Word 2008: Still can’t access application preferences without opening a document

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 18th, 2008 • 2:53 pm

When I heard somewhere that the Preferences dialog box had been revamped in Word 2008, I foolishly thought, “Finally, they have got around to fixing the bloody thing!”

Alas, no. The thing might have received a facelift:

New Prefs dialog

But I am afraid that, underneath the surface, it is still the same old crap.

More precisely, it pains me to report that Microsoft Word is still the only Mac OS X application I know where, in order to be able to access the application‘s preferences, you are obliged to open a document first.

Otherwise (i.e. if no document is open), you get this:

Preferences inaccessible

We’ve been through this before: The reason why the “Preferences…” command in the application menu is greyed out is that, even though preferences are supposed to be application-wide settings that apply to all documents, in Microsoft Word they are not. In Word, what is called “Preferences” is a mix of application-wide settings and document-specific settings.

So of course when you try to access the application’s preferences with no document open, Word doesn’t let you do that, because the “Preferences” dialog contains document-specific settings and, since no document is open, Word does not do what to do with itself.

Sad, but true. And unchanged in Office 2008. Naively, I thought (more like: faintly hoped) that, since Microsoft’s engineers had finally decided to tackle the “Preferences” dialog box, they would finally do the right thing and fix the user interface so that the “Preferences” dialog box, which is accessed through, you know, the application menu, actually only contains application-specific settings. The document-specific settings would then be relocated to, you know, document-specific commands elsewhere in the user interface.

But that, apparently, is still too much to ask.

The conclusion is quite obvious: Microsoft’s developers are fundamentally, viscerally unable to develop a properly designed Mac OS X application, i.e. one that behaves like all other Mac OS X applications and follows the most basic conventions of the operating system.

Or maybe they are able to do, but it will take them 20 years—by which time, of course, the OS itself will have evolved so much that the application will still be completely out of sync with the rest of the Mac OS X world.

I am afraid that, if you are going to be a Microsoft Office user on the Mac (and many people, like me, have little choice in the matter), you simply have to drop your expectations lower, much lower than for any other Mac OS X application. Otherwise you will quickly go insane. Microsoft follows its own logic, its own priorities, and most of them have nothing to do with what makes good Macintosh software.

One Response to “Word 2008: Still can’t access application preferences without opening a document”

  1. Warren Beck says:

    Pierre, there are many powerful macroeconomic and microeconomic forces at work here that you and I are just not capable of understanding.

    I hope that you will continue posting your experiences on Word 2008. These postings are of great value to me as I assess whether or not it is worth the price.

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