Press "Enter" to skip to content

An office app usability rant leading up to an iWork tip

A few days ago, I was listening to episode 36 of the MacBreak Weekly podcast. After a very good discussion of the usefulness of 256kbps audio encoding, the panel sunk its teeth into the pros and cons of Microsoft Office's new ribbon user interface. The idea behind the ribbon is that icons on the screen represent various actions, and as you click on the ribbon, more related icons/actions are revealed. So at any one time, only a subset of the possible actions is visible. This is supposed to be easier to work with than the standard menus and toolbars that we're used to. I'm highly skeptical, because I've always disliked the way that toolbars take up half the screen in Microsoft Office, especially under Windows, and I have no idea what most of the icons are supposed to mean anyway. 苏州美睫美甲

But I'm reserving final judgment until I get the chance to work with the ribbon for a bit. I can't blame Microsoft for trying something new, though. When writing some text in the new NeoOffice, I was plagued by the little squiggly red lines under many words. Usually, I turn spellcheck-as-you-type off; after all, I am a Published Author and no computer—not even a Mac—is going to tell me how I can and can't spell words in the English language. That's what editors are for.

However, in this case, NeoOffice didn't just flag names and unusual words as spelled incorrectly, but also a lot of very common words. It's entirely possible that I don't spell as well as I think I do, but I'm pretty sure I know how to spell "and." Could it be that NeoOffice was using a different language than English to spell check my document? But where on Earth do I get to set the language for my text? It took me several minutes to find out that it's under the "character" menu. The logic behind this is probably that you may have a word or a sentence in a different language than the rest of a paragraph or the rest of the document, so it can't be a document or paragraph setting. But I'm pretty sure many people aren't going to look under the character menu when their spell checking is out of whack. Interestingly, in the old version of Word for Mac that resides on my system, this setting is easily found under the tools/language menu.

Apple's take, on the other hand, is slightly different: they use an inspector. For those of you unfamiliar with inspectors: they're little windows containing various settings that you can bring up and close as required. Inspectors are used in iWork, along with separate inspector-like windows for fonts and colors. After getting used to this system, I always found it to work well. The different inspector modes are accessible using icons—but only a few of them, so it's humanly possible to remember their function—there's no artificial difference between paragraph and character settings: everything is simply found under the big T for text.

There's just one little thing that always bugged me about the inspector: often, it's necessary to switch between different inspector modes frequently, which can get annoying. Turns out that as of Keynote version 1, which I've had since 2003, you can bring up multiple inspectors (under the "view" menu), so you can have immediate access to two or more different modes without the need to switch.