February 16, 2013, 7:35 AM — Microsoft Word remains the world's beefiest and most popular word processing program. It's no easy task to simplify an application that has accumulated 30 years' worth of features, but Microsoft has improved the 2013 edition in several key ways, starting with a polished Read Mode and embedded PDF edits.
That said, though, not all of the tool additions, interface adjustments, and feature shifts make the program easier to use. Some aspects of the new Word are puzzling, and others are downright painful. Here's a look at the most baffling of these changes--along with solutions to a few choice problems.
1. Live Layout falls short
Word's new Live Layout feature is supposed to simplify the task of positioning images and other objects on the page. That sounds great, because reliable image positioning has been a problem for many versions. Unfortunately, though, Live Layout falls short of its promise. Many Word 2013 users report that images sometimes don't stay where they're put--and occasionally jump to another page entirely.
There's no easy solution to this problem, unfortunately. Drag an image around long enough, and eventually it settles down where you want it to be--most of the time. Some users are avoiding this capricious behavior by reverting to an older version of Word, but we can't say that this expedient qualifies as a fix.
2. AutoCorrect is considered 'clutter'
One terrible call on Microsoft's part was its decision to remove AutoCorrect from Word's Spelling Error Context Menu. In Word 2010, if you right-clicked an incorrectly spelled word, the program invited you to choose from alternate spellings. That feature is still available, but you can no longer choose to have Word correct the misspelled word fixed automatically every time you accidentally type it. Microsoft says that this omission reduces "clutter in the spelling error context menu" and thus helps users find popular commands faster, as well as fitting the menu on the screen much better. (Somewhat surprisingly, Word treats New Comment and Hyperlink as more popular commands than AutoCorrect for the spelling error context menu.) Regrettably, Microsoft also removed this option from the new spelling task pane.
3. The Dictionary is dead
For the first time, Word ships without a dictionary. Before you can look up a word from within a Word 2013 document, you have to download and install one of a handful of Web-connected Apps for Word dictionaries available from the Microsoft Office Store. Only then can you right-click a word, choose Define, and see the relevant definition. Unfortunately, those dictionaries won't work if you're offline, so pull your print Webster's out of storage and put it back on your shelf.
4. It's too easy to embarrass yourself
Edited documents no longer display bright-red altered or deleted text. Instead, Word's new Simple Markup feature hides tracked changes, marking them with nothing more than a subtle vertical line in the margins. This shift may soothe your ego if an editor has ripped your prose to shreds. But after you save and share a document, those hidden tracked changes could all too easily wind up being viewed by the wrong person--in some cases endangering your reputation.
Although Word 2013 has a setting that will warn you that you're about to save a marked-up file, you must activate the setting manually. (Why didn't Microsoft make it active by default, or at least park the option in an easier-to-find location?) To reach it, select File > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings > Privacy Options. Then choose the option to have Word pop up a warning message before you save, send, or print a document that contains tracked changes.
5. Compatibility Mode is complicated
When you open a .doc file from an older version of Word in Word 2013, the label "[Compatibility Mode]" will appear after the file name in the document's title bar. You can convert an older document to the new Word 2013 mode and to the new .docx format, but doing so is undesirable if the documents belongs to someone else--especially if that person is working with an older version of Word.
To know which specific features Compatibility Mode is blocking in a given case, you must know which version of Word the document is compatible with. To find this out, choose File > Info > Inspect Document > Check for Issues > Check Compatibility. Next, click Select Versions; the version of Word that your document was created in will be checked. Microsoft provides extensive details about the process online, but couldn't the company display this information in the document title bar?