REMEMBER the popular anti-Microsoft cartoon from the eighties, explaining that the problem a computer user was experiencing was an intended “feature,” not a program “bug”? Well, if you don’t, here it is, on the left.
I use it to illustrate the point that many programs, not just those from Microsoft, have not only bugs but other code items, sometimes designated “features,” sometimes called “Easter eggs,” sometimes “bugs”.
When computers were first becoming popular in the 1970s and 1980s, they came with bound paper manuals. With their indexes and tables of contents, they contained a pretty thorough explanation of the features for that program. Problem was, however, nobody read through them. People would just dive into the program and, if they encountered a problem, they might try to look it up in the manual, but more likely would call a friend or technical support (which was actually free in those days, believe it or not).
When computer manufacturers were made aware of this, they discontinued the physical manuals, first putting them on the installation CDs/DVDs, later as a link to a website. This cut costs, as manuals are quite expensive to print, and resulted in reducing the overall price for computers.
Unfortunately, many of the hidden elements that were included with those programs are still there, but there is no easy way to unearth them. You have to hear about them or scour the internet in search of these hidden gems.
While it would be impossible to list even a fraction of these elements, at least we can try to show you a few right here.
First, however, some elemental distinctions:
Easter Eggs are an unexpected surprise, perhaps a message, image or sound, hidden in a web site, movie DVD, game or application program. Even Windows (Microsoft Bear and Bunny, but not “Bob,” which was in plain view) and Apple (Mr. Macintosh). Easter eggs are hidden features placed by programmers, which do not play in sequence with the main program and require sleuth to discover and play. They may take the form of an extra level in a game, funny picture of the developers or link to a contest. Microsoft used to embed Easter Eggs in their early operating systems (they stopped at Windows 7) and programs, like Microsoft Office. Unfortunately for Easter Eggs, Microsoft and others now officially ban the practice (Microsoft as part of their 2005 Trustworthy Computing Initiative) because of the increase in malware caused by using undocumented code embedded into applications, which can also be used to compromise sensitive or confidential data. The eggs themselves vary depending on the version of the operating system.
Features, on the other hand, are code elements added by program developers that allow users to do certain unusual or uncommon things with the program. Features, like Easter Eggs, also vary with the version of the program into which they are written. They are usually documented, but sometimes not. And they may work in earlier versions or programs but not always newer versions, which may have their own features. Features are found more often in work programs, while Easter Eggs are more prevalent in games.
Examples of features found in various Microsoft programs include:
Tips (early MS Word versions included a “Tip of the Day”)
Office 97 contained a hidden flight simulator (in Excel), pinball game (Word) and Magic 8 Ball toy (Access) and sometimes a hidden Doom-like game in Excel. In the Win2k and XP pinball games, typing “hidden test” when active starts test mode, where the user can drag the ball with the mouse cursor or press “H” instantly to get a high score, “R” to increase rank, and “bmax” to get unlimited balls, for a continuous game, as well as other commands.
Office 2000 included a 3-D Dev Hunter (a la Spy Hunter) game. And the game Hover is built into the Win95 CD. In Win2k and XP, Minesweeper is a feature, and if a user types “xyzzy” while pressing shift and enter simultaneously, you can tell if a mine is in a square because the top monitor (not game) pixel will be white or black, showing mines.
Macs included the Asteroids game.
Most versions of Windows have a developer credits page, some even with music and animation.
Getting to some more useful productivity examples of features in MS Office, consider the following:
If you are testing typing or experimenting with formatting, for example, and don’t want to open an existing document, a function feature in word allows you to quickly create varying lengths of text. Typing =rand(X,Y) (with numbers for X and Y) results in X paragraphs of Y repetitions of the sentence. For example, =rand(10,10) will produce ten paragraphs, each with ten repetitions. Microsoft has officially described this as a feature and not an Easter egg. In Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010, the repeated sentence is replaced with a longer text. Additionally, typing =lorem() provides a paragraph of Latin text.
Same for testing audio: Early versions of Windows had embedded MIDI and .WMA files to be used by technicians to use for diagnosing playback problems. (Current files may be ONESTOP.MID, FLOURISH.MID or TOWN.MID)
Excel has a “datedif” function, available in early versions and still available (although undocumented) which calculates the difference between two days, months or years between two dates.
For the differences between features and updates, upgrades and more, see the definitions regarding Extensibility vs. Forward Compatibility and Upgrades vs. Updates.
As depicted in the “features, not bugs” cartoon at the beginning of this article, we all know that virtually all programs have bugs. Bugs are flaws in the program code (or sometimes hardware, see the Bug definition for the actual derivation of the term) that cause unwanted and unintended consequences. When revealed, they have to be patched (computerese for “fixed,”; See updates link above) in order to solve the problems that users are experiencing.
I hope this helps. For some people, it provides endless hours of research and amusement. For others, even more frustration.