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Oh my Word

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Stob Microsoft Office Word is a candidate for the world's favourite program, provided you accept BA's use of "favourite" as a synonym for "ubiquitous" (me neither).

One app may bind them all, but its users come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Here is the Reg's kut-out-and-keep guide.


The Antiquary refuses to upgrade from Word 97, and bothers everybody who would send him a document by obliging them to resave in the obsolete format. He claims that Microsoft has done no significant work on the application since the mid-1990s, and that everybody except him is in the helpless thrall of Microsoft marketing. When picked up on this eccentricity, he challenges his questioner to name just ONE feature introduced into Word in the 21st century that the weak-willed upgrader regularly uses.

Irritatingly, he invariably wins this little contest. Once, somebody suggested "smart tags" as an answer, and we thought we had him. But on closer questioning, it turned out that the challenger didn't know what smart tags were and was confusing them with the keystroke macro recorder.

Neanderthal Granny

Neanderthal Granny is aware of the Interweb and other facilities theoretically available to her via her PC, but firmly rejects attempts to educate her in their use. Her computer must be kept in its place and never humoured.

She uses only one facility of the Windows shell (a Word shortcut on the desktop placed there by a granddaughter) and one Word menu command (Print). She achieves document navigation by typing stuff (to go right and down) and backspacing (to go left and up).

She only has one document on her machine, called ~$document1.tmp. However, her abrupt method of shutting down – yanking the power cord – ensures that this is always available when Word next starts, albeit possibly in a reduced state. The granddaughter once set the font of this document to Courier, but over repeated restarts this has corrupted to Comic, to the fury of its owner. Some day it will corrupt to Symbol, at which point she will τηροω τηε ΠΧ αωαψ ανδ γετ ανοτηερ.

Norma and Norman Normal

So-called because all their work is based on the Normal style of the stylesheet, this couple has used Word for seven hours a day for the past nine years, and has even been sent by a loving employer on an expensive, extensive and, I admit it, lobe-meltingly dull course to polish up its Wordy workmanship. However, the Normals remain minimally proficient.

"Normalised" documents have a number of distinguishing features. Applied text and paragraph styles are scorned, and all variations from default 12-point Times New Roman font, formatted cowardly and vertical (ie non-bold and non-italic, do keep up), are achieved with endless delicate little swoops and clicks of the mouse.

The Normals have adopted no keyboard shortcuts, and as such are prisoners of the brilliant self-hiding menu system for which Word 2000 is justly famous. Lacking Ctrl-A, they always make global text selections by whooshing from top to bottom with that scary click/drag movement that feels a bit like falling out of a high building (although this simile doesn't bear much examination, because there is no parallel with the way that Word abruptly sticks on a table halfway through the document).

Paragraphs are separated by two pushes on the Enter key, because the Normals are unaware of any other method of preventing one para intruding on its sequel's personal space. In fact, the plain vanilla Enter key, unseasoned by such exotic modifiers as Ctrl- and Shift-, is the Normals' sole technique for achieving vertical hold. Chapter headings get to be at top of P22 because of nineteen empty paragraphs on P21, and when Norman's boss insisted that all the sections of a report be separated by Pages Deliberately Left Blank, Norman's right hand lead pinky ached for weeks from the extensive tremolo Enter-fumbling that this demanded.

You laugh, but you will pay. Sooner or later you will end up having to change one of their documents. Just as the myoclonic jerk of a Jurassic butterfly's wing is now generally acknowledged as the primary cause of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, teenage acne and Jonathon Woss's Fwiday Night Chat Show, so the insertion of a single comma into the text of a piece of Normal Word-craft triggers a cataclysmic repagination. The result is not so much unpresentable as illegible.

Norma has recently taken to pasting screendumps into her documents – she likes to convert them into highly compressed JPEGs before importing them, to give them that "distressed" look – and you will see each one flash past your eyes as it wrenches free of its caption and whizzes up the screen like a roller blind in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. It is on its way home to the Contents page, where all the bitmaps will pile up on top of each other in a warty little heap, like Natterjack toads mating.

In this situation, you have two options: a) spend a lot of time experimenting to see if you can bodge the document back to near-presentability, or b) take it on the chin and redo the whole thing properly. Personally – since you ask – I always opt for option c), which is a) then b) in sequence.

Office creep

Are you the local (Microsoft) Office creep? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • You have added Word Basic modal dialogs to all the company templates. These rudely pop up when one starts a new document and demand all sorts of information (Project Number? Customer Id? Reviewer?) that one hasn't yet got and doesn't feel inclined to look up.
  • The eagerly-awaited high point of your week is the arrival of Woody's Office Watch e-letter. You swear you only admire it for its offbeat style exemplified by its fine obituary (sadly not online) of Richard "twice nightly" Whiteley. You are not believed.
  • You know the trick of holding down the shift key when you click 'File' to get to the well-kept-secret-because-too-useful menu entries 'Close All' and 'Save All'.
  • You claim to know how to turn off completely the distracting Clipboard (1 of 12) windowette that sometimes pops up unbidden in the middle of one's vision. However, you won't share the secret with Word muggles, airily and infuriatingly asserting that we will grow to love this feature once we stop fighting and learn how to use it.

If this list sounds like you, then beware. Office creeps are frequently exposed to radiation from Word's Automation interface. In time, their physical bodies are entirely burned away, and they are reduced to being poor quality pieces of Word clipart. This ghastly fate may already have befallen the BBC's Nick Robinson.

Sun rebels

It will be recalled that the management of Sun are not fans of Redmond. I am informed that, unsurprisingly, purchase of Microsoft Office products is not much encouraged among Sun employees. StarOffice is what should be on their hard disks.

Human nature being what it is, the result is that access to Microsoft Office, an unnoticed commonplace among the majority of its users, has become a surreptitious sin to a secret segment of the Sun-blest. You can never legislate a perversion out of existence; merely drive it underground.

So, if by some chance you find yourself visiting Sun's offices, don't go poking around behind the bike sheds on your way out of the building, just to hear the guilty clatter of hastily-shut laptops. It's not big or clever to tease the addicted.

By the way, if any Sunshine cares to approach me via my special email address, I think I have something that may interest them. It's a Word template file, complete with a carefully crafted macro. Press the secret key combo and Word hastily conceals itself in the task tray, and, as cover, pops up – full screen – a notably pronographic website. ®

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