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Why doesn't Microsoft fix bugs like these?

I found this post on a mailing list about a painful bug in Microsoft Word.

This numbering bug has been in Word for many generations. It' STILL bloody there.

Maybe I should ask Joel, but why doesn't Microsoft bother to fix bugs like these that are well-known? Technical writers face this every day when using Word.

Karl Max
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I recently did some research on this subject while evaluating Word as a DocBook platform.

As it turns out, this numbering bug is an artifact of Word's incredibly convoluted internal storage format for any formatting that isn't based on styles.

Here's my synopsis (may be inaccurate). Whenever you use those cute little bulleting or numbering icons on the Word toolbar, Word creates a new hidden list style and associates it with the current paragraph. This list style specifies both the appearance and the numbering properties of the paragraph. Add a new item to the list, change the numbering, or move a list paragraph around, and hey presto, yet another hidden list style is created! Those styles are internally linked back to the default list styles in some incomprehensible way, and only by walking back the entire chain can you actually determine the number and formatting of a paragraph.

This storage format is so harebrained that it's essentially impossible to create a version of Word that will _not_ corrupt lists, given enough list items and editing activity.

Note that the above is not lunatic rambling from Slashdot but taken from MVP sites! Here's a discussion of the subject:

And a preview chapter of Mary McRae's upcoming book on XML in Office 2003 that discusses lists in the context of WordML:

The only way to avoid the numbering corruption is to avoid Word's most convenient features: always use paragraph styles instead of direct formatting; and use outline styles rather than list styles to define paragraph numbering.

Chris Nahr
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

More links on the issue, by Word MVP Shauna Kelly: a step-by-step advice on reliable bulleting and numbering in Word.

Chris Nahr
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

What I find interesting is every combination of Word versions on Windows platforms (e.g. Word98 on Win2000, Word98/WinXP, etc) have different numbering bugs.  Back when I was a consultant changing jobs every 6 months it drove me nuts.

For the first few months I thought it was me.  Then I got to consider myself a Word expert and realized it wasn't me, Word has some serious bugs in it.  Now I don't bother doing anything complicated in it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

That's one of the reasons to use Open-Office.  I uninstalled MS Office on my home machine except for Access 97 because I have a program whose database is in Access 97, and installed OO - never looked back.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Yes, OpenOffice has a reasonable internal format with field-based numbering that doesn't corrupt. So does FrameMaker or practically any other word processing application, by the way.

I'd really like to hear a reasonable explanation why the internal Word storage format was designed the way it was. Reading through the MVPs' description makes you think the Word team had ingested way too many cheap narcotics when they designed it, or maybe they handed off the fundamental application design to new interns.

Chris Nahr
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I just had a problem with Word numbering yesterday.  This is the 2000 version or maybe even the XP version.  Numbering has always sucked in word and it is something very difficult to escape because it is such a common task.  It is inescusable that this still sucks after all these years.

One of the recurring themes we hear from Joel is that if microsoft does it a way then that is the standard and your software had better do it that way because it is what users will expect, that is, Microsoft doesn't have bugs, it just creates irritating standards.

Thus we see the potential benefit to society to breaking up this monster.

name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

>> Microsoft doesn't have bugs, it just creates irritating standards

How many Microsoft programmers does it take to change a lightbulb?  None, they just redefine darkness as the industry standard.

Boofus McGoofus
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"why doesn't Microsoft bother to fix bugs like these that are well-known?"

The cost of a programmer to do it, is not worth the benefit of removing it.  While we may look at it as a simple bug, it make take 10 or 100 or maybe 1000 hours to fix.  If it was 10, it would probably be done, but only if enough people complained.

What other method would we expect them to use when deciding what to fix next?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

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