Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Clippy's Revenge

When did Microsoft Word become such a lumbering, bloated behemoth?

It was not always thus.  Many years ago, I recall Word being a vaguely clunky but otherwise harmless word processing program.  In its early iterations, as I remember them, it was clearly nerdy -- not much in the way of fonts or colors -- but it got the job done without much fuss.  Even when the Windows versions came along and some of the simple elegance of the old DOS version fell away, it was still pretty tolerable.  For a time, Word and WordPerfect were the Coke and Pepsi of word processing programs; preference was a matter of taste, but you could pretty much move between them without especially noticing.

The first real sign that something had gone horribly wrong was Clippy.  (I think this was somewhere around 2000, though I’ve forgotten the particulars in the same way that the body forgets pain.)  Clippy was an animated paper clip who existed mostly to annoy users.  He asked presumptuous questions, and just getting him to go away took more labor than it should have.  “You look like you’re writing a letter!  Would you like some help?”  Sure, Clippy, what’s another way of saying GET THE %(&$ OFF MY SCREEN YOU &^*(%$&#^%*?

Clippy was eventually dispatched -- nobody asked too many questions -- and Word reverted to its mildly annoying self.  Soon, free alternatives like Open Office came along that fulfilled much the same role WordPerfect used to, only without having to pay for it.  I switched, as did most people I know.

I mostly skipped Office 2007, except for a few ill-fated experiments on a short-lived laptop.  This was the version in which Microsoft decided that easily found, clear commands like, say, “print,” just weren’t sporting enough, so it hid them.  I actually had to google “How to print in Word 2007.”  When you have to google “how to print,” something isn’t right.

By this point, of course, I had discovered Google Docs.  Google Docs is mercifully stripped down, like Word once was, and it has the virtues of zero cost, self-updating, and automatic online backup.  (That may not sound like much, but go through a hard drive crash or two, and you’ll see the appeal.)  I liked it because I could start noodling with a blog post on my lunch break on one computer, and then finish it at home that night without bothering with file transfer.  It also has an obvious “print” button.  This is not to be dismissed lightly.

For the last several years, I’ve been happily using NeoOffice at work, Google Docs at home, and Open Office on the road when I couldn’t get online.  Not perfect, but fine.

Then, the book came along.

I compose in Google Docs, but for reasons unknown, my publisher wants files in Word, and it sends files back and forth in Word, complete with obscure functions like “track changes.”  So I bit the bullet and got Word 2010.

The horror...the horror...

Clippy’s revenge is total.  In addition to being absurdly huge, the program is almost comically inscrutable.  Now it comes in “starter” as well as, I don’t know, “veteran” flavors.  Did you know that “starter” doesn’t include “track changes?”  I didn’t, either.  And can you buy the one additional feature you want?  Negative -- it’s all or nothing.  “Copy and paste” has become far more complex, and even something as simple as “save” requires changing screens.  Just figuring out how to change the line spacing from single to double required multiple trips to “help,” since its preferred solution was to change templates (!).  

I didn’t need Clippy.  I needed a sherpa.

I understand the impulse to add yet another feature whenever someone wants it, but Apple (and Google Docs) has shown us the virtue of keeping things simple enough that you don’t have to do internet searches to figure out how to print a damn document.  The 286 pc I bought in 1990 could print a damn document, even if it had to use dot matrix to do it.  (For younger readers, just imagine that I yelled at you to get off the lawn.)  First things first.

Clippy, you may be enjoying this bit of revenge now, but I’m putting you on notice.  I wrote this post, like nearly every other post, in Google Docs, and I liked it.  And as soon as this manuscript is in, I’m done with you.  

Keep it simple.  Life is too short to have to look up “save.”

I'm with you. I like simple commands on a tool bar at the top of the page with commands like print, copy, cut, close and paste commands. Like OpenOffice has available.

I liked Clippy. It was fun to see how many funny faces and movements I could get him to do when I needed a break from word processing.
Ctrl + S to save
Ctrl + P to print
Ctrl + X to undo
Ctrl + Y to redo
You could different characters instead of Clippy. I had Einstein for a while. He would blow up things in a garbage can if he got bored.

I, apparently, got bored enough at work to figure that out.
Ah, Clippy! That brings back some memories, as his era coincided with the writing of my PhD thesis (hello! you look like you're trying to write a thesis! Would you like some help?), and the air in our shared grad student office was frequently blue as one or other of us struggled to remove Clippy from our documents. I had no idea that Einstein existed however, and feel oddly cheated.
I'm sorry you don't love Word. But some of us use many of those advanced features. While I think your comments ring true for many (perhaps the overwhelming majority?) users, there is still a segment of the world who needs a high end, full featured word processor. I'll never convert to the other products you mentioned because they are too limiting in my work. Nothing beats Word when you need to do really crazy stuff! And each version keeps getting better than the previous one. I don't miss Clippy though!
I'm slightly hopeful that the fast-growing trend towards using plain text (with Markdown and maybe some LaTeX thrown in) and for all word processing will start infiltrating the academic world from the nonacademic technical world.

A year ago, the joke-but-not-joke going around was that I would have to find somebody's grandmother and look in her attic to find a fax machine for a real estate transaction. This year, I can't for the life of me think of a coworker, from 20 or 30, who could put their hands on a copy of Word....

It gets better.
I am not a techy person. Not at all. I self taught HTML for work. I like computers in concept and can install more ram or a new cd drive if necessary. But knowing my function keys has saved my life more times than I can count. So, ditto to anon at 10:42pm. Learn them. Know them. Love them.

And for some reason i always seem to get bosses that aren't good with anything computer related. How does that happen? What do you mean you don't know how to add a tab to an excel document?
2010 is really the worst. Who thought templates were a good idea? Why do I have to manually change to Times New Roman and single spacing (my preference for composition, even if I undo it later) EVERY TIME because of their default template? Why do manual changes you've made get erased if you switch templates? Why does all of my formatting get undone half the time when I copy and paste? I think it's because of templates somehow.

I have an old computer with Word 2003 on it, and it's like a breath of fresh air. Everything is so simple!

My only problem with Google Docs is that, obviously, it depends on a good internet connection, so you can't count on it while traveling, or even if you tend to work somewhere with spotty service.
Anon 11:38: Yes, those were the days. Incidentally, Clippy was more "helpful" than my dissertation adviser ever was! (man, if I could've just replaced him with Clippy...)

DD: get over it! ;) Mostly, the changes have been incremental, but you've missed several increments.
i think that most people agree with DD.

but sadly, your local CC, most major Universities, and the gov't in general will renew contracts with Microsoft, despite the fact that Google Docs is a [lot] cheaper and easier alternative.

and these contracts will be partially justified because of the amount of "training" it would take to get people up to speed on Google Docs; a system that is far easier, more elegant, and more intuitive than its competitor.
I've found it hopeless to get publishers up to speed on the virtues of Google Docs, you have my sympathies. The same goes for most academic editors. Read any CFP lately? They almost all ask for .doc or .docx formats!

The sad thing is that you can emulate "track changes" in Google docs with their revision history feature: there really is no reason to write in Word except for lumbering monolithic institutional IT departments and incurious users.
I'm being forced to upgrade at work from Word 2007 to Word 2010 next month. I'm terrified. Getting me to give up 2003 for 2007 took years and required both threats and offers of free candy. I'm okay with it now, but I'm still not up to speed on all of 2007's hinks. (Where they choose to put the controls is often very bizarre.)

One thing you can do that might save you a lot of headaches is that in OpenOffice, you can "save as" a Microsoft Word document, so the resulting file is a ".doc". You get to work in the environment you like, and produce a file that your client will accept. My home computer uses OO, and it's how I get around the "must be in MS Word" requirement.

The Word Template is a pain. For Anon 4:54, if you change the "Normal" template and save it, that should set your defaults to what you want. I think. Well, it would have worked in Word 2003. I'm not sure about later versions.
Do people really have trouble with this, or is just like when facebook changes everything around, you're annoyed for a week and then you adapt? Or is all the angst about facebook real???
/what digital native actually means

Anonymous @10:42 already said what I was going to say about the shortcuts. They are much faster than the mouse. MUCH. Also, Ctrl + C is copy and Ctrl + V is paste (because P was taken for print). On a mac it's not Ctrl, it's the funny Mac button.
It actually annoys me that google docs saves things without telling me it's saved- I mean, backups are great, but I never really trust it. I reflexively press cntrl S every so often whenever I type.

In gmail the save button is obvious, and it fades when it autosaves to let you know it's taken care of. That's a splendid way of doing it. Why isn't google docs like gmail?
I actually just sucked it up and learned to write in LaTex.

I haven't written a book yet, though, so maybe that will change how I do things. But if there's one area where WYSIWYG is not useful, it's a book.
my issue with the new version of word is that they switched around the menus and functions (so I no longer know where to look for specific functions). I actually used the keyboard to navigate older office menus (using the "alt" key) and it was often faster for me to, say do some formatting that way then to actually use the mouse. I've had to "relearn" my navigation.

OTOH, my office really needs a word processor that has a simple to use "track changes" function that appears on the document, which word provides. We are constantly editing each others documents and it is crucial to know where the document changed and who changed it.

Plus the EndNotes integration (the bibliographic program, not the function) is pretty good and easy to use in Word (vs Open Office and I'm not sure google docs can integrate it), and EndNotes is pretty standard in my field as a reference manager. Sometimes it seems like each journal has its own tweak of the standard citation method and endnotes seems the easiest way to manage reformatting the manuscript given the large number of references we use (to the point that I've tweaked EndNotes to have formatting styles that I've named for specific journals).
Ah, Word.

I was never a fan of Word Perfect (of WordStar--rememebr that one?). But Word seemed OK from the start (version 2.0 for DOS, btw). It's now the only word processor my institution supports, so whatever I do I need something that will save files in a .doc or a .docx format. (By the way, I really hated the transition to a new file format...we got Word 2007 institutionally about a year after its release, so I spent a year with students sending me things in .docx formats that I could not open.)

But it's OK, and I can work with it.

You can change the default format, by the way. To change the default font, click on the little arrow in the right corner of the Font boz. Select your font, click the Default choice at the bottom left, and you are done. Yoou can do the same thing for default line spacings, default paragraph styles, almost any of the default settings. It would be easier if you could do it all in one place, but it's do-able. You cal also turn off the automatic bulleted lists (but I forget how).

What I hate is how badly Word works for formulas, particulalry those that include division. I have found no way to solve that one. And I hate it (in Word 2010) that when I open a file on a machine that I didn't use to create it, it opens in "protected" mode (which I have to turn off to work on the document.

And I have always hated "track changes." I really hate it when someone sends an paper to a journal that I'm on the editorial board of with "track changes" still turned on. PLEASE don't do that.
Does anyone remember the Death of Clippy on Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me?!
OpenOffice 3.3.0 (Oracle Fork) handles track changes in .doc and .docx correctly most of the time for me... It will also read .docx most of the time but can't save in that format. (Most of what I work on is not heavily formatted though, usually just some tab stops and an indent setting)

I hate track changes, but colleagues insist on using it.
For math, the new built-in, inline equation editor, which handles LaTex-like syntax,in Word 2007 and 2010, is really fantastic!

I only use Latex now for more complex math docs. Google docs is too limited and the formatting and printing issues it had were a deal killer for me.
Janice @6:30AM -

Academic publishers in physics have been using Latex (hence plain ASCII text that crosses all known communication systems) for decades. Get on board.

doc @11:24AM -

I love "track changes". It is great fun when a college document is sent out in that format and you can see all of the fights that took place and how little of the development time actually involved writing. Ditto for all of the metadata few people know are there, including students who plagiarize papers.

Anonymous @5:28PM -

Is it enough like LaTex to violate its open source protections, or is it different enough to be utterly useless when setting non-trivial expressions that use stuff like \frac?

PS - I LOL'd at CTRL+X to undo.

I also know that Word "borrowed" all of those commands and others from earlier text editors.
Thanks to unknown @12:31pm for mentioning the Clippy Must Die bit of wait wait don't tell me. I keep that mp3 on my computer and I was surprised I had to scroll through so many comments to find it mentioned.

I find track changes to be useful for writing collaborative papers, but I wish it had better equipped "compare versions" features such as are found in _real_ version control systems (think software development and ASCII text files). +1 on LaTeX as well for anything that allows it. The learning curve is long, yes, but that's what the last 20+ years were for.

+\infty on all the keystroke commands. I'm mouse impaired and slow down a lot whenever I have to click.
"The first real sign that something had gone horribly wrong was Clippy." LOL! You made my day with that one.

Each new iteration of Word gets more bloated and more confusing. However, it must be said that the word processor in Google Docs just doesn't make it. I have to use "track changes" or some other redlining device in my job (as an editor), and I also use it in grading papers, where it speeds work time by about 30% over grading in hard copy.

When you have to read, assess, and comment upon the equivalent of a Proust novel in 16 weeks (written by a crew of illiterates), you just can't do it with a blue pencil.

Fortunately, the Mac version of Word is somewhat retrograde. So far I've been able to evade the hateful "Ribbon." Using Word on the Mac obviates the use of most Word keyboard commands, though: Word's keyboard shortcuts are Macintosh system commands. So to use the program on a Mac entails endless pointing and clicking, every bit as annoying as Clippy.
The publishers have invested in a lot of typesetting software that works directly from MS Word files so they could fire all the typesetters. It's a feature, not a bug
Me, I still hate Word 2007. ALOT. Enough that I have spent >$100 to upgrade my work computers (at a major company) with the toolbar addin to maintain my sanity. That fix only goes so far. I use many of the features in Word, so basic word processing programs are a no go. However I have spent literally 2 hours trying to **FIX** a numbered, outlined, 500 page doc b/c 2007 is "smarter" than I am. It is just not user friendly; hell it's barely functional for things like this.

I knew Word 2007 was crap when I had to use Google to find the help button. 2010 is slightly better, but I don't have that option at work.
Try for some quick tutorials. I've gotten used to 2010, despite my work place not giving us any support. This site is one of the main reasons why it hasn't been too painful.
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