Friday, July 24, 2009

Wish List: MS Word

...I've had the dubious pleasure recently of working on a project that demands the use of MS Word. It reminded me of a few things, and reinforced my affinity for the level of polish that Microsoft eventually brought to the world's most common word processor. (It feels weird to use that term: Word Processor.)

I'm not a Word hater. I hate giving money to Microsoft, given the amount of money they've taken from me without my choice (Such as licensing agreements with my computer manufacturer or my Enterprise client. In the former case, I paid for a computer that has the cost hidden in the purchase price, in the latter case I'm forced to buy a copy of the software in order to do business with my client.)

No. Word is just about as good as it gets for word processing. The interface is easily accessible without too much new learning on my part. The feature set is powerful and useful to me as I author complex documents, and the responsiveness of the software is acceptable to me when I'm in a hurry to deliver a document on deadline. (Although my business partners may be thinking, 'you deliver a document on deadline Vincent?) At least the software doesn't hold me back when I use it properly.

But there are some things I would love to see as an author and power user.

Style sheet management

I'd like two key features related to style and style sheets for a document.

I'd like the style dialog to present a filter options so that I can search for a named style easily among the many that accumulate as documents get written and shared with others. Right now my access to work with paragraph styles is a toolbar/window that lists all the possible styles in the document. After a while, especially when the document is shared in a chaotic environment, a large number of styles are present and I need to be able to find the one I need easily without having to scroll through a lengthy list.

I'd also like to have a tool that allows me to display my document with these two categories of paragraphs highlighted for my attention:

  • paragraphs that use "local" markup not represented by a formally named style
  • styles that do not comply with a specific stylesheet (ie. those styles that have been applied ad-hoc by a tired or careless co-author)

I love the spell checking and grammar checking inline, I actually find the auto-correction to be useful and mostly it does the right thing.

MS Word is not that bad. But it could be made better without changing the native file format or the fundamentals of the user interface. The truth is that although about 65% or 70% of computer users don't need the power of Word, the people who do need that level of support will be hard pressed to find an equivalent alternative.

Just sayin' what I see.