and in any other word processor or text editor, or even other types of software) when you insert something in a document and some other existing thing in that document is currently selected is that the current selection is deleted and replaced with what you have just inserted.

For example, say I have a Word document with a word already typed in it and I select that word:

Selected word in Word 2004

With that word currently selected, I then start typing a new word. Automatically, Word deletes the current selection and starts inserting the new word that I am typing in lieu and place of the existing word:

Replaced word in Word 2004

This is pretty straightforward stuff, right? It’s been that way in word processors for ages, and one can reasonably assume that most word processor users are familiar with this automatic deletion and replacement behaviour.

It is also a behaviour that can be reasonably expected to apply not only to text insertion with the keyboard, but also to any kind of insertion of any kind of object. For example, if I have a clip art picture in a Word document and I select it and then go to the “Insert” menu and insert a new clip art picture, with the existing clip art picture currently selected, Word automatically replaces the existing clip art picture with the newly inserted one.

Yet, consider what happens in Word when you try and replace a certain type of section break by another section break. Say you have a Word document with a manual section break that automatically starts the next section on the next page:

Selected section break

In this picture of a Word document in Normal view, the section break is the current selection. Now go to the “Insert” menu and use it to insert another type of manual section break, say a “Continuous” section break.

Normally, with the existing section break currently selected at the time you elect to insert another type of section break, Word should automatically delete the existing section break and replace it with the new one, right?

Right. Only this is what actually happens:

Replacement section break

The new section break is inserted after the existing section break!

Is there any reason for Microsoft to break the consistency of its word processor’s behaviour here? Of course not. The only reason why Word does this in this situation is that Microsoft software is crap. At all levels. In all areas. There are thousands of such small “details” that somehow, Microsoft’s engineers have just failed to get right the first time around, and have consistently failed to fix in subsequent revisions of their software.

As far as I am concerned, this is not just some small, obscure detail that only “power users” are affected by. Why do I say that? Because my wife has just asked me to help her with a Word document she was having problems with, and this is precisely the problem she was having. She was desperately trying to replace a certain type of manual section break with another type of manual section break (in order to add a new section with two columns on the same page as the existing section), and Word kept insisting on inserting the new section break after the selected one, instead of deleting the selected one. She didn’t want to ask for help, but she was going crazy.

Of course, the workaround was simple: Just delete the existing section break manually before inserting the new one. But how was she expected to know that, in this particular case, the standard, expected behaviour didn’t apply? My wife is not a “power user.” She uses Word on a daily basis, but she is not an expert, and should not expected to become one. She is allowed to expect her software to behave consistently, and she understandably gets frustrated when it fails to behave consistently for no apparent reason.

(Her problem was obviously compounded by the fact that she still uses Word X rather than Word 2004—because Word 2004 would be far too slow on her old “Titanium” PowerBook G4—and Word X had an additional bug where the word processor failed to highlight the selection when the selection was a manual break. This bug was fixed in Word 2004, but was never fixed in Word X.)

There are other areas in Word where replacing an existing selection doesn’t work as expected—for example, when the current selection is a table. But this particular problem with section breaks is so glaring that it is embarrassing.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.