Rick Schaut of Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit wrote recently about styles in Word 2004. More specifically, he writes about how they “reworked the functionality of Cmd-Shift-S for Word 2004.” This keystroke moves the cursor focus to the “Style” popup in the formatting toolbar. In previous versions of Word, if the formatting toolbar was hidden, it did nothing. In Word 2004, it shows the formatting toolbar and then moves focus to the “Style” popup.

I ran into this, quite accidentally, within my first ten minutes using Word 2004. I had a document open, and wanted to save it with a different name. Instinctively, my fingers pressed Command-Shift-S, which is the “Save As…” shortcut in TextEdit (admittedly, my word processor of choice most of the time). Instead of bringing up the save dialog, the formatting toolbar appeared! This confused me for quite some time. I tried to figure out what I had done. Command-Shift-S wasn’t associated with any menu item; pressing it again didn’t hide the formatting toolbar, so it wasn’t some sort of toggle. I tried hiding the toolbar and pressed Command-Shift-S again. Sure enough, the formatting toolbar reappeared, for no reason that I could figure out.

My first thought was that the shortcut invoked some complicated change, either to my document or Word’s view of it, that happened to result in the toolbar layouts changing (e.g., how switching to Outline Mode brings up the Outlinting toolbar.) But after trying it a few times, I couldn’t identify any such change. Perhaps I would have eventually noticed that the keyboard focus had moved to the Style popup and made the connection between “S” and “Style.” Maybe not—the Style popup is the first item in the toolbar, so it’s the natural thing to highlight when you open the toolbar. Maybe I would have given up and figured that Word simply had assigned Command-Shift-S to the “show formatting toolbar” command, and forgot to highlight the equivalent menu when performing the action. As it happens, I suddenly recalled Rick’s weblog entry, which I had read a week earlier, and realized what was going on.

Obviously, I don’t use Word very often, or I wouldn’t have been trying to use Command-Shift-S to Save As. If I did use Word and its style features frequently—and years ago, back when I did use Word for writing more often, I did use styles—I would probably find the new behavior a worthwhile addition, as Rick seems to. Somewhere, there is a balance between appealing to advanced users and being childproof for novices. In my case, I wasn’t trying to invoke the Style popup, I (essentially) pressed an accidental keystroke, and Word did something completely unexpected and unexplained. A less technically-inclined user probably wouldn’t have stopped to try to figure out what was going on; it would have made Word simply feel less friendly and more confusing—maybe even less “Mac-like.” But I wouldn’t want to take the feature away from the expert Word user. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this.