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Microsoft Software

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

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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  • 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.

  • 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:PDFs? (Score:3, Informative)

    by DaveGod ( 703167 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:27PM (#28929981)

    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 made as a Word document and converted...

  • Missing the point (Score:5, Informative)

    by wookaru ( 1521381 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:37PM (#28930163)
    I RTFA and its not about switching word processors. Its about moving beyond people editing files one at a time and passing them around - in printed or email form. Basically, the author just discovered the "Magical World of Wiki" and has gotten his office to adopt a wiki as their documentation system.

    Why someone discovering 14 year old internet technology made the front page of /. is beyond me...

    Ooooo BTW guys, have you seen that video of a dancing baby?! Its ROTFLOL!
  • 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?

  • Re:PDFs? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @01:49PM (#28930411) Journal

    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 media is key to good looking media.

    What people need is a nice two week course on typography and page layout design, where they learn about things like "fonts" and "styles" and so forth.

    But most people don't care about such things, having grown up on MySpace and spell check,not caring about differences between there, their, and they're and "the air" (yes, I've seen that one).

    The point being, one has to know the media to which they are publishing, and know how to properly format things to look good in it. And good luck with that!

  • Re:PDFs? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MrHanky ( 141717 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:01PM (#28930595) Homepage Journal

    No, they don't use email, as they have replaced it with a web based collaboration tool []. At the university, I used email.

  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [denave]> on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:03PM (#28930639)

    Somebody's not living in reality here.

    As a current grad student, I'm not sure university is what you want to bring up as "reality". ;-)

    And most everyone in the class just prints the damn things out instead of reading them online.

    *raises hand*. I did that for all my paper-reading courses. Between a filing cabinet drawer and a couple stacks of papers on my desk, I've easily got 2 to 2-1/2 feet of printouts. Most of them are conference or journal papers, and most of those were printed for classes.

    When someone gives me a (1) light (2) battery-less (3) easy-to-write-on (4) easy-to-read alternative to paper, maybe I'll stop doing that as much. In the meantime, it's nice to be able to read when I'm not at my desk (e.g. on the bus) while being able to easily make margin notes. I recently got a research tablet PC, and that solves (3), but not (1) (even though it's one of the smallest non-Mac-Air laptops out there) or (2). I am going to try to use this for notes for a while; we'll see how it goes. The Kindle solves (1) and part of (4), but the smaller screen just goes ahead and destroys that. The Kindle DX or whatever the larger version is called does better at (4) (though I do wish it has higher contrast than the little I've seen in real life, and the screen is still several inches smaller than an 8-1/2x11 sheet of paper so those conference papers will still be a little small, so between these issues paper is still well in the lead), but still doesn't do well at (3). And that's not to mention the cost issue -- if I lose a printout or whatever, I'm out having my notes. If I lose my Tablet, I probably owe the department a couple grand.

    Sure, digital offers a number of benefits over paper too; but right now the balance is too-often in favor of "print it".

  • by 117 ( 1013655 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:11PM (#28930737)
    That link you posted isn't to the free [], it appears to be some scam site trying to get people to pay to download
  • by prozaker ( 1261190 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:27PM (#28931007)
    what a nice disclaimer AC...

    from the
    Disclaimer: This website has no affiliation whatsoever with the owner of these software programs, and provides only links to the software programs. This software may be obtained freely. New computer users should find our services valuable, and a time saver. If you are an advanced computer user, you probably don't need our services. Membership is for unlimited access to our site's resources. We provide an organized website with software links, technical support, tutorials and step by step guides.
  • by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:36PM (#28931135) Journal

    I've had too much trouble with OO.Org and saving page margins properly, superscript and subscript formatting, and, in spreadsheets, saving the foreground color of tooltips from the OS/UI default, but not the background color (I change tooltip colors because of my vision).

    These, while seemingly small, has elimnated OO.Org from use as a spreadsheet editor, and limited my use of it for word processing.

  • Re:PDFs? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ThousandStars ( 556222 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:50PM (#28931345) Homepage
    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 forth. The latter is a particular problem for me because other people often have to read my work, and everyone I know uses Word. I don't have to convert files back and forth.

    Word's styles still leave much to be desired--I can't get a style that will just say "Chapter 7: Tests" without an overly long space between 7: and Tests, but it's good enough.

  • by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:57PM (#28931435) Journal
    OpenOffice already has several offshoots: NeoOffice, OxygenOffice, Go-oo...
  • by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:10PM (#28931577)

    "Source? I believe the mortality rate of AIDS is 100%"

    Well, it isn't. In fact, AIDS direct mortality rate is about 0% since you die from other oportunistic diseases. On the other hand even considering what you meant instead of what you effectively wrote, 100% would be *without treatment* and even then mortality is not that of a black mamba: without treament AIDS will kill you *eventually* not in five minutes or tomorrow. So I think, yes, you can make some sensible comparation between AIDS and Ms Word.

  • 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.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:16PM (#28931665) Journal
    Well, someone added a decent text editor [] a couple of years back...
  • by pwizard2 ( 920421 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:25PM (#28931783)

    The learning curve to systems like LaTeX is very steep

    That's what tools like Lyx are for.

  • 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.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:49PM (#28932111) Journal
    I can't give you (2), but the iLiad gives to the other three. It's lighter than a printed journal paper (or not, depending on the page count, but it's close). It's got a wacom tablet, so you can write on it as easily as you can write with a pen (i.e. not very well in my case). It's about as easy to read as newsprint. The battery lasts for long enough that I read on it while in the airport lounge and then for a transatlantic flight, so as long as you can charge it overnight it won't run out of power. It's smaller than A4, but it's big enough that you can easily read a paper which uses the standard LaTeX margins on A4 or US letter paper. Mine has a cheap 1GB flash card in it, which is enough for all of the papers I've read and a load of books.

    The one downside is that I can't use it to read in the bath. The humidity would probably be unhealthy for it, and I'd be very nervous about dropping it in and destroying an expensive gadget. Although, come to think of it, the flip-bar would work through a bag, so someone could probably make a waterproof case for it...

  • Re:I call Bull Sh!t (Score:3, Informative)

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @05:40PM (#28933555) Homepage

    Huh? In what world does the customer care what email client I use?

    In the world that the company Exchange server manages everybody's calendars, a corporate address book, shared task lists, and isn't configured to serve people's e-mail in anything other than MAPI. There are precious few groupware clients that work with all of that as served up by Exchange. Assuming that you find one (and they do exist, they just tend to be nearly as costly as Outlook, and IMHO not much better) that you like better than Outlook, you then have to assume that you actually have the privileges to install the client on your workstation (not many people do in corporate environments), and you're not breaking any IT regulations by doing so.

    Once you've overcome those hurdles, no one cares what e-mail client you use. In most large companies and many medium sized ones however, those hurdles are pretty much insurmountable. Unless you happen to be the director of IT or something. Even then, you better be prepared to defend your choice to your boss. Even as a systems admin with some seniority, I was pretty much unable to use anything other than Outlook at my last job. I was the Unix systems guy for the lab, but my day to day workstation was completely Microsoft, because that's what day to day IT support dictated. Looks like they're going to let me have a Linux box at my desk for testing and experimentation at my new place thankfully.

  • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @06:25PM (#28933971) Journal

    On a similar note, outlook also fails with no more than a few thousand emails.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:06PM (#28934851) Journal

    "FormatLikeWord95", as defined in Ecma OOXML was indeed unacceptable in a document format, which is why it was 1) properly documented, and 2) taken out of the mandatory part of the ISO OOXML spec.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @11:05PM (#28936083)

    Who would write a book in one whole file?? One chapter = one file. Reduces the chance of losing everything in one-fell-swoop. And easier to edit, send around for notes, etc.

    When it's time for "assembly" of the chapters into a book, it's pretty handy to have it either in one file, or in files that are logically linked from a master file. Then the computer can handle all the chapter/section/subsections & page numbers (including internal cross-refs, index entry page numbers, etc). I've done it both ways and the TeX/LaTeX way with a master file that prints the whole book is really nice. When I did a book (600 pages, 300 line drawings, hundreds of equations) in Word the only way was as separate chapters, and the one long chapter had to be split in half--the whole operation was like pulling teeth, annoying right to the end and lingering pain afterwords!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:56AM (#28937475)

    Thanks for pointing that out. I had to follow back the thread from your +5 post to find the offending post. I've just finished reporting the phish.

    The host is a Windows Server somewhere in Antarctica (yea right, i'm sure) lmao. The DNS server is in the USA. Looks like they used networksolutions.

    Somebody else might want to take the additional steps and contact [] (the nameserver host) and file a report with them.

  • by clone53421 ( 1310749 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @08:29AM (#28939185) Journal

    Yes... in block-structured formatting, this sort of thing is somewhat to be expected. Erase the "end" code and the format of the subsequent section will change to match that of the previous one.

    I agree that it would be nice if hitting "return" would, after splitting it into two p blocks again, automatically determine that "Paragraph Heading" should remain a "h1"-class block, while "Paragraph text" should default back to a "body"-class block. However, then you'd just as likely have problems where somebody expected it not to do that.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.