Microsoft Office 2004: Update addresses problem with non-breaking spaces and Postscript fonts?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Microsoft
October 23rd, 2006 • 3:04 pm

The question mark in the title is because I am really not sure what, if anything, Microsoft has done here. It looks to me as if they only half-fixed the problem, which would be typical of them, of course. But it could very well be that the “fix” has nothing to do with Microsoft.

As a reminder, the problem with Microsoft Word 2004 is that, when you use a Postscript font (Type 1) in your document and you type a non-breaking space, in most cases Word switches the current font from the Postscript font in question to Times New Roman.

It is utterly irritating, especially when typing in French, since French uses the non-breaking space a lot in combination with various common punctuation signs.

Regular Betalogue readers might remember that, in addition to my original post on the subject (way back in September 2004), I more recently (in June 2006) posted a blog item commenting on MacBU’s Erik Schwiebert’s post on Microsoft’s (badly flawed) procedures for testing localized versions of Microsoft Office for Mac OS X, using this particular bug as a glaring example. (How could they not catch it in testing?)

This post prompted a response from Erik Schwiebert himself regarding the bug with Postscript fonts and the non-breaking space. I then posted a “French Typography 101” item, in an attempt to enlighten Erik and others regarding some fundamental rules of French typography that make this particular bug so annoying for French typists.

Then another MacBU developer, Rick Schaut, chimed in.

Based on what they were saying, there was little hope that the bug would be fixed free-of-charge in an incremental Office 2004 update. In all likelihood, we’d have to wait for the (paying) upgrade to Office 12 (in late 2007) to see it fixed.

But recently Microsoft posted the Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.3.0 Update. I installed it, and, out of curiosity, I tried to reproduce the bug with Postscript fonts and the non-breaking space in Word 2004 11.3.0.

Much to my surprise, I noticed that, when I typed a non-breaking space manually in a Word 2004 document formatted with a Postscript font (Myriad Roman) that would normally cause the problem to occur, the problem did not occur. Word 2004 inserted a non-breaking space and stayed in the Postscript font:

Manually inserted non-breaking space

I double-checked and selected the non-breaking space that I had manually inserted and it was indeed listed as a Myriad Roman character.

My relief was very short-lived, however, because I soon realized that, while the problem did indeed appear to be fixed for non-breaking spaces typed in manually by the user, it was not fixed for non-breaking spaces inserted automatically. I am referring here to the non-breaking spaces that Word automatically inserts when you type in French (or Canadian French) and the “smart punctuation” option is on and you type things like a colon or a quotation mark (which require non-breaking spaces in French typography).

To be more precise, when you type a colon or a quotation mark, Word 2004 does insert the appropriate non-breaking space without actually switching you to Times New Roman in your typing—meaning that, if you continue typing after this, Word 2004 continues to use the Postscript font.

But if you go back to where Word 2004 has automatically inserted a non-breaking space and select it or place the insertion point immediately after it, you’ll see that Word has indeed switched to Times New Roman. The following is a picture with the automatically inserted non-breaking space selected:

Automatically inserted non-breaking space

As you can see, the text font field in the formatting toolbar above the text clearly reads “Times New Roman.” (It’s hard to tell that the selected character in this picture is a non-breaking space, because the highlighting colour pretty much hides the grey tilde that is used to indicate a non-breaking space. But it’s definitely a non-breaking space, as you can see in the next picture.)

Why is this a problem? If you are just typing text and not editing what you are typing in any way, the main problem is that the switch to Times New Roman causes the leading (line spacing) to change for certain fonts in certain font sizes, which you can see if you look at the two pictures above carefully. (The line spacing between the third and fourth lines of text is larger than for the other lines in the paragraph.)

In addition, if you try and edit what you have just typed by placing the insertion point just after the automatically inserted non-breaking space (to add another word, for example), then your corrections will be in… Times New Roman:

Text after automatically inserted non-breaking space


In other words, something has been fixed somewhere, but the fix is only partial, and ultimately pretty useless unless you don’t use Microsoft Word’s smart punctuation feature.

But then, I did more testing and realized that the problem also occurs when I do not use Word’s own smart punctuation feature, and use the one in Spell Catcher X instead. Here again, non-breaking spaces inserted automatically by Spell Catcher X in French before and after punctuation marks such as the colon or French quotation marks are in Times New Roman, rather than in the Postscript font of the rest of the text.

That’s when I remembered something that a fellow Word user/sufferer from France had mentioned in an e-mail a month ago. Apparently, according to a MacRumors report, the Mac OS X 10.4.8 incremental update included some fixes related to “Microsoft Word & OpenType fonts.”

I checked the release notes for the Mac OS X 10.4.8 update and indeed, it does list specific fixes for “using OpenType fonts in Microsoft Word.” Type 1 Postscript fonts are not OpenType fonts, but you wouldn’t put it past Apple to have listed incomplete and inaccurate information in their release notes. Then again, the more detailed release notes say:

Resolves an issue for Microsoft Word in which Word might stop responding when saving a file that uses certain OpenType fonts.

which sounds like a different problem altogether.

But it really wouldn’t surprise me at all if the fact that I discovered this partial fix after installing the Office 2004 update was only a coincidence, and that the fix was actually introduced somehow (maybe even inadvertently) by Apple in the Mac OS X 10.4.8, which I had installed earlier on. The little bits of evidence that we have do indeed point in that direction.

The bottom-line, however, is that the fix, as it is, is of very little use to French-speaking Mac Word users in the real world, since most of them are probably used by now to using the smart punctuation feature in Word. (Who wants to type all these non-breaking spaces manually if you don’t have to?) If the only real solution is to turn the smart punctuation feature off, then we are forced to travel 15 years back in time, to a time when smart punctuation features did not exist.

My suspicion is that Apple have done their part here and fixed whatever they could fix themselves, but that the ball is now really in Microsoft’s park (where it has always been, really, when you think about it). But for Microsoft to fix the problem for good, we’ll probably have to wait until late 2007 at the earliest.

There is more hope, on the other hand, of getting Spell Catcher X‘s smart punctuation feature fixed, since its developer is much more responsive. I’ve already e-mailed him about this.

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