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Why Microsoft Word must Die

I hate Microsoft Word. I want Microsoft Word to die. I hate Microsoft Word with a burning, fiery passion. I hate Microsoft Word the way Winston Smith hated Big Brother. Our reasons are, alarmingly, not dissimilar ...

Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination, a petty, unimaginative, inconsistent dictator that is ill-suited to any creative writer's use. Worse: it is a near-monopolist, dominating the word processing field. Its pervasive near-monopoly status has brainwashed software developers to such an extent that few can imagine a word processing tool that exists as anything other than as a shallow imitation of the Redmond Behemoth. But what exactly is wrong with it?

I've been using word processors and text editors for nearly 30 years. There was an era before Microsoft Word's dominance when a variety of radically different paradigms for text preparation and formatting competed in an open marketplace of ideas. One early and particularly effective combination was the idea of a text file, containing embedded commands or macros, that could be edited with a programmer's text editor (such as ed or teco or, later, vi or emacs) and subsequently fed to a variety of tools: offline spelling checkers, grammar checkers, and formatters like scribe, troff, and latex that produced a binary page image that could be downloaded to a printer.

These tools were fast, powerful, elegant, and extremely demanding of the user. As the first 8-bit personal computers appeared (largely consisting of the Apple II and the rival CP/M ecosystem), programmers tried to develop a hybrid tool called a word processor: a screen-oriented editor that hid the complex and hostile printer control commands from the author, replacing them with visible highlight characters on screen and revealing them only when the user told the program to "reveal codes". Programs like WordStar led the way, until WordPerfect took the market in the early 1980s by adding the ability to edit two or more files at the same time in a split screen view.

Then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, research groups at MIT and Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center began to develop the tools that fleshed out the graphical user interface of workstations like the Xerox Star and, later, the Apple Lisa and Macintosh (and finally the Johnny-come-lately imitator, Microsoft Windows). An ongoing war broke out between two factions. One faction wanted to take the classic embedded-codes model, and update it to a graphical bitmapped display: you would select a section of text and mark it as "italic" or "bold" and the word processor would embed the control codes in the file and, when the time came to print the file, it would change the font glyphs being sent to the printer at that point in the sequence. But another group wanted to use a far more powerful model: hierarchical style sheets. In a style sheet system, units of text -- words, or paragraphs -- are tagged with a style name, which possesses a set of attributes which are applied to the text chunk when it's printed.

Microsoft was a personal computer software company in the early 1980s, mostly notable for their BASIC interpreter and MS-DOS operating system. Steve Jobs approached Bill Gates to write applications for the new Macintosh system in 1984, and Bill agreed. One of his first jobs was to organize the first true WYSIWYG word processor for a personal computer -- Microsoft Word for Macintosh. Arguments raged internally: should it use control codes, or hierarchical style sheets? In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they're fundamentally incompatible and you can get into a horrible mess by applying simple character formatting to a style-driven document, or vice versa. Word was in fact broken by design, from the outset -- and it only got worse from there.

Over the late 1980s and early 1990s Microsoft grew into a behemoth with a near-monopoly position in the world of software. One of its tactics became known (and feared) throughout the industry: embrace and extend. If confronted with a successful new type of software, Microsoft would purchase one of the leading companies in the sector and then throw resources at integrating their product into Microsoft's own ecosystem, if necessary dumping it at below cost in order to drive rivals out of business. Microsoft Word grew by acquiring new subsystems: mail merge, spelling checkers, grammar checkers, outline processing. All of these were once successful cottage industries with a thriving community of rival product vendors striving to produce better products that would capture each others' market share. But one by one, Microsoft moved into each sector and built one of the competitors into Word, thereby killing the competition and stifling innovation. Microsoft killed the outline processor on Windows; stalled development of the grammar checking tool, stifled spelling checkers. There is an entire graveyard of once-hopeful new software ecosystems, and its name is Microsoft Word.

As the product grew, Microsoft deployed their embrace-and-extend tactic to force users to upgrade, locking them into Word, by changing the file format the program used on a regular basis. Early versions of Word interoperated well with rivals such as Word Perfect, importing and exporting other programs' file formats. But as Word's domination became established, Microsoft changed the file format repeatedly -- with Word 95, Word 97, in 2000, and again in 2003 and more recently. Each new version of Word defaulted to writing a new format of file which could not be parsed by older copies of the program. If you had to exchange documents with anyone else, you could try to get them to send and receive RTF — but for the most part casual business users never really got the hang of different file formats in the "Save As ..." dialog, and so if you needed to work with others you had to pay the Microsoft Danegeld on a regular basis, even if none of the new features were any use to you. The .doc file format was also obfuscated, deliberately or intentionally: rather than a parseable document containing formatting and macro metadata, it was effectively a dump of the in-memory data structures used by word, with pointers to the subroutines that provided formatting or macro support. And "fast save" made the picture worse, by appending a journal of changes to the application's in-memory state. To parse a .doc file you virtually have to write a mini-implementation of Microsoft Word. This isn't a data file format: it's a nightmare! In the 21st century they tried to improve the picture by replacing it with an XML schema ... but somehow managed to make things worse, by using XML tags that referred to callbacks in the Word codebase, rather than representing actual document semantics. It's hard to imagine a corporation as large and [usually] competently-managed as Microsoft making such a mistake by accident ...

This planned obsolescence is of no significance to most businesses, for the average life of a business document is less than 6 months. But some fields demand document retention. Law, medicine, and literature are all areas where the life expectancy of a file may be measured in decades, if not centuries. Microsoft's business practices are inimical to the interests of these users.

Nor is Microsoft Word easy to use. Its interface is convoluted, baroque, making the easy difficult and the difficult nearly impossible to achieve. It guarantees job security for the guru, not transparency for the zen adept who wishes to focus on the task in hand, not the tool with which the task is to be accomplished. It imposes its own concept of how a document should be structured upon the writer, a structure best suited to business letters and reports (the tasks for which it is used by the majority of its users). Its proofing tools and change tracking mechanisms are baroque, buggy, and inadequate for true collaborative document preparation; its outlining and tagging facilities are piteously primitive compared to those required by a novelist or thesis author: and the procrustean dictates of its grammar checker would merely be funny if the ploddingly sophomoric business writing style it mandates were not so widespread.

But this isn't why I want Microsoft Office to die.

The reason I want Word to die is that until it does, it is unavoidable. I do not write novels using Microsoft Word. I use a variety of other tools, from Scrivener (a program designed for managing the structure and editing of large compound documents, which works in a manner analogous to a programmer's integrated development environment if Word were a basic text editor) to classic text editors such as Vim. But somehow, the major publishers have been browbeaten into believing that Word is the sine qua non of document production systems. They have warped and corrupted their production workflow into using Microsoft Word .doc files as their raw substrate, even though this is a file format ill-suited for editorial or typesetting chores. And they expect me to integrate myself into a Word-centric workflow, even though it's an inappropriate, damaging, and laborious tool for the job. It is, quite simply, unavoidable. And worse, by its very prominence, we become blind to the possibility that our tools for document creation could be improved. It has held us back for nearly 25 years already; I hope we will find something better to take its place soon.

PS: I write for a living. And if you're interested in seeing what I write, my latest novella, "Equoid", goes on sale tomorrow (October 16th). At no point was Microsoft Word involved in its creation; and you can buy it as an ebook from all the usual stores, via the menu here.



Weird thing is, I've been having more problems with Scrivener than I have with Word on novels and novel-length documents. And so it goes, I'm afraid. Scrivenor's fun, but Word's easier to save in version trees mailed to drop boxes.

Ah well, I still remember the days when single-character screwups in the WordPerfect code could corrupt a whole document, or when translating from PC Word to some old Mac format and back would lead to corrupted email attachments that would fill up all spare memory on my hard drive as they tried to download. Just imagine calling a service now and telling them to delete the email from the queue. Or the mutating horror that was three people commenting on one document, about fifteen years ago.

Happy fun times. Now I just worry about taking more than four hours to format a 100,000 word document for a print on demand service. That really sucks. Yup.


Not to mention the danger of summoning up a Being of Utter Darkness by inadvertently running a Microsoft Word Macro that someone embedded in your Normal Template.

I warned my Science Ed Lecturer about it. And about Powerpoint. And did she listen? No. And now no-one's heard from her in weeks!




And even the gurus with job security hate it. I've been using Word regularly for twenty years now, and I tend to wind up becoming in charge of managing documentation in any office where I work by virtue of being the only one that can get documents to look consistent in Word.

The tragedy of it all is that its style sheet functions are fairly powerful, if buggy, but I've never found a way to convince normal users to use it in a way that doesn't introduce a ton of errors. It has three major issues for making document managers pull their hair out: formatting marks are turned off by default so users can't tell when they're doing something weird, ad hoc styles are the in-your-face way to format text, and it gleefully adds any styles pasted in from the web or other documents. I've lost track of the number of documents I've been given to fix because they started apply formatting incorrectly, and finding that the document had dozens of styles all ad hoced to look similar, line breaks mixed with paragraph returns, and tabs mixed with clusters of spaces... none of which any of the users ever noticed because they had their formatting turned off. The only solution is often to completely strip out all formatting, paste into a clean document, and hope when given back the users won't immediately mess it all up again.

So then, inevitably, I finally convince my managers to switch to something like InDesign which was more appropriate to what they wanted to do in the first place... and anyone immediately outside the team starts bitching that they can't get a .doc version of a document instead of a .pdf.

Which is to say, even for the business case documents that it's best tuned for, Word is generally heavily overdesigned for what most users need, introducing tons of problems that they might not even understand other than that they sometimes have to waste hours fighting with a document to get it to look right.


Companies these days will outsource infrastructure to the cloud or jobs to countries that pay lower wages if it will save a few bucks. The days of close level IT support are gone and any product that's needlessly complex and requires a higher ratio of technicians to uses will be chucked faster than you can say WordPerfect.

Software choice is often personal - but if the alternatives were as good as or better, we'd see the alternatives overtake Word the same way that Chrome has overtaken IE. Word is even "hampered" by the fact that you have to pay a lot of money for it whereas the competition gives itself away for free.

Is it really that Microsoft has managed to pull of some insanely elaborate conspiracy to force everyone to use their product? Or is it that they spend billions of dollars each year studying how people use their products in an attempt to stay far enough ahead of the competing products that companies that will do anything to save a buck perform assessments on how their people use the product and find that the cost of moving to an alternative, even if it is free, exceeds the cost of updating to the newest version of Office?


Sorry, couldn't resist that last comment. But I agree completely with Charlie. I've been using editors and word processors even longer, almost 40 years now. At one time I had to be a Word guru for my wife, who wrote several novels and a slew of short stories on an original model IBM PC with it. One of my tasks was keeping a small set of styles working as Word versions played Calvinball with the rules. Never again.


Hey, I love Microsoft Word! By which I mean Word 5.1 for Macintosh, which next month will be old enough to vote. It does all the formatting a writer needs, it has a spiffy outliner, it never crashes, and above all it's damn fast. I'm going to be sad when my PowerPC Mac finally dies and I can't run it anymore.

For my books I need to use Unicode, so at some point I sigh and copy everything into a more modern Word, which is slow, bloated, and regularly crashes.


I agree with the post, and with the comments about trying to get people to use the style tools. The added problem I have is that in my field of Requirements Management, most of the software tools available make a big deal about being integrated with Office. This means you can take your contract, design documents and so on, import them, and link requirements to each other. Except, of course, you have to have the documents formatted just so, and then they are being changed all the time, and it just adds a layer of import and export and cleaning up and effort, for little return. Engineers are too busy designing to worry about formatting, especially when it's with Word, even when Word is the tool they use the most.

The other thing about the styles issue is that most training tells the user to start with direct formatting, and it's not until you reach the "advanced" training that styles and structure are introduced, by which time the bad habits are ingrained.

This has been on my mind a lot recently. Glad others feel the same way.


I work at a research institute where all peer-reviewed articles are produced in LaTeX, by people using vi. Sensible, since the articles contain a lot of math formulas and they're easy to format in LaTeX.

I, however, produce annual reports, budget requests, research proposals etc. and do so in Adobe InDesign. When colleagues send me texts in Word, I open the document, export it as plain text, edit if needed in BBEdit (which doesn't suck) and then place it in InDesign where I format it using proper style sheets. If I didn't do this, InDesign would add the Word styles to my defined styles and muck-up the document. Also, BBEdit makes it easy to check for spurious line breaks and other nasties.

I always tell colleagues not to bother doing any formatting in Word since I throw it all away anyway. LaTeX files (which some send with math formulas embedded) are deTeXed and checked in BBEdit before placing. Then the math is typeset again... Such is the joy of producing print from different sources.


The way we got control of it was to give people a workflow that said "don't bother about any formatting whilst you write". No headlines, no figures, as basic and unadorned as possible. This had the advantage that they could use anything they liked to generate it.

Then we paralleled the review of the document content with the 'tarting up' of the basic content with predefined styles, macros and toolbars - making it easy to generate the house style. This had the added advantage that the reviewer concentrated on the content, not the pretties.

Finally the review comments were incorporated, by hand, into the final doc (bloody versioning causes more problems than it solves) - metadata tided up, and the doc issued (usually via a PDF).

More than once we had docs with embedded active objects and other secret data that had once been there, but deleted - when they had gone formatting first.

Keep it Simple Stupid - until the last possible moment.


I agree completely: Word 5.1a for MacOS did not suck. (It wasn't bloated by modern standards, either: the entire installation came on three 1.44Mb floppies.)

Unfortunately, it's been downhill all the way since then, and that's a product they shipped in 1991 ...


"But one by one, Microsoft moved into each sector and built one of the competitors into Word, thereby killing the competition and stifling innovation" Anyone remember the i4i lawsuit about custom XML which they built into Word 2003?


Your comment translates as "This cider really isn't a very good beer".

My main beef with Word is that its file format doesn't seem to be consistent, even in the same version, and Word documents do not import reliably into InDesign or Quark Xpress (at least, not the last version of Xpress I used, which had a special plug-in from Microsoft to do the import and it still didn't do so reliably). There's one particular combination which, if you import the resulting document into InDesign, it loses all formatting.

And don't get me onto users' random mixing of styles-for-looks (please don't bother - that's my job), styles-for-context (yes, do that one please. All I need to know is if it's a particular level of subheading, blockquote, emphasis, citation or whatever) and the hard-coded bold and italic.


You're forgetting a couple of things. Nobody forced people to switch over to Word. For all that WordPerfect was quite powerful, Word was easier to use in Windows - WordPerfect didn't manage the transition to a graphical user interface successfully. Word did. (And Word 2.0 for Windows is basically all the text processor most people need.)

Which leads to another point: Microsoft isn't the only one that applied the "business strategy" of buying competing software or software with features they thought might come handy. It started as a vogue and then became a ubiquitous practice. The buyers of WordPerfect, Corel, are probably the most notorious in that regard. Adobe is not far away, either. Furthermore, the programs they all bought mostly ended on the scrapheap while the buyer came out with their own version of what the purchased program could do. (Twhirl, a Twitter client, was one of the latest victims in this process.)

Which then leads to yet another point: the main problem with Word is that it tries to be everything to everybody. The (in)famous "all and the kitchen sink" approach. So in Word we got a text processor, we got a mail merger, we got an equation editor, we got a page layout editor, we even got a rudimentary image editor. The result is a vast complexity of the program and numerous bugs. You'll certainly have problems if you try to use all those features together. The number of difficulties is greatly reduced if you use Word just for text processing.

But then, what would they sell if they didn't add new bu^H^H^Hfeatures? Their attempt to switch to a subscription model fizzled. Adobe, on the other hand, seems to have managed okay, money-wise.

That all said, yes, I agree with you about problems in Word. Their spelling and grammar checkers are targeted towards the brain-dead bureaucratese and business-ese. Their styles are an abomination. Still, for plain writing it works just good enough. (Never wrote anything longer than 20000 words in it, though, so I might be completely unaware of problems with longer texts.)


"with Word 95, Word 97, in 2000, and again in 2003" I don't believe this is accurate.


In fact, they changed the file formats more often in the early days than in the post Word97 era.


Hey, amen.

Totally agree that it sucks to use 1. Word of the nineties in this age where publishing is supposed to be instant and 2. be forced to use the dinosaur without respite because the old school publishing ain't gonna budge.

It's a tough problem on which my friends and I are working lately. Could we connect and exchange some ideas while we're at it?


Uh, sorry. On the second thought, it seems to me that Word 2000 and Word 2003 had the same format, but the format certainly changed in 2007, to .docX.


"The .doc file format was also obfuscated, deliberately or intentionally: rather than a parseable document containing formatting and macro metadata, it was effectively a dump of the in-memory data structures used by word, with pointers to the subroutines that provided formatting or macro support." You think the file format is "deliberately obfuscated" based on that?


Word, let me count the ways I hate it...

I'm still using Lotus Word Pro. It's not perfect, but it generally does what I want. And its approach to stylesheets makes sense to me, whereas Word's makes me wonder what the project team were smoking. Unfortunately I had to install the Spawn of Redmond last year, because publishers now expect writers to work in Word. Because everyone uses Word, so they have to as well. It's self-perpetuating.

Being been finally forced kicking and screaming into dealing with edits coming back from the publisher in Word, I finally see why all the love for Scrivener from other writers. My reaction to "but you must try Scrivener! It allows you to do XYZ!" has been "But I can already do X and Y, and with the way I write I don't need Z." If I'd been working with Word all along, I'd probably have fallen upon Scrivener with cries of joy too.

Of course, I'm still typing my manuscripts in a manner that allows me to dump backups regularly to a .txt file. Because I'm paranoid, and I want something I can still read in twenty years, assuming I have the file at all.


Trying to kill it just makes it stronger, for reasons which are too complicated to describe, but which are rather similar in structure to immune system failures.

On the other hand, this is becoming less and less of an issue. You can just buy a phone or other device to run word and ignore it except when someone needs to deal with it. You might also want to make sure that you add a small fee to your interactions with such people, to pay for your extra overhead and loss of sanity.


The same argument goes for pretty much the rest of the Microsoft Monoculture, the deficiencies of which have severely cramped peoples ability to think clearly about abstract computing concepts.

One of the worst consequences is that far too many people today think security is something that magically happens when you install a virus-scanning package.


This year I've been making an academic edition in which the original text, the original author's footnotes, and my footnotes upon both all need to appear on the same page. Word won't nest more than one set of footnotes. Various kind people on twitter sent me possible cheats to get round this, but none of them worked. It's a simple thing that has proved enormously frustrating for me.


I remember well the WordPerfect days and just like there was life before Word, there will be life after it (just hope we can read all those documents in 20 years time). What I don't like about Microsoft is it's closed nature. I have no problem with people choosing to pay and use Word, but they must not impose it on me.

I think we need a more decisive move to open document standards like ODF. Many governments recognise the need for it, and pay lip service through declaring it as their standard, and then they continue to work in docx format!


Three things that haven't been mentioned so far. 1) Word's HTML output. 2) That OpenOffice/LibreOffice is just as bad, because it tries to be a clone of Word 3) That way that Word tries to be helpful all the time by doing things like changing the style for all those paragraphs that you've just laboriously set because you hit the backspace one two many times on the beginning of the next para. Or trying and failing to work out how many levels of bulleted indent you wanted.

And by the way, don't ever suggest that the secretary who's been given responsibility for producing the product manual really ought to go and read Word For Dummies. Borderline Asperger's Nerd + Secretaries low self-esteem = floods of tears and a call to the manager's office!


Charlie – errr …. Except … I remember Word Pervert – euuuw And I loathe vi with as deep a passion as Charlie hates “Word”. These tools were fast, powerful, elegant, and extremely demanding of the user. To the point where this ex-FORTRAN_IV programmer just wanted to bin the whole effing useless edifice. No, vi is shite. Yes, it (”Word”) notoriously screws-up HTML address etc … So, we need to start again. Where from? And in what direction(s) do we need to go?

Agree re “unavoidable”, though.


Orin @ 5 Chrome is better than IE? Really? You CANNOT personalise the colours/appearance/veiwing of a Chrome page & its control-attributes. WHich makes for hideous viewing. These idiots have obviously never come across Tufte


"These idiots have obviously never come across Tufte"

Or they have and disagree.


To me, all hate talk around Word is similar to the hate talk around Perl. You have a tool, which grew from simple and understandable by any user to one encompassing all possible uses, a Gatling gun on tracks shooting Swiss army chainsaws, and then you complain that people are using it wrong. Because there are 10 ways to achieve the same superficially similar results, and the right one is not the most obvious.

Most people expressing hate do not seem to know, but you can write consistent, well-formatted Word document (e.g. PhD thesis or manuscript, I do not have experience of writing actual books) with figure, equation and table tracking using 4 or 5 styles — and you will get a nicely formatted table of contents as a bonus.

You will be the only person in the lab working this way, OK. But unlike programming code, the documents are merged easily — and you can enforce your styles upon other people's content without losing "glyph-level" formatting like superscripts, subscripts and this small caps D in the middle of alpha-D-glycopyranose.

I would possibly prefer to write my scientific work in LaTeX — but to use LaTeX for chemistry means having balls of steel, because you get most of problems without most of the benefits. LaTeX chemistry community is notoriously small, and it was NOT created with this task in mind. And yes, 95% journals will not accept your manuscript, and 90% of colleagues will not know what to do with the files you send. Even less will they want to connect to your Subversion repo to do collaborative editing.

Generally, in my opinion, until the time of weak AIs as personal secretaries comes, anything killing Word will become a Word itself. It is inconsistent (crazy and bloated, in other words) because documents reflect many different types of work - and all people doing different work have to somehow exchange the editable results. I do not see any ways to avoid this internal problem.


Yes. Oh, most definitely yes. Great rant, Charlie. Can I join in, please?

The first word processing package I used was WordStar (I've been in this game for quite a while). Of all the packages I've used since then, Lotus AmiPro was my favourite. You won't be surprised to hear that the latest couple of iterations of Word are the worst I have ever used.

My biggest problem is with the ribbon interface. I understand that it's designed for a touch device, but for all other users it's a major step backwards. The average formatting task now takes two or three extra mouse clicks, provided that you can even find the command you want to use. The top quarter of the screen is lost to clunking buttons and glowing tabs that don't behave in a consistent manner. The kerning on text when you use print view at 100% bears absolutely no resemblance to what your printer will eventually produce - oddly, if you set the view to anything other than 100% it improves dramatically.

Worse, judging by the GUI, Microsoft appears to consider their target audience to be eight-year-olds who need to adorn their homework with pastel-coloured headings, drop shadows around embedded images, and glowing outlines around particular words. For tech authors like me, trying to access the useful functions that I've used for decades sucks. Other things that ought to be no-brainer options just don't exist at all. Want to display two pages on the screen at the same time so that the left page is on the left and the right page is on the right? Can't be done.

Style formatting is a nightmare. The default setting is to add any modified styles that exist in each document you open to your own normal template, without asking for confirmation that you wish to do so. That has wreaked havoc in at least one organisation that I worked with, where uncontrolled variations on "heading 1" and its ilk had propagated around the business like a virus. Style inheritance across section breaks is borked to the point where extra, entirely blank pages will appear in a printed document even though print preview refuses to accept their existence. Yet some kernel of code must recognise that they exist, because it throws out all your page numbers accordingly. God knows what's going on there - Microsoft clearly don't.

I had never felt contempt for a piece of software before I started using Word 2010. Sadly, the organisation I work for uses it exclusively so I'm stuck with it. And this is why things will not improve: corporate use of Office is so endemic that the user experience is entirely irrelevant.

At home, it's a different matter. The Scrivener folks are doing an evaluation offer for Nanowrimo that lets you install a trial version which is good until the second week of December. I've just downloaded it to see how I get on...


Greg @28 - Have you tried Stylebot or Stylish - both Chrome extensions that let you dink with CSS....


the future of documents is clearly in html5. Sadly, the only publisher I know of that is planning for this is O'Reilly


(I went through the sign-up, sign-in, hand-over email address dance because I really wanted to comment here, and I understand the anti-spam measures, by why does it take five minutes to come up with a working solution to comment? logged me in but Typepad felt I didn't have the authority to use that account, so I had to go and sign up for Typepad. This is suboptimal.)

In personal writing, I use both Word (for running text) and Storyist (similar principle to Scrivener, but a better fit for me.) In professional capacity as editor/copyeditor I use Word.

And while you will occasionally hear major curses from this direction because some of the implementation is just lousy, I don't hate it half as much as Charlie does.

  • the style system, including the ability to assign styles to keyboard shortcuts and change those styles wholesale (plus the ability to do search-and-replace on styles and style elements) works for me, and I can clean up badly formatted mss quickly enough that it's not a big issue.
  • .doc has become the quasi-default text file format on MacOS. A parser is built into Cocoa, which means writing applications that will read and write .doc a doddle - I've done it, and it takes only a few lines of code.
  • when it first came up, I hated .docx with a vengeance because it's such a nightmare. (I mostly work in .doc because I find it more stable. Until the point where .docx is stable when .doc falls over. Then I learnt more about programming and got wiser. .doc is a file type: all the information goes into it. (And yes, Word's implementation is bloaty and horrible... what's new?) .docx, on the other hand, is a file wrapper, and we're already seeing more of these and will in the future, particularly when you're writing in part for exchange with tablets and smartphones which are notoriously memory-challenged: something that looks like a file but is really a compressed archive of a number of resources. This improves access, particularly in very large documents. Viewed from that direction, shifting users over to .docx is a sound strategy, however upsetting it is to .doc users. And while the format is a pain, it's not impossible to roll your own. (I've faked it because I could not be bothered to write the routine, but it's nowhere near as impenetrable as it sounds. Turn .docx into .zip and have a play.)

So while I dislike this particular implementation (the Mac version at least can be tamed in that you can turn off the ribbon and get your own pallets) and dislike the bloatware aspect, I would like to keep the general text processor model, because, on the whole, it suits me.


I wrote my (heavily mathematical) thesis entirely in LaTeX and vim, but lately I've been using Word for my postdoc. It turns out that even other scientists just don't seem to want to work with LaTeX.

Word is awful when it comes to working with equations (and most journals outright ban the latest .docx format, as they won't work with the new equations editor format), and it is useless when it comes to references (I wish there was a BibTeX for Word). And it feels just hacky to use. But you can add formatting quickly, and you aren't swamped by the associated codes (I would dearly love a reveal codes option though, I used that all the time in WordPerfect as a kid).

I feel trapped. Held here by the enticing embrace of WYSIWIG and the requirements of my superiors, but feeling hollow after the loss of easy and beautiful equations, within document referencing, excellent external references, and a vim-like interface. Plus the dirty feeling I get when I use non-free software (OS X is good enough that I can overlook it, Word is certainly not).

Libreoffice: it feels so much nicer to work in, has a LaTeX equation plugin, decent referencing plugins, a pretty solid document format, it's heavily stylesheet based, and it's free. But even after 11 odd years, no journal I use will touch it. sadface


@ spacelem

Off-topic, but look up "Zotero". As a (very minor) contributor to the project I must say that it is currently a very good citation manager.



I've pretty much fallen upon Mendeley, as that's what a lot of people around me (including my boss) use. However it has recently been bought by Elsevier (evil!), and I can't get Mendeley references in Libreoffice to survive the conversion to Word format. Its best use seems to be for storing and sharing papers.

I did give Zotero a brief try a while back (although I found it rather confusing, and it seemed more interested in importing web pages than papers), but maybe it's time for another look.


I do some editing (somewhere between line- and copy-editing) for a scientific journal in a field where LaTeX is the default. I work on the PDF output, but my heart always sinks when I have to deal with a manuscript created in Word, because the equations will inevitably be hideous, the bibliography will have been done by hand and be riddled with errors, and there probably won't be enough margin to contain my annotations -- and I can't use LaTeX code to show authors how they should be formatting things.

I did once write some proceedings papers in Word, and once a grant proposal, back around the turn of the century. I'm never, ever going to do that again; it was like playing Tiddlywinks with the floating figures, and the pagination tended to change when I moved to the machine attached to the printer, which is a nightmare when you're working to a strict page limit.


@ spacelem Zotero has an implentation of reference which can be ported (with some limitations) between LibreOffice and Word. But beware: two behemoths have many other incompatible features.

In any case, all comes down to people using tools, not the tools themselves. My PhD student complained that using M$ Word harmed his open-source soul and he would write much faster in LaTeX/emacs. After I allowed him to install Arch Linux on his work PC (windows port of emacs somehow did not suffice), his speed of writing, measured unfortunately in lines per week rather than pages per day, did not observably improve. And do not even remind me the horror of him drawing his conference poster in Scribus - an open-source analog of InDesign unable to create tables...


So, what kind of a business case would convince your industry to improve its tooling, and what kind of investment would this require?

Are you looking for something like


In my second technical writing job, in 1995, the department I joined had just recently been instructed they were to change all of their manuals into Microsoft Word to make it easier for other departments in the company to be able to read them.

I was busy trying to figure out how to get the Help files to work in the system I'd been told to use, but I remember the technical writer who'd been tasked with figuring out the conversion problem reporting back:

He said it couldn't be done.

The manuals we produced were for a mobile phone billing system, and they were giant. Microsoft Word did not have the capacity to handle a document that big. If we had to use MS Word to do the manuals, we would have to break the manuals down into smaller chunks, we could not have a single file for a single system.

He said he had confirmed for himself that the printed manual for Microsoft Word could not have been produced on MS Word - it exceeded Microsoft's own estimate of their wordpressor's capacity.

The department went through about three years of hell before I left, attempting somehow to fit a quart into a pint pot before finally getting senior management authorisation to use something other than Word. The company went bust a couple of years after I left.


Bearing in mind I'm not writing novels; mostly emails, blog posts, notes and the like... but I've switched to markdown editors (I'm liking Mou because I can edit the theme to suit my Irlen's) for the creative writing and nvAlt for the notes and things because it lets me be as organised or disorganised as I need in the moment, then go back and sort, remove, organise and the like when I've got (or made) time.

The great benefit for what I write with a Markdown editor is that it basically gives me just enough formatting for 99% of what I write - paragraphs, headings, strong, emphasis and lists. It does links for when I'm writing blog posts. Although I rarely use it, Mou gives me a TeX editor for maths formulae too. The only thing it doesn't do out of the box is tables, which is ok for what I write nearly all of the time and I have other ways to do that if I really need to - writing tables is rarely a fast, creative process for me.

But yes, I'd be happy to see the end of Word. Perhaps Microsoft will continue it's decline under the new management and then Word will finally die. Like one of the earlier commenters it wouldn't surprise me to see HTML 5 and CSS3 become the new default document standard. It's basically the standard for eBooks after all, with a DRM layer. With a media="print" in the CSS we're already creating CSS for printing pages, it's not much of a stretch from there to a CSS for a book and so on. You can already basically set out a webpage to the nearest pixel if you really want to, DTP like. You're encouraged NOT to, but you can. Typesetting a book isn't too hard in CSS. And at least the content is actually accessible. Heck, embed the CSS in the head and one file... we consider it bad form in a website but we do it all the time for a styled email.


The big problem with Word is that its markup is horribly non-orthogonal and in general not nestable. There's just a few basic objects: text, paragraphs, and table cells... and the only nestable objects are table cells and tables. Paragraphs don't nest, they just inherit type from the previous paragraph. If you have a list, it's not implemented by having "list" containing "items" containing "paragraphs"... it's implemented by having "this paragraph is a list member". If you have a multi-paragraph item in a list, that means the next list item is effectively starting a new list, with the numbering starting where the previous one left off.

Most of the time Word hides this mess, sorta OK, so you don't have to explicitly renumber lists all the time, but it breaks down a lot. And all the alternative word processing programs have to be able to round-trip Word documents so they religiously copy the format. Which means that even if Word dies, its appalling design will never be discarded.


I hope that not just Word but all the fixed-page-size formats die out soon. It's horrible to try and read a two-column PDF on an ebook reader.

Maybe there's a chance for someone to help kill Word by making a standard of reflowable writing. If I ran Google Docs I'd certainly start offering a choice between fixed-page and non-paged when a user starts a new document.


Hello, I fully agree with your description of Word, but I am surprised by your point about publishers. Many publishers know that word is very bad for publishing. I know that for scientific publications, latex is the rule (a friend of mine does a lot of mathematic translations). I have heard also about pdf.

Word is a decently good product for the office, but not adapted at all for publishing. I feel your complaints should be addressed to your publishers.


Right now they benefit from a virtuous (vicious?) cycle. Business and schools use it because other business use it and workers and students don't need to be trained on it because they have it at home because it's what their employer/school uses...

That's not to say the cycle won't break. Google doc's is a simple free alternative that is being embraced more and more. Schools especially are drawn to it because they can get it as part of a package with email services and collaboration tools that they can give to students at low cost to themselves.

Not that Google docs is that great from a publishing stand point, but for the average home user it is fine and could lead people to stop buying Word and thus break the cycle.

Of course, MS being a copycat, they've come out with Office 365. It's a bit of a risk for them though. The pricing model is probably the best of any version of Office -- $10 a month for 5 user licences. However, in my experience home users typically stick with one version of Office for years, and install it on all their computers whether they are allowed to or not. They may not like the idea of a monthly fee.

I still have Office 2010 because I got it cheap with an academic discount and both OpenOffice and Google Docs had been having formatting issues when I was exchanging documents with my professors using Word. You don't want to get a bad grade because your professor's version of Word doesn't play nice and they blame you.

But in the end it may come down to what businesses do. My workplace is doing a trial of Office 365. If we adopt it, I'd probably just use that at home and on my mobile devices -- and that may be what most professionals end up doing...


For those complaining about LaTeX being hard to use, I use LyX ( ) to write my books in, and it's absolutely beautiful to use. It's a simple, very user-friendly word processor that uses LaTeX as its document format. It will export to RTF so you can send files to people still insisting on using Word, it'll allow you to drop down directly to LaTeX code but doesn't insist on it, it runs fast, and it produces beautifully-typeset output.

(It'll also produce the monstrosity that is 'standard manuscript format' if you want it to, though).

It's the most user-friendly piece of software I've ever come across for anyone who wants to just write, and the documentation covers every edge case (there are separate manuals on producing Braille output, adding Feynman diagrams to your document, and more). And it's as far from a Word clone as you can imagine.

I would urge anyone who isn't absolutely forced to use Word (or who doesn't have a specific tool that is right for their particular job already) to give it a try. (It's Free Software and I have no connection with the people who make it).


I agreee entirely with this sentiment. Nowadays, any time I want to write any kind of document, I do so in Markdown. It's simple, easy to use, and it's plain text so I can use Vim to edit it, and it's easy to transform into just about any other format.

However, I think there's a product that needs to die even more, and that's Excel. I used to be a customer service grunt for a big UK insurer, and I saw Excel used in the most unspeakable ways. I'm now a web developer and I shudder at what people were using it for.

A lot of mission-critical data that really belonged in a relational database was stored in Excel spreadsheets, and frequently got overwritten if two or more people accessed it simultaneously (of course, you could limit access to a single person at a time, but then that person invariably left it open when they went to lunch so nobody could get their work done). The only way of rolling back any changes that went wrong was by contacting the IT department to get a previous version of the file. A staggering amount of vital tasks were done with VBA macros that were an unbelievable pain to use and required a great deal of manual work by the user before they were run.

All of this was stuff that would be far better handled using MySQL and Perl or Python (even bash, sed and awk will handle most of what you'd need), but these weren't permitted for security reasons.


You're all a bunch of freaking wimps. Write your documents in PostScript, like Don Lancaster (Mr. TV Typewriter) does.


Here is an interesting side-effect to the Word monoculture in corporatelandia.

I work for an eDiscovery firm. Our job is to take document collections from anyone and anything and do various technical processy things to them to enable said documents to be gone through by lawyers in human-time fast enough that the legal matter doesn't take a decade (and sometimes still does). It's a hard problem, and it's edge-cases as far as the eye can see.

However, we have a competitive edge on our direct competitors in large part because we use the MS Office suite itself to render documents to the image formats so beloved by the legal industry (TIFF and PDF for the most part). This is a competitive edge because the lawyers doing document-review get presented documents that look just like the documents they collected (this is especially true of Excel files, but that's another blog-post).

That we get an edge by doing this (and it wasn't easy) is proof positive Microsoft has a hard lock on the corporate document-presentation space. If the industry had instead standardized on a file-format but gussied up the presentation layer, it would be a matter of getting the right fonts installed on the rendering system and we would be free to use a straight up rendering system and not the small rendering layer of a behemoth of workflow management (we don't need grammar checkers, style sheet wizards and spell-check).

That has its own problems too. Handling 20+ years of PDF implementations has been its own barrel of weasels.


And they expect me to integrate myself into a Word-centric workflow, even though it's an inappropriate, damaging, and laborious tool for the job.

Word says: Order of words. Consider revising.

(Should that be "consider revising word order"?)

Some really enlightening comments here. Apologies in advance for the length of this one!

Arguments raged internally: should it use control codes, or hierarchical style sheets? In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they're fundamentally incompatible and you can get into a horrible mess by applying simple character formatting to a style-driven document, or vice versa.

I never knew that. It explains so much about the experience of wrestling with MS Word, in particular when you're working with multiple programs or multiple users. I copied a list of names from Word into a blog post a while back, not wanting anything but the plain text. Half an hour later I gave up trying to get the HTML to look right, opened a Terminal window and copied the list of names from Word into vi, then copied it from vi to the blog post - success. I've given up completely, and copy-typed the text into a new document, at least once before now.

It also explains the slightly baffled "works for me" comments you hear occasionally - if you only ever use styles, and if you have a fully-worked-out policy on the use of styles, and if everyone sticks to it, presumably there genuinely would be no problems. But this in itself reminds me of talking to a guy who'd standardised his entire office to doing everything within Lotus Notes on OS/2 - "not everyone liked it to begin with, but they adapted, and I'm sure they like the reliability". If you standardise rigidly on anything (and ignore the complaints) you can make it work.

(Incidentally, I had to think for a full minute to remember the name 'Lotus Domino', and another half a minute before I remembered 'Notes'. Eheu fugaces eh? And I used to talk to IBM users all the time.)

Microsoft killed the outline processor on Windows; stalled development of the grammar checking tool, stifled spelling checkers.

I miss outliners. One of these days I'll find an outliner that works as well as the shareware program PC Outliner that I used to use, and I'll be a happy man. I've done a couple of outlines in Word, but it doesn't feel right.

using XML tags that referred to callbacks in the Word codebase, rather than representing actual document semantics

Ow ow ow ow ow. Also, ow. That's so wrong it hurts to think about.

Chris Harris @31: The default setting is to add any modified styles that exist in each document you open to your own normal template, without asking for confirmation that you wish to do so.

Again, I hadn't realised this was going on, but it's glaringly obvious - and obviously wrong - once pointed out.

My own use of styles consists of a) Selecting "clear formatting". b) When a) doesn't work, select 'Normal'. c) When b) doesn't work, get the Normal style up and change it back.

Now I know why I have to escalate to c) so often.

resuna @43: Paragraphs don't nest, they just inherit type from the previous paragraph. If you have a list, it's not implemented by having "list" containing "items" containing "paragraphs"... it's implemented by having "this paragraph is a list member".

Not a comment, just a war story. I edited a Windows magazine for a while, after persuading my boss that his candidate for editor would be better suited to the Technical Editor post. One of the things the Tech Ed supplied us was a monthly Q&A column. Going over his copy, I noticed that he'd eschewed the usual "Q" and "A" prefixes in favour of "Q" and "R". "Question and Response, I guess... OK, bit quirky, bit individual, leave it in". The second question and answer were also given as a pair of paragraphs beginning "Q" and "R"; the third question and answer, however, came as a pair of paragraphs beginning "S" and "T".

At this point I saw what was going on, and changed the "R" prefix to an "A". Word changed it back, right before my eyes. It happened several times before I got the changes to stick, even after I'd told it not to format the paragraphs as numbered lists. Thinking about it now, it was the combination of defaults, importation of styles, auto-formatting and inheritance from the previous paragraph that did for me.

Awful program. Works well enough for me, most of the time, but awful nonetheless.

53: has the same issue with stylesheets vs control characters (at least, if I understand that correctly). Combined with some other bugs and "features" (like pasting formatting all the bloody time), means that often the styles of parts of documents are inconsistent, and impossible to make consistent without copying them to a text editor, and then back again. The styles system of word processors is probably my biggest complaint with them, especially as I use HTML and CSS, and can reasonably expect things to just work unless I explicitly muck around.

And then we have people: Nobody knows how to use styles, instead they use bold and size 20. Or if they do use styles, they never modify them to change the look, they'll just apply the new formatting directly to the text. So they make something a heading, and then unbold it (or whatever). And nobody is ever taught to leave the formatting until last (i.e. use styles and then at the end modify the styles if you don't like how they look). And all this makes it impossible to use a word processing tool as an effective collaboration tool for anything complex.

In fact, people don't even know how to use the other tools that come with the word processor. Format painter/paintbrush is amazing for mucked up styles that don't fix properly because of whatever reason. Tab stops? Etc.

If Abiword a) wasn't all buggy and shit on Ubuntu 12.04, and b) had a decent Zotero plugin, I would use it for almost all my documents that need more than basic formatting. (I was using it, but it's all buggy and shit on Ubuntu 12.04.)

Wait, my complaints are not about MS Word (I use it as little as possible, and that's very little), but rather about people and a little bit about LibreOffice. There are some bugs in LibreOffice that I can trigger all on my own (which I should report: e.g. when pasting something with formatting, and then hit undo, and start typing, the formatting from the pasted thing is kept for some fucked up reason).

(I also note that many of my complaints have been made by other commentators. It's a small world.)


My last job involved monthly reporting to the funding agency. We were a subcontractor, so the monthly report would involve adding contributions from me and a few cow-orkers, prettying them up, and sending them to the main contractor, who had other subcontractors' bits to integrate.

The main contractor was a one-man company, and he was picky about formatting consistency. I've never seen two installations of MS Word with all the settings similar. Once he showed me how he wanted something formatted, and it involved about six incredibly counterintuitive steps. And sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, for reasons I never figured out.

The funny part is that I'm 99% confident that the funding agency didn't care in the slightest.


Chris Harris @31 mentions a point which just may bring about some real change in this area: recent Microsoft products are increasingly, obsessively, targeting light-weight, amateur users.

This is perhaps the most baffling thing about the re-designed UI and "appification" of Windows 8: it seems to be a complete abandonment of the office productivity market. By hiding away the task-switching ability of the task bar (Windows 7 is a really nice working environment for switching around between multiple applications) and cutting back on the customisation with features like the ribbon, it seems like Microsoft is leaving a gap for high-end users.

Now, it's pretty hard to break into the desktop OS market at this point, simply because the ecosystems of the current players are so complex (you could complain about deliberate non-interoperability, but actually innovation and cross-compatibility will always be somewhat opposing forces, so it was probably inevitable that we'd end up here by now). But if the MS Office team buys into the "modern UI" but their users don't, people might start experimenting a bit more with alternative document processors etc.

As for some of the other formats and programs mentined...

  • Markdown and similar "light-weight" markups are a dead end, in my opinion. They suffer from terrible extensibility, and tend to be loosely defined with a large number of reserved characters and awkward or non-existent escaping mechanisms. That poster child of wikis, Wikipedia, now considers the markup that grew organically in its early versions to be an albatross that scares away new users.
  • HTML + CSS is a reasonable implementation of the style-based model, but it has a lot of historical baggage - like the bizarre behaviour of CSS's vertical-align property - which I'd rather not see spread beyond the web. (And please don't call it "HTML5 + CSS3" - it's like saying that something will be replaced by "Web 2.0"...)
  • PDF is an increasingly bloated format which seems to have completely lost its role as a "portable" format: Adobe develops new versions and extensions so frequently that the only reason it feels less problematic to receive a file named .pdf than .docx is because the latest official reader can be downloaded for free.
  • Google Docs is as limited as Word is bloated, and just as buggy. More to the point, it represents an even more extreme lock-in, since the internal file format is not only proprietary and subject to compulsory upgrade, it's locked up on Google's servers. AFAIK, the only way to take a document out of Google Docs is to export it to some other format, with no guarantee of round-trip conservation of formatting.
  • ODF and OpenOffice / LibreOffice suffer from a lack of differentiation. Rather than offering something new, they exist for largely philosophical reasons: to do exactly what Word does, but with a different moral compass. That said, LibreOffice is currently my tool of choice for documents and spreadsheets, because they do what I need them to: Writer has a decent implementation of style rules, and Calc has the essential feature of importing CSV/TSV/etc files via a dialogue rather than Excel's cack-handed assumptions.
My biggest problem is with the ribbon interface. I understand that it's designed for a touch device, but for all other users it's a major step backwards. The average formatting task now takes two or three extra mouse clicks, provided that you can even find the command you want to use. The top quarter of the screen is lost to clunking buttons and glowing tabs that don't behave in a consistent manner.

The ribbon was never designed for a touch-centric system (notably, the touch-targets of many elements are much too small for a finger: it's still very much driven by an indirect pointer device). It was designed to better expose the enormous functionality of Office to users who did not yet memorize the impossibly-large menu structure. Microsoft increasingly had requests for new features that were already in Office, just difficult to find. The menu system certainly wasn't scaling well (the old and removed "personalized menu" system was an attempt to resolve the ever-lengthening menus for common cases).

In my general experience observing users, novice users are confused about everything but more quickly adapt since searching for features is somewhat easier. Power users get the quick-access-bar to make their old giant memorized custom toolbars of old, and at any rate are expected to be able to adapt to change. Personally, I've mostly had more success with the ribbon than the old system.


I hate word... but it's been good to me in terms of selling tools to improve it. I deal with pharmaceutical research docs, whose lifetimes span years, multiple editors and thus multiple versions of Word. I've built tools to help stabilize and improve productivity, and a large part of the code is there specifically to walk through the minefields and/or fix bugs.

My root problem with Word is that its file structure is so complex that its programmers haven't cleaned up the code to deal with it, and over the course of time it will fall to pieces, resulting in lost content. If you want to see something really scary, look at the XML, .doc or even RTF implementations of list formats, which are how numbers and bullets are implemented.

A Microsoftie summed it up back when Word 1995 was released: It's Brochureware: The features that are most kewl to demo are front-and-center, and the documents are designed to be written quickly (hence the auto-style nightmares) and never seen again. In military parlance, "fire and forget."

Chaining down Word's egregious behaviors (like creating styles on the fly) is the first thing I do when I get a new computer.

The Track Changes feature is wonderful... so long as everyone using it is using exactly the same set of patches. Otherwise, again, corruption spreads through the document.

Now in my experience the 2007-forward versions are a lot more stable, but then you must deal with the ribbon. 2010 has cleaned up a lot of the ribbon's rough edges, but it appears that the ribbon was optimally designed for Excel, and Word's the red-haired stepchild, with similar features spanning multiple tabs (Insert or Reference?).

One of the best things that helped me deal with Word is a book by Woody Leonard, "Word '97 Annoyances" -- sadly, never updated for later versions, but most of it applies. Things like the fact that formatting is stored in the ends of things: paragraph marks store that paragraph's format, which is why when you delete one, the text takes on the next paragraph's format. Same with section marks -- ever see a document suddenly turn landscape? Now you probably know why. But then newer versions of Word papered over those problems somewhat, leading to inconsistent behaviors, even if they do what you meant most of the time.


I thought Nota Bene had the same features as XyWrite?


For novel writing (and it would be fine for non fiction too, particularly that without extensive formulas and the like) Scrivener is brilliant. I wrote up a detailed why on my blog too that explains the fundamental differences between Scrivener and a "traditional" word processor like Word.

But there were also other paradigms in the WP word of the mid/late 80s that were in the vein of Word, but so much better, which MSFT stomped out. Fullwrite was one of my favorites. This was a full WYSIWYG Word processor (which Word still is not) that was clean, simple, yet far more powerful in many ways than even Word today (20+ years later!). It made formatting/styles visible by placing them as clickable objects in a lefthand control strip -- allowing you to delete them, copy and extend them. One of my biggest fundamental objections with Word is that formatting is a hidden property of every character and has a tendency to bleed every which way. How often has one been working on a simple Word doc -- even an email -- where you end up mysteriously with 4-5 different basic styles (fonting, indentation, point size) for no apparent reason?


There are multiple problems with the MS Monoculture. One of the major problems is that alternatives are fighting an extremely uphill battle. The consequence is that alternatives will usually have to be free in order to get significant market share, e.g. web browsers or office suites. They also end up emulating the MS program to make it easier for users to switch.

So, it is stiffing progress by both cutting off cash flow and by vendors implementing features in the same way.

Concerning the abstract thinking (style vs. manual changes), I think it is a difficult one to win in a WYSIWYG editor. "I want that piece of text to be green, bold and super-scripted with a pink shadow" or "My figure has to be right below the text referring to it" are very difficult to drop, even though styles and floating figures makes for a lot more robust visual impact.


Absolutely agreed. Since I don't have InDesign or Quark Xpress, I've figured out how to do what I can in Word, and the result ain't bad. Granted, it isn't amazing, but it's not nearly as skunky as others might think.

The thing I found interesting was that I used to have a pretty good Word rant myself, and even though I write more than ever, it was interesting to realize that most of my horror stories were at least ten years old. Either I'm not hanging out in the places where things crash and die, or it's getting more functional. I'm not sure which, but being the optimist that I am (hah!), I suspect the latter.


"My biggest problem is with the ribbon interface. I understand that it's designed for a touch device, but for all other users it's a major step backwards. "

I happen to disagree. Even with significant Word experience, I found myself looking through drop-down menus, looking for the command I needed. With Word 2010 (never used 2007, but from what I have gleaned, the ribbon there was quite a lot worse), I find it a lot easier to find the functionality.

"Worse, judging by the GUI, Microsoft appears to consider their target audience to be eight-year-olds who need to adorn their homework with pastel-coloured headings, drop shadows around embedded images, and glowing outlines around particular words."

When they created the ribbon, they did extensive surveys of which functions were most commonly used, so these things must be important to many users.

"Style formatting is a nightmare. The default setting is to add any modified styles that exist in each document you open to your own normal template, without asking for confirmation that you wish to do so."

Yes, this is one that has annoyed me more than once.


You should publish your novels with tech publishers if that were possible. Tech authors still get to use text based markup systems (AsciiDoc, Markdown, reStructuredText, etc) using programmer editors such as Vim, Emacs, SublimeText.

And some developers/writers are building better tools for writers:


Fortunately, there are lots of FREE alternatives to MS Office. LibreOffice is my choice as an installable app and there are web-based options aplenty. The only MS app I still use regularly is Excel - no Word or PowerPoint for me!


I really miss a feature in my Pipeline word processor for the Z88: a constant page preview where each character is one pixel so you could get a good overview of what the page would look like: I found it a good match for what I needed to see during composition.


Grandmother, eggs, sucking thereof, and education.

What I currently use for writing novels is Scrivener. If Microsoft Word can be approximated to a text editor, then Scrivener is an all-singing/all-dancing IDE, only one tailed for then needs of those who write books for a living. No, it's not open source. Yes, it will work with Markdown if I feel like it. Or generate LaTeX output. Or .doc/rtf for publishers who insist on it. Yes, you can point it at a directory under git or subversion control. No, there are no idiotic "wizards" and "intelligent assistants". Yes, if I feel like it I can tell Scrivener to invoke Vim or BBEdit or Nisus Writer as an external editor/word processor for editing the sub-documents it controls.

If you're trying to work on the deep structure of an entire series of novels, with tagging and cross-referencing across 5-10 books in a single project, nothing compares to Scrivener. (For writing business letters ... no, that's a job for LibreOffice.)


Much of what makes the MS Word experience so miserable for me is that it contains considerable complexity, but it hides so much of it behind leaky abstractions that I don't feel that I can trust.

Others have mentioned OpenOffice in these comments. Like much of the popular open source software for desktop computing uses, it is bad precisely because it tries to copy the leading commercial application. Naturally it's an imperfect copy, adding it's own cruft while copying many of the misfeatures of the original.


My own hatred of MSWord comes from the way it was hacked together by programmers who do not write very much. Word is a terrible tool for writing. The market dominance is bad, yes, and it has led to the programming community being led down the path that seeks to copy badness.

So no, LibreOffice is not a solution; it's a crappier version of a terrible program.

I use Scrivener for Linux (and I'd love to pay for a non-beta version, hint hint) and the IDE features make up for the fact that there's no formatting-for-meaning (à la TeX). The use of RTF limits the extent to which the copying-how-MS-did-it-wrong causes problems.

But yes, Microsoft's market position is essentially forcing professional writers to use a terrible product. They also force the competition to conform to their badness. Coders outside MS don't write for a living any more than coders inside Microsoft did. Coders generally write badly when they attempt it and they ignore the complaints of writers when they get it wrong. Instead of rebuilding the editing experience from the bottom they attack Microsoft's market by attempting to duplicate everything that's wrong with Word.

This is similar to the bad rendering standards for the web, where P tags are typically separated by vertical space with ragged right rather than existing in the indented, justified flow that was converged upon over hundreds of years. "Whup, it's new and the only writing I do is memos among my work mates, better ignore what the rest of the world does and enforce my own naivety upon the non-coder peons."


You're forgetting a couple of things. Nobody forced people to switch over to Word. For all that WordPerfect was quite powerful, Word was easier to use in Windows - WordPerfect didn't manage the transition to a graphical user interface successfully. It's absolutely no surprise that Word ran better on Windows machines than WordPerfect did, since the developers of Word had access to the faster undocumented system calls, while the WordPerfect crew had to rely on the deliberately broken publicly documented system calls.

The use of RTF limits the extent to which the copying-how-MS-did-it-wrong causes problems.

It should be noted that RTF is a proprietary format created by Microsoft, and (previously) developed in tandem with new versions of Word. While it is a little less tied to the implementation details than .doc and .docx, it seems a poor choice for an independent markup format. Tools for working with it are generally using some ill-defined subset, since the full specification supports almost everything Word might want to embed.


This is similar to the bad rendering standards for the web, where P tags are typically separated by vertical space with ragged right rather than existing in the indented, justified flow that was converged upon over hundreds of years.

That's fighting talk!

Right-justified English text is actually harder to read than ragged-right -- you lose cues about your position in long paragraphs. It's also computationally harder to render on the web (hint: web browsers have dynamically resizable windows, so the visible text may need to be reflowed at any time), and it's prone to aesthetic problems such as rivers, orphans, and widows (if you're paginating rather than flowing a continuous scroll of text).

(On a similar note: there's a reason publishers' standard manuscript format involves ragged right margins and a monospaced font (typically Courier 10 point on 12 point spacing, lines double spaced): it's vastly easier to "cast off", i.e. estimate the word density/page and number of pages of the finished, typeset book if you can look at the MS and know that each character cell occupied by a printed glyph represents a single character on the final page. This stuff isn't arbitrary: it exists for a reason, and while we may be able to do a quick reflow-and-paginate-and-page-count these days, until relatively recently that wasn't possible ...)


Funnily enough, the original programmer of Word says his brief was to "write the world's first wordprocessor with a spreadsheet user-interface" ... which explains a lot.

I'm sure anyone who's ever tried to get Word to do layout has had the feeling it's stubbornly arranging everything in a grid of inexplicably invisible cells.

(yes, I realise the difference between a word processor and a DTP package, but I blame Word for the term 'word processor' coming to mean something that's bad at both text editing and layout)


@rowan collins

I know the origins of RTF and I know it isn't a robust solution. It's just simple enough that the cruft and terrible choices of programmers ruin RTF editors a bit less than they ruin .doc/.docx/.odt editors.



I had the same usability studies drummed into me in my techwriter days but they are all 90s-era discussions dealing with the problems of bad and low-resolution rendering.

Maybe the problem was that in the 90s the corporate types didn't want to turn TeX into a usable system and the FOSS types didn't want to contaminate TeX with wizzardwigs. So MS made a terrible piece of crap and TeX remained generally inaccessible.


Funnily enough, the original programmer of Word says his brief was to "write the world's first wordprocessor with a spreadsheet user-interface" ... which explains a lot.

If you ever used Word for DOS 5.0 or earlier, you'd see exactly how this worked/made sense. Hint: by "spreadsheet user interface" he was describing something not unlike Lotus 1-2-3 (or maybe MultiPlan.)


Re outliners -- have you looked in the mindmap aisle? Freemind and Xmind, for example, can be used for outlining purposes. Freemind never seems to have progressed beyond version 0.9-something and is a bit flaky in my experience, but it does seem to work. XMind is a bit more professional, and the free version is perfectly functional.


What I want to know is, when is someone going to roll TeX up in a bundle with a folding syntax-directed editor that can run on the iPad and export either DVI, PDF, or raw LaTeX files?

It was forbidden by Apple's license in the early days, but they've relaxed the "no interpreters" rule sufficiently that there are some very nice editors appearing; Editorial, for example. ("Editorial is the first fully-scriptable writing app on iOS." Built-in Python interpreter FTW ...)


LaTeX has come a long way, or rather the front-ends for creating LaTeX documents. The leader is possibly the (free) TeXShop for the Mac, but there are other, similar systems, many of them cross-platform, such as Texmaker. These give you previews of the PDF output of pdfTeX within the application, and synchronisation between the raw text and the preview (e.g., Cmd-click on something in the preview and it takes you to the relevant place in the source). And LaTeX arguably still produces the highest standard of typesetting of any system, commercial or non-commercial. XeTeX even lets you used fonts installed into your system, rather than having to follow the arcane procedures for installing fonts into (La)TeX.

And, of course, you can always write in a text editor using Markdown and convert to LaTeX/PDF.

I agree that Word, at present, is a bloated abortion. It peaked at version 5.1a for the Mac, and went downhill from there. If I have to use a WYSIWYG word processor on my Mac, I use Nisus Writer Pro.


I grew up on Unix and I miss my FrameMaker...

When the company I was working for at the time forced us all onto PC laptops and Word, I just about cried.


Yes at BT when we switched to Word we had a on day accelerated course that concentrated on how to use styles - Recently I was the one that had to set up the base document for a load of site audits for Reed Elsiveer as none of my colleges knew anything about styles and outlining in word.

I have a soft for the old IBM Displaywite systems hard sectored 8 inch floppys that had a distinctive crunching sound when accessing a disk.

It was only 10+ years later at BT that we had WP output as good as the system I set up at one of the worlds largest consulting engineers


This blog post is incredibly funny for me because a few weeks ago my copy of Microsoft Word actually committed suicide.

I bought my latest Dell computer two years ago. Like previous Dell PCs it came with a copy of Microsoft Word, in this case something called "Premium Family Edition". Unlike the previous Dell PCs I bought though, this version of worse was crippled in its functions and it had advertising.

Also, something which I was to forget, It had a limited life span of two years, along with Excel and the other stuff in the crippled MS Office suite that came with my PC.

So, here you are saying that Word must die, and it's actually committing suicide all over the place!


My boss has stayed a dedicated WordPerfect user from Ver. 1.0 to the present day after IBM EasyWriter was discontinued. Part of my job is transferring what he's typed into formats other people can read. Sometimes it's faster to just cut & paste the text from WP to Word/Open Office/whatever.


I feel your pain.

My solution = WriteRoom + DropBox = Simplicity + Security --> RTF files that anyone can use or I can dumb down into flat ASCII when the spirit moves me (which it often does). This combo also lets build a file structure that supports how I work, as I need to move between references and my writing fairly robustly. Also multi-platform. Also cheap.


"In the 21st century they tried to improve the picture by replacing it with an XML schema ... but somehow managed to make things worse, by using XML tags that referred to callbacks in the Word codebase, rather than representing actual document semantics. It's hard to imagine a corporation as large and [usually] competently-managed as Microsoft making such a mistake by accident ... "


It's sad to see people so traumatized by the late 90s/early oughts that they can't move on; like old Cold Warriors, perpetually fighting a battle against an enemy that's long ceased to exist.

Perhaps once Microsoft was competently managed; but for over a decade, it's been a nightmarishly organized set of competing fiefdoms, each more concerned with fighting rival departments than any outside threat. (Ref. e.g. the classic ">"> this classic.) They're a joke, slowly sliding into obsolescence.

In short, do as Hanlon commands: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."


The takeaway message I get from this post and the smattering of comments I have read in depth is that we don't actually have good tools to do our writing, document formatting and typesetting, which are intuitive and simple to use, designed to not lead the user into stumbling error, interoperable with other tools and capable of getting out of the way, when in use.

That's a tragic state of affairs, isn't it?


Yes, the original Microsoft Word (for DOS) was based very much around the same interface style as Microsoft MultiPlan, right down to the menu structure. The principal difference was that the menu key was Escape in Word and slash in MultiPlan. It was interesting as an example of a pre-IBM CAA standardized menu UI: the menu was at the bottom of the screen, in a horizontal flow of text, and displayed breadcrumbs as you navigated the hierarchy. Back in those days, style sheets were treated by Word as independent entities -- ".sty files" -- which you could attach to any document. Two decades layer, I still have parts of the Word menu structure stuck in my brain, like Format Style Sheet for the style editor, and Transfer Save Alternate for what we now call "File > Save As...".


The discussions of early versions of Word led me down a rabbit hole to a couple of interesting posts from MS staff.

First, this series written at the time of the Office 12 redesign (the ribbon). (Link is to the last part rather than the first because the author failed to edit in forwards links to the earlier posts sigh)

Secondly, a slightly older post on how Word "won", and what happened to some of its (direct) competitors. It got slashdotted and garnered some interesting comments (and some predictably inane ones)

I think the biggest problem with Word, and indeed a lot of modern software, is the "jack of all trades" model - rather than switching to a different program for Desktop Publishing, people want Word to be able to lay their text out; but they also want it to be able to perform mail merge, and citation tracking, and dozens of other things. Jensen Harris in that blog series on Office 12 puts it like this:

Perhaps if Word were broken up into eight separate apps--say a text editor, a printing/page layout app, a table maker, a picture editor, a drawing program, a spelling/grammar checker, a mail merge engine, and an envelope/label printer. Then each one could have a more manageable menu and toolbar structure. [...] But that would be going in a direction completely contrary to what our customers ask us for. We're constantly prodded to do more integration, to do better integration.

Apart from file-format dominance, this is a big challenge to any would-be Word-killer: if you try to do everything that Word tries to do, you will probably do it just as badly; if you don't, people will still need to switch to Word (or a Word-a-like) for some tasks, and might "forget" to switch back...


Around 1992, I checked out a great little program for change tracking (by a crowd based in or called Cambridge). Microsoft Word soon incorporated minimal change tracking functionality (what we have now), and they disappeared, AFAIK. To give an idea of what they offered, if you moved a chunk of text from one place to another, the software would show deleted source, inserted target, and a CURVED ARROW linking the two locations.

Incidentally, a shout-out to Woody Leonhard, who wrote an absolutely great book called "Hacker's Guide to Word for Windows" (1994), an amazing guide to the absolute mess that was WordBasic.


Yeah, you can't beat writing with a Phoneix feather dipped in unicorn blood; but, you know, failing that, you can somehow muddle through with Word if you just stop fulminating long and relax. I started writing novels before authors had personal computers (in the UK at least) and Word looks like a very useful tool to me.


For those wondering why users commit inexplicable crimes like not doing the formatting last, it's because different people do things in different ways. Working in IT support, my rule of thumb is to show them the "correct way" to do a particular task, and if they don't seem to pick it up, to work out a way to accommodate their quirks. Of course, for those much further up the pay scale, it's usually best to just go straight to accommodating their oddities.

I've been using Google Docs a lot recently. It does the basic task I need quite well, and the collaboration tools are very good. It seems to be able to output pretty clean HTML as well (apart from the way it deliberately limits the text to the original page width, but that's just one short tag to edit out). Otherwise it's Notepad++ all the way for me.


Word clones with a complete lack of That Bloody Paperclip and a UI that's stayed more or less consistent between 1.0 and the latest edition, so they're ahead of Microsoft on some counts.

And Chris Harris? That's somewhat more charitable than I would've been. My theory is that the Marketing department demanded some spiffy new interface features to brag about on the back of the box and overruled the protests of the actual developers that they couldn't think of anything actually better to do. I mean, how common do they think touchscreens are in a business environment?


My main deliverables at work are Word documents- usually no larger than ~100 pages, but with loads of tables, figures (some of them need to be editable, e.g. embedded Visio), embedded Excel files (both charts and tables that need to be accessible and/or referenced externally) and many other unwelcome complications. Oh, and did I mention multiple people work on the same document simultaneously? Without that last bit, everything would have been easy. I found almost nothing I can't do in Word that I need to (my latest gripe: more than one pointer to a single footnote), and porting my styles through templates actually works pretty decently. But every time I hand in my portion of the file to someone else, after setting it right to use page breaks where it needs to, to set the widow/orphan controls in the styles as they should be, to get the right numbering settings to persist over section or chapter changes and the right ones to reset (and a few more I wouldn't mention) it always comes back with broken styles, multiple CR's instead of page breaks, numbers running over when they shouldn't and not persisting where they should, and no end is in sight. If people are strictly disciplined in how they write (or if you start with the one good document your team published three years ago, and just edit the heck out of it) then it can be a very reasonable tool. But if real people need to actually collaborate on a single document- that's a recipe for disaster.

And don't get me started on right-to-left and mixed formatting, though this has improved tremendously over the last few iterations (and is still not perfect by a long shot).


I kind of think Word 5.1 for the Mac must have sucked, unless it was a completely unrelated program. Word's suck doesn't come from its size or bloat or bugs or even really from the file formats... all of that is the result of the horrible document model.


I am so glad to find I am not alone in detesting Word.

I've been using WordPerfect since the days of DOS, and I still use it - a rather old version at that - WordPerfect for Windows 8. It has to be run in compatibility mode now, but it still does everything I want it to do, and I've been using it for so long I don't have to stop and wonder how to do anything.

Of course, it's no damn use if I want to share documents with anyone, so I either make pdf copies of things, or I import them into an elderly copy of Word 2003, which I only posssess so that I can share documents, and have never been known to use for actual writing of sentences.


It's always worth mentioning this article, which articulates in great detail why word processors in general, but particularly MS Word, are usefully considered harmful:

Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient by Allin Cottrell

Word clones with a complete lack of That Bloody Paperclip and a UI that's stayed more or less consistent between 1.0 and the latest edition, so they're ahead of Microsoft on some counts.

The Office Assistant was removed completely from Office 2007, so even mentioning that is a bit like complaining about the rendering bugs in IE6. Interesting as a historical note, but not as a criticism of the product. Also, I don't know if it's still there in current versions of ApacheOpenOffice or LibreOffice, but had an even more useless light-bulb which popped up with no explanation as to what it was actually trying to help you with.

As for "a UI that's stayed consistent", that's a double-edged sword: it could mean that they got it right first time, and aren't meddling, but it could mean that they're not innovating and thinking about how to help people get the job done. According to those blog posts by Jensen Harris, the UI in Word had stayed fairly consistent for years, but the feature set hadn't, and it was causing problems.

I mean, how common do they think touchscreens are in a business environment?

phongn@56 already debunked the idea that the ribbon has anything to do with touchscreens. The ribbon first featured in Office 2007, as a seemingly genuine attempt to tackle the labyrinth of features that had found their way into the applications. I've not really used it enough to say whether it succeeded, but I'm coming round to the idea that they were right to try.

Windows 8's "modern UI", codenamed Metro and definitely targeted at touchscreens, wasn't released until 5 years later. That is definitely an odd move if they still want to sell in a business environment, though, and it will be interesting to see if they stick with that direction.


My number one wish for any word processor, but especially Word, is a switch that says:

I'm writing a document that will be printed out on paper.

At a minimum, I don't want e-mail addresses or URLs changed to blue, or underlined, or hyperlinked.

My number two wish is a switch that says:

Anything pasted into this document will adopt the formatting of the line into which it is being pasted.

I cannot think of a single instance, ever, when I wanted the formatting from some web page to be carried over into my document.


This rant could've been written by my father, who works as something between a proofreader, fact-checker and layouter.

Back in the day, if you wanted random stuff to look presentable, and editable for your proofreader and layout-folks, you'd use PageMaker or one of its ilk. On a Mac. And you'd send PostScript to the printing shop. (Much fun was had by Yours Truly converting random formats (yeah, Word, mostly) to something usable by PageMaker etc.)

Nowadays, it's Microsoft fucking Word. All the way. Illegible on the screen (leading to many a dead-tree-pulp printout and re-integrating changes), impossible to layout so it looks the same on any 2 PeeCees.


Where do I find stylebot / stylish??


Charlie @ 74 YES! I wrote my MSc dissertation in Lotus 1-2-3 ... Because WordPervert was such total crap & I wanted (simple) equations ....


I usually WRITE in a text editor -- preferably one not designed by someone who thinks only programmers use text editors. Currently, Gedit -- Ubuntu's text editor.

If necessary, I then transform the frog with a kiss from LibreOffice.


Wrong. Word for Mac 5.1a predates Word for Windows 1.0 but had virtually nothing in common with Word 5 for DOS. You can see that WfW's authors looked at Word/Mac as a model of how to do GUI interaction, but added in BASIC (the one thing Word/Mac 5.1 lacked that I'd call useful was any kind of automation or macro language). And from Word for Windows 2.0 onwards, circa 1990, the bloat began to creep in, culminating in Word 6.0, which was a rebranding release that brought Word for Mac and Word for Windows into step version-wise and feature-wise (circa 1991/92, if I remember correctly).

Word for Mac 5.1a was the culmination of the parallel development of Word on MacOS (classic 1980s MacOS, that is, not OSX). It was slim, svelte, relatively elegant, and everything we don't associate with Microsoft Word (which is probably why it had to die).

NB: the word processor I used a lot in the mid-to-late 1980s was Borland Sprint (formerly marketed as FinalWord). I wrote about a dozen book-shaped things[*] using it; it was easy to use, powerful, very fast, could edit up to 20 files simultaneously in different buffers, had a journal file and auto-saved incrementally if you stopped typing for 1-4 seconds, and could even emulate the (DOS-based) keystroke and menu interfaces of rival word processors such as WordStar, Word Perfect, or Microsoft Word 3.0 (to make switching to Sprint easier). Of course, it crashed and burned in the market ...

[*] Book-shaped things: I learned to write novels the hard way, by writing. The results were not publishable for quite some time. As Roger Zelazny said, the way to become a novelist is to start by writing a million words of crap, and these were my million words. Anything from these learning exercises that had merit has long since been recycled into one of my real novels; trust me, you wouldn't want to smell the unedited midden.


"At a minimum, I don't want e-mail addresses or URLs changed to blue, or underlined, or hyperlinked."

If you type ctrl+z as the first key press, it will undo the underlining. I think that there is a flag that you can set under auto text (or some such, I only use Word at work).

"Anything pasted into this document will adopt the formatting of the line into which it is being pasted."

After pasting, the paste icon will appear below the text you pasted. If you press it, you get the option to select how it is pasted, including the option to remove all formatting.

"I cannot think of a single instance, ever, when I wanted the formatting from some web page to be carried over into my document."

True that, but you may want to keep table formatting if copying from another document.


Interesting link. Allin Cottrell seems to be conflating a few different issues though:

  • direct formatting instructions vs style hierarchies (which is related to, but not quite the same as, presentation vs semantics)
  • WYSIWYG vs markup
  • markup vs rendering
  • binary vs text-based file formats
  • proprietary vs standardised file formats

A fully marked-up TeX document won't look very much like plain text to most users - they'll just see lots of funny characters which they mustn't touch or everything breaks. And complex figures and images will be a lot less intuitive to work with directly in a text-editor workflow.

Nor is preparing a document usually a one-way process: you will want to go back and edit the file later, maybe let other people edit it too, so the annotations need to be as unobtrusive as possible (or invisible, as is the case in a WYSIWYG system). For the same reason, a propietary or obscure text-based format is no less a lock-in than a binary one - you might be able to strip all the markup and get down to plain text slightly easier, but that's unlikely to be what you really want.

This is what formats like markdown, ReStructured Text etc try to do, but they tend to make simple formatting easy at the cost of making complex formatting impossible (without "breaking out" into another markup language like HTML), and over-loading punctuation marks which might also need to appear in the output.

I think the "WYSIWYM" idea is a better compromise, where (regardless of the actual file format used) the user is applying approximate styles which can be fine-tuned later at the rendering stage.

That said, I wrote a blog entry some time back on the myth that is "semantic markup", and the limits of how far it's reasonable to demand that users never think in terms of direct formatting:


The non-linear progression of Word Processors:-

WYSIWYG What You See Is What You Get

WYSIVNWYG What You See Is Very Nearly What You Get

WYGIPWYD What You Get Is Probably What You Deserve

I am reminded of the "Rule of Diversity", from Eric Raymond's excellent work, "The Art Of Unix Programming" : "Distrust all claims for one true way."

If there is a light at the end of this tunnel, then it is that the next generation of productivity software will empower users by permitting them to select only those functions they require, enabling a choice of feature invocation methods, and perhaps best of all, externalising these features to a user-aligned profile that multiple applications can reference and respect. When we reach a place where software architecture allows us to select [and perhaps even write our own] functional modules - hey, Adobe did it for Photoshop - then we might have a chance.

The problems with the entire Microsoft ecosystem are legion, and stem from the early Microsoft push for dominance. Every time a competitor introduced a "cool new feature" Microsoft bolted it on to their products too, without logic, rhyme or reason. No wonder what's left is such a dog's breakfast.

ODF might possibly have brought us half way to a workable solution: we now have a logical, structured and vendor-neutral data format. Now we need to be brave enough to throw away the vestige of old-think word processing and begin again, blank slate. Problem is, programmers are frightened that the cognitive change is beyond most users.

Sometimes you have to make a leap of faith, into the unknown. You can't cross a chasm in two small steps.


Whenever I get really bored at work, I change the extension of a Word document from .docx to .zip, open it up and try to understand the XML structure. Try it some time.


There was a great program, once: XyWrite.


LaTeX? vi? Really? In 2013?

That shows how bad things are. It's as if someone with a laser printer decided that carving a wax tablet was more reliable.

Word is a disaster because there's an inherent contrast between page layout and document structure. Word never quite commits to either, but allows just enough functionality to tempt people in, but not enough to reliably perform the functions needed.

As with so much in the field, it seems to have blundered into success. WordPerfect may have missed out on a Windows version until too late, but this is probably as much due to the universal belief that OS/2 was the operating system of the future as those undocumented function calls.


When I was doing my BSc I really wished that I'd known about LaTeX as it would have saved me much time and effort.

We had Office XP on the systems at the college whilst I was using Office 2000 or similar at home. This meant that when I saved/emailed work for use at home I'd loose really basic formatting information between the two formats. Things as basic as paragraph numbering for example.

The more edits between the sites would add a massive reformatting overhead. I remember phrases such as "I'm working on that at home" and the inverse were quite common, since editing it in two places caused ridiculous amounts of additional wasted effort.

There are other benefits with LaTeX that often go unnoticed such as making use of variables that can be passed in during compilation. I find this really useful, there's no need to maintain separate copies of the same file when only minor modifications are required.

LaTeX is also really easy to edit from your favourite text editor, for me this is vim, for you it could be Word. Can you save it as plain text from Word without smartquotes messing things up?

The other thing about using LaTeX/vim is that you can just get on with the flow of thought without something popping up and blocking you, such as clippy or autocorrect switching things and you have to fix.


julianhwwest, vi in 2013, yes, that's silly, vim in 2013, that's sensible. vim offers many features that don't get in the way of editing. Really useful things such as registers and a whole host of movement commands that allow the author to work at the speed of thought.

People would do well to spend some time reading the help files as there are a lot of features that can save the lumbering mass of the business world a lot of time.

When I have to do things from my phone I find it very helpful to edit in vim, within screen on a remote server. I know the server will remain running despite local network issues, and that over a low baud rate I can still do things well.



And then we have people: Nobody knows how to use styles,

And why should they? The last copies of Word I installed on a client site were a CD and a 5-user license. The only "documentation" was the registration card.

As far as I can tell, Word's "help" function is far from being useful for the average user. The last version of Word I personally used ran on MSDOS, but at least it shipped with real paper documentation.

If they're going to ship without a manual, they can't bitch because people can't drive the program.

Of course, if Microsoft put the manuals back in the box, they'd lose the revenue stream from their training courses and "authorized" book sales.


Thank you for this. I was hospitalized in the early '90s thanks to inadvertently becoming a beta tester for Word 6.0 for Macintosh (a clerk accidentally sold me an embargoed copy three days before the official release date).

I was running a resume service and quickly discovered that the initial release had a type-ahead buffer of only 50 words per minute. MS apparently thought non-UNIX geeks were competent to test software used by legal secretaries.

Word 6.0 dropped so many words that I developed a twitch and cardiac arrhythmia from the stress.

I've never forgiven them, and never will but now that the Borg have defeated themselves, Apple seems to be picking up where they left off....

I've lost track of the number of documents I've been given to fix because they started apply formatting incorrectly, and finding that the document had dozens of styles all ad hoced to look similar, line breaks mixed with paragraph returns, and tabs mixed with clusters of spaces... none of which any of the users ever noticed because they had their formatting turned off. The only solution is often to completely strip out all formatting, paste into a clean document, and hope when given back the users won't immediately mess it all up again.

My assumption is you already know this stuff, right?

The Protect Document feature limits formatting to styles that you specify. To use it, first create a document or template and define the styles you want to use. Then choose Tools Protect Document to open the Protect Document pane. In the Protect Document pane, choose Limit formatting to a selection of styles, and then choose Settings to open the Formatting Restrictions dialog box.
This dialog will show a list of all styles in the document or template. Initially, most of the styles will be checked. Go through the list, removing the checks from any styles you don’t want used. (It might be easier to choose None at first, then add checks back as appropriate). At the bottom of the box, you’ll see another check box labeled Allow Autoformat to override format restrictions. In most cases, you’ll want to leave that box unchecked.

Given my assumption, I'm a bit confused. Are you saying this is a user problem or a bug problem?


See the reply above this one.


Information security. Never mind that Word is the easiest way around to deliver malicious code. If you're an organization concerned with keeping information private, you hate Word and Word hates you.

The file format makes a mockery of automated text scanning (and Microsoft does nothing on this point), so you're stuck with two-person review, a ponderous unreliable process that can easily eat up an hour per document. And even then the reviewers are facing embedded documents, embedded software, text boxes sitting a thousand yards offscreen because of a formatting error, fonts that are illegible and cannot be converted to plain text, and other squamous horrors too terrible to name. TRACK CHANGES FTAGHN.

As far as I can tell, Word's "help" function is far from being useful for the average user. The last version of Word I personally used ran on MSDOS, but at least it shipped with real paper documentation.

What makes you think the paper documentation, were it still to exist, would be better than the digital version? Apart from the sheer amount of paper it would require (the application has a lot more features these days, even if you don't use them), you'd lose all the advantages of search and cross-referencing, not to mention the ability to summon a section of manual relevant to a particular UI context.


That sounds a lot like the problem articulated by the Office 12 UI guy in the blog series I linked earlier: people frequently ask MS to add features which are already there, because they don't know how to access them.

It all comes down to "discoverability" (and thus UI) - documentation is only useful once you know what to look for, and different people will frame the problem differently. In this case, there may be an X/Y problem - the feature doesn't exist in the form the user envisioned, so they assume that their requirements can't be met.


@bedii - Thanks for the tip about Nota Bene as a replacement for XyWrite!


Word exists for static thinkers, for people who don't write or consider living documents. For many, these use cases enjoy Word as short-term and practical. "Better" is unnecessary.

I do whatever writing I do in plain text or HTML and CSS. Mainly because it's appears to be the most economical way to live with word stuff in multiple files.

For me, HTML is a container. For things like maintenance or configuration logs, it's simpler to design a process to roll-off dated things from 'dynamic' to 'static' to 'archive'.

I also have FrameMaker 8 at home. Began with version 6. Before that, I did multiple files and stylesheets with WordPerfect for DOS. But as the years roll by, I use FrameMaker less.

We know what's possible. But is there the political will?

Different tactics exist.

Chapter 18, the last chapter, the last sentence reads "... This book was entirely written in HTML and CSS."

"Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web" by Håkon Wium Lie and Bert Bos Third edition, Copyright 2005, ISBN 0-321-193124-1

At the time Lie and Bos credited the Prince formatter. They are still around.

Enjoyed the discussion. Found the blog post at

Much thanks, Brian Honolulu HI

I hope that not just Word but all the fixed-page-size formats die out soon. It's horrible to try and read a two-column PDF on an ebook reader.

Oh God yes. Does anyone have a Calibre recipe that converts two-column pdf to readable epub to fix this?


Word 5.1 for the Mac was probably the best word processor Microsoft ever wrote for the Mac. Word 6.0, which debuted around the time of the switch to PPC, despite the massive speed improvements of the new architecture was markedly slower and a terrible program in comparison.


I just finished my first novel using Word, but I share your contempt. It's just that it's what my proofers use and the notes they do in word are easy to read on the side.

I generally don't like MS software or its OS Windows, but its like economic systems. They're all terrible in their own way and the other choices have their own issues.

I'd work in a plain text editor if that was possible but I need to use some of Word's formatting tools.


I hate Word with the fire of a thousand suns. Since it is the de facto standard for business, even if you want to use something else you probably can't, because you need to communicate or collaborate with someone else who is unable or unwilling to use anything other than Word. Network effects are a bitch.

My experience is that even if you try to use "best practices" for styles, workflow, etc, you are still going to get punched in the dick (or ovaries) on a regular basis by bizarre, unpredictable, or just plain stupid layout and formatting behavior. For example, when you do "insert caption" on an image, the caption is not by default grouped together with the image, so when the document changes the caption wanders around the page independently of the figure it is supposed to be captioning (often times ending up on a different page from the figure, placed on top of the header/footer portion of the page or even off the page entirely in never-never land).

Word has so many "do what I mean" heuristics (for example, typing "*" and a space starts a bullet list, except when it doesn't) that it actively impedes you from learning how to access features the "normal" way when the heuristics don't work. I have found it basically impossible to build consistent mental model of what Word will do in a given situation; instead the user is left to resort to trial and error and hitting ^Z a lot.

A lot of people here are saying that Open/Libre Office is no better, and that may be true broadly in the sense that the underlying of concept of the "Word Processor" is fatally flawed, however in in the particulars Libre Office is vastly, hugely, toweringly superior. As just a few examples, in Libre Office hierarchical styles are much more accessible which encourages you to actually use them properly, floating figures can be anchored properly, and text reflows correctly, and there are far fewer "what the fuck just happened" moments when you insert/paste/delete text (unlike Word where the layout may decide to self destruct, or suddenly apply formatting to some nearby but unrelated block of text...)

Word users are suffering from a collective battered wife syndrome, making excuses for abusive software that doesn't deserve it. It doesn't have to be this way, there are word processing applications that treat you with respect and don't constantly mangle your work because it thinks it knows better than you!


Whoops. I wrote that entire rant while signed in as my wife. Charlie, I don't suppose you could switch the attribution of comment 121 to this identity :-)


I remember the transition from embedded code word processing to WYSIWYG processing very well, and WYSIWYG was pretty obviously better for everyone except professionals. The tension between structural vs. in-line editing existed in embedded code processing editors, too, it was most definitely not introduced by Microsoft!

The tension between structural vs. in-line editing is the tension between professionals whose work product will be reused vs. non-professionals whose work product is short-lived. Professionals are willing to pay the price of disciplined editing because they will earn its benefits; normal end-users will not earn any benefits, so disciplined editing is a waste of time for them.

There's no sense in trying to make one tool suitable for both audiences, the use cases -- and more importantly, the time-value propositions -- are simply too different.

So, when someone is participating on a long-lived documentation project, they must use the professional tools and workflows. That may mean normal end-users must first learn how to edit in a disciplined way. So be it, that's a price everyone pays.

What doesn't make sense is to go on letting non-professional writers use informal editing tools like Word to contribute to a formal process. That way lies insanity and double the work to undo embedded styling and to re-apply semantic tags. Better to do that kind of work intentionally , from the very beginning.

But what also doesn't make sense is to insist that informal writing be done using a formal toolchain. Let Word, Google Docs and its ilk take care of all those use cases.

TLDR: use the right tool for the job.


I am editor of a small magazine, and we do all predesign writing and collaboration in Google Drive. I love the subversive act Go


You know, there is another answer: then "Word is better"- that answer is "the cost of converting all existing documents and teaching all users to use a new word-processing tool is more then the problem is worth". Essentially you can rely on most people who apply to work knowing how to work with Word, at least somewhat. Knowledge of,say, Scrivener, is much less common.


I wrote a couple books on Python and decided to paint my bike shed pink and created restructured text tools to create ebooks (both epub and mobi)[0] and latex from the same source.

At the time Kindle formatting was such a pain that I also wrote a book chronicling my ebook formatting woes as well.

My tool chain isn't perfect, but for a programmer it works well with my tools-python, emacs, git, doctest (to test my books), and latex. And I only need to edit one file, and type a command to build an ebook or (p)book.



Yeah, Word's a pain. I understand why it's the standard, and if I squint a little bit when I look at it, I can even kind of justify it. It's a hideous mess, but it does almost everything for almost all tasks. It just doesn't do them well.

For what it's worth, I've had a similar experience with Google. They used to be known for making fast, clean, useful services and did so with a minimum of what might be called "evil." That seems like an unfunny joke these days.


When I was doing my BSc I really wished that I'd known about LaTeX as it would have saved me much time and effort.

Well, it might not have. When I did my MSc, very early in the studies I moved to LaTeX after Word mangled up my equations in one exercise and I had to print the document out using WP.

Of course I wrote my Master's Thesis in LaTeX. It was the best thing for it, but the layout requirements for the thesis were easiest to accommodate by writing a LaTeX document class for it.

You can guess that it wasn't really easy, objectively. I gave that to the department to distribute, and at least one other student used that class for their thesis.

Of course the requirements changed some time after that and there was nobody to update the document class anymore.

I'm just saying that LaTeX has its warts, too. I still like it if I need equation layout at home. At work I don't do EE or science any more at work, so there I use Word or a homebrew (workbrew?) XML document generator. Word is the worse of them, mostly because even though I have templates the styles of text seem to fail at random times.

At home I usually just write plain text, using either vim, Emacs or Kate, depending. Word is the fastest one to go when writing letters, and for bigger projects I got Scrivener (because recommended here by OGH) and it seems to be a very good tool.

I started with MS-DOS programs, and Teko (a Finnish word processor) and WP5.1 were my word processors for years. Qedit was a nice editor - I never used the Unix ones until I got into the university.

I remember doing some school project with Lotus 1-2-3 when the chart drawing part was a separate program. It didn't feel that hard, then.


About vi versus vim: It wasn't in 2013 but in 2005-6 I worked with devices which had a Unix OS, and had only vi (and obviously ed) as an editor. It's not very common nowadays, but I think there are still some places where you get only vi.

I hope I never encounter those places again.

Once, during a boring night of sky measuring, I realized that the workplace had a complete set of VMS manuals on a shelf, and the computer I was using was a VMS box. I managed to create and edit a file with TECO, but after that night I saw the case for Emacs.


The thing that is killing Word is the iPad. I'm back to using old school plain text for much of my work and since most everything begins life on my iPad, no Word is no big deal. RTF, plain text and Google Docs format are my choices. They all work great and no Microsoft tax.


It's been quite a while since I read an article where I nodded enthusiastically at every paragraph.

The point about the fundamental incompatibilty of style sheets and semantic markup vs the 'What You See Is What You Get' illusion is one I've been trying to make for years, but generally failing to get across to people who grew up in the Microsoft Word universe.

I was only introduced to Microsoft Word on DOS in the late 1980s when it was still a very minor player in the word processing field. On MS-DOS at least, the program was in fact quite usable once you wrapped your head around the weird interface (press Esc to invoke a menu, anyone?).

I remember it as a quite author-friendly program as long as you stuck pedantically to formatting only using what was defined in your style sheet (which you had the option to save as a separate file, fortunately), and you could even do programming of sorts using the built in macro langage up to version 5 or so for DOS. Building camera ready copy for >1000 page books with cross-references and indexes was doable as long as you took some care to work with chunks that would fit into available memory.

But then Microsoft's focus changed to anything Windows, and if I remember correctly, two seriously awful things happened with the initial Word for Windows version:

1) style sheets were gone (likely sacrificed so the graphics would fit into available memory), so for any processing that you had previously done via style tags you now had to make up slightly different sets of formatting in order to have something unique to work from (so say, a menu command would be Arial Bold 10, while a key combination would be Arial Underline 10, messages would be Courier 10, your general text would be Arial 10, Arial Italic 10 would be reserved for references, while arial italic 11 would be for emphasis, and so on ad nausam)

2) the macro language was ditched too, replaced with YAMBV (Yet Another Microsoft Basic Variant), which of course you had to rewrite your entire workflow, all the while fitting your logic to an unmaintainable set of direct formatting

The big problem was, if you were stuck on DOS with something of a pressure to work on Windows too, there was not a lot of rationally designed software around, at least not anything I managed to find back then (roughly 1990ish). DesqView briefly offered some sanity and a window of opportunity for sane projects, but that was killed off by the same market manipulation that killed DR-DOS.

I thought SGML and specifically DocBook held some promise (at least for the kinds of documentation it was designed for and backed by several free software projects), but the race to XML (why?) left us with a never-completed and now unmaintained toolchain for SGML while the XML version is, you guessed it, not quite complete yet.

And of course, for each project you want to work on, you face the hurdle of selling semantic markup to a new set of blank faces raised on Microsoft Word.

So yes, I concur emphatically. Microsoft Word needs to die. We will live with the fallout for generations to come anyway, but the world needs to rid itself of that pest.


eneville @ 107 See also my post @ 98 ... I should add that my similar struggle was way back in 1993/4, so options then were considerably more limited - & equally unsatisfactory. That we have not moved forward, or approached a better system/solution in TWENTY YEARS - in the field of computing!!) says everything we need to know about how bad this situation is.


kcwookie @ 130 NO I have tried to use an iPlod precisely ONCE. Never, ever, again. I was trying to input personal data for a (theatre/film) potential hirer. Talk about user-unfriendly - & I don't just mean the software, either. The physical useability of the touchscreen device itself, was such that it rocked & moved when placed on a flat surface, rendering typing impossible. After the 5th attempt, I handed it back to it's owner & dictated my responses. Euuuuuggggh!

( And, yes, I do, now, have a touchscreen 'phone ) - but the iPrat I really don't want to know about. Or anything else from Apple, frankly, because they are just as big, evil & greedy as MicroShaft.


Heteromeles, Coming late to this party, so someone may have replied to you already (not going to read through 133 posts to find out). If you're having issues with Scrivener and back-ups and external storage, please read this post on the Literature and Latte forum:

I wrote the last bit describing how to go about managing Scrivener projects with back-ups with cloud type storage (anything external really).

If you have more than one project on it may be useful. If you consider the Scrivener patient dead, then please ignore.


Actually... yes.

Strange though it might be Greg, a chunk of the rest of the world does use iPads enthusiastically. And one of the things they want to know about is a low-step process for integrating it into their workflow.

It's where iA writer scores over Mou as a markdown editor for me - the iPad and Mac versions integrate through iCloud seamlessly. Pages scores nicely for the same reason if I'm writing in a word processor. Lots of other systems add an extra step to integrate through Dropbox. And despite the product placement of the Microsoft Surface trying to appear cool, Microsoft is suddenly trying to sort out Office for the iPad - Surfaces are not selling and more than enough senior executives are using iPads and thinking that they might switch away from Office since they don't use it on their iPads.


Given how long the change from HTML 4.04 to 5 and CSS2 to 3 is taking - I'm willing to bet that HTML 5 and CSS 3 will be the standards, possibly with some tiny points, for longer than Word has ruled the roost.

Heck, we still haven't converted to CSS 3, and HTML 5 has taken over a decade to agree on the standards, although they're actually rolling out now.


"A lot of people here are saying that Open/Libre Office is no better, and that may be true broadly in the sense that the underlying of concept of the "Word Processor" is fatally flawed, however in in the particulars Libre Office is vastly, hugely, toweringly superior." LO/OO have another few advantages. The file format is open, well documented and it is my impression that it is also sane. Both programs are open source, so someone could take the file format libraries and write their own UI on top.


Microsoft Word is a living fossil, but not half as vestigal as the protocols that make up email. I would put email out of its misery without hesitation. It is the bane of all productivity


Whilst Word does have it's flaws (just like any other program) a lot of the comment here smacks of complaining that "this swiss army knife was rubbish for re-wiring the house, and it made a mess when I used it to perform surgery".

It sounds to me that if Word is not the best tool to do lots of specialist layout and typesetting and versioning then you should be making a business case to use a more appropriate tool for these jobs. However, Word/Office is suitable for the vast majority of office productivity as evidenced by the fact that it is used for the vast majority of office productivity.

Just out of interest, what would the world look like if Word or any of it's competitors hadn't risen to dominance? Would we have had a word processor war to match the browser wars? Would the market for computers be as large?


You completely missed the point, didn't you?

Word is a decently good product for the office, but not adapted at all for publishing. I feel your complaints should be addressed to your publishers.

From the conversations I've had Word stays doesn't stay around because it's a wonderful system for writing, or for transforming the final version into something suitable for distribution.

It stays around because:

  • It's almost everywhere - so everybody involved can see the same thing in pretty much the same way without having to go through a massive learning curve (remember - "everybody" includes author(s), reviewer(s), copy editor(s), etc. etc.).
  • It has a change control system that, on a good day with a fair wind, vaguely works. So folk can easily move edits around for review and approval.
  • Solving those two problems in general is non-trivial.


    No, I just like devils advocate. Word isn't terrible for most things it's used for as fundamental design decisions don't really impinge on these. If you're trying to do something where it's a poor tool then change the tool, but accept that the task you're trying to accomplish is probably an edge case for it's user base.


    Oh, I almost forgot to address the other issue - it's unavoidability. That's the fault of the network effect, not Word, and you'd have this problem with whichever word processor won the crown.

    Is there a consensus among authors as to which program they would rather use?


    Hey Charlie, is there some new hoop to jump through in order for a comment to show up? I (attempted) to post a comment, but it seems to be in the aether instead of nestled snuggly in this thread.


    On the WYSIWYG vs Styles side there's been an ongoing debate in the content strategy world for a bit about the pains resulting in needed structured content when folk are trained to expect WYSIWYG editors. See Karen McGrane's WYSIWTF for example.

    Our new cross-device world (mobiles, tablets, netbooks, tvs, watches FFS) is making the need to understand more of the semantics of the content - rather than just the output formatting - to do an effective job of getting the right information in the right place at the right time.

    If anything it's these sorts of transformation that are going to be the Word killers. Because in a few more years a lot more folk are going to be writing content that needs to be X different places and displayed in Y different ways - and Words document-centric approach isn't going to cut it any more.

    This kind of stuff is coming up more and more because the display side of things need to do more interesting things than just "show the content"


    And by the way, don't ever suggest that the secretary who's been given responsibility for producing the product manual really ought to go and read Word For Dummies. Borderline Asperger's Nerd + Secretaries low self-esteem = floods of tears and a call to the manager's office!

    We've all been there. The Word Support Support Group beckons.

    I think, all things considered, the absolute pits with MS Word is the way people patch together documents via C&P, it kludges up the document structure, and there is no way of acting on it directly. CAN HAZ REVEAL CODEZ?


    The anti-spam plugin seems to have raised an eyebrow at several comments in the past 24 hours. Possibly something to do with the order-of-magnitude traffic increase on the blog (normally: 10-12,000 unique visits a day; Saturday 12th: 88,000 unique visits). This happened while I was in bed, sleeping off an exhausting work week followed by a couple of back-to-back economy-class flights.


    You've hit several news aggregators with this post... that will tip the load I'm sure.


    Slashdot, Boing Boing, Hacker News, Reddit -- that I know of.


    One word: SMARTQUOTES!

    More than one word: Smartquotes and the inability to fix them, either in place or to the point that they are correct, has driven me batty on a number of book projects. I still use Word because it's the accepted format for everything. I like OpenOffice, but there were things that it was not compatible with. I've also used WordPerfect and a number of others. Found all your same points, just with less experience than you. Well written arguments; I could hardly agree more.


    MS Word becomes very easy to use and loses 99% of its annoyances if you do as suggested in post 111 - lock the styles. Users are then unable to apply manual overrides to the underlying styles. All manual formatting is disabled, and becomes greyed out on the formatting toolbar.

    I've used this method for tech doc in the oil/gas industry, with hundreds of users, and very few problems - everything becomes easily controllable.

    If you define numbering as part of your styles (a feature that I have found unbreakable in Word, particularly with Word's built-in heading styles), long tech docs become extremely easy. And you get auto TOC and tables of Figures/Tables for free. A 500-page tech manual with numbered headings, numbered figures and lots of tables is a piece of cake.

    To make it easy for users, you need to make a custom toolbar with all permitted styles on it. This is trivially easy in W2003, but MS removed this most useful feature in W2007, alas.

    However, W2007 recognises and uses custom toolbars created in W2003, so you need to jump through a few hoops (or create the custom toolbar in W2011 for Mac, which retains this capability).

    With a custom toolbar, using Word becomes very easy for your users, as there are only 2 rules. Rule (1) if it's on the custom toolbar, you can do it. Rule (2) if it's not on the custom toolbar, you can't.

    To make life even easier, you redefine Word's Normal style to pink. When a user copies/pastes non-allowed styles/formatting, Word strips out all formatting and converts the text to Normal style, which therefore turns the text pink. This makes it easy to fix a doc - find the pink text and give it a permitted style from the custom toolbar. A trivial task.

    When you've worked with locked/protected docs in Word, you'll never want to work any other way. Life becomes so much easier. No more user-created spaghetti formatting - this becomes a distant memory.

    (BTW, my first job as a tech author was on a college placement at a now defunct software outfit where Mr Stross was working. 1991-ish, IIRC)


    I was the Program Manager in charge of Microsoft Word during the time it rose to prominence with version 2.0 and 6.0. While there are some grains of facts in the rant of Mr. Stross, the vast majority is incorrect or inaccurate or simply wrong.

    Yes, Word's formatting model tries to meld the best of the worlds of direct formatting applied on the fly by the user, without breaking away from the benefits that hierarchical stylesheets can provide.

    Doing the blended model was however never much of a debate within Microsoft as the chief architect of Word, Charles Simony brought the blended model with him from GUI word processors he had done at Xerox Parc.

    This model is not perfect at all, as there are many cases for user confusion, and having formatting tied to the "paragraph mark" can be confusing. The problem is that we could never invent a better model back then in the 90s (we tried), and nobody has been able to do it since either.

    Yes, styles don't work as well as they used to in version 2.0 and 6.0, mostly because the Word team tried to make them into every man's tool. It should not be. Styles are for people who understand publishing.

    The other gripes about the Word binary file format and the changes seem to originate with a person who tries to understand complex data structures like a binary file format, without really having the capacity or training.

    Lastly, in many ways the Word architecture is optimal. You can't do a word processing architecture any better. That is why nobody has really tried in 20 years. In Word you can open a 200,000 page document, and make 20 quick edits and save without it taking most of the afternoon. Try to do this in Open Office Word processor...or Word Perfect.

    Happy to clarify any other issues of contention that people may have.

    Regards, Kornel Marton


    You do know that this is exactly why many consider Libreoffice Writer to be the superior tool. Simply by virtue of being a later development to replace Word, it has many of your gripes being ironed out.

    A short example being the file format: OpenDocument is a real file format , unlike a memomery dump.


    I have one key question for you:

    What is the notional useful life-span of a document, as you and your colleagues see it?

    And what measures do you take to ensure that the accessibility of documents doesn't degrade over time?

    (This is a trick question. In my business, the useful life of a document is "life of author plus 70 years" -- thank you, Berne Convention. In other fields -- law, medical records -- it might conceivably be longer: we haven't had computing devices for long enough to butt up against their limits. On the other hand, in most business sectors the life expectancy of a document is about three to six months, and document retention beyond the requirements of law -- typically 7 years -- is actively discouraged.)


    It cropped up in my Zite feed and someone that gets their news aggregated through Pulse sent me a link from there saying "Don't you read this guy?" too.


    As I mentioned, I worked on Word from 89-95, but left the company in 95...hence I'm not sure what Microsoft people today think is the life span of a document.

    It seems the you think that Word is somehow impacting the life span of your documents. Can't imagine how that would be. Can you be specific. As far as I know, you can open and edit documents created in Word 20 years ago...

    As an aside, you need to remember that Word is a product for the masses of corporate and consumer users whose average document is 2 pages long. It does not aim to be a publisher's tool, even though it does have some publishing features. Publishing Professionals, have many other specialized tools at their disposal.

    The problem is that many professional authors like to use a convenient tool like Word but resent that it does not support all the specialized needs that professional writers have. This was done by specific INTENT. We made a conscious decision when building Word 2.0 to NOT cater to that market segment, and instead focus on the secretarial and office market. These two markets have divergent needs that cannot easily be reconciled in one product. It was clearly the right decision in hindsight, as Word 2.0 took Word market share from 7% to 90% within 2 years...

    Incidentally, this decision to not cater to professional authors, turned James Gleick (Chaos) into a rabid MS Word hater...even though he had been previously a Word lover.


    Charlie, I used to be an IT trainer specialising in training complete noobs in how to use MS Office. It wasn't particularly difficult to learn for most people. The exceptions to that were people who were already proficient in another word-processor, usually WordPerfect 5(.1) for DOS.

    It took at least twenty times as long for them to develop proficiency in Word than it took complete beginners. The more they knew about WordPerfect the longer it took them to learn Word. I could teach a beginner how to do basic tasks with Word in a single four-hour session. I taught a WordPerfect Wizard how to use Word and she couldn't do some of the basic stuff after using Word daily for four years.


    As far as I know, you can open and edit documents created in Word 20 years ago...

    Nope. I have the manuscript of a book I wrote in 1994-96 that is inaccessible in any version of word I've tried since 2002. (Written in Word 5.1a for System 7 (Mac). Inaccessible in anything recent on the Mac. I can't speak to Windows because I don't use it.)

    We made a conscious decision when building Word 2.0 to NOT cater to that market segment, and instead focus on the secretarial and office market.

    Yes, and that's an entirely legitimate goal. The problem kicked in when Word achieved such total ubiquity that businesses which should really have known better began to insist that all their workflow be based around Word -- including publishers, law firms, and others with special needs.

    If MS had forked Word into an office product and a professional writer/proofing product and maybe a DTP/layout package, we wouldn't be having an argument.


    I'm not sure it's fair to blame Word for people choosing the wrong tool for the job. If, for example, a significant proportion of authors use Scrivener why not get together (maybe in some sort of union of guild) and approach the publishers and tell them "We want to work with this, it's better and this is why . We will all go to the first publisher who supports this."?


    This highlights exactly why Word is such a problem for collaboration:

    The protect document... > Limit styles feature isn't available in Word for Mac 2011.


    Well there are bugs in sw and Word has its fair share. I don't think however that backwards compatibility is mostly there, as it is not hard to do and is in the interest of the Word business. Have you contacted MS about your problem.

    Splitting the code base to cater to hard core publishing needs would not have been that simple. Basically the Word layout engine does not understand how "think" like a DPT tool. It would have had to be a completely new tool, like MS Publisher eventually became....but even MS Publisher is a tool for mass market hobby publishing and not for ProSumer markets.

    MS struggles with the idea of making products for niche markets. It makes no sense to build for a 100K unit per year market when other products do 100 million units. It just makes no economic sense.

    The fact that the entire publishing supply chain has standardized on low cost products like Word is not really the fault of Word or MS. You can blame the company for many things (I certainly do)...but not for people choosing to use their products.


    Every single long term user of Word on the Mac has the same problem Charlie Stross has with old files becoming unreadable in anything new. He isn't encountering a bug but a consistent fact of life for those of us who were using Word for Mac in the nineties.

    Which, by the way, is a big factor in why so many of us loathe the application and refuse to use it for anything serious.


    a significant proportion of authors use Scrivener why not get together (maybe in some sort of union of guild)

    HAHAHAHAHA-oh dear me, no.

    How about a large group of small one-app software shops get together and lobby Apple to let them write iOS apps using Microsoft Visual Studio?

    You'd get just about the same distance.

    (Authors and unions isn't so much a case of herding cats as a case of trying to farm octopi. Hint: out of mating season octopi consider other octopi to be food ...)


    @globetrotter. Was there any thought during your period at MS that file formats would be changed so that early adopters would drive sales by forcing late adopters to upgrade? I recall that it was particularly aggravating by the late 1990's, early 2000's. MS policy or not?


    If OGH is correct that current editions of Word cannot read the oldest versions (I cannot test this), then this nicely circles back to the idea of proprietary formats resulting in a "dark age". What is the consensus about what we should we be using for archival purposes?


    One word: SMARTQUOTES!

    As a long-forgotten denizen of alt.peeves (might even have been Charlie) once said: "Whenever Microsoft use the word 'smart', be on the lookout for something dumb."


    "This highlights exactly why Word is such a problem for collaboration: The protect document... > Limit styles feature isn't available in Word for Mac 2011."

    I don't have Word installed on the Mac in front of me (I hate Word, even though I use the Win version all day at work), so I am going on vague memory here. IIRC, you cannot initiate locked styles on the Mac version, but if you open a locked/protected document from a Win user, the doc will be locked on the Mac just as it is on Win. So the Mac version knows about it - it just doesn't let you actually do it.

    (I will check this when I get back to another machine with Mac Word.)

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Mac version does allow you to create a custom menu, a feature that was removed from the Win version in 2007. AFAIAC, the locked styles feature is useless without a custom menu if you are deploying it to other less-than-expert users. They need an easy way to use a locked doc, and a custom menu provides exactly that.

    In W2003, if a user clicked on a manual formatting icon, a dialog box appeared and told the user that formatting could only be applied using styles. The styles pane then opened. This was helpful to users by pointing them in the right direction. In W2007, this helpful action disappeared and nothing happened if the user clicked an icon, leaving the user none the wiser and clueless as to how to proced. Typical MS rot.

    So the whole locked styles feature has become a mess. You can initiate it on Win, but not on a Mac, although the Mac version will observe the feature. You cannot create a custom menu on Win, but you can on a Mac. A complete mess. What used to be a dead simple power user feature on W2003 has been turned into a total wreck with the change to the (ef)Fluent interface (aka Ribbon, or Noddy Bar, as I prefer to call it).

    This is the main problem with MS - they arbitrarily remove features, especially power features. A work colleague has "upgraded" to Office 2013 and reports that Visio has become unusable for the type of work he does.

    On the WYSIWYG vs Styles side there's been an ongoing debate in the content strategy world for a bit about the pains resulting in needed structured content when folk are trained to expect WYSIWYG editors. See Karen McGrane's WYSIWTF for example.

    Funny you should mention that; I was about to make a comment about the same with regard to LaTeX. See, with LaTeX, you can (sorta) go both ways and it is indeed the fact that people who are in the throws of learning LaTeX (which has a steep learning curve in the non-technical sense) go with the (sorta) WYSIWYG style of formatting, only to later master extending old environments or creating their own. With a 'D'oh!', usually; I keep some of my old stuff around just to see how badly it was written to meet the output formatting specifications.

    Same with Word, right? The only difference is (again, very broadly speaking) is that LaTeX has always been a command line thing and always will be. Which is significant, because this means that in LaTeX, writing up a new environment really isn't that much harder in terms of keystrokes than inserting format codes manually. This is not the case for word processors with GUI front-ends. The command line interface makes you actually stop and think a little bit. With the GUI it's really easy to mindlessly cycle through 'highlight-change-see-if-it-looks-right-if-not-highlight-etc.' That's the other thing about LaTeX, of course; typesetting after every change isn't hard at all. But the extra two seconds to do so doesn't buy into the feedback loop the way instantaneous changes on-screen do.


    I certainly agree with everything you say about Word, Charlie, but I do think that, if anything, we're seeing things get better with that regard these days. It's far more common to see Markdown, which can be created in any text editor, be the submission format for article-length pieces, and the publishing site Leanpub relies on it for full-length books.

    Here at Take Control Books, where we started with Word because it was the only way to produce a decent PDF with a tool that all our authors and editors had and could use (as opposed to InDesign), we switched first to Pages and then, after Apple ignored its bugs and limitations for too many years, to the resurgent Nisus Writer Pro, which is a wonderfully powerful, occasionally quirky word processor from a company that actually listens to feedback and fixes bugs and other infelicities.

    We write and edit in Nisus Writer Pro, thanks to its excellent change tracking and commenting and styling capabilities, and then use a custom-built macro to convert that to Markdown to feed into Leanpub. That gives us a great-looking PDF exported from Nisus, and EPUB and Mobipocket versions from Leanpub that use our custom CSS styles.

    (Did I mention that Nisus Writer Pro has a full macro language built in? And powerful regular expression searching that can do things like "Find the word Figure, followed by one or more digits, when it's in Caption style, and replace with found, in bold."? Just brilliant.)


    Those of us who deal with academic, professional, and legal documents have long despised all word processors... and much of the time, most of the purported gurus who try to tell us how they should look, and hang all function off of that. Here are a few examples:

    (1) Not all italics are italics. Really. For example, the italics ordinarily used for emphasis in running text do not have the same meaning as the italics ordinarily used for a foreign word/phrase in that same document, let alone certain title-of-the-reference levels in the footnotes and/or bibliography and/or running text (which may change their nature depending upon whether one is writing a legal document as a brief intended for a court or an academic document for other lawyers or an academic document for nonlawyers).

    The problem here is not with the file format. It is with the user interface. There is no reason — none — that <ctrl>i could not create a style rather than a hardcode by default, with <ctrl><shift>i for the hardcode (required to, say, accurately quote an existing document that used italics). The same goes for drop-down/context menus accessed via mouse or other nonkeyboard pointer. However, no word processor does that.

    (2) The arrogance of the Chicago Manual of Style (note, carefully, the hardcoded italics there) and its attempt to impose what one group of typesetters thought would make their jobs easier upon the function of everyone else in the US — which, since the 1st edition, has become a true monster — seriously infects everything (and disrespects non-US users). One of the reasons that Word does not nest footnotes is that CMS, since the second edition, has said that's not allowed. Of course, an awful lot of us who deal with footnotes don't use CMS...

    The flip side of this is that other citation-and-format systems are equally arrogant, if not more so. The Blue Book (actually, that should be in small caps, not italics... but that's a CSS-level code that doesn't work in MT interfaces, because HTML — in its own bit of arrogant disregard for others — doesn't think small caps are important enough to be a default tag) makes whether there is a space after a period a matter of substance. There's a difference between "F. Supp." (correct), "F. Supp. 2d" (correct), and "F.R.D." (also correct), all three of which refer to decisions from US district courts. Actually, that should be "U.S. District Courts".

    It's all well and good to say "well, just modernize all of the systems." The problem is that modernizing for the future doesn't change legacy documents. As a specific example, the Blue Book "modernized" its rules for whether one may/must close up periods in multipart abbreviations when it dropped the old rule, which was based on how many syllables were in the underlying term being abbeviated. (Yes, really — it used to be "F. R. D.", which could not be broken across lines.) The less said about all of the unnecessary periods, which lead to inconsistent word counts, the better... not to mention the continued use of abbreviations for states used nowhere except legal citations since the 1960s, and which cause nothing but confusion...

    So, much as I despise the way Word (not to mention most other word processors — WordPerfect was better than most, but far from perfect) has implemented some of these systems, any implementation was going to resemble verb forms in German (lots of irregular verbs, including some of the most common). It's too bad that Word focused its user-interface efforts on assuming user stupidity and hung its file paradigms off the user interface, rather than the other way around... but that would just present us with a different set of kludges to worry about.

    (3) Non-US-typewriter characters. Proclaiming that the s-zed can be represented by ss (which might get split by a hyphenation algorithm) does not make it so, particularly not when trying to accurately quote another document. And sometimes it's wrong. However, if I try to code that into my default keyboard, I have to give up access to another command... and can't access it consistently across programs or documents anyway. And that's just one character; I'll save my rant on diacriticals (and their effect on spellcheckers) for another time...

    (4) A pox on all typography gurus who aren't active writers in the fields for which they are proclaiming "correct" or "best" practices. I don't have the option of varying line spacing for better readability in documents submitted to California courts (25 evenly-spaced, numbered-in-the-margin lines per page), so the received-wisdom ideal typeface that accentuates superscript placement and minimizes subscript placement won't work for me. So does received-wisdom advice on changing line length to match some purported ideal (which is inaccurate for those of us who wear glasses, whether reading on paper or on screen, in any event). Conversely, if I'm quoting that same document in a different one (a court document, an article, a letter to a legislator, whatever), I have to strip all of the court-mandated formatting... and received-wisdom advice is then irrelevant.


    " I have the manuscript of a book I wrote in 1994-96 that is inaccessible in any version of word I've tried since 2002. (Written in Word 5.1a for System 7 (Mac). Inaccessible in anything recent on the Mac. I can't speak to Windows because I don't use it.)"

    Are you sure about this? I have loads of 5.1a docs, and I have been able to open them whenever required.

    Believe it or not, the situation is even worse on Win. At some point, MS decided that it would disable allowing older docs to be opened for "security" reasons. I'm not sure which version was the cut-off (pre-'97 format, I think), but Win Word just plain refuses to open earlier versions. The only way to defeat this requires a Registry alteration, which is beyond Joe/Joan Public. Fine for orgs with IT departments.

    On the Mac, it's easier - an older doc will not open if you double-click it, but you can open a 5.1a doc by File>Open and navigating to the doc. I haven't tried this for some time, but I'm pretty sure I've never had a problem, and I will check it out when I get back to a Mac that has Word 2011 on it, (the Mac I'm using now doesn't, and although I am a Mac-only owner, I would always advise Mac user to use the Win version of Word with Parallels, or similar.)

    But I sympathise and feel the pain, believe me. The whole MS Word landscape is a total nightmare. For me, the only thing that makes it in any way usable is the locked styles feature, which simplifies life by an order of magnitude. Even then, MS has downgraded it and made it far worse and more complicated from W2007 onward.

    Like you, I'd love Word to die - but there's more chance of being struck by lightning.


    Gee, Charlie, don't hold back. Tell us how you really feel about it...

    I've been steadily getting more and more fed up with Word over the years myself. For me, the problem starts with the way I learned to type: namely, on a typewriter. Yeah, old fashioned thing, with a platen and a bunch of keys, and a keyboard which was so stiff (after years of high school students hammering away on the thing) that getting individual keys to function just about required a hammer and chisel. I learned to lay out documents by hand - centring headings, underlining subheadings etc.

    The first word processor I used (the first office product suite I used) was called "First Choice". It came free with the AT/XT compatible PC my parents bought for my brother back at the end of 1988, and fitted onto two 5.25" floppy disks with room to spare. It didn't have much going for it aside from the cost; it was WYSIWYG, but only in the vaguest possible manner, in that if you bolded text, it showed up twice as dark as the normal text. So was italic text, on the screen. Font sizes and such were set by the printer (dot matrix) and your only options were to make the text bold or italic. You didn't have to centre headings by hand, but aside from that, it wasn't too different to the manual typewriter. I wrote a number of university essays using First Choice during my first ever attempt at a university degree.

    I came to Word and the MS Office suite (or rather, the cut-down version of same known by the hideous misnomer of MS Works) when I finally purchased my own PC, in about 1995. MS Works did most of the stuff that Word did, but it did them badly, and it saved the files in a completely incompatible format of its own. Not only were Works documents incompatible with every other word processor known to humanity, they were also incompatible with the MS Office suite (in what seems to me to have been a triumph of MS lunacy). Genuine "write once, read never" documents.

    The next version I ran into was Lotus Ami Pro/Word Pro. This was during my various tenures with a Major Government Department, who used Lotus Notes for email, and got the Lotus office suite as a freebie along with that; rather than pay extra for Word, they used the Lotus Freebie. Ami/Word Pro was apparently fairly good, but I found it rather counter-intuitive in spots. Nothing major, just the way the designers' minds worked and the way my mind worked were different enough that I had trouble figuring out how I was supposed to do things the Lotus way.

    But Works and Ami/Word Pro exposed me to one of my own major failings when faced with a word processor - I get distracted by all the pretty fonts and formatting, and forget to actually put text on the pages past the first one. It was during my long stint with the Major Government Department I finally discovered how I work best as a writer: if I write in Notepad, I get actual text on the page, and then I can copy and paste it into a word processor and use that to pretty things up (to a point).

    I've also found this is the easiest way to get copied text to behave itself in most word processors as well (not just Word - any of them). Copy and paste the original into Notepad, which keeps the letters in order, but strips out all the formatting. Then copy and paste the copy in Notepad into your clean document. Apply formatting to your finished document as necessary. I don't use styles, and I've never learned how to.

    Open Office was okay - they hadn't managed to quite dump the entire kitchen sink in there, and so it managed to stay up for a bit longer, and the file format was always a bit more compact (I switched to Star Office during the days when I was busy carting files around on floppy disks - you can get a lot of .txt files onto a 1.44MB floppy; you can't get a lot of .doc files onto it). Libre Office is suffering from a very bad case of "neither flesh, nor fowl, nor good red herring" when it comes to identity - it's almost entirely like Word, but the few differences are enough to cause major headaches. I suspect they're aiming for bug-for-bug compatibility.

    I suspect I'm a digital Luddite. My preference is for Notepad. Or if I'm programming, Notepad++, because that puts the line numbers along the side so I can figure out where the bugs are. Also, I don't like PDFs, because a PDF is a picture of a document, not an actual document. A PDF is a document like a colour photocopy of a $5 note is currency.

    (My biggest problem with using Word is that while I generally know what I want to do with a document, what I don't know is how to get Word to leave me alone for long enough to damn well do it.)

    globetrotter @ 158 mentions what winds up being my number one external gripe about Word - namely, it's a tool which was primarily designed for the corporate market, but which has been forcibly diversified via ubiquity into any number of wider markets. I spend a lot of time ranting in fan fiction rant communities about how Word's spell check is NOT the be-all and end-all of "this is a valid word", because Word's spell check is optimised for business writing. If I'm writing something creative on a word processor, I'll switch the spell check off, and then when I'm finally finished I'll run through it with a dictionary open beside me, because that way I can double-check whether the alternative word I'm being suggested is correct or not. The day I got a copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary on CD was a godsend for me - it cut the amount of swearing at spell check I was doing by about two thirds.

    A spelling check program which by default doesn't recognise anything which isn't in common use outside corporate contexts is not a useful tool for anyone who wants to extend their vocabulary. It certainly isn't helpful for someone who is trying to use words to show, rather than tell.


    Yep, I've tried Nisus Writer Pro. There's a key feature missing, which I need if I'm going to love a word processor -- the ability to split a window on a document horizontally and view two different sections of it at the same time. (They may have added that since my last attempt.) Regexp, check. Perl, check. Its own macros, check. RTF as a native format, check. Everything else seems to be there ...


    Amen brother

    The formatting and document structure in Word works just fine, as long as you understand what you're doing and don't break anything by ad-hoc formatting. I know that now, but it's knowledge paid for with wasted time, tears and foul language.

    The saddest thing is that the starting point was a perfectly functional LaTeX document, but Management decided to impose a uniform file format, so naturally chose Word. Sob.

    It was clearly the right decision in hindsight, as Word 2.0 took Word market share from 7% to 90% within 2 years...

    I do not mean to be disrespectful, but it sounds like you wish us to thank Microsoft for its monopolistic practices. For me, the statistics you mention confirm that foul play was afoot.

    For more thoughts on MS Word, I'd still advise reading Roberto Di Cosmo's Hijacking the World: The Dark Side of Microsoft, which remains relevant after 15 years. It is about things like laws requiring perennity for official documents like birth certificates (has been a foundation of public administration since the 18th Century at least), policies requiring computerisation of administration (not an unreasonable idea), and implementation of the policy by the purchase of Microsoft licences (uh oh...).

    As a LaTeX user forced to use MS-Word for certain business, I loath every second of my life that is wasted re-setting font sizes or colours because Word propagates random styles like the plague.

    This is the main problem with MS - they arbitrarily remove features, especially power features. A work colleague has "upgraded" to Office 2013 and reports that Visio has become unusable for the type of work he does.

    Blame the market research team for that one. I'm guessing that it's precisely because the styles pane is a 'dead simple power user feature' that later versions made styles harder to access, and for the good and sufficient reason that casual users (which is most of us, probably even so-called 'administrative professionals') would then know just enough to be dangerous.[1] Iow, if someone knows how to access this feature, odds are that they also know how to use it correctly.

    [1] I've learned from experience that it's not a good idea to teach first-semester stats people how do to linear regression. Unlike the good old days where the calculations were (painfully) done by hand, it's now just a matter of entering two lists into your phone and pressing the right button, the flip side being that this makes regression hideously easy to abuse. Which of course a rather large percentage of my do, once they've learned how.


    (Authors and unions isn't so much a case of herding cats as a case of trying to farm octopi. Hint: out of mating season octopi consider other octopi to be food ...)

    Well, if you're unable to use collective bargaining to get something that would benefit you all (assuming other authors also felt the same way) then I'm not sure what you can do. Rant about it in a blog I suppose...


    This is sheer curiosity on my part and doubtless ever so impertinent since a bland 'these Things are Too High for Me ' would suffice, but I did retire from Tech Support in Higher Education in the UK at the turn of the century at which time I was still dealing with students who believed that the best way to copy stuff as supplied by a fellow student ... aka plagiarism/cheating.. was to remove the floppy disk containing a word doc from one machine with the programme still live and then plugging it into another machine. I could sometimes rescue the damaged document - on what was a networked system in which people in the Exectuve kept offering me Network Manager Privilages despite my total lack of qualifications in IT- which was better than some of my junior colleagues could achive with the principle of, " frankly Arnold I just can't be arsed with the silly buggers "

    So, is there no way in which you could do a select text in a word doc of whatever vintage and then copy and paste the text in another new word document of a later vintage? The formatting would be all to hell but at least you'd have the text to begin with wouldn't you?

    Just long outdated curiosity on my part that is/was based on my own principle of " What the Hell there's nothing much to lose is there ? Might as well try pushing the eqivilent of the Big Red Button that says ' Do Not Push the Big Red Button' for what does the poor sod have to lose?"


    Charlie -- you're not quite on the mark here.

    Word processing did not begin with a personal computers, but with the IBM Mag(netic) Card machine, that took over the law and high end corporate offices already by the late 70's. It was never intended for writing fiction.\

    Sold as a Word Processing Machine, for a very high price, the dream was that you could get rid of your secretary, because with word processing you weren't supposed to need to know how to type. As the corporate execs and attorneys were still mostly male in those days, and Real Men Do Not Type, that was the deal.

    But you needed understand how it worked -- and that memory thang was a difficult concept for most people to grasp back in those days -- particularly as there was no screen to see what you were doing. You recorded to magnetic cards, as with main frames. So the idea that you didn't need a secretary got replaced with 'assistants' who understood these things and the word processing pool. The real selling point was you recorded your work on magnetic cards that could be read by anyone else, and the work picked up from there.

    They were very cool machines, and I could play them like a first violinist plays her instrument. In fact I did write the first drafts of the earlier chapters on the Mag Card -- it was GREAT! I worked temp in very high end law offices, which you could do in those days, as the assistant to partners and so on, which meant I really didn't have much to do, beyond Good Phone. As long as I looked busy I was fine. They knew what I was doing too. But being lawyers they admired double billing and had no troubles with how I occupied myself when not setting up conference calls and so on.

    Word and other word processing programs for personal computers then, followed the codes and so on from the IBM Mag Card -- and still do today. Which is why it was so easy for me to transition.

    The funny thing though -- publishing was the very last to get correcting typewriters, which is what the IBM Mag Card ultimately was, much less Mag Cards at all -- and the last industry to get computers on the desks of the editors and so on. First it was the publisher's legal department and accounting to do so.

    Love, C.


    Collective bargaining works when you have a bunch of people with a shared interest. But authors are basically small businesses providing semi-interchangeable content for large multinationals that run a production line. If you refuse to do business with your customer, they'll just find another supplier.

    As a LaTeX user forced to use MS-Word for certain business, I loath every second of my life that is wasted re-setting font sizes or colours because Word propagates random styles like the plague.

    Speaking of which, does anybody know if there's any utility that will convert LaTeX output into an rtf file? The only thing I've found so far is LaTeX2RTF, but it only seems to work for vanilla LaTeX. It doesn't seem to work for LaTeX2e, the variant I use.


    No problem. If it ran on Macs I'd give it a try.

    Heck, we still haven't converted to CSS 3, and HTML 5 has taken over a decade to agree on the standards, although they're actually rolling out now.

    If you're holding your breath for CSS 3, make sure your will is up to date: the W3C decided some time ago that it was just too big a standard to version monolithically, and allowed different "modules" to mature and even iterate at different rates (new modules start at "Level 1", and some modules are already on "Level 4").

    HTML 5 is nearly as non-existent, since it started life as a reaction against the W3C's focus on XHTML by the browser vendors. The WHATWG standard that resulted has no version number, and codifies a lot of existing practices as well as creating new ones. The W3C graciously accepted defeat and started drafting HTML 5 as a snapshot of that standard.

    So it's kind of hard to judge whether either standard is being adopted slowly or quickly. Certainly the buzzwords abound, but my impression is that HTML 5 (or WHATWG's first HTML extensions) has seen rapid adoption because it was built pragmatically and with solid aims, whereas CSS 3 started out with far too many lofty ideas and sank in the quagmire of devil-in-the-detail and unimplementable ideas for about a decade.

    The general consensus seems to be to stop worrying too much about version numbers, and think instead about a well-documented eco-system with well-defined rules of interoperability and backwards-compatibility. It suits the web well, which is about as decentralised as any publishing medium can be. More formal modes of publishing may want to be more conservative about exactly what standards are accepted and expected.


    I agree completely. Vim is better than Word any day. Also, Microsoft ruined Word when they implemented the Ribbon. The other day, I opened a document; and all of my headings had lost their numbers, and the step numbers had disappeared. I had to replace with another file to fix it.

    I thought SGML and specifically DocBook held some promise (at least for the kinds of documentation it was designed for and backed by several free software projects), but the race to XML (why?) left us with a never-completed and now unmaintained toolchain for SGML while the XML version is, you guessed it, not quite complete yet.

    As I understand it, SGML was an extremely versatile, but therefore extremely complicated "meta-grammar", which made it very tricky to implement truly general-purpose SGML tools. XML, on the other hand, restricts it down to a rigid set of rules which can be easily implemented and tested.

    So an SGML DocBook toolchain would likely have consisted of more specialised tools for dealing with that particular format, whereas as an XML schema, a huge number of off-the-shelf libraries and technologies can be brought to bear. Processors for things like DOM, XPath, XSLT, etc, are near-ubiquitous building blocks for anything you might want to do with an XML application.

    Also, Microsoft ruined Word when they implemented the Ribbon [...] I had to replace with another file to fix it.

    Nice non-sequitur there: start complaining about a controversial UI change, then proceed with an anecdote about data corruption. I also suspect there have been bugs that corrupt included styles in just about every word processor that uses them; programming isn't as easy as it sounds, you know! ;)

    I came to Word and the MS Office suite (or rather, the cut-down version of same known by the hideous misnomer of MS Works) ... Not only were Works documents incompatible with every other word processor known to humanity, they were also incompatible with the MS Office suite (in what seems to me to have been a triumph of MS lunacy).

    This came up in some of my reading yesterday, and I looked it up: MS Works was actually acquired by Microsoft, and originally targeted the Apple Mac. Later, MS used it to have a low-end offering without dropping the value of Office, but the two really had no relationship to one another. They did this a lot - "Outlook Express" was nothing to do with "Outlook", but the brand had respect (and now Hotmail has become, for much the same reason); Write became WordPad, and there was talk of a matching "FrontPad", which may or may not have shared any DNA with Front Page (which was also an acquisition).

    From the outside this kind of thing always seems baffling - the company appears to be competing with itself - but it seems to be more successful than trying to use one team to produce products for multiple niches. A recent example is Oracle ending up owning MySQL - it's so far down the other end of the scale, that one strategy would be to invest in both high-end and low-end products, and squeeze their competitors in the middle.


    The ribbon was too trivial to make my list of horrors, but it griped me nevertheless.

    My problem with the ribbon isn't that it exists -- it's arguably a flawed attempt at addressing a serious problem -- but more to do with screen real estate. Laptops these days come with a 16:9 aspect ratio -- widescreen, for displaying media such as movies -- in contrast to the earlier 4:3 ratio. They're wider but shorter, more like a letterbox.

    If the ribbon could be positioned left or right of a scroll of text, it would be fine. But instead, it tries to hog the top of the scroll of text in a window -- reducing the vertical real estate in which the document being edited can be displayed. The human eye can't easily scan left-to-right across the width of an entire wide screen when reading text without requiring head motion: that's why magazines and newspapers are printed in colunar formats and book pages are usually taller than they are wide. The ribbon ignores this and, instead, grabs about 25% of the usable vertical height of the screen for itself.

    This isn't such a problem when dealing with other media such as a spreadsheet, but it's a tooth-grinding aggravation if one is trying to edit a paragraph of text that is taller than the (now truncated) window: either you wrap the text to the width of the window and find your eyeballs swiveling side-to-side, or you lose context.

    So: problem exists (commands are buried too deep in menus: how to expose them to the user?), ribbon solves problem for one case (spreadsheet), ribbon is applied in another case (word processor) in a manner that wastes screen real estate egregiously (on top of window, rather than off to one side).


    I'd stopped using Word before the ribbon appeared and had to go and find a screen-shot. But it did remind me of a problem I've seen before and argued against vehemently with several UI designs.

    Pesky users - that's me - evolve ways to work with the UI as efficiently as they can, even when it's completely shit. And those ways are idiosyncratic. I appreciate you can't give users complete control over the UI (shame) in most circumstances but when you change it, even to improve it for 99% of users, you really need to leave systems in place for the 1% that actually find the old way better. You really should leave systems in place to make things more flexible, not less. There's no obvious reason the ribbon has to be at the top - just like the dock on the Mac OS doesn't have to be at the bottom. But the nice people in Cupertino let you put the dock to the left or right as well. (They're not perfect, you have to get a 3rd party app if you want it not centred but it's more flexible.)

    There are some others where you can generate your own button bars (these are common in games but you see them in other applications too - and quite a few browsers let you do it now) and some give you quite a bit of control over where you place the buttons.

    More power to the users... I'm not demanding the right to reprogram the whole thing on the fly, but preferences to do things equivalent to moving the ribbon's position, choose what's displayed to be useful to us and the like should be standard on all apps. That might sound odd coming from someone who is a life-long Mac owner - but actually the standard menu bar fixes your screen real-estate. Whatever size screen you have, every user, every UI designer knows that bit of the screen is there for menus and only for menus (and these days menubar apps). It's a fixed constraint rather than a waste - everyone has a menu bar somewhere after all.


    Very interesting article, and comment stream full of interesting info! I do Word for a living. I got very expert at Word 2003, and don't think the ribbon adds a thing, ease-of-use-wise. But I agree that the whole edifice is tottering and weird. Numbering is peculiar, and only seems to work if you invoke dread Cthulhu. But, then again, I do things with it I would never have dreamed of doing with WordPerfect, or DisplayWrite, or Wang, or any of them. In what I do (gov't proposals) we sometimes use InDesign, which is said to be a huge improvement over Word, but our writing teams hate just handing over text. They want to format, however much we discourage it. And they have more clout than we do. They are also concerned with page count, and if they just hand over plain text, they have no idea until I'm done how close they are. Since they know how to use it, and I know how to use it, it gets used. But, yeah, the ribbon is an abomination.


    The screen-layout problem is incredibly commonplace. I wonder, sometimes, if assumptions about the screen layout are built into the API, just as using OpenGL for graphics seems to be associated with an ugly set of colours for the UI, a default shit-brown colour scheme.


    I started with text formatting at Bell Labs in the late 1970s, so used troff and a macro package. For the size things that I wrote -- 10-50 pages, small tables, modest numbers of equations, limited line-and-box style drawings -- it was really good. Quick to learn, reasonably attractive (not as good as TeX-based stuff would be), used the same text editor that my fingers already knew, same version control tools as used for source code.

    I'm a little loath to admit it, but I still use tbl/troff on my Mac to do little tables, then paste an image of the table into blog postings. At least the first cut at the table looks good, with reasonable alignment, padding and lines.

    Any word processor or text formatter that can't do floating displays properly is a toy so far as technical writing goes.


    Charlie, I think you would have hated whatever word processor rose to dominate publishing, regardless of who wrote it.

    Microcomputer software has always succeeded by being cheap, easy to use, and just good enough for small jobs. People start to use it for more complex tasks, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not, because it's what they already know and they don't want to/can't buy another program. Which pushes the more appropriate expert software into a smaller market, which pushes up the price, ...

    You've written several times that science fiction publishers are small operations on very tight margins. MS Word, Word Perfect, etc have always been cheaper than FrameMaker, Quark Express, InDesign. Probably more importantly, so are people who know how to use MS Word, or at least think they do. They could spend more money on publishing software and expert staff, or they could spend less money and make authors miserable during the proofing & corrections stage. Easy.

    I suspect you'd be even more unhappy if your publisher(s) were asking you to buy a copy of InDesign.


    I greatly appreciate your explanation of the fundamental design error that enables Word to behave so erratically.

    I loved the comment about the Q,R,S,T ... bug ; I have seen weird behavior like this as well.

    But I write to take the opportunity to mourn Ami Pro (ca 1990).

    I miss Ami Pro, in which word processor I was most productive and agile. IBM bought them out and came up with Lotus Word Pro; it was likely a functional rewrite by teams of Java-plodders; it was probably less buggy than Ami Pro, but it was slow as molasses; made it unusable on hardware I had access to at the time.

    I have not seen any word processor (actually it was a tolerable layout editor too, something that is worse than unsupported in Word) of comparable quality since.


    Charlie, you are a man after my own heart, a kindred soul. Your article is a great relief to me. I have a special name for the files that are created every time my Word 2011 crashes on my Mac: Microsoft Sucks [1, 2, ...].

    Sigh. I am trying to learn Pages, trying very hard. But with tens of thousands of hours invested in so many different versions of Word, when I need to get something done quickly I force myself to endure, each time promising it will be the last.

    I may keep my promise to myself, for I am retiring, and I hope that I will never again have to use Word.


    The rant would have made sense if it had predated the opensource movement.


    "Word for Mac 5.1a predates Word for Windows 1.0 but had virtually nothing in common with Word 5 for DOS." Word 5.1a for Mac did not predate Word for Windows 1.0.


    "The only way to defeat this requires a Registry alteration, which is beyond Joe/Joan Public." They finally added UI for file block in the trust center in Word 2010.


    Agreed, Charlie. I hate, hate, hate Microsoft Word. I still write with WordStar for DOS 7.0, for the reasons I outline here.


    You can always render to bitmap and then paste it as graphics...

    gs -d{Text,Graphics}AlphaBits=4 -sDEVICE=pnggray -r300 -sOutputFile=page-%d.png -sPAPERSIZE=a4 fname.pdf < /dev/null

    Don't forget the TextAlphaBits otherwise it looks terrible :-)


    Uh. Hmm. A writer doesn't need to do anything other than produce text. Writers don't need to format, or lay out, or any of the other things that make Word hard to use. You need text and hard returns. Period. For its basic function -- accepting keyboard input -- isn't Word no better or worse than any other tool with this capability?


    Writers do need to format. If they want to sell, anyway.

    The format is fairly simple, fortunately, but they most certainly do need to do so.


    Globetrotter: As an aside, you need to remember that Word is a product for the masses of corporate and consumer users whose average document is 2 pages long. It does not aim to be a publisher's tool, even though it does have some publishing features. Publishing Professionals, have many other specialized tools at their disposal.

    We need a new word, for a monopoly that intentionally decides to screw its most outspoken locked-in customers in this manner.

    This grumpy posting brought to you by 13 data-loss events last week with PowerPoint (yeah, I know) and happy knowledge that something like 5 plus million first-gen Surfaceii must have been ground up this year...


    I agree with you 100% on the ribbon menu.. For someone who has come accustomed to the drop down menu interface the ribbon menu has wasted a number of hours of my life I will never get back. The funniest part is Microsoft will try and charge you to remove it... however their "fix" just hides it.. but you have to show it to do anything again... Here is my record convo with Microsoft ... they changed their tune once I told them I was recording.


    Why non use Atlantis? It also converts to epub. Very useful for writers.


    If your workflow runs from Word to InDesign, check out Wordsflow, from emsoftware.

    It's not bug-free by any means, but it has saved me countless hours of reformatting…


    Actually, I've got InDesign and if my publishers -- whose typesetting agencies use it for layout -- asked for InDesign files, I'd be happy to supply them. However ...

    MS Word, Word Perfect, etc have always been cheaper than FrameMaker, Quark Express, InDesign.

    That's because Frame, Quark, and InDesign are layout systems, and the former are office word processors. You're making a category error, like comparing helicopters with wide-body airliners: they're both subcategories of "flying machines", but only one is suitable for carrying 300+ passengers across the Atlantic at high speed, while the other focuses on vertical take-off and landing.


    Dude, read the comments. LibreOffice isn't a solution.


    You might have noticed a number of comments about the lack of ability of Windows machines to check back compatibility of Word files over time. Atlantis might be up to the job on a Windows machine but won't work for Charlie. Or several other people.


    I don't use Windows. (I've tried many times, starting with Windows 2.11/386; something about the cognitive model it encodes just doesn't work for me -- I'm a UNIX/Linux gearhead, and could cope with MacOS and now OSX.)


    Such discussions are almost daily routine in my office environment. Arguments thrown forward and back, complex or simple in content, proven by examples or a matter of subject. However, as long as the users believe they cant use something else - they cant use something else.

    It appears to be something like religion.

    And yes, Open- or LibreOffice are not real solutions, but I can live much better with the errors those programs cultivate. LaTex would be an answer, but not for 'let's write a quick letter'. To be honest: Word is also not suited for 'let's write a quick letter' ...

    I'm convinced I do not need 80% of the functions of those complex programs. But I know that colleagues need other 20% then me. It sums up.

    Yes, me too was perfectly happy with the functions of 1st Word, WordPerfect and of the former Apple Works (PPC Mac). Those programs were fast, simple to learn and easy to master - and finally: they were build to write text. Best served with those.

    Simplify your life is a worthy mental setup for computer programs, same as in other aspects of daily routine.


    Signed in just so I could comment... that I'm with you on this one. Way back when, I used something called -- I think -- Superscribe or similar on an early Apple II+... and then Wordperfect... and multiple iterations of Microsoft Word every since... until about three or so years ago, when I had just had ENOUGH of Word crashing multiple times a day.

    I switched then to a combination of using Scrivener (for drafting) and Pages (for finishing) and I haven't looked back since. I do wish I could do more formatting in Scrivener and I do wish Pages had a split screen view for documents, but both have been far more stable and more robust in combination than Word ever was. And my Word-using colleagues are none-the-wiser. Every doc they get, I send in their format, no problem whatsoever.

    Meanwhile, Word has never played nice. Not only because it's ugly and cluttered. And not only because of the crashing. But because of Word's insistence on not taking advantage of OS X wide features, like the excellent system dictionary, etc.


    I have to correct one glaring error, which is the suggestion that Microsoft is competently managed. It is nothing of the sort. I'd be struggling to think of any of their products which are inspiring examples of their genre.


    Charlie @209, if I'm making a category error, that's because software is far more flexible than helicopters and airliners. When I worked with FrameMaker (some time ago now though) we used it for revision tracking and planning, not just page layout. The original Aldus PageMaker was only ever intended to be a DTP layout program but had a simple word processor added because customers demanded it. Isn't this whole mess a category error itself, people thinking that Word is a publishing toolchain whatever?

    (And geeks who should know better are not immune to the temptation of using one program to do everything, which is why Emacs gained email and newsgroup readers.)

    Maybe your salvation could come from the web design world? My friends and colleagues in that field are starting to talk about the need for proper collaborative design and revision control in their "content management systems."

    Best case, one of the open source CMS' based on maybe Markdown becomes the defacto standard for ebooks, then gets adapted to print. Would that work?

    Worst case, though, is that MS Word already has a "Save to HTML" option and publishers start using that :-(


    WOT "Ribbon Menu" ??

    Admittedly, I'm still using WinXP - because everything else, since then, doesn't just suck it's a fucking big sink-hole or even permenently-open gate tritch horrors. So I'm stil using Word 2003. Next year I'm going to have to go over to Open/Libre Office when they stop supporting XP ....

    Oh, yes - repeat Q Where do I find stylebot/stylish? Are they Google patches, or are they o.e.m. programs that over-write/modify the Chrome window/interface, please?


    "I think we need a more decisive move to open document standards like ODF"

    Unfortunately for the the world, officially Office Open XML is an open standard: To cut a long story short, after governments started to demand that files be stored in a standard format Microsoft stuffed the relevant standards committee with proxies and rammed it through. And then returned to business as usual.


    Frame was indeed great, and I am pissed off that Adobe acquired and killed it (presumably to clear the field for InDesign).

    But Frame was that rare beast, a tool designed for serious technical publishers: it had everything for document workflow -- and by document I mean "large, complex product manual" -- mostly in the right place.

    Luckily I've got most of what I need, in the shape of Scrivener. (In which I'm currently juggling a nine book project ...)


    Replying to my self @ 217 Cancel that ... Sylebot/stylish UTTERLY USELESS. In WinXP I can set the colours of all windows/surrounds & fonts of types etc. for an easy-on-the-eye read. These programs do not appear to do that - you get pre-programmed "styles" (doubtless thought up by a colour-blind moron) & "skins" whatever they are ... Forget it.


    Greg, you're in particularly vitriolic and enterainting form on this thread. Keep it up!



    What is the consensus about what we should we be using for archival purposes?

    I use straight ASCII with no formatting codes. It was good enough to write and sell two books and various articles, lots of code, and everything else I've needed to do with an "electronic typewriter."

    Incidentally, the publisher of the first book, back in the 1980s, couldn't accept files on diskette. I had to print the whole thing out on a dot-matrix printer and mail the big box of paper to them. Presumably, it went through the usual markup->typesetter stage after that.

    The second book, the publisher would only accept files in the latest version of WordPerfect. When I balked at paying $400+ for a program to format text to send to them, they proposed that I upload the files to CompuServe and use the "fax" function to send it to their fax machine. That was in 1993...

    Back in the early 1980s, when there was more than one platform and OS, there was a book by Stewart Brand, "The Whole Earth Software Catalog." In it was an article where Brand described users as baby ducks, imprinting on the first software they learned, and it was very hard to change them after that.

    There's a bit of truth to that. After evaluating about a dozen text editors and word processors, and learning about proprietary file formats the hard way, I picked an editor that suited me. It ran on MSDOS, which is what I was running then. That was... 28 years ago, now. And I still run that same editor, from DOS to OS/2 to (briefly) Windows to Linux, running under a DOS emulator. Yes, it's a text-mode program with fairly severe limits by modern standards, but after almost three decades, it's basically a direct brain-to-screen interface. On the (very rare) occasions I need to do something outside its capabilities, I just root around in the menus to see what the current operating system offers. Each time, it's pretty much a one-shot deal; learn just enough to do what is needed and no more, since I'll probably never see or use that particular program again.

    And, yes, there are still files on my computer, that have followed me across machines and OSs for almost thirty years... there were character coding systems before ASCII, but ASCII is so ubiquitous any replacement will have to support it for long after my expected lifetime.


    Judging by the comments, the problem seems to be with the concept of "Word Processor". It's clear that the 1983 concept of a program that will produce a typewritten letter on a sheet of A4 paper is obsolete now - but it remains unclear what should take its place. Producing something that can be embedded in an email, or displayed on webpage, or read on a Kindle is just as important as print now - and yet documents continue to be distributed as double-column PDF files.

    Seeing what is wrong with Word is easy - but figuring out what we should be using instead is hard - partly because a generation of using Word Processors has made us all think the wrong way.


    I read an article once by someone who worked on word, and other ms office products, for a while about how the file formats ended up so convoluted and obscure. He said that this was a result of maintaining compatibility between the many versions of word, excel, etc. MS office has been pretty unusual in that you can not only open old versions (which just requires a one way converter) but can usually save documents to several older versions. This is a fairly important feature to enterprise customers who have other custom software they don't update very often.

    Its a pretty nightmarish thing to try to support, when you consider that they also have some format compatibility between word, excel, powerpoint, etc. Not surprising it is a mess internally, particularly if their formatting scheme is fundamentally contradictory.

    In general I think we have used the power of computer document formatting mainly to waste time making things needlessly pretty, excluding actual publications for mass distribution marketing materials, etc where perfection is a point. People spend hours fiddling with margins, spacing, font sizes, lining up montages of images, etc on documents that only a few people who are being paid to look at the document will ever see simply because such polish is possible and immediate these days. Of course we have to make our documents pretty because our competitors make theirs pretty, and it is easy to demand minor fixes, even though the prettiness itself is really just a waste of time. Sexual selection in text. Quick presentations weighed down by ridiculously ornate tail feathers.


    Fascinating rant against Word, thank you Charlie ...

    I just felt impelled to jump in and comment on the few mentions of importing Word files into Adobe InDesign. There is some confusion. InDesign can easily handle and manage and often fix wonky styling in Word files on import via a basic familiarity with its Word Import Options dialog box. You can strip out all styling info, strip it out but keep local formatting (like bolds and itals), map Word styles to InDesign ones or even have the Word styles overwrite ID ones (for insane people). You can manage embedded art, page and section breaks, even tracked changes, all from the dialog box.

    This summer I authored a whole title on on this topic (Using Word and InDesign Together) and spent many weeks deep in the bowels of Word 2011/Mac and Word 2013/PC (whose interface is so pale it resembles the White Walkers) to work out all the final fussy bits I wasn't sure of. Along the way I discovered some useful style-related features of Word that few users are aware of, like the ability to show a color-coded number map of which styles (para and char) are used where in a doc, or being able to easily highlight all "direct formatting" (local overrides) of the same type throughout a doc at once and so easily fixed at once.

    As a few commenter have noted, there are some easy fixes in Word for some of the rants here, especially if you just turn off most of the AutoFormat as You Type options. Assuming you can find where that option is ... usually the Tools menu, but it's almost completely hidden in settings in Word 2013.

    In our latest podcast at we talked about 5 Word and InDesign Nightmares (and their fixes); anyone who uses both programs might enjoy our own rants on the topic. ;-) It's at (taking advantage of the one-URL rule here, hope that's okay.)


    FINALLY!!! Someone who knows their computer history! It seems to be so rare to find anyone who hasn't gotten their history from press releases and knows the real deal. This was worth reading if for nothing else than a concise and correct statement of how we got to where we are today.


    I agree completely about Word. The same thing applies to Windows, too. Now that there are usable free alternatives - any number of flavours of linux, reliable, easy to use, more consistent than any MS product - the thing to do would be to junk MS altogether.


    Catering being Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, eggs, chips and Spam for every meal!

    Back on topic - Preaching to the choir guys!


    Thank you for your post and perspective. When linking through from TheBrowser to read it, I was not expecting to experience a flashback to 1983-84. When you mentioned CP/M, though, my thoughts returned to when my father brought home an Epson QX-10, complete with VALDOCS ( I will be honest that much of the behind-the-scenes action in a word-processor still eludes me, but that you could pull the curtain back and peek in with an editor like VALDOCS remains with me.

    I'll also note that buried in the huge amount of miscellaneous files that came on the floppies with that QX-10 were BASIC programs that, when run, would print out girlie-mag style pin-ups (with a scrolling-paper dot matrix printer, this kind of made sense), but that were really only recognizable when one looked at them--in all their "X" and "O" glory--from across the room.

    Thank you again for the unexpected trip down memory lane. All the best.

    Sincerely, DAJ Nashville, TN


    I have been using Word for a long time, but almost never create any document that could not have been handled by Word 1.05 for Mac. My wife (a professional writer) creates 100,000+ word documents and mostly has little trouble. I attribute our long and happy marriage to my knowing how to get her out of MSWord Style Stress (aka major tantrum resulting from Word enabling her to tie her text styles into knots). I suppose I should be grateful to MS Word therefore.

    But don't get me on the subject of Excel...

    PS I regret the passing of functional software that came on a 400 kilobyte single-sided Mac floppy.


    I remember Word 5 for Mac being denounced as bloatware because it came on 4 1.44Mb floppies (two of which were occupied by various language dictionaries for the spelling checker). Ah, nostalgia ain't what it used to be!

    The same thing applies to Windows, too. Now that there are usable free alternatives - any number of flavours of Linux, reliable, easy to use, more consistent than any MS product

    IMO The main problem with windows is that it encourages fiefdoms. But can you name a major corporation that currently uses Linux on most desktops? While I'd like the daily rate to manage say BT or BBC Broadcast on a changeover to Linux on the desktop, I foresee a few problems, never mind at the back end. Do you want Dave or Sky channels to die for an unspecified period?

    That said, I'm confident open source OS will eventually gain major acceptance if/when there are sufficient management tools available. It's all about change control!


    DtP @ 221 Not particularly. I remember 80-chars-per-line & mainframes with 5k of memory. SO, I am a little out of date, by now ... I'm also bug-ridden & tired &, like Charlie, utterly pissed-off with some of the so-called "improvements" that have been foisted on us.

    It SHOULD be possible to alter your screen & windows to the font you want, in the colourway you want. Even MS do that - why can't I in Chrome? The formatting problem is one that's irritated me for years, when transferring/copying documants - I didn't realise what a problem it must be for authors .... & so it goes ....

    why can't I in Chrome?

    'cos you haven't written the mod you want.


    "...Nisus Writer Pro. There's a key feature missing ... the ability to split a window on a document horizontally and view two different sections of it at the same time."

    I wonder if this can be enough for you, while waiting that a real split window feature appears: there is a macro, you can find in their forum, duplicating the current document into a new window. Another macro allows for arranging the two windows side by side.

    If you do not need live update for the duplicated document, this could be all you are looking for (with the occasional re-creation of a new duplicate from a fresher original).



    Speaking of which I'll probably be fired tomorrow, Speaking of project managers. One really shouldn't tell then to Fuck Off and actually look at the project they allegedly manage.


    Unfortunately live update is exactly what I need. (Scrivener has it. Emacs has it. Vim can be configured to do it, kinda-sorta. But Pages can't, and neither can Nisus Writer.


    SGML, the culmination of 30 years of markup language development, was co-opted by the computer science community who produced XML. XML forced SGML to be sequentially parsed as all machine-processed documents are (for that matter, all computer code) done today. This is the real problem with documents. Not Word per se. Not the ribbon.

    After all these years there is still not a viable document tool on the market that implements SGML. Killing Word will not make that happen either. I'm working on one such tool (see www dot hivewareforword dot com). With such an SGML-based tool, documents could be processed in parallel with all its participants writing simultaneously. Files and folders would not exist. And there would be no such thing as merging various copies of documents. The cloud is not the answer, which merely postpones simultaneous editing problems, so forget Office 365. And forget SharePoint, which is merely a check-in/check-out database system.


    And in the process of "moving HTML forward", the people responsible have done two unforgivable things: 1) Applied semantics to tags that had never previously had any (specifically <i> and <b>). 2) Related, made it so that you can never be sure of the semantics of the tags you are using (due to the lack of version numbers, and the consistent and persistent changing of stuff).

    Now, that's generally fine and dandy for something like CSS, which is only style after all. But for the HTML, which is meant to be a semantic markup language...

    I still haven't seen a decent argument that addresses semantics when it comes to the lack of [a need for] version numbers in HTML. (If anyone knows of one, please share it with me.)

    A lot of the new stuff in HTML5 is great (the new form input types for example). But the way that tags are here today, and gone tomorrow (e.g. <hgroup>) (and sometimes back again, e.g. <time>) really seems to indicate that semantics are not nearly as important to the standard developers as they may claim.


    SGML hurts my head. (And where I am sitting, there is a copy of the Goldfarb book in direct line-of-sight.)


    Oh, and thinking about word processing formats. Every now and again I want to open up files created ~10 (or more) years ago in StarOffice. As far as I can tell, they won't open in current versions of LibreOffice (but they will in AbiWord). It's actually easier to open MS Word 6 documents (created around the same time). They just open in LibreOffice without a trouble. Strange considering that LibreOffice is in a direct line of succession from StarOffice...

    I now recommend that people use and save word processing files as ODT for maximum portability into the future (if you can't just use UTF-8 unicode text). That's mainly because as far as I know, it's the most widely supported open and standard file format for word processing. And as the files are just zip files with XML, you can manipulate them easily (cough) even without a word processor.

    Oh, and Charlie: LibreOffice import filter for legacy Mac file-formats. Found while looking at: (where I notice a Dan Tobias has added this rant as a reference).


    Forgive me if I offend you, but I have to say that some of what you say is true, but much of it is naive. You are clearly not what I'd call a 'power user' of Microsoft word. It is true that I liked Word Star (it had a lot of good features and it was available on my various tiny (but heavy and noisy) early 'portable's (ha ha). But I really preferred Word Perfect because I made macros (or what I called 'burst keys') for every macro-able key on the keyboard. If fact I used up all the machine storage that way. I was also an early SGML template designer and in fact formatted not only books but magazines, newspapers and even ads with SGML and with several of its precursors). I also created a lot of very complex computer forms with that tool (I loved covering the screen with code and lots of x,y coordinates to the astonishment of other workerbees and clients who couldn't believe I knew what each of those x,y's were doing and where they would end up being on the printout. BUT I DID, just as a decade earlier I could read papertape punches and fix them 'on the fly' too. As for Word the biggest problem with Word is not the fact that they NEVER fixed that expletive-deleted numbering problem but more to do with how much they underestimated the laziness of human beings who use word processing tools. 99.99% of them NEVER bother to LEARN anything beyond the very basics of the tool. Why is that frustrating? Because if we work in a team environment we have to create our documents so that any other fool can edit/revise them, which means not being able to use all the 'advanced' features of the tool that we used to create those documents. SIGH. But that just drove me to start my own business where I could mandate potential employees be able to prove they were craftspeople with their tools.

    As for ME, these days I use Word for all my continuous-text needs including writing articles, ghostwriting books (for professors) and building my various websites. No! No! I do NOT mean I use Word to 'save as' an html file. I mean I have multiple .dot templates and each of them is fully loaded with its own 'shortcut keys' (what I used to call 'burst keys'). The html-tag .dot template goes even deeper, because it is programmed too. (You can still program in Word.) So instead of using Dreamweaver, or Expression Web or even notepad++ for coding of my webpages, I use WORD. CTRL-ALT plus some other key will give me two html paragraph tags (p) and then automatically place the cursor in between the two p's so I can keep right on typing an entry for a web article. When I'm done with an article copy and paste the content into my webpage that I have open in notepad++, I save it, and when ready, upload it to my site. I do most of that automatically with programmed commands. I could explain more but what the heck why don't you use LEARN how to do that tool yourself? As for 'save as...' I just posted a short youtube (snagit) video on how to save as 'pdf'. I just started a youtube channel and will be posting lots of 1-3 min videos for things I consider to be 'normal usage' and other people call 'arcane' for several of the Microsoft Office product lines (and other products as well).

    The only stupid thing Microsoft does is not really improving things from one release to the next, just obfuscating it. (But what the heck Youtube, facebook and Google also have nonexistent usability testing, obviously.)

    One of the best things Word did was come up with the ribbon design in version 2007. Not that I use their ribbon, I still use my own macros for most things. I type in excess of 200wpm quite error-free and having to lift my hand to the mouse to get a ribbon item would be quite inefficient (and drive me nuts). A couple years ago I injured both my hands in a serious fall on broken cement, so I had to learn Word's 'take a letter' audio thangy, but learn it I did. Now when I'm WFH (working from home) I'll generate an article or webpage content VERBALLY. However, like many writers who are also fast typists, I prefer to think and have my thoughts go directly to my fingers.

    I enjoy what Microsoft Office has done FOR ME financially, too. I've made a LOT of money from how well I know computer software (not just Office and not just on a windows machine). In the early 80s, I was making 65 bucks an hour working as a freelancer for a couple smaller ad agencies in the SF Bay Area. I produced ad layouts on an Apple LISA with an external TWO-MEGABYTE hard drive using Illustrator, Quark Xpress and Pagemaker. Go calculate what that hourly rate translates to in today's marketplace. But eventually all the design software that started out on the Apple systems moved over to the better Dos machines, and so did my business. I still love SGML and when you consider that XML is just a subset of SGML and HTML is just a DTD within SGML maybe you can understand why. But Word? I can use it for all my writing needs, and even create what appears to be powerpoint slides in it, because I know Word to a deep level. (I do use PowerPoint for interactive slide presentations, however.) Now I think I'll use this comment as the basis for a posting on one of my blogs, ta ta.


    Wow! When LibreOffice 4.1 ships I'll be able to import "The Web Architect's Handbook" (which I wrote from 1993-1995 -- it came out in 1996) and release it as a historical curiosity. Thanks!


    No problem. I look forward to browsing it.


    The subcontractors will be submitting their design documents soon, and my PM said I can comment and reject based on whether I can deal with the formatting in my requirements management tool. I'm going to be super popular with comments like, "reformat using styles".


    I'm a long-time Windows user (occasionally use Mac, but tend to avoid it because I invariably use the wrong shortcut keys). I do use Word a lot in my day job, and I'd consider myself a power user of Word (even though I'm a programmer).

    But I'm so glad Scrivener is now available for Windows. I used yWriter for several years, and found it got slow as my novel got to about 80K words. I switched to Scrivener largely because I saw your name listed as a user. I'm glad to hear you're using it for such large projects and so happy with it.

    I think that the problem with competing with MS is that you're not just competing with Word, you're competing with the whole Microsoft Industrial Complex.

    They actually do a good job providing reasonably well integrated suites of products that all talk to each other and can be customized a bit for each institution. They're not without problems (I probably curse them at least once a month - most recently for taking Database Modeling tools out of Visio 2013), and it can be a major pain to get some of their products set up properly (SharePoint & SQL Server Reporting Service integration was ridiculous), but I usually find their offerings to be cost-effective for the organization. And that's the problem.

    I'm not sure I'd call that being "browbeaten," but many businesses have certainly been tempted by the sirens of cost-effectiveness and shipwrecked on the shores of mediocrity.

    But it could be worse. Microsoft could buy Scrivener and do a crummy job integrating its features into Word or distribute a stripped-down version for free that only outputs .docx.


    But I'm so glad Scrivener is now available for Windows. I used yWriter for several years, and found it got slow as my novel got to about 80K words.

    I have bad news for you! Scrivener slows down too -- it takes almost 2-3 seconds to give me a search result in the current project I'm editing on my Macbook Pro.

    (Admittedly the project in question is currently around the 730K word mark, due to it being the first seven books in a series ... ;-)

    -- Charlie


    [ DELETED FOR ADVERTISING -- the moderators ]


    I hope this isn't too off topic but I've recently started a phd and was thinking of trying out Scrivener for writing my thesis, the fact that you can write individual bits and leave them separate seems particularly interesting for allowing notes and literature reviews to be kept in the same organised place. Before I try out the demo (planned for some point in the next few weeks) would you mind sharing some thoughts on whether or not it would be good for this?


    The people behind Scrivener have also released a program called Scapple which might be useful for you. It links to Scrivener. Mac and Windows, free trial, just as with Scrivener.

    This sort of software might implement some of the ideas that were in Outliner programs in the MS-DOS era. I think Word can emulate the presentation of data, but I am not sure it can be more than a visual fake.

    I am thinking of buying Scapple myself. It's pretty inexpensive. And it may handle free-form notes better than Scrivener.

    But for the HTML, which is meant to be a semantic markup language...

    Well, I think that was kind of what made the WHATWG necessary: the W3C was wholly wedded to their dream of a semantic version of HTML, which would have been XHTML2. But nobody was actually using HTML that way - what they were doing was building rich UIs using it, and the W3C was doing very little to enable that.

    There's really nothing "semantic" about the <video> element, and nor should there be. That we also get to say <nav> instead of <div id="nav"> makes things a bit more expressive, but it's hardly a revolution, and nor is it supposed to be.

    As for "you can never be sure of the semantics of the tags you are using", surely that's always going to be the case in something as thoroughly decentralised as the web? You can't really validate semantics, and as I've argued elsewhere, a blog is not a database, and people who want to publish machine-readable data can and will use something other than HTML.

    I like the concept of the "semantic web", but I think we'll have a lot more luck teaching computers to better understand reasonably disciplined human content than forcing humans to produce perfectly machine-readable content.

    To rather artificially drift back on topic, this also makes the kind of feature that amconcepcion mentioned, for spotting similar direct formatting and creating style rules after the fact, seem like a promising compromise.

    I mean I have multiple .dot templates and each of them is fully loaded with its own 'shortcut keys' (what I used to call 'burst keys'). [...] So instead of using Dreamweaver, or Expression Web or even notepad++ for coding of my webpages, I use WORD.

    Congratulations, you have just reinvented a rather complicated wheel, despite using entirely the wrong tools.

    Sure, you could build an entire IDE out of VBA macros, or for that matter you could build an entire word processor out of macros in an IDE. But since you'll be ignoring 99% of the actual built-in functionality, you're at that point saying that Word makes a good GUI toolkit. Actually, I'm struggling to think of anything in Word that would be useful for code editing; Find and Replace maybe?

    I suspect if you spent a bit of time learning a programmers editor like Notepad++, jEdit, or Sublime - or perhaps a platform like Eclipse or NetBeans - you'd realise why your Word-for-everything idea might not take off.


    How I would love to see Word die. (As well as Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook - get all four and you've won the war) Sadly, the attempts to get the tortoise lying on its back in the sun, namely Open Office and Office Libre, didn't gain enough traction, possibly because they relied on Java, something else which must die. They had their one chance and muffed it.


    rtischer8277 wrote: XML forced SGML to be sequentially parsed as all machine-processed documents are (for that matter, all computer code) done today. This is the real problem with documents.

    It sort of matters that there's a single, canonical form of the document, that can be parsed and displayed.

    Even with things equivalent to #include (and it appears that your tool allows the SGML to do that behavior in Word docs, which is interesting in concept) you still have to be able to have an unambiguous canonical parse.

    One can attempt to separate out sections into independently managed subsections, true. But the idea of global styles and settings makes doing that fraught with danger. If Sally is editing the "Departments" section and Bill changes the page footer globally from the parent doc, Sally's editor will display incorrectly (or at least, inconsistently) if it does not reread from the beginning when Bill saves his change (or makes it active). This is about the least harmful variation on this theme, there are far more dangerous things which can happen in the data...

    One can establish groupware which publishes global updates for globally affecting parameters, etc. This is not insolvable. But even if you "work around" like that for working in limited scope / individual sections, that has to be a valid read / parse order to establish the canonical interpretation of the saved document...


    I think I set off this thread with a comment in the last thread but one: I feel quietly proud.

    Back in the days of the Mac Classic and the dot matrix printer we had, to a first approximation, all the word processing features that were absolutely indispensible - memory, bold, italic -- enough, say, to satisfy Dickens. That had the effect of leveling off quite a bit of the imbalance between the powers of governments and companies on the one hand and the person in the street on the other. Since then most of what's been added has been the addition of purely aesthetic tidyness. We used only to have to do better than handwriting to show we were serious; now we have to do as well as printing or we're binned without reading.

    The appearance of the style 'char' in the thread has awakened in me nightmares that I thought I'd successfully buried and which I can't trust myself to speak of now.

    The particular flaw in Word that has my attention at the moment is their spellcheck, which is rudimentary to the point of imbecility. Five simple extra commands would halve the error rate. Clearly, it's not simply that nobody cares - someone must have instructions not to let any improvements in.


    Many scientists will use it and it is infuriating. LaTex! You jkaes. Ahhh. Word is not for science....and if you use it is because you are old or lazy and have an incomprehensibly low sense of aesthetics.

    People who use Word by choice sgould be consigned to monochrome IT ware.


    I love Word.

    Well, loved. I still use the pre ribbon version mostly - the ribbon version is on my travel computer, and it can go fuck itself.

    But yes, I use Word for writing, professionally even, and it does everything I've ever needed it to do. Mostly scripts there days, but copy, articles, and prose over the years.

    Whereas no one has ever presented me with a function in Scrivner useful enough to learn how to use it.

    I reckon that if indeed you don't like Word because it doesn't do what you want it do and are forced to use it, you'll be infuriated. I also suspect it works fine for what most users need.


    There's no "like" button here, or I'd use it!

    However, speaking of Off-Ice 2007 and later interface, did you know that ctrl+$key still does whatever it used to in earlier versions? It's just that Mickeysha@ft have removed all the hints!


    Hah. This reminds me of the folks who use Emacs as an X11 window manager/desktop environment. Xwem is merely the commonest; there are even fuglier ones out there: SXemacs, for example.

    Screen shots (that only an emacs-head could love).


    I began to wonder if an X11 window manager based on ed would be nice. (Not seriously.)

    I did use dwm for a while, but it didn't work well with my dual-monitor setup, so I went back to KDE.


    "Word is a product for the masses of corporate and consumer users whose average document is 2 pages long. It does not aim to be a publisher's tool..."

    Yes, but this is not what MS salesmen tell customers, is it? Instead, they tell the pointy heads in charge of large organisations that Wurd is an all-singing, all-dancing miracle product that can perform any conceivable task. Furthermore, they convince the pointy heads that the progam is so miraculous that their workers can use it with no training whatsoever, since it has so many "smart" and "auto" features. (Hint to any non-expert readers: turn off anything labelled "smart" or "auto".) The result is the calamity that I witness daily in my industry.

    I work in the oil & gas industry, where the lifetime of facilities is typically 30-40 years. This means that the lifetime of operating manuals and operating procedures is the same - those documents must remain maintainable and updatable for that period, to reflect physical changes made to plant, or changed/improved procedures. (Procedures have to reviewed every 3 years, every year for critical procedures.)

    I can assure you that the standard of documentation in this industry is woeful beyond words, largely because nobody has a clue how to use Word properly and the documents are therefore a rat's nest of random and inappropriate manual formatting techniques that make maintaining them a nightmare. If the standard of documentation were equally bad in the aircraft industry, the skies would be empty because the FAA would never grant a licence to any product with such abysmal documentation.

    When I worked at a major company in the Middle East, I was based in the training centre for plant operating personnel. A couple of times a week, we had visitors from the capital city, who delivered training courses to the admin staff in using MS Office. The training company claimed to be one of the largest in the world and produced nice, spiral-bound training books for the students. Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Wurd book. Out of 200 pages, two pages (yes, 2) were given over to styles. All the rest explained how to perform manual formatting.

    When I looked at the back of the book, I discovered why. It had a series of sample questions for the students to pass the "Microsoft Certified TextMangler" exam. Obviously, this exam requires answers that explain manual formatting techniques, and these students were being coached to pass the exam, not coached how to use the program correctly. And who could blame either the coaches or the students? Obviously, the students want to pass the exam, for career enhancement reasons, and the coaches want to ensure that their student pass the exam. It's a vicious circle. A pox on Microsoft and its miserable practices.

    @160 - OK, I got back to a Mac with W2011 and checked a 5.1a doc last saved in 1994. It won't open by double clicking, but it opens no problem using File>Open.


    Autocorrect can be useful, but only after several hours of nailing it down deleting standard entries and adding ones that you actually make.

    Even "correct 2 inital capitals" might be useful, if someone had thought to check whether the text it was working on actually went ".%20AA..." and then add the exception that someone who's actually typed "AAaA..." is likely to actually mean it.

    Has anyone actually ever found a use for the grammar checker?


    Has anyone actually ever found a use for the grammar checker?

    I have found a grammar checker useful sometimes, as I'm not a native English speaker. However, in most cases a grammar checker just tells me my grammar fails, but the suggestion does not work either. Then I try to restructure the sentences in an another way.


    My 7-year old does think that the pretty green wiggly lines under some sentences are nice. Otherwise, no, not really.


    Sorry Greg, was feeling a little sleep deprived and flippant, and you made me laugh a couple of times -- I am more with you than my comment might indicate.

    I am also sadly embedded deep inside a major corporation, and therefore have WORD and other MS tools inflicted on me daily basis without any real hope of respite. This is probably why the MS OFFICE suite is unlikely to die anytime soon -- it is so deeply entrenched within copmanies large and small, removing it completely is not a short-term, easy, or cheap goal; and this is regardless of how truly abyssmally poorly WORD and its cohorts are used within most corporations.


    SOME people - please note SOME - with dyslexia can find it useful. From memory, but a reasonably large sample size, I'd say about 25-30%. Having it highlighted that Word thinks there's something wrong makes them stop and think (once they've been coached through turning off the useless rules like 'this is in the passive voice' when they're writing up science practicals) and consider that there may be a problem.

    It depends a lot on the precise nature of their dyslexia, most of the rest just get so many red and green squiggles they turn it all off because it's depressing and don't understand what the "helpful" hints about the lines mean when they read them either.


    Re. columns:

    ebook readers smaller than say an iPad are fine for fiction and other documents with a continuous flow of text; mostly they're awful for documents that need to contain graphics, references, sidebar information, etc.

    I write RPG books, usually containing a lot of sections which need to be organised for maximum clarity and will often be printed out. One of the ways to do this organisation is by using sidebars, which let you insert small self-contained passages that add flavour to the main text one way or another; for example, in a book based on Stanley Weinbaum's SF one section discussed the lifeforms of Europa, a moon of Jupiter. One of the sidebars was a discussion of whether or or not they're considered Kosher, whether the Catholic church allowed them to be eaten on Friday, etc.

    Yes, I could put the sidebar stuff at the bottom of the page or something, but it usually looks horrible and interrupts the flow of the main "narrative" (for want of a better word).

    Like it or not, unless you are going entirely over to a hypertext model, which pretty much rules out printing the document, columns are still one of the better ways to do this sort of thing, you just need to be prepared to print out pages or use a larger screen.


    "Has anyone actually ever found a use for the grammar checker?"

    It flags 2 spaces between words within a sentence (but not between sentences). But you can do an S+R for that anyway.

    The blue squiggly underlines are the ones that I would like to make compulsory for users. Wurd has a setting "Keep Track of Formatting" that applies squiggly blue underlines to text that has been manually formatted. Being a typical Microsoft (mis)feature, it is off by default, and does not actually trigger all instances of manual formatting (it has some weird rule that if the manual formatting is "nearly" like some para of correct formatting, it doesn't flag up).

    Some of the manuals that pass my desk have squiggly blue underlines on just about every para in the doc. Painful on the eyes. Copy/paste into a styles-locked doc, and all gone. If you don't have a locked template, give your docs the 3-keystrokes salute:

    Ctrl+A = select all Ctrl+Spacebar = remove all manual character-level formatting Ctrl+Q = remove all manual para-level formatting

    Your eyes can now have some rest.


    Exactly; it never actually tells you what (it thinks) correct grammar is.


    Ok, I can accept that. It is a minority of a minority though.


    Are we now at the point in the comments where we can relax and resume debating the wisdom of starting a land war in Asia vs. a war on two fronts?

    (The blog's had approximately 290,000 visits in the past 72 hours, compared to a normal level of around 32,000 visits in the same span.)


    LyX (visual front end to LaTeX/TeX) rules. I agree with that it is well worth trying if you are curious or tired of Word. You will start producing much higher quality documents. Enjoy (I have been using it for 15 or more years; wrote a PhD thesis with it, numerous articles, notes, summaries, posters). It works well with BibTeX also, which is a great way to produce bibliographies and maintain archives of references. It keeps getting better as well.


    Only once we pass the 300 comment mark. Be patient, it won't take long.


    I too am looking at a copy of The SGML Handbook as I type. Check out Annex H which I wrote.


    "It sort of matters that there's a single, canonical form of the document, that can be parsed and displayed."

    Let's take that thought one step further. After parsing the document you have a parsed tree. Today, these parsed trees are thrown away on each parse. When a change is made to the document, it is then 100% re-parsed. Instead of throwing the parsed tree away, merely do a fix-up on the existing tree. With such a system you never parse an entire document. Only one element at a time.

    Now imagine that the parsed tree were available to all participants. Changes to the document would be cooperative instead of collaborative as is the case today. No merging. No collisions. No repetitive parsing.

    Style is not an issue since all style (ie, presentation) is subordinate to the semantic tree. For an example of how to get this wrong, review Adobe's PDL (page definition language) which subordinated semantics to style (ie, the page) which is the reverse of what it linguistically should be.


    I applaud you learning habits. There are very few people who take the time to learn to use their software tools like you have. In your hands Word is a beautiful tool.


    I vote for a lend war in Asia on two fronts. In winter.


    ...or even a land war....


    I write RPG books, usually containing a lot of sections which need to be organised for maximum clarity and will often be printed out. One of the ways to do this organisation is by using sidebars, which let you insert small self-contained passages that add flavour to the main text one way or another

    iBooks has a way of handling that. Books in landscape orientation are displayed like PDF documents: as they were laid out. Flip the iPad to portrait and they display like epub documents, with text flowing and user-resizable. Figures and the like display as thumbnails, which you can tap to expand, then collapse again. Not as nice as seeing the figure while reading the text, but on an iPad mini (and with middle-aged eyes) there's not enough screen space for that anyway. So your sidebar could be an expandable text box that moves with the main material, but doesn't impede reading it.

    Of course, iBooks is a Mac-only format. We need something in the epub (or other open) format that says, essentially, tap to display in a window.


    I last tried LyX in early 2000. Not a hell of a lot of use for anything other than LaTeX -- papers and theses -- and poor at interoperativity with the rest of the world.


    Yes, LyX is mostly LaTeX. Interoperability is fine for LaTeX docs and you can import most text sources with helpers like antiword. It supports change tracking and version control (AFAIK those came after 2000 and I haven't used a recent version yet, so no idea how good those are).

    It might not be up to your publishing tasks, but it's a great replacement for Word if you just want to write a letter (once you've experimented with the letter templates).

    It's also a good start for learning LaTeX. Although I knew LaTeX before I learned a lot by exporting LyX documents to .tex and looking at the source code.


    The last word processor I loved was Lotus Ami Pro.

    Like most things Microsoft, I don't love Word, I just use it. A few years ago I went looking for some kind of word processor geared for writers, but I did not find anything worth the learning I would have had to invest in order to make it work for me. Some of them were far too complicated (taking the notion of getting in-between users and their work to a far greater degree than was supportable, for me).

    I may try some of the recommendations from this article.


    "I may try some of the recommendations from this article."

    Actually, I can give you a recommendation. MS Word works exceptionally well - if you use it correctly, which is a big "if".

    Good luck finding out how to use it properly, because if it's explained anywhere, I haven't found it. And the last place to look is the MS "help" system, which is worse than useless.

    The first problem to overcome is configuring the snake pit of a program sensibly, since MS have set the default options to be unscary to users who are barely able to operate a keyboard. On jobs I have done over the last several years, I have made locked-styles templates to prevent users doing any manual formatting, and part of the job was having to write a configuration guide to tell users how to set up their user options so that the program would work without causing problems. The guide ended up a couple of dozen pages - before even using the program. OK, a lot of it was screenshots. OTOH, with a locked template, a lot of options become moot, since they are overridden by the locked status, so they don't need explaining. (One section alone of Word's options has 150+ choices, and the program offers "help" on about a half-dozen of them. Is it any wonder that average users get confused and into a mess?)

    For most documents, you need only a few styles. If, like me, you work in tech doc and use numbering, Word's numbering is bullet-proof provided that it is defined as part of the style definition. I have never, and I mean never, known it to go wrong. OTOH, if you use Word's "auto/smart" methods, numbering becomes a nightmare of such proportions that it will land you in a mental home.

    I'm tempted to paraphrase the late, great Hunter S Thomson:

    “The Microsoft Word business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.”

    But I apply that sentiment to so many aspects of life, alas. First world problems, eh?

    Good luck with your search for a decent WP program. Report back if you succeed.


    The USA was able to win a war on two fronts, but Enemy A was fighting a naval war while Enemy B was fighting a land war, and they had an ally which started with the largest fleet in the world, and another that ended the war with the 3rd largest fleet. In short, they didn't do it alone.


    Didn't Word 5.1 (Mac) offer the useful option of slowing the document's scroll speed -- a feature they then took out.

    It seems the Interwebs have spawned a lot of new tools for researchers and programmers, but it's done damned little for writers. Perhaps that's starting to change.

    I've wrestled with a lot of writing tools since I started working professionally on a System 36 (Displaywrite?). 27+ years later I freelance, and spend most of my time writing in Emacs or Sublime Text (Linux), sending the resulting multiMarkdown to Pandoc for conversion to a format the rest of the world considers useful. (What's astonishing is how I now need to hide my writing process from clients, most of whom seem to believe real writers use MS Word. One client graciously offered me a reduced price copy, assuming I didn't own it because I couldn't afford it.)

    I still get .docx files from clients, but LibreOffice 4 opens them nicely (admittedly, I rarely receive complex documents), and I just smile when clients and editors ask for a Word file -- despite the fact it's the least useful format extant given the destination of the work.

    Now I see the emergence of collaborative editing environments like Draft and Editorially (most are based on Markdown), and wonder if the era of Github for Writers is finally arriving. Version control, document portability, One True Version of the document (I know from grim personal experience the horrors of multiple versions of the truth), multiple layers of comments, etc... These are good things.

    Convincing a client to register for yet another online account isn't yet in the cards, but I live in hope that my highly productive text editor/markup language front end will someday dovetail nicely with a client's systems (was going to say "backend" here, probably an error).

    For some clients -- who pay me to manage their online presence -- it already does.


    "...a feature they then took out."

    Blimey! - that's unusual for Microsoft :<)

    The MS graveyard is bursting with corpses of formerly useful features. Don't get me started - it's far too depressing.


    I hope LaTeX would be used more prominently, particularly by scientists. It is not ideal, but it has evolved well and hopefully will continue into more improved condition over time.


    Ctrl+Spacebar = remove all manual character-level formatting

    How do people indicate book titles, or for that matter convey emphasis, in your world?


    Using styles. Both at paragraph level and character level.


    This isn't a fair comparison. Got an old latex document from the 1990s? Okay; try viewing it today. First install tex. Then install latex. Missing a driver? Missing a library file? Get & install them. Compile your latex document. It doesn't compile, because some component no longer functions the same way. Figure out which component it is. Read its documentation to find out how to specify backwards-compatible mode. Add a line to your file specifying backwards compatibility.

    Finally, produce your .dvi file. Wait, what? What's DVI? It's a kind of file you can't view on modern computers. Spend an entire day reading documentation online to figure out you need to install Cygwin and then install ghostscript and then install ghostview. Do all that. Try to view your DVI file.

    It doesn't display, because you don't have the Hewlett-Packard fonts that everybody used in the 1990s. Find the fonts on some Russian website that probably has malware. Download and install them. Maybe you will finally get to see your file.

    Displaying a document from the 1990s with Microsoft Word is much easier than with files any other word processor or document processor. Only raw HTML is easier to display. I agree the .doc / .docx formats suck, but they /do/ work without making the user do extra work.


    (Er, install xdvi to view .dvi files. Install dvips to convert .dvi to .ps.)


    Much earlier the USSA's first ally was able to fight a war on two fronts, by figting a winning draw with the (less-important-at-that-time) "enemy" & concentrating on the primary one. HINT: The primary enemy was Napoleon Buonaparte ... who was the other "enemy"? ... Oops.


    "When LibreOffice 4.1 ships I'll be able to import "The Web Architect's Handbook" (which I wrote from 1993-1995 -- it came out in 1996) and release it as a historical curiosity. " LibreOffice 4.1 has already shipped. That being said, you can open Word 5.x for Mac documents in Word 2008/2011 for Mac by using File->Open.


    That being said, you can open Word 5.x for Mac documents in Word 2008/2011 for Mac by using File->Open.

    Tried; it loses all formatting and images (and that MS has a lot).


    The easiest word processor I ever used was Writing Assistant. I would still offer it to the general office worker as 'good enough for most of what you want to do'. Probably the most useful was WordPerfect 5.1. I used that on a '286 laptop to write a book. The only slow thing about it was waiting for it to compile the index and ToC. I finished the book on a '386 desktop and the processing just flew. WP was great, with a narrow 'reveal codes' window open at the bottom of the screen to keep an eye on any stray formatting. The only hard part was laying out tables. That is a whole lot easier with Open Office Writer under Windows. I do hate Word though, particularly as it gets used in most organisations. I've got templates set up with all the options the way I like them so that I can see the formatting and control how styles are used and adopted. Other people's documents can be a right mess though - long tracts with multiple revisions and authors with various styles scattered around. People who hard-code page references or tables of contents. Fighting with section breaks, page and chapter numbering, running footers and chapter headings. Spaces used in place of tabs or justification. Images or logos in the page footers or headers.

    So what is the easiest pragmatic word processor that the ordinary office slave should be using? And what does an author or wordsmith need?


    "Tried; it loses all formatting and images (and that MS has a lot)."

    Have you looked at it in all views?

    I'm not on a Mac right now, so can't check its behaviour, but one of the "improvements" MS made to Win Word 2007 was to remove the ability to view images in Normal View, the view that documentation pros use 99% of the time. (Which MS also renamed from Normal view to Draft view, although the kbd shortcut remains Ctrl+Alt+N.)

    However, Normal view leaves big blank spaces where the images are, so you'd notice that. If you see one of my earlier posts, I opened a 1994 5.1a doc in Mac 2011 and the formatting was fine (no images in the doc, though). So it's mystifying (like much MS-related stuff).


    But - LyX 2.0 for Mac does not install properly out of the box!

    All the document templates (and other stuff, examples, e.t.c.) are not installed to where they are supposed to be according to the config.

    One of the many things, that I truly Hate & Despise is software that that fails right on install (or fails visible on trivial tasks, like quoting, directly from the command-line. Yep, net-snmpd, that would be YOU).

    To me, it says that the developers probably ran out of fucks to give a while ago. That being the attitude, other, much worse, problems will emerge as soon as I have committed significant time on first fixing, then learning to use the software. Sure, there will be bugs, but bugs that are visible by just running the installer and breaks the tutorial ... Come On! Eat your own dog food once in a while!!

    Mac users are NOT conditioned to fix software like Linux or Windows users are so 99% of them will just say: "That program sucked" and never look at it again.


    I think the Snowden affair killed "Office 365" - at least for organisations that have trade secrets and IPR to care about.

    My own government is ratting me out to the NSA (and whoever else pays them for access), all the time, so "Office 365" could be a hit within public administration where the "NSA-Inside"-feature seems to be appreciated at the highest levels.


    a) The point about latex-files is that they're in a plain-text readable format. So even if you can't just create the dvi/pdf like you could 10-15 years ago (because you've for some reason decided not to have the latex toolchain on your computer any more), you can still open the .tex file in any text editor and the textual content will be readable and the equations will be there and readable by anyone who works in the field (because he often thinks in latex code anyway) and so forth.

    b) It's been quite some years since the last time I've actually created a dvi file. I've been directly creating pdfs from latex for a long time now (by using "pdflatex" instead of "latex" on the commandline).


    And finally, comment #300 - I'll vote for a land war in Asia. It is possible to win. Charlie, albeit a different Charlie to OGH proved that.


    Someone has already expanded the scope of this rant before it was written: see Word Processors are Stupid and Inefficient. Then again, he's writing about using Word and the like to write, while you're more about its ubiquitousness and the comments are about the fact that people don't use styles.


    Charlie is not the first one to rant against Word:

    Jeremy Reimer on Ars Technica back in 2009: The prospects of Microsoft Word in the wiki-based world Tom Scocca on Slate, last year: "Death to Word," aka "Microsoft Word is cumbersome, inefficient, and obsolete. It's time for it to die."


    Having never typed documents longer than four pages into any flavour of Microsoft Word - I find it hard to agree with OGH, as far as "typewriter simulators" go it's no worse than any of the others I have used [all wretched in their different ways].

    I do, however, have a bad case of Excel-related traumatic stress disorder, as the use of aforesaid whoreson spreadsheet at work has me wake up screaming "#REF!" in the middle of the night.

    There are few things more satisfying than uninstalling the Microsoft Office suite from a computer.

    It means said device should be instrument solely of pleasure - and it frees up 2.5 GB of disk space.

    [or at least it did on the machine I'm typing this into]


    Re: You can't open Word 5.1a documents in modern Word versions.

    This is annoying (or worse than that), but it's not specifically a Word/MS-problem.

    I'm a Mac user, just like OGH. I did much of my work in the nineties and early noughties in ClarisWorks and AppleWorks, because I despised Word even back then. The result: It all still sits in a folder on my MacBook Pro, which got copied wholesale with each transition to a new Mac, but it could just as well be in Neverland, because I can't access it. Apple's own Pages cannot open AppleWorks documents! It's idiotic. It's infuriating! It is possible—but extremely painful, and a lot of work—to extract the pure text from these files in TextEdit. But it is lunacy that this should be the only way to access the majority of my work from 10-15 years ago. I am also still actively using much of this work, which means that I had to re-create it basically from scratch.

    I'm therefore looking forward to LibreOffice 4.1 as well. Although it's still mind-boggling that I'm going to need LibreOffice in order to read an AppleWorks document and then figure out some way of porting it to Pages.

    Bottom line: Microsoft is by no means the only offender when it comes to screwing up backwards compatibility (or at least readability) of document formats.


    REPLY to # 300 Indeed Ask Lord Roberts, or "Bill" Slim, or ... about winning wars in Asia. There was this thing called... err .. "The Empire of India" IIRC.

    Wars on 2 fronts are ... difficult.


    Tried; it loses all formatting and images

    Any chance those images were PICTs? If so then Word (and most everything else displayed them via an OS API which is long gone.



    Recently I've been coming up against some of these very same issues. I want my documents to be archival-quality, open-source-editable and platform-independant. It would be nice if they were also user-friendly and clearly/easily formatted. A pipe dream? Maybe so, but until then, I'm content with plain text files and the powerful editors available for them. I've even been cobbling together some (admittedly crude) tools for leaving Microsoft Word behind. I'll share a link to those tools here, in case anybody else is interested in using them or contributing to them.


    Also relates to #300.

    Or, indeed, Giap, who not content with just winning a land war in Asia did so fighting against the full military might of a bona fide Superpower.


    A plain HTML editor anyone?


    Notepad for Windoze, Textedit for Unix (Sun varients anyway)...


    To be fair, the rule might better be stated as 'do not invade into mainland Asia', and he certainly wasn't doing that.

    (Otherwise, Jinghiz Khan would be the major counterexample, repeatedly starting and winning wars of conquest)


    Character-level styles? That's either crazy or brilliant, and considering present company it's probably the latter. But if you've got embedded-code formatting, complete with keyboard shortcuts and toolbar icons, who is going to use character-level styles - unless they work in a business whose product is words, and which consequently has to nail these things down? Most individual users won't ever think of it, and most businesses won't be bothered.

    I mean, I've been using Word since they stopped me using Multimate - must be knocking on 20 years now - and I can't see a Windows machine without wanting to reset the defaults to what they ought to be. And the sum total of my use of styles in all that time is "revert to Normal", "apply Normal" and "who's been pissing about with Normal?".


    "There are few things more satisfying than uninstalling the Microsoft Office suite from a computer."

    I know that feeling:

    • Your shoulders relax and tension disappears
    • You lean back in your chair and relax
    • Your hands slowy make their way down until they rest on your lap
    • You are at peace with the world

    Damn right - something as unwieldy and inelegant as Microsoft Office has no place on a "home" computer...

    It has the word "Office" in it's name for a reason.

    More room on the hard drive for porn^H^H^H^H Charles Stross ebooks, too ;-)


    "There are few things more satisfying than uninstalling the Microsoft Office suite from a computer."

    I'm trying to one-up that by installing Linux on a spare Macbook Air.

    Alas, it's not so hot at the relaxing thing just yet.


    That link seems to refer to something else than the feature you mentioned earlier; formerly it was not yet about keeping the editor up to date on an external file (at least I didn't read that into it).

    For what I thought you wanted, just type :split in Vim, and you get two views ("windows" in Vim terminology) on the same file ("buffer"). Changes are made to the same buffer and if the windows show overlapping data you see the changes in both.

    And from Word for Windows 2.0 onwards, circa 1990, the bloat began to creep in, culminating in Word 6.0, which was a rebranding release that brought Word for Mac and Word for Windows into step version-wise and feature-wise (circa 1991/92, if I remember correctly). Word for Mac 5.1a was the culmination of the parallel development of Word on MacOS (classic 1980s MacOS, that is, not OSX). It was slim, svelte, relatively elegant, and everything we don't associate with Microsoft Word (which is probably why it had to die).

    What happened was that there was a project to create an entirely new Microsoft Word that would have a common codebase on both MacOS and Windows. The two sides had diverged too far and were causing problems with Microsoft's ideal of interoperability within Office. Unfortunately, that project failed. The decision was made to port over Word for Windows instead (along with the rest of the Office for WIndows suite).

    As history recounts, Word 6.0 for Mac (and its siblings) were blasted by the user base as inelegant, bloated, slow and generally a poor product. Microsoft never again tried to do a unified Office product, though Office for Mac remains strangely slow to this day. And Microsoft remains in the position that the differing interfaces and feature sets cause users frustration as they switch from Mac to Windows (or vice versa).

    My problem with the ribbon isn't that it exists -- it's arguably a flawed attempt at addressing a serious problem -- but more to do with screen real estate. Laptops these days come with a 16:9 aspect ratio -- widescreen, for displaying media such as movies -- in contrast to the earlier 4:3 ratio. They're wider but shorter, more like a letterbox.

    Microsoft needs to refine it (again, though they'll face backlash) but to be fair, the Ribbon was born in an era of 4:3 displays. They are hardly the only company to have the sin of using up too much vertical real estate.


    Conceived in the days of 4:3 it might have been, but by the time it was born the widescreen writing was on the wall. Why oh why couldn't they have made it possible to unpin and move to the side?


    You mention Google Chrome: people generally use Chrome because they made a conscious decision to do so. Lots of people still stick with IE. I've never even heard of an institution that mandates the use of Chrome. It's quite common to see institutions mandate the use of MS Office products despite vocal complaints to the contrary.


    The OP is correct. MS Office is horrible and the worst part is there is a broad culture that is very aggressive about forcing others to use it.

    Markdown is great for basic text, headings, lists, and code snippets. If I need more formatting features or a citation manager LaTeX is the best. I like a good TeX editor like TeXMaker and for collaboration.


    While I appreciate the candor, Mr. Marton, your observations are off-base. Unlike you, I worked at a research organization where ideas were often fiercely confronted, on a large and small scale. As it happens, I also worked briefly for Microsoft. As a researcher, project lead, and manager, I know for sure someone doesn't know the opportunities when they claim some software is optimal and can't be improved upon. What you mean is that given your organization, established political boundaries, opinionation, and weaknesses of your staff, you chose the best management approach. That's hardly the same as producing the best product for the customer.

    Your contention that styles are for people who "understand publishing" is typical of MS Word design, which is that you developed your own rules, and then brag that you followed them. At every step of the way, before MS Word and during active development, there have been better word processors. I had to teach a short class to secretaries who were converting from Wang word processing equipment and software to our product, which was coded in Word Basic. I had worked with them for weeks, and we were on good terms. Half way through class, they grew very quiet. Finally, one them said, "Did Microsoft actually talk to any secretaries when they designed MS Word?"

    However, speaking of Off-Ice 2007 and later interface, did you know that ctrl+$key still does whatever it used to in earlier versions? It's just that Mickeysha@ft have removed all the hints!

    Office 2010 on Windows shows keyboard shortcuts on button tooltip labels (and has additional shortcuts if you press Alt).


    Personally, I find it annoying that now the schools force MS products on the students. Here in the Dutch high schools, for the first 3 years students are supposed to learn various MS Office tools (and buy or rent thick expensive manuals for them too).

    We don't have MS Office at home (I use LibreOffice when needed), but daughter had problems with her school assignments because some of them had to use MS-specific features.

    As a side effect, I guess many students eventually assume that working with computers = working with MS stuff.


    Have you ever tried to create a grammar checker? It is, ahem, rather difficult. I've been involved with the Dutch one some 10+ years ago. Due to taking too much time to develop our own formalism to express rules, we were forced into using an existing one. Well... it was a very feeble formalism. Nobody was proud of it. The spelling checker on the other hand was very good (even if I say so myself). If you realise what the limitations on a spelling checker are.

    Why oh why couldn't they have made it possible to unpin and move to the side?

    If you think about it, that's far from trivial to do - you can't just rotate the ribbon interface by 90 degrees and expect everyone to cock their head to one side when reading it, and nor can you just take all the side-by-side blocks and stack them on top of each other, like you could with a traditional toolbar.

    I agree that it would be a good idea to have a side-docked mode, but I don't fancy being the one who designs the layout engine to allow the same controls to feel natural in both positions.


    Ah, XyWrite! Still the most sensible text editor I've ever used. It had a few issues -- memory management with large documents, a very strange (but very useful) programming language, plus a couple of others -- but it was basically a wonderful plain text editor with easy to use inline codes that weren't too intrusive. (The only upper ASCII characters it used were 174 and 175, to surround the inline codes.) Just a joy. Then IBM killed them. (Long story there.) Now I use Scrivener, but for short stuff I find Markdown editors to be perfectly useful.

    The real question, the one raised by Stross, is how to get the idiot publishing industry to change its hidebound ways. That's more important than killing Word. If no one uses it, Word will die anyway. What if the typesetters/printers started objecting? What if the people beyond writers, who also suffer with Word, started a campaign?


    A happy birthday to esteemed scientifiction scribe - Charles David George Stross Esq.

    May all your birthday wishes come true, especially the one about a certain "word processor" being banished to a non-Euclidean dimension.

    That's more important than killing Word. If no one uses it, Word will die anyway.

    Anyone besides me think that what's really being discussed here is yet another example of evolution in action? Same old same old, the explanatory power of contingency, the 'good enough, but not good', etc. criticizing Word is sort of like criticizing the idiocy of design that is the mammalian lung, or the really nasty things that's been done to the human spine in the name of evolution. I really hope that isn't the case, but look at 60 cycle a.c. in the US of A.


    Btw, someone looking over my shoulder pointed out that not everyone gets the AC-DC example. Thing is, at one point, AC was superior to DC because of the ease with which voltage could be stepped up/down - critical to long-distance power back in the day(DC has advantages over AC when the comparison benchmark is different). Now? Well, the technology to switch DC from whatever current/voltage to whatever current/voltage is well in hand, and has been for decades. Do you see the switchover to DC (since the obvious advantage to AC has been negated)? No, you do not. Network effects/path dependency enforces this early decision with a vengeance.


    I only got Office 2010 because it was cheap for teachers, and we could put it on three computers for a relatively low price. But I still like Office 97, which has a really short license number and will install on reasonably bright vacuum cleaners, if asked properly, no matter how many places it's already been. But computers with a fairly new Microsoft operating system make Snide Remarks, and many new machines don't have CD readers (although it's a small enough file that it can fit on even a really small flash drive). All I ask of a word processing program is that it will let me type, use a pleasant font, allow me to use bold, italics and underline, and save in files of more than nine pages at a whack (I started on WordWriter 3 for the Commodore 64, hence I have a very low bar).

    The last I checked, Office 97 (and they all swear they're legitimate copies! Honest!) were available on Ebay.


    Tried Google Docs, but Microsoft Word still works the best for me.


    Anyone besides me think that what's really being discussed here is yet another example of evolution in action?

    Ah yes, the fallacy that monopolistic capitalism is somehow part of the natural world!

    Most people use Microsoft products because they are forced to by their employer [or not given the option to use something else, which is a difference that makes no difference], that the software was bundled with the computer they bought, the belief that it somehow necessary to use Microsoft Office in the home [I never have], that most entry level training courses are based on using the predominant software package [which is Word/Excel/Access/Outlook/Powerpoint/IE]

    The idea that you need to use inadequate tools to perform tasks that they are not suited to, to achieve unnecessary objectives is peculiar to humans alone, I think.

    Simpler, cheaper, more intuitively designed alternatives are always available.


    replying to von hicthofen Simpler, cheaper, more intuitively designed alternatives are always available. Really? Where, & who/what are they? When support for WinXP runs out next year, I'm going to have to change. New O/S & new packages of everything else. What? Come on, tell me? Ubuntu? Some other form of Unix? Open/Libre Office? Or what? And I must still be able to read & use all my old files ..... And where do I find support? { Not that MS's is any use at all, mind you. } Oh yes, question: WOT "ribbon" ? Uh? Remember, I'm using XP / IE8 / Office 2003 Since all versions since seem to be total crap, to be polite, about it .....


    [I]And I must still be able to read & use all my old files .....[/I]

    LibreOffice 4.1 seems to be your best bet - I've just downloaded it, and if you are used to Office 2000 Word [like me], it appears to closely resemble it, and of course it's free and can be tinkered with [I'm told - I have no idea how]

    I never use any of the functions beyond the Text document, so it's massively function rich for me - two-car-garage-for-a-tandem syndrome ;-)

    I have opened Word 97 documents in it, in a variety of file formats, with no problems.

    I haven't tried any of my Ashton-Tate Framework documents from 1991, as they are on a 5¼ disk :-D


    Good article. I've been using MS Word since late 1987, on Macs, and have been through all the iterations of the software. Word does a lot—more than most writers would ever need—and yet it's so clunky in many areas! Having grown up with Wordstar, I learned long ago to be comfortable with Key Commands / Keyboard Shortcuts (I must have over 50 in my head for Word), which speeds things up, but when I finally got Apple's iWork for my Macbook and started using Pages, I abandoned Word for this new and simpler software that works so well with Macs.


    I've been using Word since I was a kid and it's been the only thing I've accepted to use for Word processing (And privately LibreOffice). Until I decided to start writing a non-fiction book and Word decided to go through glitchfest like a discoball emitting lights on a wall.

    Fonts would change automatically when you scrolled up and down. I turned off graphic acceleration and it didn't fix the problem. I made a reference link for the chapter name in the header and every time I loaded the document the reference would break. I use paragraph mode to show symbols and it puts new paragraph symbols after new page breaks.

    Understanding how sections work was not straight forward and after 3 hours of just plain research on the actual program I could start writing the Forewords.

    And this is from a person who got an A in Microsoft Office class in college after spending one whole semester on it.

    The only reason I wanted MS Word rather than LibreOffice was for the header and footer, table of contents and styles. After this great glitchfest I am switching over to inDesign because I feel that I have greater control over my project there.

    337: 334

    Thans, that's what I suspected ... but what O/S should I install, to run this, since WinXP will ni longer be supported? And I do hope I can read all my old files & mail?


    Anyone besides me think that what's really being discussed here is yet another example of evolution in action?
    Ah yes, the fallacy that monopolistic capitalism is somehow part of the natural world!
    Most people use Microsoft products because they are forced to by their employer [or not given the option to use something else, which is a difference that makes no difference], that the software was bundled with the computer they bought, the belief that it somehow necessary to use Microsoft Office in the home [I never have], that most entry level training courses are based on using the predominant software package [which is Word/Excel/Access/Outlook/Powerpoint/IE]

    That's two blinks and Whooosh! for you. No, until you brought it up, capitalism was the last thing on my mind. As for the rest, you're pretty much forced to assume some sort of aerobic respiration if you want to play the game of life these days. Oh, there's a few niche products - your black smokers and such - but basically, you're kinda coerced into using that oxygen stuff.

    Evolution is littered with such contingencies, some plausible, others just because. There's no reason why us primate types have to have a blind spot, for example, or be forced to use a repurposed swim bladder wherein the product does not flow in one end and out the other, and these are most certainly not design features I would incorporate in Homo S., mark II. But they kinda sorta work, and way back in the day that was good enough. And that is fundamentally why Word is the Frankenstein's monster that it is - or at least, that's my opinion.


    And this is from a person who got an A in Microsoft Office class in college after spending one whole semester on it.

    I feel ancient.

    The only reason I wanted MS Word rather than LibreOffice was for the header and footer, table of contents and styles.

    LibreOffice can do all of the above.


    Hello, denizens of Daring Fireball!

    Alas, you're smoke-testing my server. So to lighten the load I'll be disabling comments for the next hour or three.


    FU3n3YCM @ 15

    I had the misfortune to be the designated lead Compatibility, Typography, Squamousity, & Performance Software Test Engineer for Mac Office during 2002-2004.

    My job was to generate draft test cases for the rest of the Test group to execute in the individual apps.

    The first interesting thing under the Squamousity heading was that we were absolutely required to be "bug-for-bug compatible" with Office for Windows.

    In other words, although we were among the first people outside of Apple to see Mac OS X 10.0, we could not use standard OS X text formatting code. When you fire up Mac Office, even today, you are looking at text as Windows would render it. (No ClearType, though, so there's a blessing.)

    This geas is imposed via a fairly simple method. The Win Office team reluctantly delivers their latest core document formatting code to the Mac Office team, and that is implanted into the brainstem of the Mac apps via wrapper code.

    The other pertinent implant from Win Office is anything that has to do with file read/write. As the former compatibility wallah, I can tell you that, yes, "with Word 95, Word 97, in 2000, and again in 2003" (and more since), is precisely correct; I helped write the user instructions for use in the Compability UI.


    Though you might have valid reasons to dislike Word now, and many of the points you make about it being a bad tool for many kinds of writing are correct, as are many of the business decisions you list, your depiction of many of the technical issues ignores the technical baggage that led to how it became what it is, and I suspect that you don't have a full understanding of how software works. (Not meant as an attack -- you're a writer, not a developer, right?)

    Of course early versions of Word used binary files; that was normal back then because it's much faster than parsing tagged text files, and it takes much less space on disk, which was really important in the days of floppy disks. Same with Fast Save: it made sense in the days of slow floppy drives.

    The Word document object model (the internal structure of a document, regardless of whether stored in binary or XML as is done today) was also a sound technical decision for the time when it was made: it enabled editing documents that were bigger than the available RAM with correct formatting. That is not possible in tag-based editors, where the formatting of any given word (such as near the end of a 100 page document) is dependent on tags that may have been opened on the first page, forcing the program to format ALL the pages before the one you want. This was a HUGE advantage in the days of limited RAM. The inherent complexity (i.e. the non-linearity) of the Word document format is the primary reason that other programs have trouble opening the documents -- it was never designed as an interchange format, it was designed to flawlessly represent the Word document model for Word's own use.

    As for changing formats: a file format -- ANY file format -- must, by definition, describe ALL the features that the program has. (For example, if some version of Word added triple-underscore, then the file format would have to be extended to support triple-underscore.) So any time the program got new features that affect a document, the file format HAD to change. This is the other major reason other programs have trouble opening Word files: to accurately open a Word document, the program must support every single feature used in that document, and it must support them flawlessly. To go back to my example, if another program doesn't support triple-underscore, then it is impossible for it to faithfully open a Word document that uses triple-underscore. Since no other word processor supports all the features that Word has, it is by definition impossible for third-party programs to accurately open and display all Word documents.

    Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that the approach Word took in every instance proved to be the best one for the long run, but an awful lot of them were the right decision at the time, with negative repercussions that could not have been anticipated back then. I am just trying to explain that the story involves far less malice and conspiracy than is often believed. (I'm not and have never been affiliated with Microsoft in any way; I just have a background in the software industry.)


    P.S. And other than Office, I don't use any Microsoft products at all; I'm a huge Mac geek!


    I just copied this article and pasted it into Microsoft Word where I will save it and send it to my Kindle. This is about the only thing I still use Microsoft Word for. I agree with everything the author wrote.


    I've used Word extensively since before 2000, been a Word expert on a support desk, and can make Word do things that other Word gurus did not believe possible. My opinion is that Word tends to succeed about 70-90%, but never, never can manage that last chunk no matter how hard you try. Word 2010 still has image placement bugs I first discovered in Word 2000, and styles never quite work, even with rigorous discipline. Printing documents with graphics to a network printer is an ordeal. I swear it sends it to the printer in the most uncompressed format possible, such that a 10mb document will balloon into several hundred meg at the printer, and clog it up for an hour.

    For any document that can be plain text and still make sense, I prefer plain text or Markdown, especially for the thinking/writing phase. For any document that needs intensive formatting and graphics, I use Indesign. I add some dummy text to work out my styles and master pages, and then start adding my plain text content and formatting it. Indesign is the best I've used for laying out text and graphics. I like that you can style many types of objects, and that it will tell you if a particular bit of text is overriding its style.


    "styles never quite work, even with rigorous discipline."

    In my experience, styles work 100% of the time, because that is how Word is built. But to make them work, you have to enforce rigour by locking the styles to prevent users from applying manual formatting. Relying on users to be rigorous is a lost battle. It's like painting yellow no parking lines on the road - without enforcement it will be ignored and it's therfore a waste of time and effort. Without enforcement, Word docs become a nightmare of broken, spaghetti formatting.

    Almost all problems with Word are attributable to style abuse - users unknowingly applying manual overrides to styles, because that's the way they have been taught to use the program. Locking styles and thereby preventing style abuse meets with considerable initial user hostility, but you have to find a way to overcome this initial reaction. The best way is to make it easy for your users by giving them a custom toolbar containing all permissible styles (a trivial task in W2003, but an ability that MS removed in W2007). Then they don't need a ribbon or menus, which are rendered surplus to requirements by the locked status of the doc. Once users get used to this way of working, life becomes much, much easier for them - there is no requirement to know anything whatsoever about fonts, font sizes, indents, spacing etc, since users have zero ability to override these.

    "I use Indesign. [...] I like that you can style many types of objects, and that it will tell you if a particular bit of text is overriding its style."

    Word can do the same - you just have to turn it on (it's off by default). Turn on the options "Keep track of formatting" and "Mark formatting inconsistencies". Manual overrides will then have a squiggly blue underline (though not in 100% of cases, as I explained in an earlier post).

    Now do Shift+F1 to display the Reveal Formatting pane, tick the "Distinguish style source" box at the bottom and the pane will list all character, para section and table formatting, plus Direct Formatting, MS's term for manual overrides (or style abuse, as I prefer to think of it).

    This is nothing new, BTW. Back in the day of W5.1a, long before squiggly underlines of any sort, Word indicated overrides. If you applied a Heading 3 style, a status bar indicated "heading 3". If you applied any sort of override, the status bar changed to "heading 3+...". The plus with ellipsis was used to indicate an override. That was 1990-91 - often there's not much new under the sun.

    If 100% of formatting is applied with styles, Word behaves pretty well. It hardly ever (and I know I'm tempting fate here) crashes in my experience.


    Word 5.1a (with a bit of practice) was almost the perfect tool for writing lecture course books and question sheets (with hidden answers, etc.), publication files, and so on. Small, fast, powerful, fully featured. And worked brilliantly with Endnote (before it got so hopelessly bloated and confused). And it had EGO for Word so you could embed double-click editable Chemdraw etc. pictures. Amazing! Then came that stinking torrent of PC sewage known as Word 6 and they've been trying to clean up the mess ever since.


    I suspect that you don't have a full understanding of how software works. (Not meant as an attack -- you're a writer, not a developer, right?)

    Check out the side bar links "Non-blog Writing (old)" and "How I Got Here In The End" to see how hilariously off-base this comment is (as applied to Charlie's non-writer experience, that is).


    "Word 5.1a (with a bit of practice) was almost the perfect tool [...] Small, fast, powerful, fully featured."

    Dead right. If you deleted the grammar checker, 5.1a occupied little more than 1MB of disk space, which was a valuable saving on the 40MB hard disks of the day. Yes, MB not GB. I still have 5.1a installed on a 40MB HDD (SCSI - remember that) on a lead-acid battery Mac Portable (although it's so long since I last booted the machine, I'd be surprised if it starts up.)


    "Then came that stinking torrent of PC sewage known as Word 6 and they've been trying to clean up the mess ever since."

    I clearly remember a MacWorld review of Word 6. Most reviews attempt to be a bit even handed, saying these are the good bits and these are the bad bits, here's how it may be worthwhile to upgrade, and here's some reasons why you might want to hold off. The MacWorld review started with a 3-word sentence:

    "Word 6 sucks."

    I've never seen another review start off so scathing. I read somewhere that Bill Gates confessed that W6 was an embarrassment to his company.


    Some interesting comments in this thread. Inspiring, in fact.

    Ever since I started working intensively on computers (in 1987), text-based workflows have been on my mind. Never found the ideal solution, but I could usually pull it off with a few tools. While Word has been a part of that on occasion, I kept searching for other ways. For instance, there was a time in the early days of Mac OS X when I would produce both screen-based and printable PDFs using OmniOutliner and LaTeX. Spent a few years on a PC, afterwards, and the lack of an OmniOutliner equivalent pushed me in other directions. Since I started using online services more extensively (e.g., WordPress), and especially with the release of iOS, though, my workflow has changed quite a bit. Being able to switch between devices and between apps on the same device has become quite important. Sure, OPML and other XML-based formats could work between apps on diverse devices, but support is lacking, despite Dave Winer’s efforts.

    So, these days, like a number of people here, I end up writing in (Multi)Markdown for a number of things, though there are clear limits to what it can do. For instance, just yesterday, I was creating an exam in Markdown, but eventually copied the RTF into Word to tweak the final formatting. Far from ideal, but it worked. Or I’ve been producing slides in Markdown through MakeSlides on iOS, but I then tweak them in Keynote. And I’ve used image formats to embed mindmaps and Scapple maps into Markdown documents. It’s still a much more pleasant workflow than what I had before. But it could be enhanced.

    Which is why I feel inspired. I’m not a coder and I wouldn’t have time to embark on a significant project if I were, but I can more clearly imagine something neat happening in the near future. Not just challenging Microsoft Office, but allowing for new workflows. Sure, Draft and GDocs and Dropbox and XHTML can all be part of it. But it may not be about specific solutions. More of a rethinking of the embedded-code vs. stylesheets model. File formats can play a big part, but files have a different role, in a Content Management System or on a mobile device.

    And this is where I think someone like Bret Victor might come in. Going back to the roots of the problem. Giving the whole situation a rethinking. And building proof-of-concept tools which lead us to think different about “text documents”.

    Workflows and User Experience make a huge difference in the impact computer technology has on society. Unfortunately, they’re often constrained by the imaginations of people in charge of deciding what features tools may have. The Microsoft Word era may be ending anyway. It might be the ideal time to rethink ways we put words together on computers.


    tookitogo: I suspect that you don't have a full understanding of how software works. (Not meant as an attack -- you're a writer, not a developer, right?)

    Wrong. MSc Computer Science (1990 -- conversion degree, not research degree: officially equivalent to a BS in Comp Sci), worked as a tech author and a software developer through about 2002.

    Please try to refrain from making patronizing assumptions about people you don't know.

    Also: please do not attempt to teach granny how to suck eggs; nothing in your comment came as news to me.


    Fascinating piece... with a raft of thoughtful and entertaining comments. I'm actually shocked by the number of respondents apparently as nearly as old as me... veterans of wordstar and wordperfect.

    I've simply accepted the necessity of living with word. My frustration is amplified though by the fact that my adult sons converted me to mac six years ago and using microsoft's version for that platform is even more frustrating than what I'd grown accustomed to.

    But, until alternatives can grow strong even to actually challenge Goliath, I'm resigned to doing the best I can within its serious constraints.


    Terrific article, Charlie. I stand with Ted Nelson, who said "WYSIWYG is an abomination and the creed of slaves."


    I'm pretty sure it still won't do the things Charlie says it doesn't do that he needs, but Pages 5.0 has done the "ribbon" thing more like it should be done. There are a small number on buttons for inserting things (files, tables etc.) on the top. You have a larger number of buttons on a largish ribbon down the side of the document, but nothing like the plethora of buttons in Word.

    Except they're mostly there actually - just hidden in contextually sensible ways. Insert a table and when you're editing a table there's a shed-load of formatting and editing tools for tables in the sidebar. If you're editing normal text, then you've got choices about editing plain text (bold, italics, underline, convert to bullets) and so on. You can easily go in and indent and the like, and it's easy to change to control the layout and type in columns and so forth.

    They've done something similar to Numbers which depending on what I'm doing can be a nuisance - but actually when I'm using Numbers for a lot of things where I'm entering and manipulating data it's nice. When I'm working with huge csv files masquerading as a flat database it's a couple of columns of wasted space - so swings and roundabouts.


    You had me at TECO. Can you still tell me what your name does as a command?

    My first word processor was a TTY (or card punch), and I've watched with bemusement as that parade of editors and word processors, markup and WYSIWYHYG (H=hope). Watched Rob Pike demonstrate an early Unix equivalent.

    Do you remember Interleaf? SGML based internal markup, user extensible, with WYSIWYG front end. I used the original Word on Mac, and have, like you, watched the awful progression of bloat and deliberate incompatibility.

    The end can't come soon enough.


    Well, it's not that difficult: if you hate Microsoft Word, don't use it!

    Yes, doc(x) is indeed a worldwide standard for documents, and most alternative office suites produce formatting losses opening or saving it.

    But some of them are quite good, one even fantastic IMHO. I use TextMaker (the word processor included in my SoftMaker Office Professional), and it has never produced any flaws so far, it's feature-packed, and - BINGO - opens and saves doc(x) faithfully.

    Try it out, documents look like they were created, and that in both directions.

    Conclusion: it is possible to replace Word with a way cheaper, but fully compatible and functionally equal software.


    Well, it's not that difficult: if you hate Microsoft Word, don't use it!

    And what, precisely, do you do if your employer - like Charlies', like mine compels you to use it.

    It's not as though its a lifestyle choice!

    In my case, is my employer going to replace Windows XP/Microsoft Office 2000 [which we are still using] on 80,000 machines, just because I don't like it?

    The sclerotic arm of the state I work for is switching over from using IE6 this year!

    And the job of replacing that completely isn't over yet.

    Similarly, is Microsoft going to abandon Windows 8/8.1, just because I think Windows 7 is probably the best iteration of their product?


    Sorry, not intended to be rude, honestly!

    But in that case, I would genuinely be curious as to your thoughts on the points I raised.


    tl;dr. No seriously, it's a 25'000-word read, I honestly didn't (and don't) have time to read it!


    If you can't be bothered to read what Charlie has already written, why on earth should he pay any attention to your demands for him to write more to explain himself?




    In their recent UK Tv ads, Mickeysh@ft have come out and admitted that Windoze8 is designed for touch screens and not for keyboard and mouse. As such, I'd advise anyone who normally uses keyboard and mouse to stick with XP or W7 as long as possible.


    I appreciate you're probably not planning to change writing tools, and I'm waiting for the next pay cheque before I try it myself, but some years ago I used Ulysses for writing, and I've just been spammed by an add for Ulysses III.

    I like Ulysses and will probably check out their latest tool. I don't know if they still do, but back in the 1.0 days, I wrote a review and they sent a license code, so they might be willing to give you a freebie in return for a review - yours will be read by far more than mine ever was.


    "1) Word's HTML output." I wrote about it here:


    Prior to this past year I had used Word very little for about 7 years. The companies I consulted with were moving out of documents and to web writing and collaboration services. PDFs were shared around of "final drafts" or editing for a document and comments were turned off. I used a mix of Scrivener, light text tools (nvAlt amoung many), and occasionally Pages to style a document before sharing in PDF.

    In the past year I've been working with an org that is Word centric and it is entertaining to watch the "Word is fine" folks spend much time fixing Word created errors, but they are so used to it they don't see it. Humans are the affordance system for Word. It is the technology doesn't watch out for us and help us, we have to mind and watch out for it.

    The last 6 months I have been talking with a decent number of very large organizations who have been running into a Word dead-end. Their folks that work out of the office and in the field (sales, field engineers, site examiners, etc.) all shifted to light tablets (mostly Android or Apple iOS) and lack Word. For compatibility and occasionally the lack of network access they have been using text tools with markdown (often with GUI interface for markdown, yet many use text insertions too). (There isn't a markdown tool of choice as there are seemingly as many markdown text editors as there are hairs on a dog, but they all work together relatively well.) The people found the didn't fuss with their words and tools, most of their words were placed into an online capture tool, and almost never were printed. Markdown allowed them to share files across their own devices and share with others.

    The pain point has been this past year with their organizations moving to Office 365 their organization had no idea that 25% to 40% of their organization had not only stopped using Word, but are radically opposed to ever having to use it again. The organization has been having to pay for their "seat" to Microsoft and the companies want their money back. The companies are also finding the "new way" is growing by around 2% each month. They are trying to sort out how to embrace this "new way" in the next year and how to get out of the multi-year Microsoft contract.

    One organization I chatted with this past 6 months is a worldly organization that has the aim to look after the world and they are trying to get out of Word mostly because of the comments change tracking has introduced errors and wrong versions because of an unusable interface. The problem costs them into the millions each year for time spent managing the errors. The problem has nearly lead to international disasters on a few occasions, but was averted with heavy discussions and many hours with teams trying to trackback to get the correct language into the final document. There are a few text and markdown co-editing tools that are in rather early release stages, but even these nascent tools have been showing fewer problems and ease of collaborative editing than Word. But, they are not ready to fully jump over to these solutions, yet they are certain Word is on its last legs in their organization.


    A little while after reading this column the first time, I remembered a little more of why I'd enjoyed reading it so much. And then the comment about reliably reading 20 year old documents set me off on, well, a rant about how I know that is not really true.

    That rant is at, for you to enjoy or bitch about, but it does come with real data!


    I always remember 3 of us failing the Microsoft Word certification test. We, I worked for a training company, had been offered the chance to pilot these tests when they came out in the late 90's.

    The sweetener from MS and the awarding body involved was being able to add the MS logo to all of our documentation. Translation, price increase on fees charged, more money all round so pay raises all round.

    We ran through a mock test and as previously stated, failed. 3 people who used word on a daily basis, running courses and using it in the business generally.

    The online test software worked by logging every key stroke and mouse movement, it couldn't measure final results, it had to test the process. I can't remember specifics but I always remember one of our failed questions. We took 3 steps to format part of the test document, the test software said we should have taken 6 or 7. This was a common theme throughout the test.

    If we had taken up the pilot we would have had to revamp every course (there was a test for each Office module) to take account of this and train people in a specific, mostly longer, process.

    So not only did they want you to use their software. You had you use it in the way they thought you should use it.



    That's been a common complaint of mine too; M$ expect me to work their way and not my way.

    Someplace upthread, I've raised the point that they've admitted that Windoze8 is designed for touch screens, to the exclusion of all else.


    The reality seems not so black-and-white as MSB makes it. Just now, i opened 4 separate AppleWorks Word Processing documents in Pages ’09 version 4.0.3. Three of them opened with fully correct formatting, other than a font substitution. The 4th. had messed-up formatting, but the text was all there without having to dig deep into the source file (this one was a copy/paste from a website, which may have carried its own formatting baggage).

    I did this on a G4 PPC Mac with OS 10.4.11 Tiger installed. AppleWorks 6 is also installed on this machine, so i did side-by-side viewings to check accuracy. Pages ’09 shipped with the Snow Leopard Box Set, so it ought to work at least with that OS on MacTels, but i did not test this.

    One likely explanation between MSB’s findings and mine is that i used AppleWorks 6 documents. Many of you may remember that there was some sort of format change between earlier ClarisWorks and AppleWorks versions to AppleWorks 6, whereby when AppleWorks 6 encountered a ClarisWorks 3 or 4 or AppleWorks 5 document, it would convert it before opening it (as Pages does with the AW 6 docs). It is very likely not possible to go directly from CW 3 or 4 or earlier or AW 5 to Pages, though in a perfect world it ought to be.

    This is all part of The Apple Way (the Apple business model/world view): people are supposed to get so excited they pee themselves with each sequential major upgrade of hardware/OS/other software, and faithfully buy each item right away when it comes out. I’ve never done this myself and almost certainly never will, but i have learned over the years that Apple does tend to cover this scenario in terms of one-way migrations of user content… just don’t skip any steps!


    Hello, but it's lonely over here waving my 'I love Word' flag. Because I do like Word, and I think it's a great program to use for writing novels.

    (Don't love Big Brother Microsoft, but that's a whole other story.)


    "Someplace upthread, I've raised the point that they've admitted that Windoze8 is designed for touch screens, to the exclusion of all else."

    In that case why have I been using Windows 8 with a GUI desktop and no touch input devices for the last two years? Again, like the Lords of the Copybook Headings, I say that touch is another interface for Windows 8, not an exclusive means of interacting with the system. Heck, it's even got a command window yep, Textronix 4014 emulation mode with the background set to dark green and text as white Lucida for old-school types like myself.

    Even Win8RT tablets and Win8Phone phones will work with keyboards and mice, trackballs, pen tablets etc. if they are plugged in or connected by Bluetooth. I don't know whee you got the incorrect information about touch excluding everything else from Win8 but it's so totally wrong I have to think it's part of a deliberate disinformation campaign by someone feeding the prejudices of others.



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 12, 2013 7:23 AM.

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