Word 2008: Still doesn’t support scroll wheel properly

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
February 14th, 2008 • 11:08 am

How hard can it be? Mac OS X comes with a set of standard behaviours for the scroll wheel, and now that Apple itself ships every desktop Mac with a mouse that includes a scroll wheel, no Macintosh developer has any excuse not to support the scroll wheel properly.

No developer apart from Microsoft, that is. Obviously they must have found an excuse somewhere, because, after all these years, they are still unable to support the scroll wheel properly.

First, there are still areas of the Word 2008 interface where the scroll wheel does not work at all. For example, the “Styles” area of the formatting palette can easily have a list of styles that extends far beyond the visible area:

Formatting Palette - Styles list

There is a scroll bar, ergo the scroll wheel should work. It’s as simple as that.

Does it work? Nooooo. This is Microsoft we are talking about here. They obviously cannot be bothered.

It gets worse. The scroll wheel’s primary purpose is to help users scroll through documents. For this, there is a simple set of rules in Mac OS X. The scroll wheel’s movements apply to the document window that the mouse pointer is currently hovering over—regardless of whether it is the frontmost window or not. If you have two documents open side by side and your move your mouse pointer over one of the document windows and scroll the wheel, the document that scrolls is the the document under the mouse pointer, even if it is not the frontmost window. It does not even have to be a window belonging to the frontmost application! It just has to be the window that’s under the mouse pointer.

It is as simple as that.

Word 2004 had it completely wrong. In Word 2004, when you scrolled the wheel, Word would scroll the frontmost document, regardless of where your mouse pointer currently was on your screen.

Did they fix the problem in Word 2008? Nooooo. That would be too much to ask. They changed it, but they did not fix it. They were possibly slightly embarrassed by the fact that, in Word 2004, you could have your mouse pointer 2000 pixels away from your frontmost document window, and still Word would scroll that document window when you moved your wheel.

So what did they do? They simple deactivated the scroll wheel altogether when the mouse pointer is not hovering over the frontmost window. If you try to scroll when the mouse pointer is not hovering over the frontmost window, nothing happens. Remarkably useful stuff. (Nothing happens if you try scrolling in the frontmost Word document window if it’s in the background either.)

It gets even worse. If you divide a single document window into two panes, in order to view two different sections of the same document at the same time, then the problem is still as bad as it was in Word 2004. Word 2008 still always scrolls the frontmost pane, regardless of where your mouse pointer is in the document window.

Since the only visual indication of which pane is the frontmost one is the presence of the blinking I-beam cursor, which can be hidden from view if you scroll beyond the area where the I-beam cursor is visible, this effectively means that there are many situations where, when you try to use the scroll wheel, you have no idea which pane is going to scroll. You just have to try and remember which pane you last used, because that’s the one that is going to scroll—regardless of where your mouse pointer is in the document window.

It is utterly ridiculous stuff. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. It’s Microsoft.

Thanks to Microsoft, Mac OS X users are forced to constantly remember to change their expectations of what the scroll wheel will do when they are using a Microsoft application. It is impossible to just get used to indicating the target of the scroll wheel movement by hovering over it with the mouse pointer and forget about it, i.e. turn it into a universal, subconscious behaviour—because it does not work in Microsoft applications for Mac OS X.

What excuse does the MacBU have here for failing to comply with Mac OS X’s standards? I would very much like to know.

One Response to “Word 2008: Still doesn’t support scroll wheel properly”

  1. Arden says:

    Seriously. There are still a handful of applications, mostly from Microsoft (as you’ve pointed out) or Adobe, that do not react properly to the scroll wheel. In apps like Photoshop, you can often scroll the main window if the mouse isn’t hovering over anything else scrollable — but at least in that case, you could scroll other lists by hovering over them anyway. I’m not sure what Microsoft’s excuse is, but that’s all it should be taken for: an excuse, and not a legitimate reason.

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