Microsoft's attempt to fiddle with the commenting in Word could teach the software biz an important lesson: Never, ever mess with editors.
It began innocently enough last month. Microsoft has a new "modern commenting experience" and wanted to extend it over the various editions of Word. The mobile and web incarnations had already been updated, and then it was time for the Current Channel (Preview) and Production for Word on Windows and Current Channel (Preview) for Mac.
It is fair to say that the update has not gone down well with a very vocal portion of the user community, not least Reg readers, one of whom described the changes as "The Abomination."
Comments in documents have long been used in collaborative efforts. Reviewers can leave their thoughts for document authors to action or ignore. Or issue terse responses. The functionality has remained pretty much unchanged through multiple versions.
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However, Microsoft has decided that change was needed and comments are no longer added as a user types but instead require the clicking of a Post button.
'At a loss for ... words'
Being signed in with a work or school account means @ mentions in the comment will fire off notifications via email (with a link to the document in question and the option to add yet more comments).
Other features around threading have also been added.
It all seems reasonable enough, but for those who live and breathe document comments it is clearly a step too far as a glimpse of the more than 150, er, comments on Microsoft's post makes clear.
One problem is with that pesky requirement to "Post" a comment. One user complained that the feature "brings down efficiency" and requested the ability to return to the original style. "Some people simply receive a document, revise, comment, then return. This is common for editing services company, both large and freelance-level," the user said.
Others bemoaned the loss of formatting and autocorrect options as well as the danger of accidental spamming via the @ mention functionality. Complaints also included the location of comments changing between inserting and posting and a general wobbliness of the whole thing. Reg reader Nick H noted: "Comments now seem to float around randomly. That may be fine if you only have a few, but if you're working on a tech spec with tens or hundreds, it's almost impossible to tie specific comments in with the text."
Another critic wailed: "I am truly at a loss for words as to why this seemed like a good idea to your development team."
Well, this was the company that gave us Clippy after all.
Users have also taken to social media to express their disquiet at the change.
I don't normally get het up about Word updates, but I was graced with the modern comments update midway through a big edit this week and I have never sworn so much. Awful.— Emily Youers (@emily_youers) April 30, 2021
Perhaps rendered tipsy by the success of Teams, the move seems part of a push into Microsoft's vision for collaboration and consistency over its platform. However, "Not everyone needs to chat via a Word doc. Sometimes, comments are just comments to help the author improve their writing," grumbled another victim of this vision.
Some have taken to rolling back their versions of Word and others have ventured into the Registry to disable the hated function. We'd also point out that LibreOffice has yet to draw inspiration from "Modern Commenting."
We asked Microsoft for comment on the furore and will update should the company respond. In the meantime the recommendation is to use the feedback box. We're sure the Windows giant is listening. ®