Microsoft Word in Office 2021 vs. Office XP

Even though Microsoft's venerable Office XP suite was released to general retail distribution in March of 2001, its word processor and spreadsheet components, Word 2002 and Excel 2002, were named after the subsequent year. At some point in its early history, I began using those two components on a daily basis, and continued to do so for more than two decades. They were generally quite functional and responsive. Also, they proved stable, except when used simultaneously with NaturallySpeaking Dragon speech recognition software — specifically, version 11.5, which I have used for many years. Sadly, under certain circumstances, Dragon will freeze up, causing Word and Excel to do the same — most often when I say Dragon commands or type keystrokes too quickly for the programs to process them, or some combination thereof.

After researching this misbehavior and trying some remedies recommended on various technical message boards, I came to the conclusion that the only sure solution was to upgrade both Office and Dragon to much more recent — and presumably much more stable — versions. Firstly, I purchased Office 2021 and installed it without any apparent problems. Secondly, I tried all of my Word and Excel VBA macros in Office 2021. Fortunately, no alterations needed to be made to the code itself, despite the more than two decades of presumed advancement of VBA. Unfortunately, this complete compatibility with old technology (characteristic of Windows) suggested a complete absence of such advancement. Thirdly, I implemented all of my Office XP customizations and settings — at least as much as possible — in Office 2021. Lastly, I began using these latest versions of Word and Excel every day, and uninstalled Office XP.

Newer Is Better, Right?

In no time at all, I began to miss my old companion, as the problems and annoyances with Office 2021 began to accumulate. Here is just a sampling of the glaring flaws and exasperating "improvements" recorded so far — and these are for Word 2021 only.

When using Office XP, all of the documents open in Word are contained within a single task in the Windows task manager, as one would expect. This makes it faster to jump from Word to another program. But when using Word 2021, every document has its own entry in the task manager, which makes it much more time-consuming to change to a different program — so much so that, if I have a large number of documents open, it's far too tedious to use the task manager and instead I must resort to using the Windows taskbar, which is awkward and requires retraining.

Perhaps some Office users are fond of the new "Ribbon" user interface, but I much prefer the tried-and-true menu bar of old, for several reasons: the toolbar itself takes up much less space than the Ribbon; the compactness of each menu reduces the time needed to scan through all of the options on any given menu; the text-only menu items are faster to read and less cluttered without the icons of the Ribbon.

One reason I have stayed with Microsoft Word for more than two decades is that it is the only word processing program I know of that has outline view, which allows one to organize text in a hierarchical structure, e.g., multiple Heading 1 paragraphs for the highest-level topics, and several Heading 2 paragraphs underneath each one for subtopics, etc., down to nine levels, with paragraphs of regular text interspersed throughout. Even better, with a single keystroke, one can limit the display (and search text) to show only, for instance, paragraphs of Heading 1 and Heading 2 — thereby showing the overall structure of the document unencumbered by paragraphs of regular text. In Word XP, the icons just to the left of each heading paragraph are not excessively large, and the icons to the left of each regular paragraph are but small dots, which are not distracting. In Word 2021, however, the former category of icons are larger grey circles containing a black plus sign, and the latter category of icons are large grey circles that make adjacent paragraphs look like bulleted lists.

When I set a new level of outline expansion, there's a noticeable delay in Word 2021. If the file is even larger, then the command is completely ignored and I have to execute it again.

Even though my Word 2021 DOCX files are, on average, less than half the size of my old Word XP DOC files, it takes Word 2021 so long to load large files that the built-in VBA subroutine AutoOpen() — which is supposed to be run anytime one opens a new document — is either skipped or is run after the document is opened (there is no diagnostic information indicating which is the case). Consequently, when that happens, my AutoOpen command ActiveWindow.ActivePane.View.Type = wdOutlineView (to initially set the document to outline view), invariably fails for large documents.

It takes Word 2021 so long to close large files that, for several moments after issuing the close command, the Word application shows nothing but a blank screen, and then displays the following "helpful" error message in a pop-up box:

Word 2021 spurious CD drive error message

My laptop does not have a CD drive. Good job, Microsoft.

Stable Is Worth It, Right?

Assuming that I'm able to put up with these and all the other operational and design flaws in Word 2021, the next step will be to purchase the latest version of NaturallySpeaking Dragon (which years ago cost $300 and now, in these inflationary times, costs almost $700!), and see whether it plays nice with Office 2021.

Moreover, it will be interesting to discover whether the latest incarnation of Dragon (version 16) generally works better than the one I began using more than ten years ago (version 11.5). Perhaps not, if its manufacturer, Nuance Communications, has adopted the Microsoft methodology of further reducing its commitment to product testing.

Copyright © 2023 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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