April 12, 2012
Yes, it is time to slay Microsoft Word. Not kill it; it’s been dead for years, but still lumbers around like a 300 lb. vampire, seducing innocents and sucking time right out of the lifelines in their palms.
My relationship with Microsoft Word has followed the arc of acceptance, excellence, disappointment, tolerance and now abandonment. I started my word processing career with Multimate Advantage II, complete with the plastic keyboard overlay for its unique key combos. It had a pull down menu system which seemed ingenious in those pre-Windows days. I know dead word processors when I see them.
I used some Apple word processor on the Mac in college. It may have been MacWrite, WordPerfect or Microsoft Word even. In those days you had to know how to field-strip a dot matrix printer to get your document out of the computer. Word was acceptable: it was WYSIWYG and you could produce a term paper or a newspaper with it. The weird, smelly guys who insisted on the superiority of Notepad and it’s ilk seemed dangerously obsessed with command line typography.
From grad school to work, it was all Word, all the time. I could bang out policy memos, writing papers, and tight pithy one-pagers quickly and efficiently. I helped others navigate its menus, features and challenges (bullets? charts? oh, you must have some time to kill…). I chuckled at the Luddites who preferred WordPerfect just because it had Reveal Codes. Microsoft Office had (and may still have) the best graphing ability in Microsoft Chart, which runs under Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
It probably began with Clippy in Office 97. The feature load climbed and autocorrect formatting got in its own way. Moving charts and tables around was a feat that even a twitch-gamer could not achieve. Word mades its users feel stupid and impaired because it aspired to be too much and became much less. It wasn’t WYSIWYG anymore, it was WYSIWAC (what you see is Word’s autocorrected command). When Microsoft changed from the galactically-accepted default of one inch margins to 1.25 inches (margin inflation?), and refused to accept a new default, I knew it was dead inside.
What did it for me was that damn Ribbon. I believe someone at Microsoft had pulled the ultimate monopolist prank: they killed their own software, deliberately, and covered it up with this stupid, simple GUI misdirection. The Ribbon was a GUI Jar Jar Binks: annoying but not the real problem. I wrote a novel in Word, along with several papers. It is a maddening experience, too big, too unwieldy, easily corrupted. It even managed failing to be WYSIWYG at times. I tolerated it only because I didn’t see any viable alternatives.
The last step for me may have been trying to publish via Smashwords, which only accepts Word documents. All of Word’s crippling metadata issues sat up in the coffin and tried to rip my throat out. Having to ‘nuke’ a Word document to cleanse it of Word’s own crap to send into a Word-to-e-pub file translator was the last straw. Because, despite following the directions, it still didn’t work. Word failed to be Word.
I have discovered much better programs for word processing. Programs that help you construct the text document you want. Programmers call these Integrated Development Environments. Microsoft’s IDE is Visual Studio. There is a limited selection of IDEs for writers. Blogging software like WordPress and Blogger qualify. Scrivener is the best I have found for pros. But any writer IDE needs to have clean text-editing interfaces, superior revision tools, be easy to use, and treat writing as a project (with files, revisions, etc.) rather than as a single document. It has to do WYSIWYG, output to multiple formats, including e-book files, PDF, RTF, TXT and even, yes .doc.
Replacing Word is very difficult because it has become the standard for transmitting documents between organizations and between strangers. In government, publishing and common day uses, Word is the only way. But from OpenOffice to Scrivener, there are tons of cheaper, superior alternatives. I still can’t yet escape its disgusting clutches. Word is a necrotic vampire, its body failing, but it has sired reluctant sycophants everywhere. It must be slayed, for the good of all humanity.
Someone text/email Buffy, but don’t send her a Word doc.