Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Office 2010 Beta Review Part 1 - What's Not to Like

You'll note that there's no question-mark at the end of this article's title. This is a list of what I don't like about Office 2010.

I've been using the Beta since November, which is a pretty good, long time to evaluate a piece of software. I wrote about a significant bug that I ran across back in December, but I've put off a full review for a few reasons. First, I kept thinking that at some point I'd use a few more of the applications enough to form an opinion about them. That just never happened, though, and it isn't likely to between now and June when it's available at retail. Corporate availability began last week. So today and tomorrow, I'll present my two-part review of Office 2010 based on the beta. I'm not sure when I'll get my hands on the full-release version, and if I'm not convinced that they've fixed these bugs, I might never bother. For the many nice, evolutionary upgrades from Office 2007 to Office 2010, I can't remember ever being so frequently and frustratingly distracted by bugs as I have been using the Office 2010 beta.

By far, the two programs that I've spent the most time with are Word and OneNote, and I found no significant bugs or major complaints in OneNote. I'd love it if it were easier to get statistics on the total volume of a OneNote Notebook - in terms of word count and number of pages - but honestly this is just for my own fascination. It's not a necessity of any sort.

I've also used Outlook enough to be familiar with it. I've got Office 2010's Beta loaded on my work/writing computer and I don't do much email handling on that machine. However, even with rather brief usage, I found a few things I didn't care for in the software.
  • The most minor issue was that a little icon in the upper corner of the Calendar pane disappears for some reason - it turns into a solid black square. It's a simple graphical artifact, but it's unexpected in a brand-new, fairly beefy PC running Windows 7 and Office 2010.
  • Next in order of increasing severity, is the lack of the nice big, prominent Send/Receive button that I use all the time. I'm a home user, accessing my mail from a hosted server at my ISP's datacenter. If left running, Outlook will go grab my new mail automatically every 15 minutes, but I always want to check and see what's waiting for me RIGHT NOW. To do that, I use the Send/Receive button that's always been right in the center of the toolbar on older version of Outlook. In Outlook 2010, you have two choices. There's a full-sized button you can use, but it's buried on one of the Ribbon tabs, meaning you need to click over to that tab, click the button, and then click a third time to return to the main (Home) ribbon. That's three clicks instead of one. Option 2 is to use a teensy little button that's up on the Quick Access Toolbar. It works, but it's small enough to be a nuisance to try to hit it.
  • Most irritating (and, to be fair, these issues are all irritants more than serious, debilitating issues) is the way Outlook's primary pane fails to adjust when new mail arrives. I prefer my new mail to appear at the bottom of my inbox list. I invert the "Received" column so that oldest mail is on top and new mail appears at the bottom. In older version of Outlook, this was never a problem - the list would shift up automatically to display new mail. In Outlook 2010, however, I've found I need to manually scroll down to see what's arrived (or even to know whether anything HAS arrived). This is annoying. It's exacerbated by the fact that the status bar at the bottom doesn't seem to tell me as clearly when Outlook has checked for mail and either found some or not found any.
The culmination of these admittedly minor issues is that Outlook 2010 feels a bit clunky, despite some positive changes like finally adding the Ribbon that the rest of Office got in version 2007. I'll delve more deeply into Outlook 2010's improvements in Part 2.

There's no doubt that I use Word more than anything else. I've been using Word 2010 for 4-7 hours a day, nearly every day, since I installed it in November. That's a fair amount of time. And I have to admit, I'm pretty fed up with the bugs. I literally end up swearing at this piece of software multiple times every day. It's pretty disappointing for a Microsoft Beta which, in my experience, usually have bugs that you have to dig deeply to find. These bugs are right out there, swinging in my face like... well, anyway, they're annoying as hell. I'm not sure if these are in order of severity - they're generally pretty equal for the most part.
  • I'm not sure it's fair to call this a bug, but after using OneNote quite a bit, I got used to using CTRL + Period (.) to start a bulleted list. In Word, CTRL + Period does nothing as far as I can tell. This seems like a simple omission and an inconsistency that ought to be fixed.
  • I've seen my Header/Footer fields suddenly toggle to "Display Field Codes." For no evident reason. Worse, none of the searches I did in help were useful in getting me an answer. I ended up having to search through various option screens until I found the right check-box. It was not a good day.
  • For some reason, Word 2010 regularly and inexplicably opens existing files out of my Documents directory as "Read-only." It's completely inconsistent and random - I can close that file and re-open it and it will open correctly. But almost half the time, it opens as Read-only, almost always when I want to save the file with its current file-name, making it especially irritating (particularly when I don't notice it's read-only until after I've made a variety of changes). This is well into the realm of baffling and completely unacceptable, and is one of the things I end up swearing about on a daily basis.
  • Template files often won't open at all, but they do create "ghost" documents that hang around in the background and cause issues when you try to do things like shut down Windows. I have a couple of custom templates I like to use, but the only reliable way to open them is through the "File...New" menus, rather than just double-clicking on the file like I usually would.
  • I've seen my text selection go completely haywire. By text selection, I mean the effect you see onscreen when you click and drag your mouse pointer over a section of text in order to perform operations on it - cut, copy, change font, underline, etc. In one case, instead of the text selection color being the usual light gray, it was changing, line-by-line or sometimes partway through a line, to various other colors. Sometimes the selection color was white, which was impossible to see against the white background of Word's workspace. Other colors included purple and even brown - sometimes all within the same click and drag operation. One chunk of text was in white, the next line was half purple and half brown, and then brown continued onto the next line. It was completely bizarre. This issue finally went away, but it took multiple reboots and probably twenty minutes of lost time as I open and closed documents, did help searches that told me nothing, looked for any option I could have hit by accident to cause this effect, and basically spent a lot of time swearing at my computer and this software.
  • Lastly and perhaps most puzzling, was my attempt to combine multiple documents into a single file, using section breaks to change the behavior of some fields in the headers and footers. This failed utterly - the fields, which I had inserted using the "header/footer" buttons on the "insert" ribbon tab, simply refused to notice when the document changed sections. For instance, I wanted to be able to change the chapter name in each section, but any changes I made affected the entire document. In thinking about it later, I determined that I probably shouldn't have used fields, but should simply have typed text into the footer, but given the "footer style" I had selected from the list included with Word, doing so always caused the formatting to go all funky and look wrong. In the end, I gave up trying to do this - it just didn't work. I might be able to get it if I were willing to put in the time, but I think I called it quits after an hour or so. I've been using Word for something like 20 years - when it leaves me feeling like a complete novice, I lose patience with it eventually.
  • Most irritating of all is the fact that Word constantly eats my insertion point. It just disappears. That's right, the blinking vertical line that's supposed to tell you where you currently are in the document. If you type something, it appears at the insertion point and the insertion point is supposed to move to the right as you type. You also use it when you want to use backspace or delete to remove characters, words, etc. But in Word 2010, mine very very frequently just isn't there. Nothing. Nada. I can click all over the document and the invisible insertion point will move, but I won't be able to see where it is. I've found that if I double-click on the header or footer, then close the header/footer, I'll get my insertion point back, but this is supremely frustrating when you're trying to make a whole bunch of edits quickly and have to constantly stop and reclaim your insertion point. This one literally gets me worked up into a rage. I haven't smashed or broken anything, yet, but if I were Bruce Banner I'd be huge and green after dealing with this bug for a while.
Combined, these bugs (and a couple of others, such as how sometimes I'll open the header or footer and there won't BE a close button to click, or sometimes the page number field will just be a black rectangle - another graphical artifact) have left me very disappointed in Office 2010. I really, really like many of the evolutionary changes that the Office team has made, and I'll cover those in Part 2, but if I get the impression that the release-version of Office 2010 has even a couple of these Word 2010 bugs still unrepaired, I'll be sticking with Office 2007 for the foreseeable future.As it is, only sheer laziness has kept me from uninstalling it already and returning to Office 2007 on that PC.