Software

Working around a design flaw in Word 97/2000

If this minor design flaw is bothering your Word users, here's a simple workaround to keep their hands on the keyboard.


Recently, I got an e-mail from one of my TechRepublic colleagues proclaiming she had discovered a bug in Word 97. I checked it out, and it wasn’t so much a bug as a design flaw. However, it’s still an annoyance to Word 97 and Word 2000 users who prefer to use the keyboard over the mouse. Here’s the scoop.

You can’t close the Comments window with the obvious keyboard shortcut
When several people take editing passes on documents, as we do here at TechRepublic, we frequently talk to one another within those documents by inserting comments in the text. To do so, you open the Insert menu, choose the Comments option, and a new window opens at the bottom of the screen, like the one shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Here’s what your Word document looks like when you’re inserting a comment.


Here’s the problem: When you finish typing your comment, how do you close the window in which you entered it? Of course, using the mouse to click on the Close button works just fine. But what if you prefer to use keyboard shortcuts?

Based on your understanding of standard Windows interfaces, you’d look at the Close button and notice that the “C” is underlined; which means it’s the “hot” key. Therefore, you’d assume that you can press [Alt]C to activate that button from the keyboard. But no. You can press [Alt]C all you want to, and nothing happens—that Comments window stays open.

Here’s my workaround. At first, I thought this behavior was a bug. So I suggested this simple workaround: Press [Alt]W to open the Windows menu and type “s” to select the Remove Split option.

That trick closes the Comments window without forcing you to move your hand away from the keyboard to reach for the mouse. It’s not pretty, but it works.

Here’s the truth. Next I tried something different. I inserted a comment and positioned the mouse over the Close button. Lo and behold, the Microsoft tip text disclosed that the keyboard shortcut for activating the Close button is [Alt][Shift]C, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
By its appearance, the keyboard shortcut for activating the Close button should be [Alt]C, but it’s [Alt][Shift]C, which is difficult to execute with the left hand.


It’s worse in Word 2000
Microsoft didn’t change this behavior in Word 2000—you still have to press [Alt][Shift]C to activate the Close button. In my opinion, however, they made it worse. When you hold the mouse over the Close button in Word 2000, the tip text simply says “Close.” There’s no parenthetical mention of the [Alt][Shift]C shortcut!

How much does it matter?
In every other Windows application I’ve used, an underlined letter on a menu option or a button label means you can press [Alt] and that letter to open the menu option or activate the button. So why did the Microsoft Word team decide that the Comments window’s Close button didn’t need to conform to that convention? My guess is they implemented the awkward three-finger shortcut to distinguish it from a main menu option in a previous version of Word that was already using “c” as its hot key.

In my humble opinion, Microsoft ought to change it to [Alt]C. (Maybe in Word 2001?) In the meantime, users can press [Alt]W and then S to close the Comments window from the keyboard.
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