Web Page Development: Word's Strengths and Weaknesses

Word 2003 is a viable choice for the nonprofessional Web designer who may be already familiar with Word and reluctant to learn a new application. Using Word, even people with no HTML programming language experience can create basic Web pages with ease, including popular features such as scrolling text, frames, and cascading style sheets. However, Word lacks some of the high-end Web design features of an application like Microsoft FrontPage 2003 or Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, so someone who does Web design for a living would likely not choose Word for that work.

Word makes Web design easy by shielding the user from the raw coding, instead allowing the user to work in a familiar WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) environment in which formatting can be applied with toolbar buttons and menu commands. Then when the document is saved, Word converts all that formatting to HTML coding that Web browser applications can understand.

Web Technologies Supported in Word

Word 2003 is similar to Word 2002 in its Web design features. Word supports all the basic HTML codes that you would expect for formatting, plus several other technologies and scripting languages and supplementing traditional HTML code. The most notable improvement in Word 2003 is the enhanced support of XML (eXtensible Markup Language), covered in Chapter 25, "Using Word to Develop XML Content and Use XML Applications."

Word supports all these types of Web content:

  • HTML. Hypertext Markup Language is the lingua franca (medium of exchange) of the World Wide Web. Almost every Web page is built with this language. HTML, a simple formatting and organizational language, is ideal for the display of text, simple graphics, and hyperlinks. It doesn't do anything fancy like search a database or pop up dialog boxes. The appeal of HTML lies in its ease of use and universal acceptance.

  • CSS. Cascading style sheets are used to define the layout of a document precisely. Style sheets are more powerful than the styles found in Word because style sheets can also specify page layout. A style sheet can be a separate document, or it can be embedded in each HTML page. Because browsers have different capabilities in how they interpret these styles, they interpret what they can and ignore the rest; that is, they cascade down in their interpretation and display what they are able to.

  • XML. EXtensible Markup Language is more robust and extensible (hence its name) than HTML. You can define new tags and their uses at any time and in any way by referencing them in an associated text document. The strength of XML is its capability to use these new tags to identify specific information. This technology vastly improves the users' abilities to find specific-subject Web pages and opens the Internet up to even more data mining. Chapter 25 deals with XML in detail.

  • VML. Vector Markup Language uses text to define geometric shapes, colors, line widths, and so forth. These words are then interpreted and displayed as graphical images in browsers that understand VML (Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 and higher). No matter what size circle you want to display, you use the same amount of text to define it. VML reduces the bandwidth required to send a graphical image from a Web server to a browser. This improves the browser page load time, improves image quality, and helps reduce Internet or intranet network congestion.

  • JavaScript and VBScript. Both of these script-style programming languages are in common everyday use on the Web right now. These languages handle simple programming tasks without having to load a separate application. JavaScript is supported by the vast majority of browsers; VBScript is supported by only Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers. These languages enable you to program interactivity into Web pages.

You don't need to know how to use each or any of these technologies to build or edit Web pages in Word 2003. However, if you are an experienced Web page designer, it's nice to have these tools supported in Word so that you need not turn to some other editing program simply because you want to use one of them.

Web Page File Formats

When Word saves in Web Page format, it creates a file that contains all the HTML coding needed for display in a Web browser, plus all the Word coding needed for full-featured editing and display in Word. Therefore, you can switch freely between Word and a Web browser and the file will look the same in both places. Microsoft calls this interchangeability of file formats round-tripping, and it works with Word 2000 and higher.


Round-tripping applies only to Web pages created in Word. If any other Web page is edited in Word, it may or may not look like it originally did after it has been saved in Word.

This beefed-up Web page format that Word uses can display most Word features on a Web page. These supplementary technologies increase the capability of HTML so that Web pages can display Word-specific formatting and features that pure HTML does not support.

However, round-tripping comes at a cost: The file sizes of the HTML files generated by Word are larger than those for regular HTML because they contain all that extra code for Word support. Therefore, Word 2003 also offers an alternative mode called Web Page, Filtered that saves in pure HTML without round-trip support for Word. A filtered HTML file is identical to one you would create in a pure HTML editing application such as Dreamweaver.

Word also offers support for MHTML (MIME HTML), a file format that creates a single file out of a Web page that might ordinarily require support files. For example, suppose you have a Word document that contains a graphic. If you save it in either regular Web Page format or filtered format, Word will create an HTML file (.htm) and a support folder containing a separate picture file. This can be awkward to distribute to others via email. With the Single File Web Page (.mht) format, the Web page file contains both the text and the graphics with no need for support folders or files. The only drawback is that some older browsers are not able to display MHTML files.


MIME is an encoding scheme for sending graphics and formatted text via email. It's been around for a long time, and most email programs support it.

Word Features Lost When Saving in Web Format

Some weaknesses in Word's capability to translate all its features to Web pages still exist, even with the latest improvements. Here are a few Word features that do not transfer when you save in any of the Web Page formats:

  • Versioning

  • Passwords

  • Word file headers/footers

  • Newspaper-style column flow (though the text is unaffected)

When you use versioning, only the latest version number of the Word document is included in the HTML source. The reason for the lack of support for passwords is that typically on a Web site, the Web server controls passwords, rather than individual documents (or pages) doing so.

The lack of support for columns and headers/footers occurs because Web browsers simply have no functionality (that is, there is no HTML equivalent) to display these formatted items. When the Web page is reloaded into Word 2003, however, columns and headers and footers are restored. Because these "translation" problems are due to shortcomings in HTML or other Web technology, Microsoft simply cannot create a version of Word that is 100% compatible with Web pages.


If you plan to edit your Web pages in an HTML editor application, save them as filtered Web pages. Many HTML applications have trouble dealing with Word's extra formatting codes that it places in a standard Web page document.

Why You Might Not Want to Use Word

When you have a choice between an application designed for a certain purpose and one designed for a more generic one, you will usually find that the specific program does its task better and with less effort. That's true with most of the higher-end full-featured Web design applications.

If you are designing a commercial Web site that will have a lot of pages and some complex linking requirements, you will find the job much easier in an application like FrontPage 2003 or Dreamweaver MX. These programs have all kinds of great shortcuts and wizards for creating, formatting, and debugging HTML code and active Web content. Although Word will serve as a vessel for many kinds of Web objects, such as JavaScript and VBScript, it doesn't help you generate those items in an automated manner.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word