Microsoft Word 2004: ‘AutoFit to Window’ command does anything but

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
April 20th, 2007 • 2:42 pm

Here’s a table that I have inserted in a Word document by copying and pasting cells from an Excel spreadsheet:

Before AutoFit to Window

As you can see, I have selected the entire table. Now I go to the “Table” menu and select the “AutoFit to Window” command inside the “AutoFit to Window” submenu. And here is what I get:

After AutoFit to Window

Nice one, Microsoft!

Instead of actually making the table wider in order to fit the window’s edges more closely, it actually made the table narrower!

How is this possible? Well, it’s very simple. The command is called “AutoFit to Window,” but it actually has absolutely nothing to do with the document window’s size. It is actually a command that automatically adjusts the table’s width in order to make it fit… the page‘s width.

Let’s look at the first screen again, but now with the ruler visible and the insertion point below the table, in order to see the actual page margins in the ruler:

Before AutoFit to Window

And now let’s look at the second screen, also with the ruler visible and the insertion point below the table:

After AutoFit to Window

Ha! So that’s what happens… The command says “AutoFit to Window,” but Word actually adjusts the table to fit the page’s width.

I suppose that, once you know about this, you can live with it. You can actually even use Word’s customization features to change the name of the command to “AutoFit to Page Width.”

But really, what does this tell you about Microsoft’s engineers? These are engineers presumably specialized in word processing. And they are confusing a window with a page. Oops.

I have been using this command for many years now, because I frequently copy ranges of table cells in Excel spreadsheets and then paste them inside a Word document, where they are inserted as a table. Unfortunately, Word is not smart enough to insert them as a table that is actually usable. Typically, the table that Word creates is far too wide, so I have to adjust its width after the fact.

I used the opposite example here (where the “AutoFit to Window” command would normally be expected to make the table wider, not narrower), but that’s just because it was easier to illustrate my point this way.

My point is that a Word document’s window width has absolutely nothing to do with that document’s page width. And having Word confuse the two is simply rather scandalous. How can they expect their users to figure anything out when they cannot even figure out the difference between window width and page width themselves?

I actually suspect that this particular command is probably a very old command, one that was introduced in a much older version of Word—possibly a version of Word where users had far fewer options for viewing documents, with no zooming features and maybe even no support for individual document windows per se. Maybe in that very old version of Word, the page width and the window width were always the same thing. I don’t know. But even then, there is really no excuse to still having this very misleading command name in today’s version of Word.

But that’s Word for you. Always on the leading edge of user-friendliness and basic common sense.

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