Word 2011: Video evidence of poor performance

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
May 11th, 2011 • 3:15 pm

It’s not always easy to describe what makes Microsoft Word for Mac OS X such a slow application with a poor level of performance, even on a fairly fast machine.

Today, I offer two short video clips shot on my own machine, a 2009 Mac Pro with 16 (!) virtual cores and 12 GB of RAM, running Word 2011. These clips were shot in real time and I believe they provide a pretty good illustration of how frustrating it is to use Word 2011 in the real world for real work.

The first clip was captured while I used the command-C keyboard shortcut to copy the current selection to the Clipboard. Here it is:

While you cannot see the keyboard shortcut, I want to stress that I pressed it as soon as I started recording the movie. As you can see if you play the movie or scan it in slow motion with the movie controls, after I pressed command-C, there was a delay of at least three seconds before Word appeared to start doing something in response to my keystroke.

And that thing is some kind of background saving operation that I never asked for and never expected to even see. I checked, and all background saving settings for Word 2011 are off in the application’s preferences. (They are totally useless, as typically after a crash the last automatically saved version is far too old to be of any use, especially if, like me, you are a compulsive command-S user anyway, because of past experiences.) So this “saving” operation has nothing to do with saving the document. For some reason, pressing command-C to copy the current selection causes Word 2011 to save something, and it takes up to several seconds before it initiates this process, and of course the whole thing causes the entire Word UI to stutter, because Word is unable to execute background processes without it interfering with the foreground performance of the application, even on a fast machine such as my 2009 Mac Pro.

This is not an isolated event. I can reproduce this again and again while trying to copy various (more or less complex) selections in various documents. Each and every time, there is a “Saving” process taking place after a delay, and each and every time it causes the UI to stutter and forces me to slow down or causes me to do something that I didn’t mean to do because I expected the UI to remain fully responsive at all times, which it obviously is incapable of doing.

The other example is even more obvious and has to do with Word’s “Font” menu. Like most people, I suspect, I am nowhere near perfect in my point-and-click gestures with the mouse, especially when I am trying to work at full speed, and my clicks are quite often a few pixels off, requiring me to correct my movement and repeat the clicking.

Unfortunately, in the menu bar, being a few pixels off can mean clicking on the wrong menu heading. This wouldn’t be a problem if all menus were pulled down instantly by the application. But consider what happens when you accidentally click on the “Font” menu in Word 2011:

Again, this was shot in real time and you can see that the delay lasts a good two seconds, during which Word 2011 even throws the old, outdated hand watch cursor in your face.

If, after this has just happened, I try to go over the “Font” menu again deliberately, this time Word 2011 pulls it down instantly, and continues to be able to do so for a little while. But after doing a few other things with my document, if I go back to the menu bar to pull down either the “Tools” menu or the “Format” menu, and if my clicking is once again off by a few pixels, back comes the hand watch and the wait.

How it is acceptable that, in 2011, on a 2009 Mac Pro, one has to endure such delays and such a stuttering UI on a systematic basis while attempting to work with a supposedly advanced, professional-level application?

Pages ’09 has no problems copying anything I select in any document directly to the Clipboard without any visible background activity and without any stuttering, and its user interface wisely avoids the use of a “Font” menu altogether, instead resorting to a palette that is, again, far more responsive than Microsoft’s own UI.

Fortunately, at least Word’s user interface is highly customizable, and so you can remove the “Font” menu from the menu bar altogether, which I have done on my machine.

But I am afraid there is no avoiding the poor performance of the application when using the Clipboard-related commands. Microsoft obviously uses its own proprietary way of handling interactions with Mac OS X’s Clipboard, and this proprietary way has been the source of several problems over the years, some of which remain unsolved today. The poor performance and stuttering caused by unwanted background actions in Word is a source of constant frustration and makes Word 2011 a poor performer even on a pro-level machine with tons of RAM and multiple cores that should be more than powerful enough for a word processor, no matter how “advanced” it is.

One Response to “Word 2011: Video evidence of poor performance”

  1. Betalogue » Word 2011: Keeps switching windows back to main screen says:

    […] have already written about the fact that each and every use of the “Copy” command or command-C triggers some kind of background […]