Ancient bugs in PowerPoint

As a researcher, I create a lot of PowerPoint documents - apart from its ubiquity in the professional knowledge worker world, it has decent visual editing tools and its one-page-at-a-time format helps structure narratives and data.

But there have been some frustrating usability bugs in PowerPoint that I've seen present since the dawn of time since at least 2006.

... 2006. Seriously.

Here are some that I can think of off the top of my head (and there are more):

spell-check: words added to the dictionary aren't stemmed or case-managed; e.g. adding "Arvind" still treats "Arvind's" as an error, and "misconstrual" is not in the dictionary even though "misconstrue" is.

scrolling: when moving around a zoomed slide or one with objects off slide, hitting the top/bottom view edge takes you to the previous/next slide, even though you’re probably trying to edit something only visible by scrolling to the edge.

shadows are turned on on all objects - even lines - by default.

pasting a slide into another ppt with a different aspect ratio squishes all shapes to fit, with no paste control options; changing aspect ratio also has the same effect.

edit points: control point handles will occasionally reset to a ‘remembered’ shape when another - adjacent? - control point is being adjusted.

text boxes: no visual indication when using the text-box tool that starting a drag in an existing shape will activate a cursor in that shape instead.

call-out boxes: adjusting the text box part of a call-out – whether due to adding to text or manual resizing – moves the callout line’s terminal point so it doesn’t point where it used to. callout lines cannot be anchored to the ‘destination’ object

guides don’t stick in place; when resizing an object aligned with a visible guide, hit or miss whether the guide will be moved instead of the object being resized; undo doesn’t apply to guide movements.

undo history is purged when saving; a user action taken to safeguard work also makes it impossible to undo mistaken edits.


There are a few other similar bugs in Word as well. (Caveat: I use the Mac version of Office. However, there's nothing in these bugs that is platform specific. Also, it may be more accurate to say that I've seen these bugs in the last 3 releases of Mac Office, dating them back to about 2006, and some to beta versions of Office 2007, dating to 2005.)

Clearly, something about usability at Microsoft Office is broken – most of these are fairly common and frequent actions. Shouldn't they have been fixed by now?

Because no one outside Microsoft Office will ever really know the actual reasons why, here are a few speculations on what may have happened:
1. these bugs weren't considered important enough
2. they are too hard to fix or there aren't enough developer resources for them
3. the related features are no longer being usability tested
4. these actions are too rare or difficult to observe, so the bugs haven't been noticed
5. they have been fixed on Windows Office but not for Mac Office
6. Office is too complex to ever fully test for usability
7. incompetence

I'll leave it to more experienced UXers and in-house researchers to decide which, if any, of the above are likely reasons. Please tweet at me if you have an insight into this.

I'll end with the troubling question: if a well-funded and experienced UX team at one of the world's wealthiest corporations, supporting one of the world's most used technologies, using conservative and well-tested methodologies cannot find and fix these relatively simple bugs, how good is the UX field, really?

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