One Improvement Does Not Progress Make

One of the default questions in the Goodreads’ ‘Ask the Author’ scheme is “What is the best thing about being a writer?”

Best is a very big word, so I have been giving it due consideration. I am still considering a number of possibilities, but one of the strongest candidates was flexibility; as an author-publisher I am able to create my own process out of the techniques and technologies that suit me best. I was even considering a paragraph about this being an especial benefit that also creates the burden of having to optimise myself. However, flexibility is fast losing its place.

For many years I have used Open Office Writer for my word-processing. Writer opens .docx files, so I didn’t even need to install Word on my computer.

However, the .docx format doesn’t store Tracked Changes in a coherent fashion, so – despite being superior for all my other needs – Writer doesn’t display annotated .docx files properly, resulting in confusion over which is the latest version of the change.

Google Drive does display Tracked Changes in .docx properly, but doesn’t always display all the comments and changes each time, requiring multiple passes to make sure they have all been reviewed.

Therefore, last weekend I reluctantly installed Office 2013.

The last version of Office I used was 2000, so I was expecting (i) I would have to get used to the Ribbon and (ii) I would have to spend a few minutes changing defaults.

What I was not expecting was for the names and locations of things common to both iterations to have moved without reason. Changes so severe I rescheduled all the writing planned for this morning so I could set everything up at once rather than do it piecemeal every time Word obstructed my process.

After taking most of the afternoon as well, and extensive use of search engines to deal with the lamentable flaws in Microsoft’s own explanations, I have managed to:

  • condense five Ribbons into a single “Stuff I Use” toolbar;
  • discover the reason turning off features didn’t do anything (some features appear in two separate locations in the options menu and need to be turned off in both);
  • reset common shortcuts so they match the shortcut of every other program ever;
  • discover that a .docx file apparently gets bigger every time you save it in Word, even if you have deleted text or not made any changes;
  • determine that the frustrating inability to change Track Changes to display formatting equivalent to the actual formatting of the document is because “Display Formatting” has been renamed “Salute the Flag” and is now in the “Grate Cheese” tab.

To avoid any of you wasting time checking it, one of these is a joke: you can’t actually set up a Ribbon to display what you need in a way that is optimised.

However, there is one change I found pleasing. When I opened a manuscript to confirm everything now displayed as it should, I didn’t have to waste time closing a paper-clip that had mistaken several thousands of words of text broken by headers which all started on a new page for a letter.

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4 thoughts on “One Improvement Does Not Progress Make

  1. I’ve been using Ribbon-enhanced Word intensively for three or four years now (I know I was working on Heavy Ice at the time, but that really doesn’t narrow it down) and I still find myself staring at screens thinking ‘Now where the hell does it hide that?’ Often it’s in the options on the File page.

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    1. Indeed. I think using Word for the first time in ages would have been less stressful if the options were still in the same place.

      But not being able to use my experience of previous versions of Office either just made it teeth grindingly frustrating.

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  2. I haven’t installed MS Office since they stopped giving it away free with Windows. My collaborator on Eisenstrasse sends me her docs in Ms Word format, and I’ll open it in a text editor to strip all the formatting from it, and then reformat it from scratch in Open Office.

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    1. Sadly more and more people I interact with use Track Changes, so my choices are use MS Office to deal with their docs, demand many people change their process to fit mine, or limit my current opportunities drastically.

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