PowerPoint 2004 (and Excel 2004): Won’t select words properly next to an em dash

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
September 27th, 2006 • 3:30 pm

Here’s a perfect example of the many ways in which PowerPoint manages to be even more of a royal pain in the neck than the other Microsoft applications that are part of Microsoft Office for the Macintosh.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about consistency in Mac OS X and explained how I feel that there are many inconsistencies that are much more important and have much more of an impact in real-world computing that visual variations used by Apple in an application such as the new iTunes 7.

Well, of course many of the inconsistencies I mentioned involved applications from Adobe and Microsoft, who are both utterly unable to properly support core Mac OS X technologies and force users to constantly adjust their computing habits when switching between their applications and more Mac OS X-friendly software applications.

But Microsoft is probably the only software company out there that also manages to introduce numerous inconsistencies between its own products.

PowerPoint is a particular sore point in that department. I’ve already written about things like the very poor interface for paragraph spacing and more generally about the very bad quality of the user interface.

Here’s another pretty obvious example. The way the em dash (—) is used in English typography can vary. There are some who use it with a space before and after, and some who use it without any spaces. Let’s say you are using the em dash without spaces (as in the Chicago Manual of Style, for example). While there aren’t any spaces before and after the em dash, it is still a punctuation mark that separates words.

In other words, if you have a sequence of characters followed by an em dash followed by another sequence of characters, normally that is three words, as in:

My friends—that is, my former friends—ganged up on me.

In that sentence, the text string “friends—that” consists of two words separated by an em dash. When you try to select specific words in that sentence, you expect your text editor to “know” that an em dash separates entire words, even though there are no spaces between the words—just like you expect your text editor to know that other punctuation marks (such as the period, the comma, the hyphen, etc.) also work as word separators.

And indeed, in Microsoft Word 2004, when you have such a text string and you double-click on the word before the em dash to select it, Word is smart enough to select that word, and only that:

Word before em dash in Word 2004

Not so with PowerPoint. In PowerPoint, with the exact same text string, when you double-click on the first word to select it, here’s what happens:

Word before em dash in PowerPoint 2004

PowerPoint selects the entire string, including the em dash and the word that comes after it, because it thinks that the entire string is one single word!

And unfortunately, I also have to report that Excel 2004 suffers from the exact same flaw.

In my opinion, this shows several things:

  • that PowerPoint 2004 (and Excel 2004) obviously uses computer code that is different at its very core (we are talking about something very fundamental here: text selection) from the computer code used in Word 2004;
  • that, considering what we know from experience about the computer code in Word 2004, the computer code in PowerPoint and Excel must be even more Mac-hostile and generally antiquated; that is generally confirmed by the overall experience of trying to use PowerPoint 2004 in Mac OS X;
  • that either Microsoft’s engineers are not aware of this difference in behaviour, in which case that says a lot about the quality of their software testing, or they are aware of it and simply don’t think it’s worth bothering about, even though there is no reason why text typed in a text block in a PowerPoint slide should be any different from text typed in a Word document; if it’s the latter, then it says a lot about how much attentiont to detail is involved in the work of Microsoft’s engineers and how much they care about the actual quality of their products.

I know that some people will dismiss this particular problem as unimportant. There are more important bugs to fix in PowerPoint and Excel. Sure. But that doesn’t mean that it should not be fixed at some point. Yet I am willing to bet that the bug was already there ten years ago and that, ten years from now, the bug will still be there.

Meanwhile, in the real world of people who try to do actual work with their computers, those of us who have developed the (normally more efficient) habit of selecting words with double-clicking or option-Left/Right (which is command-Left/Right in PowerPoint, by the way) have to endure such bugs on a regular basis with no hope in sight.

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