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Criticallly Missing Word Features

One of the theme of "Good Software Takes Ten Years" is that there is nothing left to add in mature applications. However, the following features are badly missing in Word:

1. A WordPerfect-like "reveal codes" feature. And no the view formatting feature is not reveal-codes.

2. A better macroing capability with a better correlation with the document model. VBA for Word sucks big time.

3. Logical Styles a la LaTeX or DocBook.

4. Export and Import filters to UNIXish formats like LaTeX, DocBook, or troff. (or perl POD... ;-))

5. Naturally, all those bugs, styles that spring up from the head of Zeus, and general minutes wondering what have you done to deserve it only to re-write it from scratch, should be fixed in one way or another.

6. Multiple-Language Integration - are language packs enough?

Regards,

    Shlomi Fish

Shlomi Fish
Sunday, June 23, 2002

Hum, ok.

#1. . A WordPerfect-like "reveal codes" feature

I not aware of what you mean here. Do you mean to reveal codes like that for bold, and underline? That stuff really goes back to the dos “text” days, and when we did not have a GUI. I don’t think that applies to modern systems anymore.

You can tools-options->View-tab, and click on view all. In addition you can go from the main menu view->Master Document. This shows just about everything I can think of.

Turning on both of those will show all non printing characters, and all the tabs, returns etc.

Anything more, I can not imagine what the fuss, or feature missing here is?

#2, VB in word. That is most brilliant and ingenious thing that MS ever did. The #1 reason to use Word over most other word processor is that the FULL VB development environment is available in every computer that has word. For anyone reading this, launch word and whack the alt-f11 key. Boom, you get the full VB IDE. That is whole idea here. I can write a pack man game in word. I can also connect to the corporate database, and grab data. I can automate other applications via com. I can even use the windows api. In fact, last time I heard that WordPerfcet was going to license VB from MS (actually it is VBA..but they are the same anyway). The reason for this is that the folks in WordPerfect  cannot compete with this kind of capability.

Bill Gates about 10 years ago talked about a future where products would simply be programmable objects. Word is one of those objects, and it programmable ability is 2nd to none. In fact, this is the problem with products like star-office. They might read a word doc, but when try and integrate the product into today’s work place...it fails. 10 years ago most companies were buying their first computer. Today, any system, or software is likely to be their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4 system. As a result, the users demand much more integration in products that I design. In fact, they simply know a lot more about what computers can do, and thus I have to developo products that satisfy this need. I would be a dead duck without programmable products like word.

As a seasoned developer, having a fully programming word (that can be used as a com object) is perhaps the #1 reason why I use word over WordPerfect. It is not a feature by feature basis, but the fact word has the full VB language available. For every new product I should not have to learn a new language.  When you see all those corporate commercials about companies running their business on Microsoft products, what do you think they are talking about ? Business can run on these products not because you need to center some text, but because you need to click on a button and word pops up with some medical patient billing information from the corporate database...that is why!

#3Logical Styles a la LaTeX or DocBook

hum ok. (but you could add a few button to the tool bar, and write your own!).

#4. Export and Import filters to UNIXish formats like LaTeX

Well, Word does have a save-as to html, and text. Perhaps word 2002 has a xml save option. Regardless, the save to html is not bad (that is about as universal as you can get. there is also the RTF format, which I also use). You are the very first person I have seen requesting some more export options for word. Perhaps a pdf save as would make sense (but you can purchase the adobe product, or use the free open source ghostscript to create pdf files...which is what I use with word). However, since not many new export options have been added lately, then perhaps some more export options is over due.

#5 Naturally, all those bugs
...can’t say much here. But most problems are due to familiarity with the product.

#6 Multi-language...well, don’t know..but there are localized versions.

At the end of the day, Products like WordPerfect and Word are full to the rafters of features. More than most could ever want, or even use. However, for me it is not the feature set in as much as how it can function with other products. In this regards, that is why I like word..

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Kallal@msn.com

Albert D. Kallal
Sunday, June 23, 2002

> 6. Multiple-Language Integration - are language packs enough?

As you might know, the Chinese language is trouble to deal with. We need some difficult input method, the set of characters is huge (I think chinese characters occupy most of the unicodes), and to make it worse, there are at least three types of coding systems, one from the Mainland China, one from Taiwan and Unicode. That's why so many softwares defer the support of the chinese language.

I don't mean MS' Word's support is perfect, but I don't see how it's worse than it's opponents. Most editors suck, some like starOffice (old version) didn't even support Chinese.

I know only Chinese (and a bit English) so I can't tell how Word does with other languages, but so far I am happy with it and don't see how it 's inferior to other editors' language support.

Sam Wong
Sunday, June 23, 2002

In response to what Albert said:

1. Reveal Codes shows you a fixed size logical display of the
document where you can see where each style you defined start
and end. Thus if for example you see "[bold][/bold]" you can
point the cursor on the first [bold] press delete and this empty
style will not bother you anymore.

I am familiar with the Master Document feature, but it is clearly
not the same thing.

2. VB in word: generating documents with Word VB is quite
straightforward, granted. But how about manipulating them?

Changing all bolds in 3 particular paragraphs to underline? Moving
Images around? Manipulating a tree of the document?

3. Maybe you misunderstand the meaning of Logical Styles. Let's
say I define a logical style by the name of "shlomif1". I use it in various
places in the text. Now, I don't like how it looks like, so I change
the way it looks in one place, and voila: the entire document changes
with it.

In LaTeX, you can do almost anything by defining macros. I once wrote
a macro to put a rectangle around the text in question.

4. Save to HTML is now enough, because both LaTeX and DocBook are
more flexible than HTML, and LaTeX is entirely not compatible.

5. I have used Word since version 6.0, and it still causes me so many
unexpected problems. I positively hate it. I've seen people who
claim to be Word experts who spent dozens of minutes or even
hours, tackling one mis-looking style.

---

But, hell, what do I care? I'll use LaTeX and DocBook to my heart content
and only use Word and its WYSIWYG friends for simple things in
which I'd like to see what I write right in front of my eyes. And BTW,
I still find WordPerfect 6.0 to be a much superior text processor than Word XP
is now. Sad, but true.

Shlomi Fish
Monday, June 24, 2002

> 1. Reveal Codes shows you a fixed size logical display of the
> document where you can see where each style you defined start

Of course you don't really need THIS.
What you need instead is a Word that does not leave empty styles. And that does not mess up styles or codes in other ways.

In other words, if you could format or unformat your document as you please, without Word messing things up, you don't need reveal codes.

Erik van Linstee
Monday, June 24, 2002

"Maybe you misunderstand the meaning of Logical Styles. Let's say I define a logical style by the name of "shlomif1". I use it in various places in the text. Now, I don't like how it looks like, so I change the way it looks in one place, and voila: the entire document changes with it."

Err... this has been in Word since day 1, I believe. Where did you think the leftmost drop-down box on the toolbar was for (left to the font selection)?

Frederik Slijkerman
Monday, June 24, 2002

"4. Save to HTML is now enough, because both LaTeX and DocBook are more flexible than HTML, and LaTeX is entirely not compatible."

So your complaint here is that Word doesn't fix LaTeX's problems for it?

Don't LaTeX and DocBook support RTF? You know, that standard for interoperability between text processors. Word does.

The formatting  mess ups in Word do drive me mad, I'll agree with you there. As someone else noted, you don't really need to see the codes, you need Word to stop doing stupid things with them.

Robert Moir
Monday, June 24, 2002

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
this is the problem with products like star-office. They might read a word doc, but when try and integrate the product into today’s work place...it fails
-------------------------------------------------------- Albert D. Kallal

In all fairness, Star-Office's objects are programmable from both C++ and Java.  In some ways more so.

It uses the factory pattern repeatedly, which isn't as accessible as VBA's object model, but can be used for more advanced uses.

Ged Byrne
Monday, June 24, 2002

<<#1. . A WordPerfect-like "reveal codes" feature

I not aware of what you mean here. Do you mean to reveal codes like that for bold, and underline? That stuff really goes back to the dos “text” days, and when we did not have a GUI. I don’t think that applies to modern systems anymore.

You can tools-options->View-tab, and click on view all. In addition you can go from the main menu view->Master Document. This shows just about everything I can think of.

Turning on both of those will show all non printing characters, and all the tabs, returns etc.

Anything more, I can not imagine what the fuss, or feature missing here is?
>>

Grr.  This shows the difference in understanding between programmers and users.  Now I like Word and its many powerful features lacking in Wordperfect, but losing Reveal Codes was hard. 

In Word, you really can't precisely proof the formatting of a document.  Show All doesn't give the paragraph level formatting.  Or if the tab settings change.  Or even if the styles change.  User1 can change the formatting of some text, but not change the style.  Then, when User2 goes to change style formatting, the document goes ugly.  Or User3 has pasted in text from somewhere, bringing along a new set of tab settings. 

With Reveal Codes, you can just look at the code level and clean stuff up.  With Word, I learned the hard way that the only way to deal with documents from anyone else was to copy the whole thing as unformatted text into a new blank document and reformat them.  (These were manuals which were then pdfed or sent to a printing service.  If you want to find any weirdness in Word formatting - pdf the sucker.  All hell rained down on me if they weren't purdy.)

Now, the ability of Word to have a document that is crappily formatted still look good is an amazing thing. But the only way to trust formatting is to do it yourself.

PS  Does anyone know how how to paste as unformatted text but retain footnotes?

Contrary Mary
Monday, June 24, 2002

There is an interesting paper relating to style and word processing here:

http://www.ifi.uio.no/~paalso/artikler/styles/new-version/pap.html

Tony E
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Great points made here!

It is interesting how some see, and view the reveal codes feature as a bonus, and some of us see it as a throwback to the old days.

Regardless, some good points were made as to why, and what a “reveal codes” feature is for. I actually still believe that the feature was carried forward from the old days to allow people to continue to work in a particular way. However, it seems that being able to see the “bold” code, etc is a added bonus for proof reading etc (and removing un-wanted formatting codes). Hence, I certainly can see why one could still appreciate this feature.

The dumping down of software is starting to worry me. These advanced features are being removed from all kinds of products. This is because the average user might need more features...but not *ADVANCED* features. Hence, due to the “mass market”, software is being dumber down. This hurts the advanced users in many cases.

There was a time when ms-word got a huge jump on WordPerfect. When ms introduced OLE, I remember a few WordPerfect people seeing how easy (and cool) is was to drop in a spread sheet right into the document. These people where INSTANLTY hooked on Word. They really thought that some of this new stuff was incredible.

Looking at the situation today, WordPerfect now has most of the features of Word added. Thus, combined with many of the traditional WordPerfect features...it seems that indeed that WordPerfect holds it own. WordPerfect also has earlier roots then does Word, and the presence of certain features shows this. (the features are not important enough to add to ms-word, but they are there!). Perhaps the WordPerfect people are more dedicated to continues improving the product. They *are* are word processing company. MS is a software company that happens to have a word processor!

As a industry matures...then those “roots” and long term product experience tends to rear its beautiful head. In other words, as the traditional and well run book companies learn how to market books via the web...then amazon.com might be in trouble. They both will learn how to run a web site...but those books companies have been doing the book side MUCH longer then the web stiff. This might give them an advantage, as all other things become equal. This same logic might apply to word vs word perfect.

Hence, WordPerfect has longer roots then does Word.

As for Star Office, and programmability...hum. Does Star Office expose it self as a com object in windows? (and presumably cobra in Linux/Unix?). Some one commented that it can be used via C++.  Anyone have some quick comments, or links to the programmability of star Office?

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com

Albert D. Kallal
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Of all the wonderful word features, missing or contained, I would first want it to work.  A reveal codes feature to fool it into working, or allowing me to debug why it ain't working seems to be a little cart before the horse.

I have spent many a frustrating hour with word, trying to force it to do what I want.  Most of my documents are fairly simple paragraphs, maybe two fonts, maybe a bold or underline here and there.  Normally I can get this to work fairly well, but there are sometimes that darned cursor will not go where I want it.

But by far the worst, are those (for lack of a better description) templated forms - you know, sent through email, you fill them out and email them back.  All sorts of whizzbang features used - the cursor and formatting all has a mind of it's own.

Features are nice, some of them are even "kute"... but it doesn't "work".  When a product needs an animated paperclip... something very basic is wrong.

Joe AA.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

1. & 5. The only reason you (or I) miss Reveal Codes is because of 5.  Personally, I think that 95% of the problems with Word have to do with the AutoFormat features, which automatically apply formats, styles,  bulleted/numbered lists, etc.  When editing a document created by someone else, it's usually best to go in and click them all off (select Tools->AutoCorrect to change the settings).

2. Word XP has added the Scripting Editor.  The entire document is presented in XML and can be manipulated using the DOM.  To be honest, it looks pretty daunting, and I can't think of any scripting that I've needed to do that I couldn't do with VBA.

3. Word does have styles that you can change and apply globally.  They've been an endless source of headaches for me.  The feature usually seems to work when I don't want it to, and not work when I do. The main problem is that spending an hour (or day?) learning Word styles is filed in my 'things I won't RTFM about' folder.  The feature I would really like is a 'replace style X with style Y' feature, with item-by-item accept/reject capability.

4. Um. Well, do you think that if MS added the LaTex, DocBook, troff ... import / export features that they'd win the hearts and minds of the /. crowd?  Me neither.

6. No opinion.

Added by me:

7. Picture and / or object placement and control. I just can't seem to get them to behave consistently.  I've seen many documents where users have resorted to creating a textbox and pasting the picture inside of it.

8. The MS help file format. It's the equivalent of spaghetti code riddled with GOTO's.  Each topic typically has links to examples, related topics, etc.  You can click your way to the hinterlands, then have to back up and click your way down to the next subject.  Leave nodal navigation to software, not software manuals.  I would rather see a chapter format that explained the software usage in a logical sequence.

9. Word and PowerPoint.  Why are these different products? I wouldn't think it would take that much to add landscape presentation templates to Word and a feature to present them as a slideshow.

Nick Hebb
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

"The feature I would really like is a 'replace style X with style Y' feature, with item-by-item accept/reject capability."

This may be possible with the Find & Replace feature. You can specify styles on the search text, and possibly the replace.

I've not tried it, so I can't say for sure.

D. fischer
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

<<"The feature I would really like is a 'replace style X with style Y' feature, with item-by-item accept/reject capability."

This may be possible with the Find & Replace feature. You can specify styles on the search text, and possibly the replace. >>

Cool.

1 less headache with Word.  99 to go.

Nick Hebb
Tuesday, June 25, 2002

"4. Um. Well, do you think that if MS added the LaTex, DocBook, troff ... import / export features that they'd win the hearts and minds of the /. crowd? Me neither."

It would make life easier for those of us that have to operate in environments that are infested with that crowd though ;-).

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Contrary Mary - Monday, June 24, 2002
> Now, the ability of Word to have a document
> that is crappily formatted still look good is an
> amazing thing.

Hahahaha.... true, true.

Word gives you enough rope to hang yourself and every heretic in the holy wars.

When correcting the formatting of someone else's document, I frequently strip out all the formatting and just start over.  To actually use Word styles properly calls for forethought, special training, and a general shift in mental paradigm.

There are those that put hard line breaks in the middle of paragraphs and try to align words by carefully adding extra spaces.  They are simply beyond hope.

There are those that understand basic word processing but only know that WYSIWYG.  They slap around bold styles and large fonts until it looks good.  All their paragraphs end with two carriage returns.

Then there are those that really understand that Word is a formatting tool and use it properly.  They mark up their document with logical styles and then work the formatting globally.  These are rare users indeed!

When I am helping somebody use Word for the first time, I always tell them, "just type."  Put the words on the screen.  Don't worry about how they are laid out or how they appear.  Then I sit down and mark up their content.  After that, I can quickly apply formatting to make it look however they want.  It's like HTML and CSS.

William Frantz
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

> Does anyone know how how to paste as unformatted
> text but retain footnotes?

Don't cut and paste.  Try this:  Edit->Select All, Format->Style "Normal" [Apply], then Format->Style "Default Paragraph Font" [Apply].  Presto, plain text.

After stripping all the formatting like that, I'll usually keep doing "search for ^p^p" and "replace with ^p" until I get zero replacements.  If it's really bad I'll replace all 'space space' with 'space'.  You may also need to remove tabs.

Finally I'll go to the style organizer and delete everything there.  Then I import my own styles and start over.  Oh, I usually have to fill in the document properties too since they are universally ignored.  Those fields are the best way to fill in header and footer information.

[I'm on a roll now...]  You might also want to adjust the properties of the embedded images.  Word selects "float over text" by default which is almost always wrong (for me).  You have better control of wide figures if you disable that option.

William Frantz
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

What William said :)

I just finished writing my Ph.D. thesis using Word 97, and I've got all sorts of useful, customized styles. Despite Word quirks and bugs, they've made my life easier.

But I must say that Word (at least 97 and prior) is not really built for writing books. It does about 80% of the job done well, but that last 20% takes some skill, finesses, kludges, and luck.

D. fischer
Thursday, June 27, 2002

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