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20 Years of MS Word and Why It Should Die a Swift Death 843

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the going-the-way-of-old-yeller dept.
Ars writer Jeremy Reimer takes a stroll down memory lane, recalling over 20 years of (almost) constant Microsoft Word use and why, with current and emerging tech trends, he thinks his relationship with the program may be at an end. "So why don't I need Word any more? To figure this out, I tried to go back to basics and think about what Word was originally designed to do. In the early days, Word's primary purpose was to ready a document so that you could print it out. As a student I needed to print out essays so I could hand them to my instructor. In the office I needed to print out reports so that I could hand them to my supervisor. The end goal was always the same: I printed out something to give to someone more important than me, who would evaluate it and, if I was lucky, give it back to me at some indeterminate time in the future. One didn't question this; it was just the way the world worked. Somewhere along the way, we stopped printing things out quite so much. Maybe it was the rise of office networking. Maybe it was when the printer companies kept raising the price of ink to ridiculous levels. Maybe it was when we realized we couldn't print out the whole Internet. Despite the fact that fewer things were being printed, we kept on using Word to create our documents."
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20 Years of MS Word and Why It Should Die a Swift Death

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  • PDFs? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overunderrated (1518503) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:07PM (#28929651)
    With that argument, PDFs would be the thing to die, not MS Word.
    • Re:PDFs? (Score:5, Informative)

      by langelgjm (860756) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:18PM (#28929853) Journal

      I know it's popular to hate on Word around here, but if you know what you're doing, it's not all that bad. I used Word to write my master's thesis, and by consistently using styles, along with Zotero, cross-referenced fields, and bookmarks, it came out very nice looking. If I had been in a different field, I'm sure that LaTeX would have made more sense, but if I sent anything but Word to my instructors asking for comments, their heads would have exploded.

      The article does have a point about not printing things out as much anymore (my thesis was actually submitted electronically, the only time I printed it out was to check for errors by hand, and to give personal copies to people). But pages are for more than print-outs. JSTOR made a decision to keep their journal articles in page format, because that's what people are used to and like. Also, properly formatted pages look better than wikis or blog posts. I'm not saying Word is good at typography, but even a mediocre-looking Word document is better looking than someone's crappy blog font.

      • by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:40PM (#28930245) Homepage Journal

        As long as you don't step outside of the capabilities of Word and WYSIWYG word processing in general (I am avoiding calling these systems an "editor") then they do just fine. Millions of people put together short to medium length documents on Word all the time, they didn't die from it. And they didn't find it so difficult that they had to search for a better way.

        The learning curve to systems like LaTeX is very steep, but you have a tremendous amount of control over the formatting and layout. With WYSIWYG it can be a bit mysterious at times what formatting was applied where. In many ways I find structured documents more powerful than macro driven typesetting systems, although their features can also complement one another (like using DocBook or XSLT to generate TeX).

        Personally I don't think printing versus not printing is some fundamental paradigm shift that it affects the popularity of Word. I think it is more because of the emergence of new software packages (like wikis, blogs, etc) combined with people being far more computer literate than they were 10-20 years ago.

        • by relguj9 (1313593) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:06PM (#28931535)
          LaTeX sounds pretty powerful, but honestly Word has some powerful abilities that most people just never even try to figure out.

          It can handle very long documents just fine if you use the program appropriately.

          Change the view to "Outline" to get a glimpse of some of the larger document capabilities and how to really control the formatting (which you can do, it's just a learning curve to figure it out). You can actually have subsections of a master document stored on separate servers with different permission levels for editing. I've helped make and used 1000 page manuals in Word without much trouble.

          Combine that with how well it really does integrate with Excel and how easy it is to bring images in, etc... and I don't see Word going anywhere anytime soon.

          Sorry to sound like a Microsoft fanboi or whatever, but Word is a more powerful tool than most give it credit for or bother to figure out, since a lot of its capability is kind of "hidden" to make it user friendly out of the box.
          • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday August 03, 2009 @04:35PM (#28932795) Journal

            LaTeX sounds pretty powerful, but honestly Word has some powerful abilities that most people just never even try to figure out. ...

            You can actually have subsections of a master document stored on separate servers with different permission levels for editing

            And this is why many of us perfer the unix way. LaTeX, for instance does nothing except typeset documents. If you want whacky permissioning and etc, then you can use one of many fine version control systems. As an added bonus, that knowledge can be re-used for programs and so on.

            One tool one job, etc.

          • by master_p (608214) on Monday August 03, 2009 @04:59PM (#28933123)

            The major problem with Word is that it allows the creation of on-the-fly styles while typing. For example, when I type with normal style, using Ctrl+B will add a new style to the document: normal + bold. This easy creation and modification of styles creates a style nightmare. I have seen documents with over 500 different styles, as a result of the document being passed around in various home and abroad offices and partners.

            Word should be strict about its types. Either you use an existing type or create a new one from the beginning. That will limit the amount of hacks people do in order to format their documents.

            • by kklein (900361) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:55PM (#28934753)

              YES.

              This is the only (yes, only--I've never understood the Word hate around here) problem I have with Word, but it is a big one. For short, one-off documents, I've actually moved to using Apple's Pages, which doesn't do this. When I'm making a handout for class (I'm a university lecturer), I have specific styles that I use every time. With Pages (or, for that matter, OO.o), I can just set the style and off I go. The menu arrow next to the style turns red if the text deviates from the style, but it doesn't make a new style.

              I honestly cannot figure out why Word does that. It makes the style list a horrible jumble, and is probably the #1 reason that people don't use styles. It looks daunting, even though it should simplify document creation!

          • by gknoy (899301) <gknoy@anaLISPsaz ... m minus language> on Monday August 03, 2009 @05:10PM (#28933243)

            It can handle very long documents just fine if you use the program appropriately.

            What do you consider "long"? 100 pages? 200 pages? 500 pages? 800 pages?

            I know a technical editor for a team of engineers. All of their reports are written (and edited) in Word. The several-hundred-page documents fail frequently enough to be a problem. When I say "fail", I mean that either Word crashes, or the document is corrupted and effectively unrecoverable enough to have wasted dozens of man-hours of labor on the document. Laying that at the feet of the users is NOT acceptible: it's a sign of program failure. Why is a 500-page document less stable than most 30-page documents? Why is it POSSIBLE for a user to "do it wrong"?

            Word sucks much more often for Large Documents than a real document editing system.

          • by pz (113803) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:34PM (#28934081) Journal

            LaTeX sounds pretty powerful, but honestly Word has some powerful abilities that most people just never even try to figure out.

            There are two major issues I hit every single time I use MS Word (and given that I'm in a branch of Biology for my professional life, this usage is very frequent):

            (1) It has a lot of bugs. Cross references get scrambled or just disappear. Moving figures around screws up the figures. The layout tools never seem to make sense, or to do rational things. It needlessly repaginates far too often. When I hit "PgDn" it goes not-quite-but-sometimes-almost a full page down. Fonts get continually screwed up. Formatting gets continually lost or weirdly modified.

            (2) The default behavior on nearly every control is wrong. Not just a little wrong, but so brain-dead as to leave me often screaming: "in what world view is that the right thing to do, in what universe does that make sense?" I can feel my blood start to boil just writing this. When I start a new document, I half expect the language to be reset to Ancient Sanskrit (OK, that part about Sanskrit was hyperbole, but I can often be found screaming at MS Word because of the brain-dead defaults).

            Contrast this with a program of at least comparable complexity like Adobe Photoshop. I know both of those programs about equally well -- which is to say casually. I think I've seen a bug in Photoshop maybe twice, perhaps three times total. Ever. (With MS Word, it's three every 10 minutes.) While the default behavior on tools might not be the best, at least they MAKE SENSE. With MS Word, I have the deep feeling that the program is fundamentally unknowable because there are no guiding principles to its operation. In contrast, with Photoshop, I suspect that with sufficient patience, I can learn to do amazing things because there is a fundamental organization waiting to be discovered.

            There's no fundamental reason MS Word can't be a great program. All it needs is a pioneering visionary to thrash it down to a working core, to develop some well thought out guiding principles for how to organize the interface, to mercilessly eliminate the rampant bugs, to study how the current interface fails, and to rebuild it from that working core back up to a well-engineered product. But will that happen? Unlikely.

            • by massysett (910130) on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:11PM (#28935329) Homepage

              Yes, thank you. Some of the other posts are talking about how powerful Word can be, but it is just awful. We use it at work to generate medium-sized documents (often around 100 single-spaced pages.) As far as I can tell, the people who actually set the documents up for distribution to the public (they aren't printed anymore, at least not by us) just take the Word documents that we work on, make a PDF, and post it to the Web site.

              I've noticed all the bugs you point out and they drive me crazy. There are a couple others I can think of:

              * collaboration features. Sometimes when using text boxes along with the comment boxes, the comment boxes pop up in the most bizarre places--nowhere near the text they are supposed to correspond to. Also, sometimes when using the "track changes" feature, some document editing features are stunted. Sometimes for example, pressing "Delete" while using track changes just does absolutely nothing. Move the cursor around, hit backspace, try again.

              * References like footnotes can bounce around from one page to another. A footnote reference might be on one page, while the footnote text itself is on the next page. Then of course, my boss asks me to fix it! Sometimes I want to say that it is not my job to wrangle with the word processor.

              I hit Word bugs literally each and every day. My first reaction is always "this program is way too expensive to be this buggy." For the big bucks that Word costs, it should be better. I don't think word processors are a great idea to begin with. I want to focus on what I am writing, not on formatting it. But maybe a word processor would be OK if it weren't the buggy mess that is Microsoft Word.

          • by seeker_1us (1203072) on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:21PM (#28935385)

            It can handle very long documents just fine if you use the program appropriately.

            No, it can't.

            I'm extremely proficient in LaTeX and Word. I know those "powerful abilities" that you are talking about. I use them.

            I had to write a 300 page book in Word (not my choice to use Word). The program is buggy as hell and those bugs start showing up heavily when your docs become big. Styles changing on their own. Margins changing on their own. My favorite bug, which took an entire night to fix, was when the @#$%ing program decided to change the font of every single one of my captions to symbol.

            Near the end, I was spending more time dealing with the bugs than writing.

        • by michael_cain (66650) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:13PM (#28933879) Journal
          The learning curve to systems like LaTeX is very steep, but you have a tremendous amount of control over the formatting and layout.

          Or in some cases, much less control over the formatting and layout, which can be a good thing.

          Many years ago, there was a development project at Bell Labs so large that there was an entire department for maintaining the technical documentation. The department head wanted to dump troff and the macros then in use and go to WYSIWYG. To justify his decision, he had the research people set up a controlled experiment with two groups of new people that received equal training in their respective tools. The troff people were about 25% more productive than WYSIWYG, and had significantly fewer formatting errors. When the psych people got done with their interviews and examining keystroke logs, they concluded that with formatting control available to them, almost everyone spends 20-25% of their time futzing with fonts, line and page breaks, etc. All of which is wasted time until very close to the end of the process.

          Personally, when creating new text, I feel like I'm more productive if I can write flat files with a mark-up language, because I do get distracted by an ugly line break in a WYSIWYG tool. But I'm an old UNIX geek, and I don't expect the rest of the world to ever go away from WYSIWYG.

      • Re:PDFs? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by BrokenHalo (565198) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:42PM (#28930269)
        I've never really made a serious attempt to get the hang of LaTex, though I recognise that this might be the best way to do serious typesetting, but OpenOffice is now pretty good for most general purposes, even scientific writing (at least for my area, biotech). I have a pirated version of MSWord on my MacBook which is mostly unused since I actually prefer OpenOffice. And most of my preferred journals readily accept OpenOffice formats now, so there is no longer the "closed-shop" MS-Word-only thing there used to be.

        Incidentally, I might add that both MS Word and OpenOffice Writer are still poor shadows of what WordPerfect used to be in terms of its power, even for serious publishing. My first introduction to this was on Data General "mainframe" machines, but it lost nothing in the port to DOS. I know there have been releases subsequent to version 5.1, but they really just don't cut it.
        • Re:PDFs? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by techno-vampire (666512) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:48PM (#28930393) Homepage
          Incidentally, I might add that both MS Word and OpenOffice Writer are still poor shadows of what WordPerfect used to be in terms of its power, even for serious publishing.

          How true. Back in the days of WP 5.1, it was the standard word processing program for the legal industry. And, I might add, you never had to fumble with a document trying to figure out what formatting was being applied where. All you needed was to go into Reveal Codes mode, and you could look at the lower half of the screen and see for yourself exactly where the codes were.

          • Re:PDFs? (Score:4, Informative)

            by m.ducharme (1082683) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:42PM (#28932005)

            Wordperfect is by no means dead, btw. Corel has been keeping it alive, and so far both law offices I've worked for us Wordperfect for document creation over Word.

          • Re:PDFs? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:56PM (#28932235)

            Here we go with the rose-colored WP glasses again. The reason people liked WP is that WP and Word have failure modes that can be solved in WP using Reveal Codes and manually futzing with the code tags.
            Guess what? A real editor doesn't have these failure modes, which makes the Reveal Codes feature obsolete. In 12 years of using FrameMaker to within an inch of its life, I've never had a failure mode that could be solved by manual tag editing. It Just Works like it's supposed to.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by xaxa (988988)

        Pages might be what you're used to and like, but that's becoming less and less the case.

        I use Word about once a week, generally to fill in some template that a manager has produced for some official process. These are then printed out, and probably recycled within a week.

        I've noticed my colleagues seem to spend as long trying to fix the formatting on these templates as they do filling in the empty boxes. Some simple HTML would be perfect here: they're only internal documents, millimetre-precision and perfec

      • Re:PDFs? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by evilkasper (1292798) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:45PM (#28930337)
        Here's why we use Word; it comes bundled with Outlook. The people that pay us like Outlook; its simpler to have them use the whole Office suite than just part of it. It's not going anywhere.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Also, properly formatted pages look better than wikis or blog posts. I'm not saying Word is good at typography, but even a mediocre-looking Word document is better looking than someone's crappy blog font.

        Yes and no.

        When one considers many (most??) blogs are nothing more copy/pasted word documents that hold all the bloat of MS Word, it is no wonder it ends up looking crappy on the web.

        I've seen nicely laid out Blogs and Webpages (Wikis) and I've seen horribly formatted WORD documents. Formatting for the medi

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by InlawBiker (1124825)

        It's popular to hate Microsoft but in all honesty MS Word is excellent software. It really always has been. The price is a bargain. If you're a professional writer nothing else even comes close to the sophisticated features it offers. I also find the new "ribbon" to be a huge improvement over the nested tree navigation of the old Word. Microsoft found an innovative way to navigate and it works.

        At home I have and use Open Office and it's just fine for simple documents and spreadsheets. There is no need

        • Re:PDFs? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:41PM (#28931207)

          The price is a bargain. If you're a professional writer nothing else even comes close to the sophisticated features it offers.

          Are you serious? I believe MS Word has its uses, and though I'm ambivalent about the new design, I can understand how some might find it useful. The point is, I'm not a Word hater at all. I've used it for many years, and I still do at times.

          But "a bargain" when other free office suites, text editors, and numerous word processors are available? I'm also just not sure what "sophisticated features" it has that a "professional writer" needs. If, by "professional writer," you mean someone actually producing text, the main needs are a good text editor, which can be found many places. You might want spell check and a thesaurus, things like find and replace, etc., which can be found in many text editors. Word's support for text substitution and advanced text editing features is rather limited, unless you write macros (which I personally think are easier in something like LaTeX). If you have need for footnotes, citations, cross references, etc., I would say that (a) Word's bibliographic support is pretty bad by itself, though when used with other software and plugins, it becomes useful, and (b) the support for cross references, etc. is minimal compared to the options given in some other software. If you collaborate, you need to track changes, but any good word processor does that today. What else does someone just producing text need?

          If, by "professional writer" you actually mean "book designer" or something similar who is actually concerned with formatting the text, then Word's typography and design choices are just awful compared to the output of professional software (InDesign and Quark, which are admittedly expensive, or the free LaTeX). And if you're an independent writer who has to both produce text and format it, and you need a GUI, free programs like LyX and Kile can easily provide almost all the features of Word.

          What "sophisticated features" do "professional writers" need that Word has, but other software (and even free software) doesn't? I don't think Word is bad, but I just don't understand the claim that nothing else "comes close."

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ThousandStars (556222)
        I know it's popular to hate on Word around here, but if you know what you're doing, it's not all that bad. I used Word to write my master's thesis, and by consistently using styles, along with Zotero, cross-referenced fields, and bookmarks, it came out very nice looking.

        The other thing is that Word does a lot of stuff that other word processors I've used (Pages, Nisus Writer, Mellel) don't, or don't do quite as well, or whatever: toggling between page layout/continuous text, track changes/markup, and so fo

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DaveGod (703167)

      I've never seen a PDF used other than with the intent of creating the equivalent of a printed document that is stored electronically. That is, it can be passed onto others confident in the knowledge that it can be viewed exactly (in all ways that matter) as it was sent, and that it is unlikely to be modified along the way (not that it can't be, but it takes a little effort).

      Word documents are printed and mailed to clients or received in the mail from clients. PDF's go by email.

      Mind you, all the PDF's were

      • Re:PDFs? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Allicorn (175921) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:00PM (#28930577) Homepage

        If you operate a business in the UK you might well see other examples of PDF use. The types of use that Adobe obviously wants to drive.

        A whole variety of tax submissions are now provided as PDFs that start out as complex, interactive forms with a variety of UI widgets, listviews, pop-up help, self-calculating fields and such and - when submitted back to the tax overlords (from within Acrobat Reader, without any browser involved) - become cryptographically sealed, non-editable, printable records of the data collected.

        It's weird to see PDF doing this kind of thing when my historic view of the format was very much as yours "it makes for reliable printing". And although I think I'dve preferred if PDF had stayed the (relatively) simple, bloat-free, built-for-printing format that once it was - begrudgingly - I must admit it's kinda cool to see these funky new features in action.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gEvil (beta) (945888)
          It's weird to see PDF doing this kind of thing when my historic view of the format was very much as yours "it makes for reliable printing". And although I think I'dve preferred if PDF had stayed the (relatively) simple, bloat-free, built-for-printing format that once it was - begrudgingly - I must admit it's kinda cool to see these funky new features in action.

          That was the original purpose for PDF. But Adobe quickly realized they could do a whole lot more with it. I visited the Adobe offices in 2001 or 2
  • Is that so? Good for him.

  • Stupid conclusions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:09PM (#28929685) Journal

    So, the fact one does not need to make as many printouts abrogates the need for a good text processor. I see. That is like saying "Because I live within walking distance to work and walk to work, I don't need a car. At all. Ever."

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:10PM (#28929713) Journal
    MsWord has too large an installed base and there is too much inertia for people to change. Somewhere near 600 million to 1 billion people know how to use MsWord. It might not die. Even if it does it wont die swiftly.

    I really don't want Microsoft or Word to be dead and be replaced by another monoculture. Just inter operate nicely with non patent encumbered, open, software. We will live in peace.

  • Umm What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ae1294 (1547521) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:12PM (#28929739) Journal

    Word wasn't the first son.... and word processing isn't something you just use to 'print' stuff. It never was just about that. This isn't news, and this article doesn't even make sense...

    Why did this end up on the front page of /.?

    • by AndrewNeo (979708) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:38PM (#28930175) Homepage

      Why did this end up on the front page of /.?

      You must be new here.

    • by neonprimetime (528653) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:40PM (#28930243)
      Why did this end up on the front page of /.?

      i believe /. is automated in such a fashion that if you submit a story that contains the text "MS Word" and "die", it skips the moderators and is automatically posted under the "ScuttleMonkey" account.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by humphrm (18130)

      My take on the article was a bit different.

      Yes, Word wasn't the first. But I think the author is right that MS Word was the first incarnation of word processing software that was really geared toward printing. Prior to that, we had applications that were geared toward simplifying layout and design and allowing creative people (and yes, I'm including IT people in this group) to simply plug their content into the application, and make only a few simple layout and formatting settings.

      Now you have Word, which

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alascom (95042)

      Sure Word wasn't the first, I used SpeedScript on my C64, WordStar, and others. But the author has a very valid point. The whole original purpose of word processing was to replace the type-writer, which only produced printed documents. With a word processor, it was easy to make edits, print multiple copies, save copies, etc.

      The "Word" processor was never intended to be a format or procotol for transferring electronic documents, which is how its being used today.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)

      Why did this end up on the front page of /.?

      Simple math:

      MS: +10
      Word: +5
      die: +5
      swift death: +5

  • by oahazmatt (868057) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:13PM (#28929759) Journal
    I printed his article, just so I had the satisfaction of throwing it out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:13PM (#28929763)

    Look around. See any typewriters? That's because MS Word made it so convenient fro writers to use a computer. Auto spelling correction, multiple document control and integration, collaborative tools: bells and whistles to most people but bread and butter to writers.
    And yes, Open Office works "just like MS Word". But isn't that the point? OO needs to work like something and MS Word is a great starting point.

  • by neonprimetime (528653) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:14PM (#28929779)
    Maybe the traditional office will die out soon in favor of an online version such as Office Live [officelive.com], but in general MS Word is here to stay ... not going away anytime soon.

    For example, there was a small business daycare that I know of that had Open Office installed on their work computers. Keep in mind that OO is free ... no cost. Still, the owners hated it so much, they just weren't used to it and got frustrated enough that even in these tough economic times, they went out and forked over the cash for a copy of MS Word. Of course that's sad, but it happens every day with non-techies.

    MS Word dying is simply wishful thinking ... but it's not reality.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:15PM (#28929795)

    In a speech [acs.org.au] to the Australian National Press Club said:

    "when the anthropologists look back on the 1980s and 1990s and do the archaeological digs and they get their callipers and brooms and microscopes out, they're going to blame the massive reduction in productivity and lowering and slow-down in the standard of living during the 1980s and 1990s that we are living through right now - they're going to blame it entirely on Microsoft Office.".

    Yours In ASCII
    Kilgore Trout

  • Dumb argument but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:15PM (#28929803)
    Word definitely should be on its way out. Not because we don't print everything out (digital distribution is MORE of a reason for everyone using the same program), but because the free alternatives do everything just as well (or better, they are much more lightweight) and are interoperable. Not that this will happen soon, as the vast majority of computer users are idiots and will continue to shell out thousands of dollars to Micro$oft, since M$ Word still is synonymous with 'word processor' in the common lexicon (and Office with office productivity suites), in the same manner as 'xerox', 'kleenex', 'band-aid', etc. This leads millions of fools to think that they need to shell out a few extra hundred dollars AFTER paying a few hundred bucks on their OS just to get it up and running. The subscription anti-virus companies are in the same racket.
  • by o TINY o (1611133) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:16PM (#28929819)
    Some of us actually do more than just email short statements to friends these days. In fact, I suspect that this user might think email is on its way out, since according to this same logicl, email doesn't do anything more than a blog, twitter, chatting, or Facebook can't do. On my school campus, we don't always have to print. However, when we don't, we still write/prepare the documents in word, and then attach them to an email, or print them as a PDF. Either way, Word is still instruemental in the writing, formatting, reviewing, and etc, of that document. There is no acceptable alternative to Word. Open Office Word is ok at best. Google docs is ok, but it is web based. Until someone attempts to take on the almighty Word (highly unlikely due to its universal use across both PC and Mac platforms) - then Word is here to stay.
  • by leonbloy (812294) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:18PM (#28929849)
    ... should die a slow and horrible death.
  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:18PM (#28929861)

    Somewhere along the way, we stopped printing things out quite so much.

    Tell that to the Big Boy publishing industry, who still predominantly take queries and submissions only in hard copy handed to them by a postal worker. It's changing, but glacially...

  • It's an appaling word processor, providing absolutely minimal structuring for documents... its paragraph-based structure is almost as primitive as the early macro-based text formatters of the '60s and '70s, and years behind the formatters of the late '70s and '80s. HTML is more sophisticated, with formal nested objects that don't do things like breaking a nested list if you insert a paragraph in the middle of one of the bullets.

    Worse, since Word compatibility is so important, virtually all word processors that have come out since Word became dominant have copied the abysmal layout and document structure model.

  • You are wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by JerryLove (1158461) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:26PM (#28929967)

    In the early days, Word's primary purpose was to ready a document so that you could print it out.

    This is, simply put, not true. Microsoft had a word-processor for the kind of basic-school-assignment work you describe: MS-Works Write.

    .
    Word was targeted at professional writers... people writing books and technical manuals and the like. That's why it had as many pre-press features as it did, that's why it was as expensive as is was, that's why (as Microsoft at one point pointed out), more than 80% of requests for new features were for features that were already there.

    .
    Over time, it seems, people didn't want to use the "cheap" word-processor, thinking that there was no difference between "better suited" and "lesser". They then complained that this professional word-processor was too complex (surprise). (and to be honest, Works had some real issues too).

    .
    Most users were not intended to use Office. In the beginning, there wasn't even an Office to use. That product was MS-Works.

    • Re:You are wrong (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tom (822) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:10PM (#28931581) Homepage Journal

      Word was targeted at professional writers...

      Not really. It was targeted at amateur writers and professionals who had to write stuff as a side-aspect of their real work.

      Word, even today, lacks a lot of what professional printing needs, and most publishers started accepting Word documents only because it had become so obiquitous everywhere else. Put the same text into Word and into a LaTeX template and print out both on a good printer, and even a novice can instantly spot the difference.

      DTP (when layout matters) or TeX (when it doesn't) is what professional writers used until Word started corrupting things.

    • Re:You are wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Monday August 03, 2009 @04:08PM (#28932429)

      Word was targeted at professional writers... people writing books and technical manuals and the like. That's why it had as many pre-press features as it did, that's why it was as expensive as is was,

      No. It was targeted at general office use, and got more and more features tacked on as Microsoft tried to increase the number of markets it could 'serve' with Word.
      Pre-press features? Microsoft shot themselves in the foot from the get-go on that one. Having your document auto-reformat itself when you select a different printer means that Word documents are invariably greeted with derision and groaning by printing houses.
      Technical manuals in Word? only if you want to kill the poor writer. There's no way to enforce consistent formatting, it's unstable when documents get large, there's no way to share information between documents, its graphics handling sucks, there's no way to publish variants (multiple similar books) from a single source, and I could go on. If Microsoft targeted Word at professional writers they did a job so spectacularly awful it makes Clippy seem brilliant by comparison.

      hdj (technical writer)

  • by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedyNO@SPAMtpno-co.org> on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:30PM (#28930057) Homepage

    The premise that because someone's purpose for using Office 20 years ago is relevant to today's office use is, frankly, moronic.

    There are literally millions of ways people use the Office suite, and I'd hazard a guess that the printability of their work is a nice feature, but not the primary reason.

    Stupid argument.

  • by edremy (36408) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:30PM (#28930059) Journal
    Somewhere along the way, we stopped printing things out quite so much

    Somebody's not living in reality here. I *wish* people were printing things out less. I could use the ~$10K I spend out of my budget every year just to feed two printers in a lot better ways, but the print count continues to climb, every single year.

    That's just for single sheet- our poster printers are seeing 2x to 3x growth in use every single year.

    I don't have a textbook for my course- I use one $18 trade paperback and electronic reserves for the rest of the content- book chapters, magazine articles, etc. All digital. And most everyone in the class just prints the damn things out instead of reading them online.

    • by farnsworth (558449) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:35PM (#28931117)

      but the print count continues to climb, every single year.

      How are things going over there at the US Mint?

  • Emacs (Score:3, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:41PM (#28930259)
    Word is the emacs of word processor, whatever it has become now.
  • by PsyQ (87838) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:42PM (#28930267) Homepage

    I like how the original author had to add proper headings and subheadings to their Word documents after copy/pasting them into MediaWiki. This probably means they didn't use proper heading levels in the original document (Why? A technical writer should surely do this?). OpenOffice Writer is more in-your-face about that, or at least it seems that way. That still doesn't prevent the occasional idiot simply boldfacing a bit of text and manually changing the font size on every single "heading" they create, but at least the proper way is more visible.

    Extra bonus, copy/paste from OpenOffice Writer to one of the JavaScript-based GUI editors in e.g. MediaWiki preserves those titles automatically. Also, there's scripts to export to MoinMoin if that's your kind of wiki.

    Add two points for FOSS?

  • by wandazulu (265281) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:44PM (#28930317)

    Th FA talks about laughing at WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS users, but as one of those users, I never ever wondered why the font suddenly changed (and always to Times New Roman, no matter what I set my default to), or why pages suddenly ended for no reason, or why widows and orphans basically just didn't work. "Reveal Codes" was WordPerfect's killer feature that saved me hours of frustration (that I got back and more when I had to switch to Word) in that I could tell exactly where the "bad" code was and remove it.

    When the Web and HTML came along, I initially thought the designers had used WP as their inspiration.

    The other thing WP 5.1 had was the ultimate in minimalist interface; the lower right hand corner had the page, line and word position and nothing else. The closest to a blank sheet of paper I've ever had in writing software. The FA also laughs at all the function key combos, but in reality you only used a few (Shift-F7 comes to mind...).

    Also, WP had, at the time, the best support...an 800-number and all the free tech/user support you could want. It's no exaggeration to say that their support helped me learn WP macro programming.

    Sigh, okay, everyone off my lawn...I have to get back to my TPS reports; I accidentally saved them in docx format and have to re-save them all as .doc so people with Word 2007 can read them.

  • by zerofoo (262795) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:52PM (#28930453)

    Every day I read about how the world should be: wind and solar farms generating electricity, no more fossil fuels, everyone living in cities and can walk/bike to everything they need - and no more commercial, closed software - free and open software for all.

    These are all nice ideas, but they fail in the exact same way - they aren't practical for most people.

    We are going to burn every drop of financially viable fossil fuels that are in the ground - the sooner engineers and environmentalists accept that fact, the sooner we can start working toward REAL solutions to our energy problems (nuclear has my vote).

    A world without Microsoft office, or Microsoft products in general might be a nice vision of your utopia, but for the vast majority of computer users, they are happy shelling out the cash for a refined product that they are comfortable using.

    I like free and open products whenever possible, but replacing many Microsoft products, that people are comfortable with, has enormous costs beyond mere dollars.

    -ted

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:00PM (#28930589) Homepage
    The cited article is actually putting forth an argument that ALL word processors are obsolete.
  • a few things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:04PM (#28930649) Journal

    He's absolutely right about printer ink. If anything would drive us to the paperless office, you'd think it'd be that.

    Since the eighties I've been hearing about that-there paperless office, but strangely, my cube is still piled high with paper. Email has not eliminated paper -- it's just supplemented it. We use both Wiki and Sharepoint, (often with different versions of the same doc in each) and still our cubicles drown in paper.

    There is a drive in many companies to eliminate paper in the office space -- at my company part of this effort is to insist that people use on-line reference documentation instead of physical paper. This increases PC desktop requirements if you have the kind of job where you do operations online and now have to refer to docs online as well. IT, of course, fights these new requirements because they're expensive. So you end up on a 1024X768 screen flipping through reference, entry, tickets, and email, unable to see enough of any two objects at the same time, a process not unlike building a ship in a bottle. You'll see people look up something in one screen, then *write it down* on a notepad, then bring up another screen to use the information. Where's the "paperless office" in that?

    There is a BIG difference between "I don't need to use Word anymore" and "Word should die a swift death". One may agree with both statements, but they are separate issues.

    It is true that Word isn't well suited for the electronic world. You can use it as a half-assed html editor, but last time I checked the code it produces is extremely messy and difficult to maintain. There are many better ways to produce web content. Word isn't really useful here.

    As far as wiki is concerned, what I've observed is that wiki tends to be an out-of-date online copy of information on a word document which... is also online... Therein lies madness. The tools are there -- it's a social, not technical problem.

    So, his general conclusion, that Word is less relevant in the digital world, is accurate. I don't think it's demise is any time soon. Whole paradigms must change, (IT needs to give me a bigger monitor, for starters) and that probably won't happen until a lot of people retire.

    I loved the "endless stream of toilet paper" remark. That's an apt description of so many reports...

  • by kellyb9 (954229) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:16PM (#28930829)
    I actually like Word 2007... is there some kind of support group I can join?
  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday August 03, 2009 @04:40PM (#28932871)

    Back when I was young (I graduated highschool in 1991), I recall people who migrated from WordPerfect to Word complaining about the missing "reveal codes" option. I looked into this, and this is what my friends with Ph.D.s at the time told me: Word didn't have "reveal codes" because it didn't have codes.

    Let me step back and explain this a little better. Word Perfect used in-line codes to indicate formatting. There was an "italics on" code and there was an "italics off" command. It's not quite like HTML or XML, because it wasn't hierarchical. A document was a linear stream of bytes, and the word processor displayed the formatting by traversing the bytes to figure it out. On the processors of the day (386's), this had some major performance disadvantages, when the program had to scan back thousands of bytes just to figure out what the correct formatting was for what was being displayed on the screen. This was okay for the DOS version (can't see most of the formatting, so don't need to look for it), but it became a major liability for the Windows version. It was also a liability because documents that had been edited and edited tended to crud up with lots of superflous codes that WP simply didn't have the smarts to clean up. The only "advantage" was that you could reveal the codes, and that was only an advantage because people got used to it, and they got used to it because WP became problematic to use if you didn't reveal the codes to clean up problems.

    Word did things differently. We all like to complain about Microsoft's behavior, and we like to complain about how crufty their software is. But now and then, their engineers (who are people like anyone else) did manage to do something that had intelligence behind it. Mind you, sometimes something has intelligence simply because someone thought about it and made an engineering decision. I'm not trying to claim that this was necessarily BETTER. Anyhow, Word didn't have reveal codes because it didn't have codes, per se, to reveal. Not in-line anyhow. Word was object-oriented. Word documents contained data structures that themselves indicated formatting and contained text. Paragraphs were objects. Sections were objects. Text within italics was inside an object. In a way, this is neither here nor there compared to reveal codes, but it made a practical difference in that when Word needed to determine the formatting of an object, rather than scanning back to the beginning of the file (which WP didn't always have to do but did sometimes which made it slow), Word worked its way up the object hierarchy, a much more efficient process. This also had advantages in that the object tree could be optimized to contain the formatting that was actually there. In WP, if you un-italicized a sentence that had been italicized, it wouldn't necessarily remove the old codes, instead inserting extra codes so that you got on's followed immediately by off's. Word would just delete the object.

    So, to summarize, the reason Word didn't have reveal codes was that there were no in-line codes to reveal. Word's equivalent would have been some way to display the object hierarchy, which wouldn't necessarily have been intuitively useful to users. And of course, it would have been silly to emulate codes just to imitate a "feature" of WP that only existed in the first place because WP didn't automatically manage its codes properly.

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