Monday, June 14, 2010
A date with Microsoft
Is Bill Gates to blame? I don't know. But the heavy hand of Microsoft Word continues to plague me.
My office computer was recently upgraded (good!), which means I have a system which has reverted to all of Microsoft's defaults (bad!). I had subdued Word 2003 to my grudging satisfaction, but my new copy of Word 2007 has all of the bad habits back in force. The examples are many.
For instance, someone at Microsoft decided that its users really need the copyright symbol more often than they need to enclose the letter “c” in parentheses. Thus any attempt to write “(c)” instantly auto-corrects to “©”—a symbol I need approximately never. I am much more likely to (a) type in a list of items, (b) avoid Microsoft's intrusively clumsy outlining function, and (c) get a copyright symbol when I least want it. Naturally, I go into the auto-correct defaults and rip out the preset substitution for “(c).”
Even worse, though, in my estimation, is Microsoft's insistence on foisting superscripted ordinals on the world (which appears to have happily embraced them). Word won't let you write “1st” without turning it into “1st.” Ick. Whose bright idea was that?
The Associated Press Style Guide offers straightforward advice about dates: “Always use Arabic figures, without st, nd, rd or th.” Sounds good to me. Those are understood, aren't they? After all, when we look at a date like December 25, do you say “December twenty-five” or “December twenty-fifth”? I think most of us provide the ordinals automatically.
Unfortunately, my more literal-minded colleagues insist on the ordinal endings and—thanks to the default use of Word as their Outlook text editor—I get lots of e-mail sprinkled with dates written in superscripted ordinal form. Oh, good. Then, as is often the case, if formatting is lost in bouncing the message through various e-mail clients and servers, you get default plain-text messages with extra lines embedded to accommodate the ordinal superscripts. And for what? To accommodate an unnecessary formatting flourish, courtesy of someone's decision up in Redmond.
I can't be too harsh on geeks and nerds because that would be to accuse myself, but we do have some excessively soft spots for pointless gimmicks. When I first began to receive letters printed on monospaced dot-matrix printers with right-justified margins, I considered it to be a sign of the Apocalypse. Are you old enough to remember those? The only way to right-justify a monospaced text is to pad the lines with whole spaces to make the right margin come out even. Weird rivers of white space ran through the text as these interpolations were made. People were doing it simply because they could, ignoring the fact that such text was ugly and more difficult to read than ragged-right documents.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
Speaking of things I can do ... a few more forays into Word's default settings and I will have ripped the guts out of the stylistic peculiarities that drive me nuts. When it comes to breaking in a new copy of Word, that's always one of the things I do 1st.