A PowerPoint 2013 mea culpa on wrapping text

Help text from PowerPoint 2013
Help text from PowerPoint 2013 (click to enlarge)

Every now and then, a human touch comes through in a software product that is otherwise devoid of any human touch. And it’s always a little bit of a surprise because we don’t think of software in the same terms as we do things that claim to be “handicraft” or “hand-made.” Software seems somehow divorced from the people and the culture that produces it.

But I’ve felt for a long time that software is an expression of culture because, after all, the people who create it do so in the context of their cultural boundaries. A software engineer doesn’t stop being what he or she is when writing software. People don’t abandon their taste for haggis or durian when they code. So, far from being mechanistic, I believe that software fundamentally reflects cultural stereotypes. That means that software products often express these stereotypes in subtle but clearly identifiable ways.

Germans excel at “straight jacket” products; workflow comes to mind. French software companies excel at “vision” (cf. Dassault Systèmes). American companies’ products reflect the American emphasis on creativity and directness.

Today, I wanted to wrap text around an object in a PowerPoint 2013 presentation. Searching in the product’s help, I came across the surprising mea culpa nearby (click on the image to read the text).

I’ll bet this documentation writer was an American, someone who wasn’t afraid of admitting an inadequacy and, in classically optimistic-American mode, a way of working around it. In our way of thinking, it’s no skin off anyone’s back to admit the product doesn’t do something the other Office 2013 products do with ease.

I was surprised — and pleased — to see the culture poking through in PowerPoint 2013.






6 responses to “A PowerPoint 2013 mea culpa on wrapping text”

  1. Lon Bailey Avatar
    Lon Bailey

    all very well until you realise the same apology text appears if you query the word wrap function for Powerpoint 2010…

    I don’t think it is because they are sincere, it is just a form letter. I’d believe it is real at first when I searched for word wrap in powerpoint 2010, then I checked whether it has been improved in version 2013 and I found your post…

  2. Jim S Avatar
    Jim S

    Thanks for recognizing decency. Corporations should encourage their employees to be genuine instead of rewarding them for being impersonal or for being imitation genuine.

  3. G Avatar

    Are you an MS apologist? There’s no kudos for them in saying this in their help system, that just saves them help desk time – it’s just sheer bloody arrogance that since the first PP in 2003 they haven’t fixed this problem

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      No, I am nobody’s apologist — as you can clearly see by reading a number of posts on this blog.

      However, when a company as big as MSFT is open, honest and direct about something like this — even if it was just someone deep inside the company who knew they wouldn’t get caught being human — it deserves recognition.

    2. brittany Avatar

      Seriously. It’s nice to ‘admit’ it doesn’t work but…there’s no mention of CORRECTING this problem. Instead, only cumbersome workarounds.

      1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
        Alex Neihaus

        I agree. But when’s the last time you heard a software company offer such a clear, unambiguous explanation of what their product doesn’t do.

        Most of the time, when you are talking to a software support engineer or, worse, a sales person, the product will do everything you’ve ever dreamed of — and more.

        Whoever did this must have been feeling frisky the day she wrote that help text because I’ve never seen another example like this — anywhere.

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