Word 2011: Split bar in background window

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
January 18th, 2012 • 4:10 pm

As regular Betalogue readers know, Microsoft’s Mac software is full not just of bugs, but also of behaviours that do not make sense and fail to comply with the conventions that rule the Mac OS X user interface.

The problems even affect things as basic as window management.

I’ve already written about the fact that Word 2011 fails to properly support setups with multiple displays. I have two 30-inch monitors side by side in an extended desktop setup, and if I leave Word document windows open on my secondary monitor, after a while Word 2011 starts switching the windows back to the main screen all the time. The only way to stop this behaviour is to quit and relaunch Word.

Word 2011 also fails to preserve a document’s window position when you close and reopen it.

And if you use the “New Window” command in the “Window” menu to open the same document in a second window — this feature is one of the few advantages that Word has over Apple’s Pages, because it lets you view two different sections of the same document side by side at the same time — and then press command-W, Word closes both document windows in one fell swoop, which is totally absurd. (The command-W command should be strictly equivalent to clicking on a window’s red close button, i.e. only close the foreground window.)

Word also fails to keep the current selection highlighting visible in a background window, using the background highlighting colour (a light grey).

Here is a new one to add to the list of Word’s failures in window management. Say you are using Word’s split bar to split a document window into two sections, each able to display a different section of the same document.

Then you switch to another document window, leaving the document window with the split bar open in the background.

Now take your mouse pointer and start hovering above the split bar in the background window. Here’s what happens in Word 2011 on my machine:

Yes, this is the cursor hovering over the split bar in a background window. Whenever you move the mouse pointer, Word displays the tooltip and the alternate cursor, which seems to indicate that you can actually click and drag on the split bar to adjust its position.

Of course you can do no such thing, because the split bar is in a background window, and one click on it will simply bring the window to the foreground, without doing anything with the split bar.

I regularly find myself forgetting this and clicking and dragging to adjust the split bar’s position, which of course does not work because the window is not in the foreground.

It would also help if, when a document window with the split bar visible is in the background, Microsoft would change the colour highlighting used for the split bar control itself from blue to grey, in order to reflect the fact that it is in the background and cannot be used. But of course Word does no such thing:

Split bar control in BG window

The only sign here that the window is in the background and that the blue control is actually disabled is the drop shadow from the foreground window next to it. But if I move that window away, there is no visual difference between the control in the background and the control in the foreground.

(Word also does not change the blue colour in the ruler controls when a document window is in the background.)

It’s all incredibly sloppy, but of course we all know that a Microsoft application will never have the level of polish and compliance with OS conventions that a proper Mac OS X application demands.

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