Microsoft Word 2016: a rant in ten parts

Late last year, I took the advice of a friend and upgraded to Microsoft Office 365. I regret that decision.

I lean mostly on Word, and until I upgraded to 365 I had no idea how much I depended on Word simply being a canvas that I could easily manipulate. The shortcomings of Word 2016 bug me so much, I decided to list the ones I want to find solutions for. The list practically wrote itself, and this blog post was born.

(After I wrote the post, I nostalgically went back to using Word 2011. The tradeoff? I’m giving up a few minor nice-to-haves for several tools that make me a faster writer/formatter.)

Notes on how I write using Microsoft Word

I still like my friend, but I suspect he and I use Office (Word in particular) differently. I don’t know how he uses Word, but here are a few insights into my work habits:

  • I’ve been using Word for decades, so I’ve used many versions of it (said friend introduced me to Office for Mac back in 1993, though I had tried it before then on Windows)
  • I rely heavily on Word styles (a topic I’ve blogged about plenty) to apply formatting consistently throughout a document as I write it. I can’t overstate how much more efficient this habit makes me, and how much I rely on quick access to styles.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are my friends, and software developers who remove shortcuts I use frequently, for no apparent reason, must be destined to occupy the lowest rungs of hell.
  • I like having the page count and word count within easy reach so I know whether I’m going beyond assigned word count on an article and how much to cut if I do.
  • … uh… I think that’s it for now.

With that said, here’s my list of gripes about Microsoft Word at the start of 2018. With any luck, some (all?) of these may be fixed in a future overhaul of the software.

1. Table cell margins

In certain table cells, left margins start to the left of the left table cell border. The same thing happens on the right side. Why? I don’t know. I don’t recall this happening in earlier versions of Word.

2. Quick view of Word styles

Styles were once visible in a drop list in the toolbar (remember that?) so I could quickly see what style was applied to currently selected text. Now? You need to keep a massive Styles Pane open on the right side of the window. On behalf of all notebook computer users, thank you Microsoft.

3. Quick access to Word styles

I was once able to hit a keyboard shortcut to make that Styles drop list active. once there, I could type the name of the style to apply it to the text where my cursor sat. Needless to say, that feature is also gone.

I fondly recall using FrameMaker and using its paragraph tag feature the same way. As a bonus, FrameMaker would also autocomplete the tag name. This was in the 1990s.

A quick pat on the back for Microsoft Word – style visibility

Microsoft has added features that help you pinpoint any formatting issues.

  • Show styles guides colour-codes lines according to the styles applied to them
  • Show direct formatting guides pinpoint text sporting extra formatting outside of what the paragraph style is.

End of compliments. Now, back to the rants.

4. No Track Changes during online collaboration

Sharing Word documents via OneDrive or Sharepoint? You can add comments to documents that live online, but forget about having the software track your insertions and deletions. (Hey Microsoft – Google is stealing your customers partly by offering this feature in its competing product.)

5. No real-time editing by two or more people during online collaboration

(Hey Microsoft – see the “Hey Microsoft” remark above. It applies here too.)

6. The Ribbon a.k.a. training wheels

That monstrosity, like the Styles Pane, takes up too much screen real estate, particularly on smaller notebook screens. Ordinary toolbars in previous versions of Word were much more compact. The Quick Access Toolbar is a poor substitute. It lets you fire up the Styles dialog, but it offers no drop lists for Word styles which I access in Word 2011 using a keyboard shortcut. This is about speed and convenience, and the Ribbon offers me neither.

7. OneDrive? Why?

Microsoft doesn’t seem to get the fact that people may want to use cloud sharing services other than OneDrive (Microsoft’s likely response: “There are OTHER cloud sharing services?”)

8. Mobile apps

As if the “dumbing down” of the computer versions with ribbons and panes wasn’t bad enough, the iPad versions of Office software are positively execrable in comparison.

9. Improving existing tools

Microsoft could consider upping its game for more advanced users. For instance, the indexing feature is still much more labour-intensive than it needs to be. I can use copy-and-paste and even develop macros to lessen the tagging workload, but Microsoft could also develop a more sophisticated interface for Word that handles this stuff.

If Microsoft can create Windows Defender and take a bite out of the malware protection racket (I mean market), surely it could compete against existing third-party tools that facilitate indexing and other labour-intensive processes.

10. Interface choice

Microsoft might consider developing a “power user” interface for those of us who do not need the handholding that the Ribbon tries (and fails) to do.

Oops, I almost forgot…

11. Page and word counts

In Word 2011, the bottom border of the window shows me:

  • Pages:  X of (total)
  • Words: Y of (total)

In Word 2016? Microsoft took this feature away. Why? I’m beyond asking.

Concluding thoughts

Some of these rants imply extra development work to help Microsoft please a wider range of users. Why would Microsoft do such a thing? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe they face CREDIBLE COMPETITIVE THREATS.

As they say in stock prospectuses, past success is no guarantee of future performance. Microsoft may have, in its history, faced down also-rans like Wordperfect and Lotus 1-2-3. More recently, other products, including cloud-based solutions, have been happily munching away at Microsoft’s market share. Consider these two widespread examples:

  • Major universities give every new student a free Google Suite licence while obliging them to visit computer labs to use Office. Hmm… university students, a.k.a. tomorrow’s knowledge workers, a.k.a. future productivity suite clients…
  • Large numbers of small- and mid-sized businesses outfit employees with Google Suite instead of Office. In other words, many of today’s knowledge workers do NOT use Office at work.

This blog post emerged from simmering resentment at Word features taken away and features that have always been sub-par compared to those of its competitors. No data research or analysis went into this post. Even if I performed that work, I doubt it would make Microsoft any more likely to listen. But I can always hope. And when hope dies, I can always switch.

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