surprised by Microsoft

I had thought I had got used to the ineptitude of Microsoft programmers, that nothing would surprise me any more. However, yet again their inventiveness in producing obscure yet damaging effects has once again amazed me.

Some colleagues and I had a paper reviewed for a conference and when we received back the reviewers’ comments one of them mentioned that the document had track changes on. 1
As my colleague had been away, I had been responsible for the final upload so thought that it was me who had messed up. I looked at the final version I had produced and then the anonymised version I had uploaded. They both looked free of change marks on screen and sure enough when I checked the highlight changes dialogue box, sure enough nothing was selected and ‘Track changes’ was off.

track changes dialogue

I sent this copy to my colleagues (on Windows machines, I was on Mac) and they could see the changes. Obviously the dialogue means that no *new* changes will be collected, but that older changes are still secretly hidden somewhere and furthermore even the setting to say they should not be visible, seems to be platform dependent!

I am used to floating figure problems between platforms and problems moving between machines attached to printers with different characteristics. I was also  aware that comments sometimes fail to show up when you switch platforms.  However, this trac changes bug  was new to me and reminded me of the ‘bad old days’ when Word’s incremental save meant if you opened a .doc file in a text editor you could see past copies of confidential letters or whaever the docuement had been edited from.

For us the damage was not to great, anonymity partially compormised through names on the changes and the occasional remark in a comment like “are we really making sense here” which I guess do not look that good to a reviewer!

However, if you are thinking of mailing anything confidential either make it a PDF or just send text … and I may take another look at Open Office!

Just imagine that last letter to a difficult client and all the words you delted before sending it 😉

  1. The submissions had been in Word … the lesson … always always always get submissions in PDF! [back]