Saturday, May 19th, 2007

Okay, Microsoft's stupidity means that I have to retract the good thing I said about them yesterday. I had been pleasantly surprised to discover a setting in Word 2007 that allows you to set cursor movement to "visual" in right-to-left languages such as Hebrew.

Well, guess what? It only works if you don't hold <SHIFT> down. If you do hold <SHIFT> down because you want to select some text, the cursor goes back to its old "logical" behavior, moving in the opposite direction from the way it moves without <SHIFT>. That is worse than having no changeable cursor movement setting at all. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I'm switching it back, so at least the cursor movement is consistent within a language. Damn you, Microsoft!

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Okay, yes, this is turning out to be "whine about Microsoft" week, and I do have another complaint about Word 2007, but I also discovered something positive to balance it out a bit.

Something I do a lot in Word is adjust the spacing before and after paragraphs. Word 2007 still recognizes <ALT>-O, P to bring up the format paragraph dialogue box, but, as I abruptly discovered after my muscle memory kicked in, it no longer recognizes <ALT>-E to jump to the spacing after field in that dialogue box. For some reason, Microsoft in all its wisdom decided that no, the short cut for that field has to be <ALT>-F now, which would be annoying enough (yet another new keystroke to learn) but it doesn't work if you have support for right-to-left languages enabled because guess what? <ALT>-F is also the shortcut the brilliant Microsoft developers assigned to "Right-to-left" direction. Hello, you morons! We hapless users see After and press <ALT>-F and our text is suddenly the wrong direction. Fuck! I suppose that I should be glad that I can type <ALT>-B, <TAB> and get to the spacing after field by tabbing from the spacing before field. It seems the devious Microsoft developers haven't been able to force me to use the mouse just yet.


Speaking of support for right-to-left languages, my positive discovery in Word 2007 is related to that. If you're a regular reader, you know I've been taking Hebrew and as part of that had to figure out how to type in Hebrew. One quirk of mixing text from right-to-left and left-to-left languages in a single document is that when you use the left and right cursor keys sometimes pressing <LEFT ARROW> will move your cursor right and sometimes pressing <RIGHT ARROW> will move your cursor left (e.g., if you're editing LTR text in a paragraph marked RTL [say you have an English translation in the midst of a Hebrew paragraph]). I just figured that's the way it works and that it couldn't be changed, but nosing around Word 2007's advanced options, I saw one that says "Cursor movement: Logical / Visual." Apparently to Microsoft's brilliant developers pressing <LEFT ARROW> and sometimes having the cursor move right is "logical," but at least they offer the option of having <LEFT ARROW> act "visually" and do what's advertised, i.e., move left. I don't know if this option is new to Office 2007 or not, but I like it.

Update: Ugh, I take back my praise of Word 2007's cursor movement setting.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Word 2007 fears allayed and realized

Okay, having played with Word 2007 for less than a day, two fears of my fears about it are mostly allayed, and one is not.

The first fear was that Office 2007 would run significantly more slowly than Office 2003. The great conspiracy theory about computer software and hardware companies is that they're in cahoots to keep people always buying both new software and then new hardware. I don't know if hardware manufacturers such as Dell slip software companies such as Microsoft money under the table, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did because every time Microsoft adds features to its software, the software requires more power and thus people are motivated to buy new hardware. Vista is certainly all about this theory.

Word 2007's not horribly slow but this trick will speed it up a tad

So when I started up Word 2007, I was half expecting it to run more slowly than its predecessor. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Word 2007 starts up about as quickly as Word 2003.

Word 2007 up-to-the minute word count
Why on earth do I need
a pencil to dance on-screen
and count my words as I type?

And then I started typing. I'm a touch typist. I don't hunt and peck, I don't watch the keyboard, and often, if I'm working from a hard copy or from something in another window, I don't even look at the screen I'm typing in. I just expect that the computer will keep up with me, and usually it does. Not Word 2007. Sluggish, sluggish, sluggish. It didn't lose anything I typed, but it just felt mushy, like what in the world are you waiting on, Word 2007? And then I noticed it, the little pencil at the bottom of the screen, dancing as I typed. Word 2007 dancing pencil Type, type, type, dance, dance, dance. And next to it, a running count of how many words I've typed so far. Ugh, what a waste!

Luckily, this is one thing in Word 2007 that Microsoft permits users to customize. (More on the issue of customization later.) Right-click on the running word count in the status bar, select Word Count in the Customize Status Bar context menu that comes up, and poof! Word 2007 suddenly doesn't feel quite so sluggish. You can also turn off the dancing pencil — it's really Spelling and Grammar Check — and Word 2007 still checks as you type, marking up your document with its curvy red underlines as you go (which actually is useful).

Word 2007 doesn't steal too much space on my screen

My custom menu bar in Word 2003 (click to enlarge)

Now another fear about Office 2007 that I'd had was that the new-fangled ribbon would eat up a bunch of the real estate on my screen. Long ago, before Office 2003, before Office XP, I tweaked my menu bar and toolbars in Word and Excel to put everything on one row. I didn't like wasting blank space on the menu bar after the menus, and I didn't like wasting space by having two or three rows of toolbars below the menu bar, so I shortened some of the names of the menus, and I put the icons I used on the same row (Adobe didn't play well, wanting to have a PDF toolbar of its own, but I got around that too). So I was concerned last year to read reports about Office 2007's "fat-assed ribbon" and how much space it takes.

And sure enough, when I opened Word 2007, there was that damned fat-assed ribbon, taking up tons of space on my screen, looking ugly as hell, and, on top of that, not even customizable (unless you're a developer). But, Gott sei Dank, you can press <CTRL>-<F1> and the damned ribbon minimizes, and Word 2007 actually takes slightly less space on the screen (97 pixels vs. 105 pixels, measured from top of the window to the top of the page in print layout view).

Of course I've lost my customized toolbars and can no longer easily see information such as what the current style, font, or font size is.

Fears realized

So two significant fears are allayed but many more are not. The big one, of course, is that nothing can be customized, and it's pretty much true. It's no longer easy to customize things. It's not that I changed the menus in Word 2003 much (if I had, I'd be fucked when it comes to Word 2007 and its support of Word 2003 access key), but I did write some macros to do things like toggle smart quotes or easily switch between English and German, and I'd been able to add these functions to Word's menus. Not any more.

Well actually you can add macros to the Quick Access Bar, but Microsoft doesn't allow you to put a text label on them, only icons, and you don't get to pick the keyboard shortcuts. The first thing on the Quick Access Bar is <ALT>-1, the second <ALT>-2, etc., so I'm going to be learning new shortcuts, damn Microsoft!

Of course, Microsoft promised its Office 2003 power users that we wouldn't have to learn new shortcuts. Even though the Office 2003 menus would be gone, we'd still be able to type the keystrokes we'd learned to navigate the old menus, and they'd work in Office 2007 anyway. Well, as with so many promises in life, it's only half true (like when I was told I'd get ice cream after I got my tonsils out when all they had was jello). In Word 2007, when you press <ALT> and a Word 2003 menu shortcut, a fancy "Office 2003 access key" window pops up to acknowledge that yes, Word 2007 knows what you want to do and is ready to support you. But it's really there to mock you, not support you. Just because we're power users doesn't mean we navigated Word 2003's menus blindfolded — we still could see and didn't have to remember all the shortcuts by heart, but not in Word 2007 — if you don't remember the Word 2003 menus by heart, you're unworthy of using the old shortcuts!

And more importantly, Office 2007's support for Office 2003 access keys is severely limited. For example, something I do a lot in Word is set up tables, and in Word 2003, I'd press <ALT>-A, I, <ENTER> to insert a table. Press those keys in Word 2007, and the "Office 2003 access key" window laughs at you! You moron, you can't hit <ENTER> to select a Word 2003 menu item — you have to know the shortcut. So even though I've pressed <ALT>-A, I, <ENTER> a thousand times to insert tables, now I have to press <ALT>-A, I, T. Table properties? I always typed <ALT>-A, <UP ARROW>, <ENTER>. No more! You can't use arrow keys to navigate Word 2003 menus in Word 2007. Damn you, Microsoft!

And not only that, but I discovered the hard way that Office 2003 access keys ignores entire menus. Something I do often is Page Setup (<ALT>-F, U). What does <ALT>-F, U get me in Word 2007? Not even the mocking "Office 2003 access key" window. Nope, Microsoft lied when they said they were doing away with menus and replacing them with the ribbon. The File menu still exists in Word 2007, and <ALT>-F brings up Word 2007's File menu, not Word 2003's, and on Word 2007's file menu there is no page setup! Argh! No, in Word 2007, your only choice is to type <ALT;>-P (page layout), S, P.

Actually for page setup, you can also type <ALT;>-P (page layout), M (margins), A (custom margins). Nosing around after my handy dandy page setup shortcut keys no longer worked, I found the page layout ribbon, which includes a bunch of presets for various margins. So if I want 1-inch margins all around or half-inch margins all around, I might be able to get them more quickly than I could in Word 2003 (Half-inch margins in Word 2007? <ALT>-P (page layout), M (margins), <DOWN ARROW>, <DOWN ARROW>, <ENTER>. Half-inch margins in Word 2003? <ALT>-F, U, .5, <TAB>, .5, <TAB>, .5, <TAB>, .5, <ENTER>). The difference is that I didn't even have to think about it in Word 2003, and I do in Word 2007. Ugh, it's going to be a long process.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

If you've visited my classes page lately, you'll have noticed that I'm taking Hebrew this quarter.

Although it's not part of the class, I've spent some time figuring out how to set up my computer to type Hebrew. It wasn't all that difficult — you have to go to the Languages tab on the Regional and Language Options control panel, check "Install files for complex script and right-to-left languages," and then click "Details" where you can "Add" the "Hebrew" keyboard layout. You need your Windows XP installation CD. After a reboot, you'll see a new Language taskbar, and you'll be all set to type in Hebrew.

Before you reboot, though, you might want to activate some keyboard shortcuts to make switching between languages easier. You do that on "Key Settings" in the dialog box where you add keyboard layouts. Check "Switch input languages" and then choose whether you want to use CTRL + SHIFT or Left ALT + SHIFT to switch languages. If you don't do this when you first set up language support, or if you want to change this afterwards, you have to reboot for the changes to take effect (ugh @ Microsoft).

Language bar
Click on
this every
time I want
to switch
When I started I ended up with CTRL + SHIFT as the hotkey for switching languages, and I repeatedly found myself in Firefox with Hebrew turned on when I didn't want it. Finally I realized that's because CTRL + SHIFT + TAB is Firefox's shortcut for switching to the prior (next one to the left) tab, something I do all the time.

So I brought up language settings again, switched the hot key to Left ALT + SHIFT, rebooted, and was happier. But not completely happy. I don't think ALT + SHIFT is part of any other shortcut I use, but I still would find myself suddenly with Hebrew as the active keyboard layout when I hadn't intended for it to be. Not a horrible big deal. Look down at the language bar, confirm that yes, HE is showing, press Left ALT + SHIFT, see it switch to EN, backspace over stuff and start typing again.

But today, after a couple weeks of it, I figured I couldn't be the only person annoyed by it. One solution is simply to turn the hotkey off for switching languages, but that would mean having to use the mouse when I did want to type in Hebrew, not something I find acceptable (I really, really like being able to use the keyboard to do things). Luckily, after some determined Googling, I found that in fact Mike Matsnev (a student or a professor in the Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics department at Moscow State University) was so annoyed by all this that he wrote a utility that lets you set up any key to be the hotkey to toggle languages. I went one more time to language settings, turned off the hotkey, rebooted and then typed "lswitch 19", and presto, my Pause key, a key I never use for anything ever and won't accidentally hit, switches me between English and Hebrew. Beautiful!

Of course just because it's easy to switch between English and Hebrew keyboard layouts doesn't mean that it's easy to type in Hebrew. Besides the fact that I'm learning a whole new alphabet (alefbet)...

Sorry, while I'm on the subject of the Hebrew alefbet, if you're not familiar with it, you may have heard that it has only 22 letters. The English alphabet has 26 letters, you might say to yourself, how hard can it be to learn the Hebrew alefbet? Well whoever says Hebrew has only 22 letters is misleading you. First there are 5 letters that have a different form if they fall at the end of a word. Then there are 3 letters whose pronunciation changes if a dot is added to them. That makes 30 letters by my count. But these are just consonants. Modern Hebrew omits vowels. But if you're learning Hebrew, in particular Biblical Hebrew, which includes vowels, you have to learn additional "letters" or "points" (Niquid) for the vowels. There are over 16 combinations of those points for vowels. So by my count the alefbet has over 46 letters.

But that's not all. Just as some letters in English appear differently when printed as opposed to when written in cursive handwriting, so does Hebrew. To my mind (just now grappling with learning Hebrew), the differences between Hebrew printing and handwriting affect just about every letter, so that's almost double what I have to learn.

... I have to learn the Israeli keyboard layout, which is designed for the convenience of native speakers and typers of Hebrew, not for American English speakers. (For example, to type a Bet including its Dagesh dot, I have to type [with caps lock on] SHIFT-C SHIFT-=.) There are some helpful sites that have charts of how to type Hebrew, but I didn't find any that had everything. Plus I found a font for Hebrew handwriting, Shalom, which lets me prepare cheat sheets, etc., as they'd appear if I'd written them out. The deal with Shalom, however, is that it's mapped differently than the Israeli keyboard, with letters mapped to keys based on how they sound (to type a Daled in Shalom you press "d" instead of the "s" you'd press in the Israeli layout).

So I created a handy-dandy chart of my own that lists all the letters both typed and handwritten along with the English letters I have to type on my keyboard to get either print or handwriting. And the last column has the sound each letter makes. Nifty, huh?
Friday, April 21st, 2006
Well I just discovered that Firefox 1.06 for MacOS doesn't have the <RIGHT COMMAND>-arrow key problem for switching between tabs. You can actually hit <CTRL>-right arrow or -left arrow to switch tabs. Yay!
Wednesday, April 19th, 2006
Mac users are chained to their mice

I'm taking one class this quarter at Wright State, and it meets in Allyn Hall, which has one of the university's few Apple Macintosh labs. I get to class fairly early, mainly because of parking but also to give myself some time to check e-mail and read.

Many people these days have never used a Mac, but I used Mac even before Windows, having worked at a publishing company when the original Mac came out. I even touted the advantages of Macintosh to my friend Jimmy when he was editor and I assistant editor of Rightfully Proud (a trashy bar rag that was Dayton's premiere gay newspaper at the time). Microsoft's Windows was a poor imitation of Apple's MacOS, made up of copied and stolen features.

I've been using Windows for a long time now, however, and having revisited MacOS in the lab in Allyn, I have to say there are some things Apple should copy from Microsoft now, and enabling keyboard users is probably the biggest thing! I'm on my computer (a fantastic Dell Inspiron 9300 widescreen notebook) all the time for work, school and other projects, and I can do tons of stuff using only the keyboard, in less time than it would take to put my hand on the mouse, much less move it and click. Sitting in front of an OS X Mac, I get frustrated because so many things I can do easily on Windows using the keyboard * simply cannot be done without a mouse on Macintosh!
  • Select a menu, any menu: On Windows, sure there are special accelerator keys defined for certain items, just as on Mac, but you can get to any item even if it doesn't have an accelerator key by pressing <ALT> and the appropriate keys. On Mac, there are a lot of accelerator keys defined (a lot! — who can remember them all?), but if there's a function that doesn't have an accelerator key defined, you're shit out of luck.
  • Jumping to the next word, the previous word, the beginning of the line, the end of the line: On Windows <CTRL> plus left or right arrow keys will jump forward or back a word and with <SHIFT> down will select text; <HOME> and <END> will do the same to the beginning and end of lines. Office programs such as Word on MacOS work similarly (thanks Microsoft!), but try to do the same in say, the address bar or a form field in Safari, and you get nothing.
  • Speaking of form fields, on Firefox and IE in Windows, you can <TAB> to the next field, including radio buttons and checkboxes, which you can then select with the <SPACE> bar. On Macintosh even in Firefox, you can <TAB> between text input fields, but it skips blindly past checkboxes, which you can't check without a mouse.
  • Apple can't claim to be too good to copy from Microsoft since they did implement <COMMAND>-<TAB> to switch between running programs, but their implementation of that Windows 3.1 feature has broken the ability to insert a tab character within a table cell in Microsoft Word. You do this with <CTRL>-<TAB> on Windows, but on MacOS neither <COMMAND>-<TAB> nor <CTRL>-<TAB> works (yes, Mac keyboards have <CTRL> keys, something the original Mac's clunky keyboard lacked, but MacOS doesn't make much use of them). I ended up copying and pasting a tab from another cell.
  • MacOS does have the latest version of Firefox, a great browser whose fame comes in large part from its tabbed browsing experience, but if you want to switch easily between tabs in Firefox on MacOS, don't try <CTRL>- or even <COMMAND>-<PAGEUP> or <PAGEDN>. The blame for this falls not on Apple but on the Firefox developers, but the great shortcut chosen to switch tabs is <RIGHT COMMAND> plus right or left arrow. That's the <RIGHT COMMAND> button only, not the <LEFT COMMAND> button — what contortionist thought of that? Clearly a Mac user who prefers the mouse.
  • Googling around I did hear tell of a MacOS feature called Univeral Access, through which I'm supposed to be able to press <CTRL>-<F2> to access menus, like <ALT> in Windows (so I guess Apple wasn't too proud to copy from Microsoft yet again), but I couldn't get it to work on the iMac at school, even after pressing <CTRL>-<F1> to turn it on and even after digging up the Universal Access control panel. Accessing menus with the keyboard is something so special that it can't be turned on by default, co-existing with mouse access?
Now I don't hate Apple, and I don't think Microsoft or Windows is perfect, and of course I do use the mouse (or trackpad in my case), but Windows seems much more user-friendly in this area, which given the reputations of Microsoft and Apple is really surprising.

*Most of the functionality I use on Windows but find lacking in MacOS is built into Windows, but I do use two great utilities that make my keyboarding even more powerful: WinKey and AutoIt. WinKey is by Copernic but is no longer supported, though you can still find it various places online. AutoIt is a great freeware automation (scripting) language. With the two I can press a key combination and do things like instantly move and resize windows or quickly enter logins and passwords. They're great alone and even better together!
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