Excel 2004: Double-click selects trailing comma

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
August 1st, 2007 • 9:57 am

Here’s yet another sample from the myriad of ways in which a Microsoft application manages to be inconsistent, not only with other Mac OS X applications, but with other Microsoft applications.

When you are editing text anywhere in Mac OS X, a double-click on a word selects the entire word at once:

Selected word in BBEdit

The basic criterion used by Mac OS X to determine what constitutes a word is the presence of a space character before and after the string of characters. But of course there are numerous exceptions to add to this basic criterion for selecting words, involving the various punctuation marks—the comma, the period, the semi-colon, etc.—that a dumb software application treats as part of the “word,” whereas a smart software application knows that these punctuation marks, even though no space character separates them from the word that precedes them, are not part of the word.

Well, guess how smart Excel 2004 is? Here is what happens when you try to select a word before a comma by double-clicking on it in a table cell in editable mode in an Excel spreadsheet:

Selected word with trailing comma

Let’s ignore, for today, the ugliness of Microsoft’s implementation of text smoothing in its table cells, which makes selected text almost unreadable when the highlighting colour is a darker shade than Mac OS X’s default pale blue. I already wrote about this several years ago, and nothing has changed.

But if your eyes can make it past the ugly white smears around the selected characters, you can quite clearly see that, in the picture above, the selection includes the trailing comma after the “buying” word in the cell.

In other words, Microsoft Excel 2004’s text selection behaviour is not smart enough to detect punctuation marks and exclude them when the user tries to select whole words by double-clicking on them—and this, even though Microsoft’s own Word 2004, which resides right next to Excel 2004 in the Microsoft Office 2004 folder, is perfectly able to do so.

Why the inconsistency? Because it’s Microsoft, and they don’t really care about such details.

I am sure that it would be easy to find someone at Microsoft who would argue that Excel is a spreadsheet application and, as such, not primarily used for text entry and editing. But would this really be a valid excuse? Surely even Microsoft developers, however disconnected they are from the real world, realize that many people use Excel as a tool not just for crunching numbers, but also for creating and editing tables with cells containing text.

Beyond this, however, what this particular issue tells me is that Microsoft Excel quite clearly still uses its own text selection scheme instead of relying on the default routines that come built-in in the Mac OS. Because even the most basic text editor in Mac OS X, i.e. TextEdit, is smart enough to know not to select the trailing comma when you double-click on a word. Heck, even when you edit a file name in the Finder, the Finder is smart enough not to select the trailing comma.

So here you have it: Microsoft Excel is even dumber than the Finder.

Seriously, though, the real question is: Just how long are we going to have to endure Microsoft’s insistence on doing things its own way, instead of following the standards of the platform for which it is developing its applications and using the built-in routines that ensure consistency across the board? Because quite clearly, when Microsoft does things its own way, it does not have the quality control standards required to produce a real, quality Mac application. I believe that this Excel behaviour is a clear enough illustration.

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