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July 6, 2017

Track Changes Research

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

Late last year, I was hired to do some research on Microsoft Word. Not the current version, but Word 2003. It was the last major revision of Word before the 2007 update, which brought the Ribbon interface to Office and lots of angst to various users.

Apparently, someone out there considered me to be a “Word expert,” probably due to all the books I’ve written on it. I suppose it’s true: I’ve not only been using Word fulltime since 1994, but I have extensive documentation on how it works: Beyond my books, I have notes and, weirdly enough, I have copies of Word software going back for years.

For this particular job, I was asked about the Track Changes feature in Word 2003. It was an odd request, but still I cobbled together a Windows Vista emulator running Word 2003. (Vista was the current version of Windows in 2003, not that it mattered to Word.) I had to use an emulator because modern versions of Windows don’t like older programs. Further, because I was hired to do research, I wanted to recreate the PC environment from 15 years ago the best I could.

My specific task was to see whether it was possible to include revision marks or activate the Track Changes feature in a document and have that document re-open with the feature hidden. Bottom line: It’s impossible.

When revision marks remain in a document, the document always opens with the revisions visible. You must accept or reject them individually or en mass for the document to open normally. That’s how Word works now and how it worked back in 2003.

The Track Changes was called Revision Marks back when the feature was introduced either in Word 6. Since then, any document with revisions opens with the Track Changes feature active and the revision marks visible. You can alter that behavior in three ways:

First, you can write a macro that upon opening the document switches the text markup view to the original or final document. This trick isn’t possible in Word 2007 or later because the macro required is restricted for security purposes; the Document_Open() macro instruction is what caused the Melissa virus.

Second, you could change the text attributes of the revision marks so that they don’t show up as red underline or red strikethrough. With that modification, however, the document’s behavior is changed: Deleted text, for example, wouldn’t disappear from the screen.

Third, you can hack the document. Reset the option that shows marked-up text when Track Changes is used, though this technique is beyond the capability of most Word users. Also, it’s questionable that the document’s integrity could be maintained if it were hacked.

That was the result of my research. I won’t get into any more specifics on why I was hired, but it was a fascinating project. I’m pleased because it had a definitive answer, plus I learned a bit more about Track Changes. You can too, if you check out my Word For Dummies books!

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