Tuesday, April 2, 2013 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Avoid and Fix Word Document Corruption

Adam C. Engst:

For example, we found that automated cross-references often caused corruption in our Word (.doc) files, and we eventually banned their use in Take Control manuscripts. We also developed specific ways of working to reduce the impact of a corrupted document. Before opening a file, each of us would make a copy in a separate folder, and increment a version number in the filename, making it easy to revert to a previous version should corruption crop up.

[…]

Click at the very beginning of the corrupted document to set the insertion point there, scroll to the end of the document, hold down the Shift key, and click again just before the last paragraph mark in the document. (Various document attributes are stored in that last paragraph mark, so it’s a place where corruption can lurk.) Copy the selected text, switch to the new document, paste the text, and save with a new name.

Microsoft MVP John McGhie says you can avoid corruption by not using Word’s change tracking feature, direct formatting, or drag and drop:

Of course Microsoft Word is not perfect: it is built down to a price! FrameMaker is about 800 bucks a copy, and it crashes nearly as often as Word. InterLeaf is about $135,000 a copy, and it still crashes. I am sure that if all of the Word users in the world agreed to pay $250,000 a copy for Word, Microsoft would be delighted to fix all the bugs in it. But I am not willing to spend that amount of cash, so I put up with the bugs…

This makes me sad. Word has been corrupting my longer documents (15+ pages) since I began using it to write them in 1992 or so. Documents can become corrupted even if Word doesn’t crash. So I’ve avoided it where possible. Meanwhile, I’ve created thousands of pages of documents in FrameMaker and never once saw any corruption, despite all the crashes associated with running atop the classic Mac OS. Unfortunately, Adobe hasn’t done much with FrameMaker lately and never Carbonized the Mac version.

5 Comments

Adam Maxwell

Every time I have to write more than 2-3 pages in Word, I start missing LaTeX and BibTeX. After learning how nice automatic cross-references and citations can be (not to mention captions that actually stick with your graphic/table and floats that don't randomly obscure your text), it boggles the mind that people put up with Word as a matter of course.

"Of course Microsoft Word is not perfect: it is built down to a price! FrameMaker is about 800 bucks a copy, and it crashes nearly as often as Word. InterLeaf is about $135,000 a copy, and it still crashes. I am sure that if all of the Word users in the world agreed to pay $250,000 a copy for Word, Microsoft would be delighted to fix all the bugs in it. But I am not willing to spend that amount of cash, so I put up with the bugs…"

Was he on drugs when he said that?

I am sure that if all of the Word users in the world agreed to pay $250,000 a copy for Word, Microsoft would be delighted to fix all the bugs in it. But I am not willing to spend that amount of cash, so I put up with the bugs…

"This makes me sad."

As well it should. It's kind of a psychotic thing for a Mac Word exec to think, let alone publicly write.

"Word has been corrupting my longer documents (15+ pages) since I began using it to write them in 1992 or so. Documents can become corrupted even if Word doesn’t crash."

OTOH, I've actually had excellent results with Mac Word myself. I figured out his usage "fixes" a long time ago. (Another "fix" I'd add is to avoid using graphics.) And as a result, I've got a bunch of twenty year old Word docs, some of them quite long, and I've never experienced any corruption whatsoever with any of my Word docs. Not to mention that my Normal template that I extensively customized in 1996, (or whenever it was that Word 6 came out), still chugs along like a champ.

So, it's more than a little bit crazy that I had to train myself to use the app in such a way to avoid destroying my data. But, I ended up with a file format and workflow system with extreme longevity for the proprietary arena.

@Chucky To be clear, I think the Microsoft MVPs are not execs, but rather customers who volunteer in the forums.

@Michael: Yes, MVPs are professional users, not MS employees (http://mvp.microsoft.com/en-us/overview.aspx).

So while McGhie definitely knows his stuff, he may prone to a touch of fanboyism; hence his lamebrain defense of the essentially indefensible. Why bother advising users never to use the features that actually make Word more useful and productive than its competitors? He might as well just tell them to use one of those competitors instead: they still won't be able to use those features, but at least they'll save some money by buying the cheaper product.

Actually, I suspect the best advice would be for pro users to ditch Mac Word and install Win Word under a VM, because I'll bet the Windows version doesn't suffer a fraction of these bugs. Features like change tracking, annotation and autosave are essential to large writing projects; I lost count of the number of hours wasted and (apparently pointless) bug reports submitted while working on the AppleScript book due to these features screwing up. With hindsight, I wish I'd just junked Word 2008 and gotten 2007, which is what the publishers were happily using themselves.

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