Why Is the Cursor Blinking in Microsoft Word?

By Ken Burnside

User interface conventions applied consistently make computers easier to use; done right and they make computers "just work." When they change, as they did in Word 2007, they cause confusion. While there are extensive interface changes in Word 2007 (and Word 2010) with the introduction of the Ribbon interface, Word's changes to how text insertion cursors are displayed is particularly baffling.

Original Purpose

When computers were less powerful and graphical user interfaces required a bigger percentage of a computer's processing power to manage, the first purpose of a blinking text insertion cursor was to attract the user's eye at the insertion point on the screen. When the user was typing, the cursor would change shape or become solid as a visual indicator about the behavior of the computer. Word 2007 and Word 2010 no longer make the cursor solid when typing is occurring.

Windows Defaults

The "blinking versus solid" convention is one that Microsoft has used throughout the life of the Windows environment. If you launch the Notepad text editor and type, you'll see the blinking cursor when the program is waiting for text and the solid cursor when entering text. The same will appear when entering text in Internet Explorer or other Web browsers.

Cursor Visibility

As computer monitor resolutions have improved, many of the user interface decisions made many years ago make less sense. Narrow cursors are harder to see on a 1920 x 1080 screen. As of the date of publication, no reputable source at Microsoft has explained why the blinking cursor behavior was changed in Office 2007 and later. The new blinking cursor behavior also shows up in Excel, Power Point and Outlook

Windows Workarounds

You can change the cursor blink rate in the Windows Control Panel. Click on the "Start" menu, and enter "Blink rate," then click on the result for "Change cursor blink rate." This will bring up a dialog box where you can change the cursor blink rate -- sliding it to "None" means the cursor doesn't blink at all. The Control Panel also allows you to adjust the width of the text insertion cursor. If the blink rate is set to "None," Word 2007 and Word 2010 will show the cursor without blinking in all cases. When you're done, click "OK" to save the setting.