An American Editor

August 11, 2010

Why, Microsoft, Do You Insist On Torturing Me?

I admit that as between a Microsoft world and an Apple world, I’m in the Microsoft camp. I prefer to have my computers custom built with the best components I can buy, rather than being told I need to settle for what someone else has decided is good enough. It’s also a reason why I go to a local shop to have my computers built rather than buy from a mass merchandiser like Best Buy, Dell, or HP.

Occasionally, over the many years I have been using computers, Microsoft has come up with a winner or two. (Can we forget Windows 98/Me?) For me two winners of “recent” vintage were Windows XP (especially with Service Pack 3) and Word/Office 2003. XP worked and worked and worked, essentially without a problem. Similarly, Word/Office 2003 kept on chugging, letting me get my work done efficiently, and all consumer versions, including the Student Edition, included Outlook.

But the Microsoft world moves on and this past weekend, while I was away for 4 days, I had my local computer shop upgrade my system from XP to Windows 7. Subsequently, I added Word/Office 2010 to my system.

Clearly the best way to move from XP to Win7 is with a completely fresh install, which is what I did with one of the computers being upgraded. But I couldn’t do that on my workhorse computer. I am too busy and it would take too much time to install and recustomize all of the programs I rely on to get my work done. So I opted for a temporary solution. I had all the hard drives on my workhorse converted to removable drives. I actually did this for a couple of reasons. One is related to the Win7 upgrade but the second is related to securing my hard drives when I travel. With removable hard drives, I can simply remove them and store them in a bank safe deposit box or have a neighbor take care of them for me while I travel. I do have several backup plans in operation, including Carbonite (which has saved me several times over the past couple of years), but this is just another bit of insurance.

The second reason I converted to removable hard drives for Win7 is that as a temporary fix I did the operating system upgrade path (Win XP > Vista > Win7); everything works just fine. But at the same time, I bought another hard drive for a fresh install of Win7. With this removable fresh install drive, as I have time, I can plug it into my computer, bootup, and install and recustomize my work programs; no need to take a couple of days and just get upgrading but no billable work done. After I am done setting up the fresh install drive, I can just swap drives effortlessly. (One note: Going the upgrade path meant I had to go for 32-bit Win7; but on the fresh install drive, I can go for 64-bit Win7.)

As far as Win7 goes, the upgrade was easy. It took my local computer shop a few hours to do the upgrade route on my workhorse and a few more hours to resetup my computer in my office, and almost no time at all to do the fresh install on our other computers plus a few hours to reset them up in our offices. While I’m at the “Finding Your Niche/Expanding Your Horizons” conference (which was discussed in A Gathering of Freelance Editorial Professionals), my local shop will create the fresh install drive for me and install many of the programs I need for work; unfortunately, they need my computer to create the drive or it would be done by now.

In contrast to my Win7 experience (and after a week of using Win7, I can say it is an excellent OS), is my Word/Office 2010 experience. One was a breeze, the other torture. 

As an editor I rely on Microsoft Word. It’s not because I love Word, but because my clients demand it. It brings a certain amount of standardization to manuscript processing and allows more forward-thinking clients to design templates for editors (and authors) to use. Also, Word comes with a fairly robust macro programming language, VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), which lets me, as well as clients, create efficiency enhancements. EditTools, discussed in The 3 Stages of Copyediting: II — The Copyediting Stage, is a good example of what can be done with VBA to make editing more efficient. I have invested lots of time, effort, and money into creating macros to better the editing process and into customizing Word to make it work most effectively for the job of editing. Word 2003 works beautifully for me in this regard.

Then came Word 2007 and Microsoft’s changes to how Word works. It was like going from Shangri-la to a Tim Burton nightmare. I tried it and it was so bad I passed on it. What took seconds in Word 2003 took minutes in Word 2007. Customizing the ribbons in 2007 was not easily done. I had to buy a book that discussed nothing else but how to reprogram the ribbons. After seeing how difficult customization was and how much more time it was taking to work in Word 2007, I junked the program (and fervently prayed that Microsoft would do the same!).

But I began noticing an increase in the number of manuscripts I was receiving that had been created in Word 2007. The temporary solution was Microsoft’s free converter, but it wasn’t a great or complete solution. So I waited for Word 2010 because Microsoft said the ribbon would be customizable. It is, but so what — it still isn’t easy to use if you have any long-term experience with Word.

Remember WordPerfect and WordStar? The transition from either program to Word was a cakewalk compared to the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2010. It is bad enough that Microsoft has decided it knows better how I should use Word than I do, but it also changed how macros are accessed and how they need to be written. So now I have hundreds of macros that need to be rewritten, I have ribbons with useless commands on them, and I have ribbons that can’t be removed and replaced with something more logical. Why, Microsoft, do you insist on torturing me? You could have made it a seamless transition. You could have given me the option to retain the Word 2003 setup. At minimum, you could have retained the VBA basics so that macros don’t need to be rewritten. Hours of work await me.

What Microsoft has done, besides making my life significantly harder, is typical of big business thinking: paternalism at its worst. Word 2010 is probably a truly wonderful program for the person new to Word or to the person who does simple things with a word processor — or, as seems to be true for many authors, the person who likes to play with formatting every line and character. But for the advanced user and for the user who has invested time and money into customizing Word to make it functional for his or her business, it is a nightmare, perhaps even a catastrophe in the making, at least until sufficient time has passed using it to make peace with the new paradigm and to get necessary macros rewritten. I suspect that 6 years from now, when Word 2016 is released and I need to upgrade again, I’ll be writing the same complaint yet again.

Microsoft truly knows how to make friends of its customers!

(Addendum: As I am discovering, there are signifcant changes in Win7 from WinXP, including where things are located and terminology. Consequently, I decided to buy a third-party manual. For Win7, I bought Windows 7: The Missing Manual [ISBN 978-1-596-80639-2] by David Pogue, the New York Times tech columnist. I spent several hours at my local B&N comparing Win7 books and decided that this was the best of the lot; plus it is an O’Reilly book, which usually means good quality.

Similarly, I decided that if I am going to make the transition from Word 2003 to Word 2010, I better get some help. So I also spent time with Word 2010 books and settled on these two: Microsoft Office Word 2010 QuickSteps [ISBN 978-0-07-163487-8] by Marty Matthews and Microsoft Word 2010 on Demand [ISBN 978-0-7897-4281-0] by Steve Johnson. The book I want but haven’t yet found is one that provides comprehensive coverage of Word 2010 macro writing.)

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