Word 2008: Split bar changes

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
October 27th, 2008 • 2:16 pm

It’s taken forever, but finally someone at Microsoft has condescended to modifying Word’s behaviour so that it responds correctly to scroll wheel/ball input—albeit only for separate panes within the same document window.

Everywhere else in Mac OS X, when you use your mouse’s scroll wheel/ball, the operating system scrolls whatever is currently under the mouse pointer—regardless of whether it is in the foreground or in the background.

This means, for example, that, if you have two document windows open side by side in Pages, even though only one of the two can be in the foreground at any given time, you can still use your scroll wheel/ball to scroll through the document window that is in the background without bringing it to the foreground, simply by hovering over the background window with your mouse pointer and then using the scroll wheel/ball.

Unfortunately, this is still impossible in Word 2008. Microsoft continues to refuse to support this fundamental and universal behaviour in Mac OS X.

However, it has implemented a change in Word 2008 (not sure if it was included from the get-go or only in one of the more recent incremental updates) for document windows that are split in two by a split bar.

The split bar is actually a rather useful feature that enables you to view two different sections of the same document at the same time in the same window. Apple’s Pages sorely lacks such a feature.

But until now, Word refused to let you scroll the one of the two panes that was not in focus by simply hovering above it with your mouse pointer. You had to actually “bring the pane to the foreground” in order to be able to scroll through it with the mouse scroll wheel/ball.

I am using quotation marks here, because there is no visual demarcation between the background pane and the foreground pane in a Word document window split in two by the split bar. The only indication you have of which pane the focus is on is the fact that there is a selection highlighted in it or the blinking insertion point in it. If you scroll down or up the foreground pane to a section where the selection/insertion point is not visible, then there is zero difference visually between the foreground pane and the background pane.

That said, in Word 2008, it is now possible to cause the background pane to scroll by simply hovering it above it with the mouse pointer and using the scroll wheel/ball, without bringing it the foreground by clicking on it first.

Why Microsoft did not take this opportunity to extend its support for this very basic Mac OS X feature, not just to the background pane in the foreground window, but also to background document windows, I do not know. Maybe in Word 2024.

And of course, it being Microsoft, you cannot expect this “improvement” to come without the software company taking something away from you at the same time. And they have.

Until Word 2008, in a Word document window split in two by the split bar, it was possible to toggle the display of the ruler on and off in each pane separately. In other words, you could have the ruler visible in the foreground pane and hidden in the background pane. This was important, because splitting a document window in two obviously reduces the amount of vertical space you have to display the contents of the document. So every pixel gained was important.

But not important enough to Microsoft to make sure it continued to work the same way in Word 2008. No, in Word 2008, Microsoft decided, unilaterally, to remove the ability to toggle the display of the ruler on and off in each pane separately. Now, when you have a document window split in two, toggling the display of the ruler applies to both the foreground pane and the background pane at the same time. You can only have it visible in both panes or hidden in both panes.

Why? Why did Microsoft take the optional display of the ruler in each pane away from us?

Because it is Microsoft, a company that is incapable of “improving” some aspect of its software without crippling it elsewhere at the same time. I have already provided a (partial) list of things that worked fine in Word 2004 and are broken in Word 2008. You can now add this one to the list.

(Also, for the record, this other very annoying behaviour with the split bar has not been fixed.)

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