More about Word 2011 and search GUIs

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 5th, 2011 • 5:45 pm

My December 20th blog post about the revamped Find/Replace feature in Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac OS X was mentioned on John Gruber’s Daring Fireball on December 22nd, with the consequence that I got a fair amount of feedback on the piece over the holiday season. I took some time off during that period, which is why I am only getting around to responding to this feedback now.

First of all, readers Steve H. and Peter C. mention that, while my description of the new behaviour for the basic “Find” command or the command-F shortcut — which now takes you to the new search field in the default Word 2011 toolbar — is correct, there is a way to alter this default behaviour, which is to hide this default toolbar, which is called “Standard” and can be hidden via the “View › Toolbars” submenu.

If you hide this toolbar (and the search field that it contains), then the basic “Find” command or the command-F shortcut takes you directly to the new search pane in the Sidebar, which it makes visible if it isn’t already.

This could be a convenient tip to some Word users, as long as they can live without the “Standard” toolbar. (If you only use a few of this toolbar’s buttons, you can use Word’s customization features to create a new toolbar that only contains these buttons, and then hide the “Standard” toolbar. Keep in mind, however, that such customizations are saved in the Normal template, which is not saved, by default, until you quit Word. If you want to force Word to save the Normal template without quitting, you can add the “Save All” command to the “File” menu, again using Word’s customization features.)

Fellow Mac blogger Sven-S. Porst also writes to mention that there are other Mac OS X developers who are attempting to improve the standard search GUI by offering Find/Replace features that do not require a dialog box, and doing a much better job of it than Microsoft. In particular, he mentions Panic Software’s Coda, a collaborative web site editor which, according to the developer’s web site, introduces a “revolutionary Find/Replace” feature.

I am not a Coda user, but a quick look reveals that it does indeed feature what it calls a “Find Banner,” which is a pane across the top of the window and not a separate dialog box:

Coda - Find Banner

I would have to actually try to use Coda to get a better sense of how well it works, even in the limited context of web site editing (which does not require support for formatted text, for example), but it does look promising and at the very least properly switches from foreground selection highlighting to background selection highlighting depending on what the focus is on, which Word 2011 fails to do.

Whether this new approach can become more widespread and be adopted by other developers remains to be seen.

Another Betalogue reader also writes to mention that, unlike previous versions of Word for Mac OS X, the new version is no longer able to do a single Find/Replace operation across multiple documents. I can indeed confirm that the new “Advanced Find and Replace” dialog box in Word 2011 no longer includes the “All Open Documents” option that used to be available in Word 2008 in the pop-up menu for defining the scope of the Find/Replace operation:

All Open Documents

Why Microsoft removed this feature from Word 2011 is unclear. It’s obviously a potentially dangerous option, but they could have continued to make it available via the “Advanced Find and Replace” dialog box, which is not for the uninitiated anyway. Unfortunately, it’s gone, and those who relied on it will be frustrated.

While the Find Banner feature in Coda provides an encouraging sign that at least some developers are still interested in innovating in a manner that is user-friendly, powerful and reliable at the same time, I am sure it surprises no one to hear that Microsoft’s engineers have once again proven unable to do so themselves.

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