Word 2011: Word selection with mouse vs. keyboard shortcuts

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
March 4th, 2011 • 5:33 pm

For a word processor that is supposed to be keyboard-friendly, i.e. eminently usable by power users who like keyboard shortcuts and other keyboard-based features, Microsoft Word sure is eminently stupid.

I am a big fan of word-by-word selection. I know that many Mac users are not even aware of its existence, but when you want to select a string of words (a phrase or a sentence) in a text editor or word processor, you don’t have to put your cursor right before the first letter of the first word and then drag your mouse all the way to the very last character of the last word. You can just double-click anywhere on the first word and drag your mouse to a location anywhere within the last word. This is enough to select the whole string of words and requires much less accuracy in your mouse movements than character-by-character selection, so it’s significantly faster.

I am also a big fan of keyboard shortcuts. And there are keyboard shortcuts for word-by-word selection too. Just place your cursor before the first letter of a word and press shift-option-Right, and the whole word will be selected.

In Word 2011, this word selection also automatically selects the trailing space after the word if there is one. For example, if I double-click on the word “is” in the sentence below, Word automatically selects the space after “is” as well:

Word selection

What’s interesting (ahem) is what happens when I try to apply some formatting to the word selection here. If, after double-clicking on the word, I type command-U to underline the word, I can see that Word 2011 did not apply the underline formatting to the trailing space:

Word selection

This makes sense, because you typically don’t want the trailing space to be underlined as well.

But now consider what happens if I use a keyboard shortcut for word selection instead of double-clicking with the mouse. I put my insertion point before the “i” of “is” and I press shift-option-Right once:

Word selection

As you can see, once again, Word 2011 has automatically selected the trailing space after “is” as well. But see what happens now when I type command-U to underline the word:

Word selection

Stupid Word underlines the trailing space as well!

This makes absolutely no sense. Word selection with keyboard shortcuts should be treated as being exactly the same as word selection with the mouse. The resulting selection should behave in exactly the same way and respond identically to identical formatting changes.

In Word 2011, it does not, and this drives me insane. The software engineers at the Microsoft Mac Business Unit are the only ones I know whose quality standards are so low (although Adobe is catching up). Sometimes it feels like they are doing it on purpose to drive power users (those who use word selection and keyboard shortcuts, for example) crazy. The very first versions of Microsoft Word were MS DOS applications. In other words, they were designed for a system without a mouse. They were entirely keyboard-driven. You’d think that, with such a history, it would be important for Microsoft engineers to strive to preserve the quality of keyboard-based tools even in modern versions of Microsoft Word for graphical user interfaces.

But quality and Microsoft are words that are rarely able to coexist within the same sentence — unless it’s a negative one.

[UPDATE: Faithful local Betalogue reader André R. points out that the same problem already exists in Word 2004, but that he also checked in Word 4 under System 7.5 using the Mini vMac emulator and that, back then, Word worked properly and didn’t underline the space after the word even with keyboard word selection. This obviously confirms that Microsoft’s engineers leave a trail of destruction behind them every time they come up with a new and “improved” version of Word.]

One Response to “Word 2011: Word selection with mouse vs. keyboard shortcuts”

  1. Betalogue » Word 2011: Why does word selection still select the trailing space? says:

    […] to this, but they don’t work all that reliably and only in limited circumstances. See this post for […]