Piteously primitive, a tyrant of the imagination
October 12, 2013 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Metafilter's own cstross doesn't much care for Microsoft Word.
posted by Chrysostom (127 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've only read the first paragraph and found myself thinking "Amen, brother."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on October 12, 2013


> Its interface is convoluted, baroque, making the easy difficult and the difficult nearly impossible to achieve.

In 2000 I was working for a small software manual company in Toronto, and part of my job was formatting the manuals in whatever version of Word the company was running back then. Footnotes, headers and even page numbering were a buggy pain in the ass. Some days I was reduced to doing the same thing over and over, hoping against hope that eventually it would work the way the Help function told me it was supposed to work. Usually this is a sign of insanity, but the thing is, quite often whatever it was I was trying to do would work properly - for no apparent reason - on, say, the 21st try.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:26 AM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of course, right now everyone is in the process of transitioning to other, cheaper or free programs that replicate the exact same problems. And sadly from building WYSIWG editors for CMSs, which you would think cried out for a styles only approach, I know that people DEMAND the ability to format text and lay things out on an ad hoc basic - most people simply don't think in terms of structured styled documents.

(and getting everyone to use EMACs is a nonstarter. Sorry everything-should-be-EMACs-guys.)

Scrivener does look interesting, and probably the right approach for writing a novel and maybe even other stuff, but kind of complicated - for now I'll stock with Word or Near-Enough-To-Word-There-Is-No-Difference, mainly on the basis that it works good enough for my purposes. Maybe if I was writing something longer I'd shift.

/saves everything in Word 97.
posted by Artw at 7:26 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Quite the well reasoned non-rantie blog post, he did agree that one rev (macword 5.1?) was good.
posted by sammyo at 7:29 AM on October 12, 2013


It's some measure of how charmed my life has been in recent years that I often forget Word is still a determining factor in so many others' experience.
posted by brennen at 7:37 AM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


EMACs? Do you mean emacs? In any case, I don't think anybody's seriously arguing for emacs or indeed any code-centric text editor to replace Word for styled document creation. Anyone outside of ol' rms himself, anyway.

Interesting that cstross uses Scrivener. I tend to think of it as a pretty niche piece of software, but I guess its niche is now "basically anyone who writes long documents on a Mac." Pretty impressive for such a tiny shop.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:40 AM on October 12, 2013


I write everything in notepad as a .txt before doing anything else, and I'm usually transcribing from my longhand. /shufflesbackintothemistsofhistory
posted by The Whelk at 7:40 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"basically anyone who writes long documents on a Mac."

Or Windows, I should think. Sadly no Linux option.
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on October 12, 2013


I only had to use Word about once a month at my just previous job and always ended up digging through every menu on that ribbon thing to find what I wanted to do and then usually ended up having to Google for the solution anyway.
posted by octothorpe at 7:45 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: actually, it shows how relatively young you are, since back in the day notepad could only handle uselessly small documents.

Word can sort of be made to work in a sane manner, but it requires a good bit of configuration, and avoiding certain buggy features, like auto-numbered lists.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:47 AM on October 12, 2013


The only editor I use is vi, bitches. I've yet to find a modern OS that doesn't come with a copy.
posted by wotsac at 7:48 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've got no love for Word, but the program, from a user experience perspective, isn't that bad. At least since Word 2007, it works very well for most editing and formatting tasks. (It even has stylesheets, after a fashion.)

But. The problem with Word that Stross identifies in his post--proprietary data formats--is still around, and will be always be around so long as Microsoft is a going concern. Like anything else electronic, preservation is an ongoing challenge, and preservation of files that can only be read in a version of MS Word from 20 years ago especially so. So provided your profession doesn't require you to use Word (and even if it does), your best bet for keeping your writing intact and future-proof is probably a combination of Markdown and a good text editor. It doesn't even have to be Emacs--there are like a bazillion Markdown-focused editors for the Mac OS alone.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:48 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


emacs...
I only have 10 fingers. I can't use emacs.

ps: I mostly use sublime text and "marked" on my mac. But I rarely write or work on long documents.
posted by DigDoug at 7:50 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Word is disgusting. I inherited a lot of work from a predecessor in a position who used Word for very long documents (and InDesign, but even in InDesign he used one-off formatting and tab stops for alignment). I reduced weeks of effort to a single Python script.

In terms of creative writing, there is no better tool than a good text editor. There is a wide variety of good text editors, but sadly they're mostly aimed at people like me (i.e. programmers) rather than writers and other "non-technical" users. Show someone a picture of vim and they're likely to think they're looking at something from the DOS era rather than a program that is still being updated and used by millions of people.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:51 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Word is the absolute worst. Clunky and extremely unintuitive. Libre Office Writer blows the doors off Word if you need a full-blown word processor. And it can save in Word formats, if you need that.

(I have to use Adobe InDesign a lot for my work. As much hate as I have for Adobe, in general, though, I am totally enthralled with InDesign. I use it for pretty much everything.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:52 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I cried inside a little when I recently chose to buy Office for my small business. I don't like using it, but since it's the de-facto standard I can't afford to not have it in case a client sends me something in Word or Excel. The price is, sadly, probably worth it compared with Libre Office or similar which does a decent, but not quite perfect enough, job with handling Microsoft file formats.

Me, I'm perfectly happy using Markdown for most of my reports. Even using the standard GitHub CSS gives a nicely-formatted document that impresses some clients.

I still have fond feelings towards LaTeX even though I haven't used it for a few months and hence will have massive troubles remembering what to do if I tried to use it again.

Hmm, LaTeX and Markdown... Guess which side of the fence I am on when the choice is between WYSIWYG and markup?
posted by milkb0at at 7:58 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Libre Offuce pretty accurately reproduces most of the problems with word. Still, at least it's a proper fully features alternative that actually works, unlike Open Office, which we just had to pretend was that for political reasons.
posted by Artw at 7:59 AM on October 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I work with markup all bloody day for my proper job... I'm not going to come home and do the same thing for my creative work.
posted by Artw at 8:01 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've had to use word quite a bit for some of the work I've done in government (typically very long project proposals and policy docs) so I kind of mastered it.

The challenge I sometimes have is receiving documents to rewrite and refine where there have been a bunch of different writers who have used different formatting for headers etc etc all in the same document. That's a nightmare.

Bullets are also very strange, as is the damn page numbering system.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:02 AM on October 12, 2013


If you think Word is a horrible world, you weren't around when everyone was required to use WordPerfect.

Good god I'm old!
posted by DigDoug at 8:03 AM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bank Street Writer 4 lyfe, yo.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Given the repetitive motion injuries from WP function key commands, I've always assumed Word was simply the lesser of two evils. I was a WordStar fan myself and still default to jstar when plunking around in the shell...
posted by jim in austin at 8:11 AM on October 12, 2013


and getting everyone to use EMACs is a nonstarter

...because God loves us and doesn't want us to save a file by typing "CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-X-hold-down-the-ctrl-key-while-typing-IWOULDLIKETOSAVETHEFILENOWPLEASEHEREISTHEFILENAME-filename-s". Even if it's sort of awesome that you can launch a fully operational version of AmigaOS 3.0 within emacs, the fact that it launches a new instance every time you type the letter "q" without preceding it by "CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-X-IMEANTHELETTERQNOTTOLAUNCHAMIGAOSTHISTIME" can be exasperating.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:11 AM on October 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


I mostly just write stuff in LaTeX using WinEDT as the editor, though I might try texniccenter. Word only comes out when I have coauthors who don't use TeX.

Any better LaTeX-oriented text editors for the windows world than WinEDT or texniccenter?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:13 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fun Microsoft Word fact: at least on my version, there is a setting to replicate the WordPerfect white-on-blue background. Try it if you keep getting distracted by metafilter when you should be working!

Fun Emacs facts: in addition to viper-mode for vi emulation, Emacs 24 allows you to install a package called evil-mode that provides very high-quality vim emulation! Also, eshell (the shell written in lisp built in to emacs) includes a functional implementation of classic vi.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:15 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually the proper ready to do a document is to set an Excel cell to the size of your document, and type everything in it. Seriously, I had a boss who did that.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing Charles rant about automobile design. Like, having the engine in the front, and the powered wheels in the back. Or throwing most of the engine heat away.
posted by happyroach at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't tknow about these days but for a while a big excel document was the standard format for writing for videogames.
posted by Artw at 8:20 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I switched to plain text 15 years ago and have only had to exercise my MSWORD expertise for work-related things. MS Word (and MS Office generally) is the worst, beneath contempt really, and most of the Word Processing alternatives, are somehow beneath that.

Seriously, we should make an emacs for everyone. Org-mode, by itself, would rock everyone's socks, not to mention all the other cool stuff in emacs. We could make emacs4e a bit like LightTable where you could work on both sides of a render view and have feedback on the side you aren't working in. On the other hand, we already have emacs, and emacs is more flexible than everything else. We could totally make emacs4e in emacs. We wouldn't even need emacs4e, just emacs. But really, we should make an emacs for everyone.
posted by wobh at 8:21 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the way you quit vim is to open another terminal and then do "killall vim". And then "sudo apt-get purge vim", just to be sure.
posted by Pyry at 8:21 AM on October 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


AMIPro was the best word processor ever.
posted by humanfont at 8:25 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good god I'm old!

You are old when you remember that Word was no where and nothing 'till Microsoft "gave away" Windows 95 and Office 95 when you bought a new Pentium pre-loaded with OS and Office. $500+ in software included.

Try being a shop that assembled machines with no OS when Microsoft was cutting $5 OS deals with the big boys. (It was $5 or $7 as I remember the OEM cost)

WordPerfect went away quickly, the same way Novell fell once NT stopped being $14,000 for "unlimited" users and became $250.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:26 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to do most of my actual writing in Notepad++, and then transfer the text into Word for formatting. At some point I'll probably make the switch to some kind of TeX-based formatting system, but since nobody else in my professional circle uses TeX I'll probably end up having to use Word at least some of the time forever. I do wish more people would realize that most documents don't actually need formatting though and that plain .txt files are honestly perfectly fine a lot of the time. Drives me crazy when somebody just wants a couple of paragraphs of explanation about a subject and then balks when I send them a .txt, asking if I can resend it as a Word document.

I agree that Word is a huge pain in the butt to use. It's the one program where I find I have to do the most switching back and forth between keyboard and mouse (the hotkey situation in Word is just maddening to me for some reason -- I can't tell if this is because there's genuinely no rhyme or reason to it or if it's just that it's different and I can't wrap my head around it) which seems supremely unhelpful for a writing program.

I have similar gripes about Excel and PowerPoint, both of which are similarly inescapable in the professional world. At the very least one needs to be able to reliably read and display files from MS Office, and I've yet to find a competing program that is truly 100% compatible. That this is due to deliberate crappiness on Microsoft's part doesn't really change the fact that I need to have MS Office if I'm going to be able to work seamlessly with my colleagues, though it does piss me off.
posted by Scientist at 8:26 AM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Any better LaTeX-oriented text editors for the windows world than WinEDT or texniccenter?

I don't use Windows, but I use vim for LaTeX (with periodic detours to TextMate). The learning curve is not actually that horrific--vim beat out emacs because I could copy, paste, save and quit, whereas all I could do in emacs was save and quit. (Though I have a tendency to compile LaTeX obsessively, so the fact I can't figure out/remember how to compile within emacs can be useful because I then lose the compile reflex.)

Basically, my life would be complete if there were a good way to use Macualay2 and Sage from within vim, but there really isn't. I cobbled something together for Macualay, but the emacs interface is faster. I've never gotten the Sage emacs package to work.
posted by hoyland at 8:28 AM on October 12, 2013


and getting everyone to use EMACs is a nonstarter

When it is going to be in the base OS like vi is, then I'll consider switching. Until then, the only way vi won't be there is if someone was an idiot and removed it to enforce their emacs agenda. (vim is a tolerated replacement. My standard was edlin, but that's not standard much of anywhere anymore.)

(I'll also consider switching when L. Torvalds says Linux is actually GNU/Linux and calls GNU/Linux GNU/Linux and not Linux. And once I have a pony. )
posted by rough ashlar at 8:32 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


happyroach: "Anyway, I look forward to seeing Charles rant about automobile design. Like, having the engine in the front, and the powered wheels in the back."

Aren't most cars these days front wheel drive?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Anyway, I look forward to seeing Charles rant about automobile design. Like, having the engine in the front, and the powered wheels in the back."
Aren't most cars these days front wheel drive?


And that burning rock oil is for pikers anyway. The future of the horseless carriage is with EEStor caps and power from solar cells.

(And, is anyone disappointed that no real solution was offered to replace Word?)
posted by rough ashlar at 8:37 AM on October 12, 2013


WriteNow, ftw.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:39 AM on October 12, 2013


> When it is going to be in the base OS like vi is, then I'll consider switching.

Huh?

You don't get vi automatically with Windows, right? Windows, the most common desktop OS in the world?

On the other hand, you do get both vi and emacs automatically with OS/X. And on pretty well any other operating system I'm aware of, it's a one-line installation.

Seems like you're looking for a reason. Why not just say, "I'm more familiar with vi and it works for me."? Perfectly good reason.

I personally use emacs, simply because I have difficulty with an editor where the regular keystrokes are commands most of the time... all the time I start typing and then cause endless damage to the buffer because I hadn't switched to insert mode. Also, I run my shells in emacs, I run my Python debugger in emacs, I do ftp through ange-ftp so it looks like the remote file is on my hard drive... it's endless.

But reasonable people can disagree on the "vi vs emacs" issue.

Word, on the other hand, is a travesty. The last time I used it was with an expert. At some point she realized that we were going to have to use tables inside tables, and started making backup copies every few minutes. I thought, "She's crazy" - but after an hour, the program crashed, and we tried to open the document, and it was corrupted and wouldn't open, and she had a backup from two minutes before. "Brilliant!", I said. "Yes, it's had this problem for the last two versions." !!!

That was over a decade ago but I've never used it since.

My trick? I write everything in plain text and only add the formatting in at the very end. That works surprisingly well - your flow is good - the only bad part is the long tedious formatting at the end...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:41 AM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Word has issues, but every text editor has issues. There are a couple of problems kicking around underneath the bitching that's been going on for 30 years now.

First, and maybe not obviously, real documentation editors are *hard*. Display rendering, font, layout algorithms, macros, spell-check, formatting, revision tracking, global rules, local rules, image embedding, versioning... the list never ends. From the metal on up, it takes a huge amount of technical know-how and just plain coding and debugging grunt work. And, by the way, it's both boring and likely to be unprofitable.

Second, Word and its ilk are essentially enterprise software. That is, they're made for the most average case in a world made up of corner cases. Of course Word doesn't fit your use case very well. It doesn't fit anyone's use case, except, just kind of well enough to squeak by.

If Word is ever supplanted, it will be by special use editors customized to handle specific corner cases, using common open data formats. And even that common format causes some averaging that just doesn't work for everyone.
posted by underflow at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Word's Ribbon is awful? What were they thinking?
I will defined Open Office (and Star Office before it?), but I ditched that when Libre Office came along and I remain happy.

... Happy apart from the fact that so much of my fiction is saved in First Choice format and cannot be recovered. Also it is on floppy discs of both major types, which is an issue.
posted by Mezentian at 8:53 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The programmer's version of this is Charles Petzold's Does Visual Studio Rot the Mind? Its an interesting read, especially if you're in a mixed Unix/Windows environment like I am.
posted by ayerarcturus at 8:55 AM on October 12, 2013


Heh. I'm an occasional VS user, it works just fine. Also I've seen Eclipse.
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on October 12, 2013


I used to think Word was the absolute worst.

Until I took the advice of many well-meaning people on the Internet and tried to write a book in Scrivener.

Yeah, in Word, you can't figure out how to do anything and the documentation is useless and so you have to Google it, and that's bad. Scrivener is kind of like that, except without being able to Google it. And then at the end, the gift for all your work is an export-to-Word function that leaves the formatting in total disarray (Why am I exporting to Word? Because Scrivener uses its own proprietary format and you sure as hell can't send your editor a Scrivener file.) Two-thirds of the way through I gave up and wrote the last two chapters of the book in Word. I would never have thought using MS-Word could be a relief, but, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you it's possible.

(Don't get me wrong, real writing is done in LaTeX, of course -- what do I look like?)
posted by escabeche at 9:05 AM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The sole reason I'm still using Word is that it's a pain in the arse to format Pesterlogs in LibreOffice and Google Docs.

yes I'm writing homestuck fanfiction go away
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:10 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


hallelujah, sing it brother, cas' that damn devil DOWN

MS word 2008 on a 8GB, 2.7 GHz 2 core i7 running osx 10.6.9

20s launch time (longer than photoshop with numerous addons!)

Rainbow wheel of death: twice a day

Slow menu actions: dozens of times daily

straight up crashes: ~every 48 hrs

Broken visual basic for macros: inferior to 2003 running on a mac quadra: check!

Broken insertion of semantic objects from chemistry drawing programs, thus making it impossible to use a word document to archive editable images: inferior to 2003 running on a mac quadra: check!

subtle formatting scrambling of nominally "compatible" ms word documents from PCs, either in doc, docx or rtf format, thereby filling anyone who wants to collaborate with others with word with a creeping sense of dread and stabbing kidney pains : check!

I hate ms word with the heat of a thousand suns, but as cstross points out, there is SO MUCH INERTIA with other agencies (feds, university, local govt, students) that I HAVE to use it.

In summary
posted by lalochezia at 9:12 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is a point of pride for me that my job is 100% computer usage, and I still have never learned word or excell.
posted by idiopath at 9:43 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey now people, let's not throw the Excel baby out with the Word bathwater.

Doing something in Excel has predictable results. Doing something in Word means you have to hope that someone in Redmond has decided to second-guess you correctly.
posted by chimaera at 10:02 AM on October 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Last month I was in charge of editing a 40-page footnoted report in Word. It was originally written by three different people and pasted together, and then all of those people made edits to different copies of it using Track Changes. Oh, and one of them was using an older version of word. Oh, plus at some point somebody copied and pasted a bunch of stuff from a PDF despite having an original Word version available, somehow resulting in two different sets of footnotes in the same document.

It was a... difficult experience.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:06 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm now using plain text with Markdown markup for pretty much everything - write in a text editor or a dedicated Markdown editor (there seems to be dozens for the Mac) then render it to a PDF or Word document when done.

For anything fancier I think I'd use AsciiDoctor - also plain text but with more features.
posted by BinaryApe at 10:07 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the many things I do not miss about tech writing is no more Microsoft Word. (Though I remember the sigh of relief when I gave up WordPerfct 5.1 in its favor. Old people unite!)

I don't know what I'd do now with a complicated document, but InDesign sounds way better than Word. Or Framemaker for technical documents--but they're not even making that any more, I don't think.
posted by immlass at 10:12 AM on October 12, 2013


While the history lesson is I'm sure well researched, it really doesn't add anything to the rant.

The truth is the that the vast majority of business users, the main market for Word, are well served by the Office suite. Special features for nuanced fields like law & medicine are included to make many job easier.

True, there are lots of alternatives to Word, but none have the breadth of capabilities that Word includes. Businesses tend to make decisions to make their processes better, not to acquiesce delicate snowflakes.

Personally, I like writing in Evernote instead of Word, but I realize that Word is the lingua franca of the business world.

Mr. Stross, whose books I love, seems to be making the a similar argument to this:

1. I hate mechanical pencils and the mechanical pencil companies, they are assholes.
2. I personally love wooden pencils.
3. Therefore, all mechanical pencils must be destroyed, the companies shuttered, and their lands plowed with salt.

Unfortunately for Mr. Stross, there is no reasonable alternative waiting in the wings, ready for the mob to install it upon the throne.

And considering building software to replace Word, that will please the general populace of professional writers, a group known for strident opinions and 'unique' methods, is enough to make any sane technologist run for the hills.
posted by Argyle at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Heh.
posted by disclaimer at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2013


It's a nonsense article, informed more by a mid 90's hatred of Microsoft than anything useful or interesting. Poorly written too, which honestly suprised me.

The thing which annoyed me the most was the initial dismissal of software that allows both inline and style based formatting. Stating this offhand as being a bad thing ignores everything that's great about this approach, and it ignores the fact that the modern internet wouldn't look half as awesome without it.

I use Word less than most (preferring Evernote and markdown these days), but Word is an amazing piece of useful software.
posted by zoo at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


cstross, in the fpp link:

> As the first 8-bit personal computers appeared (largely consisting of the Apple II and the rival CP/M ecosystem)

There was actually a third with a very significant presence, namely the Radio Shack TRS80. In the TRS80 world there was a thing called Electric Pencil that had lots of advertising and lots of users, and generated rants at least as venomous as any I've seen concerning Word.

> software to replace Word, that will please the general populace of professional writers, a
> group known for strident opinions and 'unique' methods,

Standardize the bastards.
posted by jfuller at 11:06 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Um, professional writer here, been using Word since forever. Find it does everything well. It's an ecosystem and it is standardized worldwide in my field. Don't get the intensity of the hate from people who mostly write brief documents or use Word for layout and design. If you write a lot of complex documents that you also edit via collective processes it's the best option.


Perfectly happy in vi or emacs too. Use the tool you need. Fixed that for you.
posted by spitbull at 11:07 AM on October 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


All of my scientific writing is in LaTeX, and I hate using Word for anything with lots of math and citations. But I still have to, since I have collaborators who use nothing but Word.

That being said, I wish LaTeX had revision tracking tools as easy to use as Word.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:12 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't get the intensity of the hate from people who mostly write brief documents or use Word for layout and design. If you write a lot of complex documents that you also edit via collective processes it's the best option.

I hated it as a tech writer precisely because I was supposed to use Word for layout and design while editing multiple writers in the same document. One or the other (particularly revision checks) was fine, but combining the two sucked because most people don't understand Word's styles, nor indeed styles in general. But that's why tech writers get paid the not-so-big bucks.
posted by immlass at 11:15 AM on October 12, 2013


oh God the "Equation Editor"
posted by thelonius at 11:24 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That being said, I wish LaTeX had revision tracking tools as easy to use as Word.

It's plain text, use GIT or any other source control system. I've always stored text documents in source control and find it much easier to collaborate and track that way than with Word's revision system.
posted by octothorpe at 11:25 AM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The future is going to be Evernote using Swype, imported out onto Google Drive. People will look back wistfully to the days of MS Word. The Amazing Criswell has spoken.
posted by happyroach at 11:28 AM on October 12, 2013


That being said, I wish LaTeX had revision tracking tools as easy to use as Word.

It's plain text, use GIT or any other source control system.


Yeah. I don't have a lot of experience with GIT (and related), but my understanding was that version control isn't the same thing as adding comments, todo notes, making inline changes, etc., which is what I was referring to. Am I mistaken?

With LaTeX, it seems like PDF markup tools are the best alternative. Still not that convenient, though.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:32 AM on October 12, 2013


For those wanting a good LaTeX editor for windows: TeXStudio or TeXMaker are both quite good, and have a lot of functions built in for when you don't know the codes.

mondo dentro: LaTeX has comments. That is what % is for. Just make the change %put in a comment
then keep writing on the next line since LaTeX ignores white space.

Also things like KDiff might help you. I agree this is about the one thing Word does better though.
posted by Canageek at 11:38 AM on October 12, 2013


I tend to do most of my actual writing in Notepad++

Fuck yeah, Notepad++!

When I was using a KDE-based Linux computer as my primary machine, I discovered kate, which was the first non-shitty text editor I'd ever used. Returning to Windows, I really missed it until I found Notepad++ which shares a lot of the same functionality. I dunno what I'd do without Notepad++- I use it daily.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:55 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My own credibility establishing WP usage is on The Write Stuff on the Commodore Fucking 64, which I used to compose a geometry proof. I also once wrote a high school paper in GeoWrite. And back in the day I liked WordPerfect, for the simple reason of reveal codes. A single keypress that makes all formatting problems transparent.

I've done without Word for several years now, mostly because I've been very poor and haven't had much use for it anyway. But when I need a word processor, there's LibreOffice, which has pretty good export filters. Of course converting to and from Word format repeatedly is a recipe for disaster.

But Word's star has never been lower. There are multiple alternatives, some completely free, LibreOffice is no longer being sat on by a corporate behemoth, and Word's not even available on the most popular mobile platforms. It's coasting on inertia.
posted by JHarris at 12:04 PM on October 12, 2013


mondo dentro:

With standard revision control, there is a strong separation between the documents controlled and the control information.

A LaTeX document can (and at a certain scale definitely should) be kept in a collection of smaller files that get combined to create the final output. A directory of files under the same version control is called a repository.

Normatively, every change that you commit to the repository will be accompanied by a "commit message", which is a comment describing the nature of the change and why it was made. Any significant restructuring will be done in a "branch", which is a separate parallel set of edits that are independent of the main trunk, until they are explicitly merged in. A merge is accomplished automatically if each author's changes are non-overlapping. If changes overlap, there is a need for a human to look at the special annotated difference, and resolve conflicting changes. Every state of the document history can be accessed, by going up and down the branches that make up the repository history. Specific changes can be imported ("cherry picked") into another branch, ignoring changes before or after that one.

For inline comments about the document contents, LaTeX supports comments, they go in the file alongside everything else. I've had success (in general, not with LaTeX) with making comments that have "TODO" in them, and then searching for that later (if I only have a few ad-hoc todos). Or putting TODO notes in their own document in the repository (when I have a roadmap for a series of changes).
posted by idiopath at 12:13 PM on October 12, 2013


Word 5 was a perfectly good word processor. Then they deliberately fucked it up, doing stuff like moving margin-setting from the Edit menu to the File menu for no reason whatsoever. That was a pattern that has repeated with every single new release that's come out. You can become an expert in Word, and know how to get it to mostly* do whatever you've found a need for, but the next release is going to make you learn big chunks of that stuff all over again. I've been working with FrameMaker for the last 15 years. Last year, I had to do something in a 21st-Century version of Word, and almost nothing that I used to know how to do still worked the way I knew. Paragraph styles? Completely different, with the functions I use the most buried layers deep in obscure menus. Just an example. It left me hoping to never see another Word document.

My first tech-writing job was doing user guides for a medical-equipment manufacturer, using Word. It was a nightmare. I would edit one section of a 350-page, graphics-laden book, and only when I printed the book would I discover that Word had decided to change the formatting of text in some other section. Numbered lists were always a pain, and user guides include a lot of them. I eventually wrote macros for those, but you can't share document files written that way. I was once a Word expert, but those days are long gone and not missed. FrameMaker has a relatively steep learning curve, but the documents are stable, functions work as they are expected to, and even Adobe hasn't managed to break it. Last I knew, they were still selling it, even while pushing everyone to buy InDesign.

* I am amazed to hear that MS still hasn't managed to fix numbered listing and bulleting. It's been so many years, why can't they do that?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Notepad++ is a good text editor, as is Sublime, still wouldn't use either for WP purposes on account of not being WPs.
posted by Artw at 12:19 PM on October 12, 2013


immlass: "...most people don't understand Word's styles, nor indeed styles in general."

So true. Though as cstross points out, Word has always been hostile to styles, so the reason a lot of people don't understand them is that Word has made it so difficult.

Having an "update style to match the selected text" button but no real "get rid of local variations from style" button is the single worst thing about Word, for me. That "clear direct formatting" on right-click in LibreOffice is about 70% of why I use LO.
posted by jiawen at 12:32 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the fundamental problem with word processing is not Word, that's just a symptom. The real problem is that even in this day we continue to assemble documents, even novels, one word, one sentence at a time, like some ancient BASIC or Fortran program. It's as if every time a car was made, we had to invent the engine, tires, etc. from scratch. No wonder it's a grueling process.

This is a problem that will eventually be fixed. In the future we will use Object-Oriented Programming principles to assemble documents such as novels from pre-made sections representing chapters, polka and characters, most likely created from an uprated TV Tropes.

So take cstross for example: "Ok, I need a foreshadowing-revelation loop between chapters 5 and 16, *click*, a tsuderere girlfriend here *click*, and a " Nice Job Breaking It Hero" block for the denouement. *click*. There! Game of Thrones volume XVIII is done!"
*BEEP!*
Oh dang, we got a " Not Following Hero's Journey" error. Oh well, nothing's perfect.
posted by happyroach at 12:33 PM on October 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've never written anything book length, or done much foot-noting or indexing, but thinking about it, the longest documents I've produced have all been in InDesign. I got used to it when I was doing page layout for a journal, but it you want to format text, and know how it's going to print, it really can't be beat. Making master pages to use as style sheets, building text and paragraph styles, is all fairly straightforward, and usually work on the first try. Even if I type something quick & dirty in Text Edit, I'll copy & paste it into InDesign for formatting & printing. If someone sends me a word document, I'll open it up to read it, but I haven't created anything in Word in probably 10 years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:38 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope we will find something better to take its place soon.
I use Word almost happily. I am not writing novels, or any documents of great length, and do not need all the commands noted. Perhaps what is needed is specific software developed for those who do need the above.
posted by Cranberry at 12:42 PM on October 12, 2013


For what I need to do, Word works fine. Except for formatting anything much more complex than bold. It's quite good at revision tracking, which is what I most want it for. I do wish people would stop sending me information in Word attachments that is just unformatted text because, as it turns out, that's what email is really good at.

Now, "you can't open two windows of Excel like you can of Word because we know you don't want to" or "Excel will do mysterious things with copy/paste" or "Excel is totally incapable of dealing with importing dates from text", I will be happy to join in on.

In the future we will use Object-Oriented Programming principles to assemble documents such as novels from pre-made sections representing chapters, polka and characters

I am curious about this future where all novels contain a polka scene.
posted by jeather at 1:02 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


happyroach I started writing something like that a few years ago in Python but it quickly got over my head. I don't think OOP is necessarily the right model for story building, but maybe I should revisit that.
posted by wobh at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2013


The very best long document production tool ever was Corel Ventura. Of course, it was ultimately doomed, being the product of a Canadian tech company.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I worked at a law firm until 2011. They were still using WordPerfect (I want to say the version was x12? We upgraded the program in 2010.) It was OK once I learned it, but I'll never go back to it again.

You'll find that a lot of law firms still use it because prehistoric partners who decided to learn computers in the 80s and then stop began using WP because it could reliably format pleadings. As a result, WP has continued on until now. Few professions are as resistant to change as law, and Corel has made a tidy sum because it entered the market at the right time.
posted by reenum at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2013


Word is so cruel to the user. It was as if sadists did the programming. There are times when I want to use the small i alone. It will change it for me. I will change it back. It will change it for me. I will change it back.
It renumbers lists.
It reformats paragraphs.
It does exactly the opposite of what I want it do.
Microsoft Word has had me reduced to tears.

I still use WordPerfect. Bought X5 recently. (15, at 13, (bad luck), they change to X3).

The only fault with WordPerfect is that they were owned by Microsoft for a brief period who tried to make it Word-y.

During setup of WordPerfect, I get rid of the Microsoft Word type defaults. If something reformats, I can open a code screen and see what the problem is.

Microsoft Word is evil. It's dominance is proof that evil people rule the world.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I need a document to look nice on paper I use LyX, which is kind of a LaTeX editor--I mean, it produces well structured LaTeX--but with a WYSIWYM interface, so that you can see your formatting as you go.

It's fine to format text piecemeal in LyX because you're actually changing its "class"--when you italicize, that's actually "marking emphasis" and will look a bit different depending on the document style you go with in the end.

Document styles define how the document looks generally, decide how the standard classes (eg. table of contents, headers, body text) look, and most of them provide you with a number of classes of their own. The FUCKING HUGE default installation comes with more than you're very likely to need, unless perhaps there's some specific standard format you want to use, in which case someone's probably made a style for it already.

All of these features are ancient. Every TeX-based system has them. The main advantage of LyX is being able to look at a reasonable approximation of the appearance of your document while you're writing it. It also has a visual equation editor that's actually pretty cool, and the process of exporting to PDF is reduced to one click. Export to HTML not much harder.

I would not recommend exporting to Microsoft formats from LyX. Use HTML as an interim format and copy-paste from there, if you must.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2013


Over the late 1980s and early 1990s Microsoft grew into a behemoth with a near-monopoly position in the world of software.

Well he totally missed the entire history of Word and the rise of word processing in general. He went off on a tangent about the Xerox Star, a computer that nobody has ever seen. And then he ranted about Mac GUIs vs. Windows. The war was fought long before this.

Here is what really happened.

In the early 1980s, word processing was dominated by single purpose workstations like the IBM DisplayWriter and the Wang WPS. But the new microcomputer systems were making inroads into the market, particularly CP/M and Wordstar. At first, single user workstation computers were the standard. Then MP/M was developed, a multi-user version of CP/M. Companies could buy one microcomputer, and then attach a bunch of cheap dumb terminals to it, making it insanely cheap to replace an room full of Displaywriters with one computer system plus terminals that all together cost less than a single Displaywriter.

Then IBM discovered its Displaywriters were not selling well, and instead, people were buying dinky little computers like the Apple II or Osborne Portable. So they decided to build the IBM PC. This would be a way to grab the entire CP/M market and convert it back to a market segment under control of corporate IT managers. Its OS would be a simple upgrade from CP/M to CP/M-86. And then little Billy Gates decided to screw everything up. He seized control of the IBM PC OS environment and used his monopoly powers to kill other OS competitors. And along with them, went the installed base of applications. You'd have to buy everything over again.

IBM's PC consumer grade word processing application was PFS:Write. It was simpler than Wordstar, cheaper, and crappier. They had a pro application DisplayWrite, which was terribly expensive and only suitable for companies with legacy Displaywriter installations. IBM even offered a hardware adapter so you could attach the Displaywriter's 8 inch floppy disk drives to your IBM PC, and read your old disks.

But IBM didn't want to monopolize the market, it wanted developers to flourish and help support the platform. Their apps were not the most popular. In the new PC environment there were a few Wordstar holdouts, but the predominant apps were WordPerfect and Word. Now remember, there wasn't even a mouse you could attach to a computer yet. These were text-only apps.

Wordperfect absolutely dominated the legal market. It had specific features that legal secretaries demanded. But Word was favored by screenwriters and other creative types (go figure). Over a few years, Microsoft extended its monopoly power to dominate the word processing market. Wordperfect was entrenched in only two market segments: legal word processing, and Mormons. Nothing would ever get these people to switch to Word.

While this all was happening, a guy up in Cupertino, Steve Jobs, was engineering a new GUI-based computer, the LISA. They had developed their own application, LISAWrite. It was a radical new design that did not follow any previous word processing model. Until this time, word processors were all targeted at daisy wheel printers that printed each character with one stroke. But the LISA system was designed for graphic output on a dot matrix system. This would be great for individuals, but corporate word processing departments would hate it. They wanted daisy wheel output that looked like a typewriter. So the LISA system could also be attached to a daisy wheel printer, which mostly defeated the whole purpose of the GUI.

The LISA was a flop, it was too expensive. The Apple /// system was also a flop, so there was no serious upgrade to their Apple ][ system, which was still selling well. If this continued, Apple'r product line would be completely obsolete in a few years. So Jobs decided to double down on the GUI. He would develop a new, cheaper version of the LISA, the Macintosh. The LISA application suite was rewritten and considerably enhanced, and MacWrite was the word processing part of the suite. It was the cleanest, simplest word processor ever developed. But Jobs also wanted other enterprise-quality Mac applications available at the day of launch, especially apps that were already in common use and could be ported to the GUI.

So Steve Jobs made a decision, the worst decision of his life. He decided he needed a 3rd party word processing application that would bring the Mac up to professional WP standards. He contacted little Billy Gates, and showed him the prototype Macintosh system, and recruited him to write a Mac version of Word. And here is where Jobs made his error. The contract that Gates signed to write Word, gave Microsoft permission to use the Mac's GUI designs, in order to use them in Word. But it accidentally included clauses that gave Microsoft permission to use ALL of the Mac's GUI designs. So he did. Gates shamelessly stole the entire Mac OS from Jobs, and released his own Windows system. Jobs spent many years in court trying to undo this error, but failed.

And the rest is history. Word ruled because of Bill Gates' monopoly. Even Jobs couldn't stop him. But Jobs got his revenge, in the end.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:13 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


technically you're "compiling" not "exporting"

don't make it weird

posted by LogicalDash at 2:14 PM on October 12, 2013


oh God the "Equation Editor"

As of Office 2010, this has become quite a bit more usable. It now incorporates a lot of TeX-inspired shortcuts (like "\pi") and I think it's more than sufficiently usable if you only need to typeset equations every once in a while. It's nowhere near as nice as the TeX world, but the barrier to entry is much lower.

"you can't open two windows of Excel like you can of Word because we know you don't want to"

I don't know the justification for this misfeature, but the limitation is finally gone as of Office 2013.


Disclaimer: I work at Microsoft now but have always loathed Word. It wasn't until I started working at Microsoft on things like hundred page specs with multiple authors and dozens of reviewers that I began to appreciate that Word might have some value.
posted by Slothrup at 2:17 PM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Word ruled because of Bill Gates' monopoly.

There's a bunch of things I think you've gotten wrong on your timeline but the only specific thing I'll dispute is this one. Word ruled largely because WordPerfect had botched the transition from DOS to Windows, and to a lesser extent because of Microsoft's successful marketing of the Office "suite" concept. Microsoft's DOS monopoly did not naturally lead to a Windows monopoly, and neither of them necessarily guaranteed Office any success.
posted by Slothrup at 2:28 PM on October 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


And why did Wordperfect have a difficult transition to Windows? Microsoft is notorious for sabotaging competing products with deliberate OS bugs that require workarounds that are difficult to implement. And they known to use undocumented APIs and other insider advantages when writing their own apps.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:44 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Arnor Protext represent.
posted by scruss at 3:52 PM on October 12, 2013


Most of what I create for work is punchy little promotional stuff that needs to be printed and shared, but not edited by anyone else. I used to struggle with Word, and Publisher to get things lined up right, and layered properly. I was always reduced to putting things in invisible tables just to get the layout under control. I was playing with Inkscape to design some clip art, and I started to mock up the document it was going to go in. Eventually I created the whole poster, so I popped it into Scribus, printed it and saved it as a PDF. That's my SOP for half my documents now. I'm sure I'm breaking some sort of design rules by doing it that way, but my blood pressure is lower and my handouts are nicer.

(I'm going to charitably assume that the reason people keep sending me text in Excel spreadsheets is because they don't understand Word. I administer the website for my church, and people are always sending me Excel files for it. I've stopped saying anything and I just convert the data to a more appropriate form for the web.)
posted by Biblio at 4:01 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember using plain text with formatting instructions provided as dot-commands? For the life of me, I can't remember what the system/standard was called...
posted by five fresh fish at 4:14 PM on October 12, 2013


Anyone remember using plain text with formatting instructions provided as dot-commands? For the life of me, I can't remember what the system/standard was called...

groff/troff?
posted by hoyland at 4:22 PM on October 12, 2013


It probably was! I was using on CoCo OS-9 circa '85. If it wasn't troff, it was a very close facsimile.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:41 PM on October 12, 2013


And, is anyone disappointed that no real solution was offered to replace Word?

If you're using OS X, try Mellel. It's like Word without the brain damage.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:14 PM on October 12, 2013


OK wait how about the classic! the archetypal Word hate story for us in the visual fields — when you ask a client for an image and it comes... PASTED INTO A .DOC FILE! TA DAA *jazz hands* THANK YOU BILL
posted by Tom-B at 5:14 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Having an "update style to match the selected text" button but no real "get rid of local variations from style" button is the single worst thing about Word

Select the text and then use these two keyboard shortcuts:

CTRL+SPACEBAR = Remove manual character formatting.
CTRL+Q = Remove manual paragraph formatting.

Together they will return the text to the character/paragraph formatting as defined in the underlying style(s).

Of course this doesn't help much if they have futzed with the style definitions or copied in completely new styles.
This setting will help Always Paste as Plain Text
posted by Lanark at 5:21 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


"OK wait how about the classic! the archetypal Word hate story for us in the visual fields — when you ask a client for an image and it comes... PASTED INTO A .DOC FILE! TA DAA *jazz hands* THANK YOU BILL"

Jeez louise, I don't know about the "visual fields" , but in the "systems fields". the
only reason to have Word on your machine is because it is so effortless and seamless
to screen grab a Windows screen or window, paste it into Word, and confront your
pasty, overweight, cringing developer with the evidence of his incompetence.

Seriously, image copy, paste into Word, size it however you want. NOTHING else
in Windows works as easy as this.
posted by Chitownfats at 5:33 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even after all these years, Word still has a tendency for corrupting long documents, rendering them unreadable. Or at least just making things like formatting go a bit weird as the documents get longer and more complex. One of the main advantages of plain text formats, such as markdown or Latex is that the files will always be readable.

I love the concept of Latex (I've never used vanilla TeX), but it's very good at making a document that looks like a Latex documnet. If your needs are a bit more esoteric, it becomes much more challenging. (Seriously, folks, Computer Modern is the new Comic Sans — don't use it!)

I wrote my (social science) PhD thesis with Latex some years ago, and whilst I did find a collection of packages that eventually got it looking like I wanted, it took a lot of work and ended up being pretty delicate. And I'll never be able to send it to anyone as anything other than PDF because it has so much formatting code embedded (mostly for in-text references, which Latex really doesn't like) that the plain text is pretty unreadable to anyone else.
posted by damonism at 5:37 PM on October 12, 2013


I enjoy using Word - not so much 2007 onwards (I spent years learning the menus, then you f**kers change them all around and make me rememorise and in many cases click more to get what I want, why? WHY?). I use it for work all the time, with a huge breadth and scope of documents. I'm yet to find a word processor that does as many different things as Word does, that is roughly as stable - and certainly none with the broader eco system support in CMSs for example that Word does. It's fine.

I prefer LibreOffice, because it's more like Old Word - but you certainly can't argue it's any more stable.

But perhaps I say this because we use Lotus Notes for our email client.
posted by smoke at 6:01 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


when you ask a client for an image and it comes... PASTED INTO A .DOC FILE! TA DAA *jazz hands* THANK YOU BILL

Or how about when they insert an OLE object as a link but don't supply the original file? WHEEE
posted by JHarris at 6:01 PM on October 12, 2013


And for those of us using MS Notepad as an alternative, guess what? Wordwrap functionality is all dicked up in Windows 7.
posted by klarck at 7:08 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I'll never be able to send it to anyone as anything other than PDF because it has so much formatting code embedded (mostly for in-text references, which Latex really doesn't like) that the plain text is pretty unreadable to anyone else.

But why would you want to send them the tex rather than a PDF in the first place? The whole point of TeX is that you wouldn't.

In theory, when PDF goes the way of the dodo, you'll recompile into whatever non-mangling all-but-universally-readable format replaces it. (Well, aside from your eps figures anyway. But there's a package to convert them to PDF on the fly now, so they're currently salvageable.)
posted by hoyland at 7:32 PM on October 12, 2013


I wish LaTeX had revision tracking tools as easy to use as Word

[morbo]THAT IS AN EDITOR JOB NOT A LATEX JOB![/morbo]
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:52 PM on October 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


And for those of us using MS Notepad as an alternative, guess what? Wordwrap functionality is all dicked up in Windows 7.

Word wrap in Notepad has been dicked up since forever. Notepad doesn't seem to distinguish between word wrap and carriage returns in any useful way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:39 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That sounds more like the problem with Notepad ignoring line endings on non-windows originating files (it needs \r\n, not just \n) that word wrap being broken.
posted by Artw at 9:42 PM on October 12, 2013


... the only reason to have Word on your machine is because it is so effortless and seamless to screen grab a Windows screen or window, paste it into Word, and confront your pasty, overweight, cringing developer with the evidence of his incompetence.

I can't tell if you're being serious or not, but assuming you are... Can you not just send the screen grab? Why does it need to go in a Word wrapper? Am I missing something?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:02 PM on October 12, 2013


hapax_legomenon: It is in Windows clipboard. You have to paste it into something,
usually Word (in order to add commentary or queries about what you see, what you'd
be desirous of seeing, etc., or to edit the image), or MS Paint. My (facetious) point was really ease, speed, convenience. The only programs you can be absolutely certain are on your (or my) recipients' machines are Word and Paint. Word isn't merely a "wrapper", it facilitates communication and documentation.

(apologies for the derail.)
posted by Chitownfats at 11:02 PM on October 12, 2013


But why would you want to send them the tex rather than a PDF in the first place? The whole point of TeX is that you wouldn't.

One example was I was going to base a journal article (which had to be submitted in Word format) on a thesis chapter. There was no easy way to re-use the text without editing huge slabs of it to re-write all references and other formatting.

That's an edge case, admittedly, but the point is that if you want to produce latex-like documents that are never going to be anything than PDFs, it's fine. For anything else, it's a pain.
posted by damonism at 11:52 PM on October 12, 2013


>Jeez louise, I don't know about the "visual fields"

SORRY DUNNO ABOUT U BUT FOR US 300 DPI IS A THING THANKS
posted by Tom-B at 12:03 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"SORRY DUNNO ABOUT U BUT FOR US 300 DPI IS A THING THANKS"

Quoting an online Word guru found via Google:

"Word does not do anything to the image when you insert it. Only if you use one of the built-in picture formatting tools to manipulate it, or save the document in another format, does Word resample the image and apply its own compression. If an image is sized 100% at 300dpi and inserted into the document with no further manipulation, and if the document is saved in the native doc format, the properties of the inserted image are unchanged."

True? Not true?
posted by Chitownfats at 5:19 AM on October 13, 2013


Oh dear. Bashing Microsoft? Not a good sign. Suggests the creative springs have dried up (I trust only temporarily). Or, judging from the number of comments here, the Q ratings need a bit of a boost.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2013


That sounds more like the problem with Notepad ignoring line endings on non-windows originating files (it needs \r\n, not just \n) that word wrap being broken.

Admittedly it's been awhile since I've used it, but my memory is that wherever the word wrap line breaks are when you save the file, there's carriage returns there when you open it again. This might've been fixed at some point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 AM on October 13, 2013


Nope, never heard of not seen that problem.
posted by Artw at 9:04 AM on October 13, 2013


The only programs you can be absolutely certain are on your (or my) recipients' machines are Word and Paint.

Word hasn't been on my machines, except for that stupid trial thingy I always uninstall, for years. If need be I use one of the many programs that can import Word documents. I make far too little money to bother with the Office tax.

Admittedly it's been awhile since I've used it, but my memory is that wherever the word wrap line breaks are when you save the file, there's carriage returns there when you open it again. This might've been fixed at some point.

This still happens to me, and I'm on Windows 8, I was de-line-breaking a few paragraphs of notes just a couple of days ago. Considering this behavior has been around since Word Wrap's been in Notepad (probably since Win 95), it's almost certain to still be there in Win 8.1, in a few days.
posted by JHarris at 10:10 AM on October 13, 2013


IndigoJones: wat
posted by JHarris at 10:11 AM on October 13, 2013


when you ask a client for an image and it comes... PASTED INTO A .DOC FILE! TA DAA *jazz hands

Save the word document as an HTML file and then you can easily pull out the image - n.b. this is the ONLY use case where you should let Word anywhere near HTML.
posted by Lanark at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I won't join in the hate nor the defense of Word, but I must say that calling it unintuitive is odd for me, at least as far as standard, commonplace text writing and editing goes, and especially compared to most of the alternatives mentioned in this thread.

Here's an anecdote about this. A couple of years ago I decided to switch to Linux and open source programs, installing OpenOffice as a result. One of the very first things I tried to do was to switch the language of the text from the default English. Now, there was an actual Language submenu somewhere, I guess under Format. It contained the spell check, thesaurus and so on. But not language. The Language menu in OpenOffice did not actually have a language option in it. Finally I discovered where the option was. It could be changed in the Fonts window.

Apparently, for OpenOffice, typeface and language are the things that go together, but spell check and language do not.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2013


I really like Celtx. For everything else, there's AbiWord.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2013


11ish paragraphs, and it took 10 before he got around to explaining why he hates Word.

His problem isn't Word. It's an inability to focus. The article would have been retitled "A History of Microsoft Word" by any moderately competent editor.

Fortunately, blog posts needn't be bothered by things like professional editorship, brevity, nor focus.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:11 PM on October 13, 2013


I miss Volkswriter...
posted by Mngo at 6:51 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think it is more about distraction than anything else. Some people can study with music on, some people can't. Some people can ignore the bells and whistles and use the editor to write text others get all distracted by the ability to make this paragraph fully justified with italicized drop caps and curly fonts in rainbow colors.

Word works fine to write things. I did my dissertation in Word. I have written a lot of grants and journal articles in Word. Granted, formatting grants is a pain in the ass, but that is because it's the one case in which the formatting is left up to the author and not to the editor who would put the plain text into a usable format... So I end up being the editor, cursing my fellow colleagues who think floating text boxes are the best way to insert images, and why can't they actually insert line breaks instead of hitting enter over and over to get a new page?

Other than that, Word works for a lot of people.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:15 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


just curious: has anybody asked charlie stross if he minds being identified as 'metafilter's own'?
posted by lodurr at 9:09 AM on October 14, 2013


escabeche, wow, not much love for Scrivener there.

I try to stay out of the software religious wars, but you've got some interesting misconceptions embedded in your peanut butter.

Scrivener actually doesn't use a proprietary format at all, unless you regard RTF as proprietary. This is a little less obvious on a Mac because on a Mac, Scrivener uses Apple's intentionally structure-obfuscating convention of representing a directory as a file (a.k.a. a "package"); on Scrivener for Windows, the file format is obvious.

As for messing up the formatting on save and export -- well, that's kind of the point: It's a tool for producing multipart works, and those often have to be rendered in different ways depending on your target. That means that some kinds of formatting are not going to get output, and that's entirely appropriate.

Any reasonably powerful piece of software is going to require you to think of things its way, to a greater or lesser extent. If you are trying to do a lot of really sophisticated formatting in your output manuscript, then maybe you should be using Adobe InCopy or Liquid Story Binder. Scrivener is just not for you.

That doesn't make it a bad tool -- that makes it a tool unsuited to what you want to do.

My general bias is to say the same things about people who complain about Word -- except that a lot of the complaints here about Word are pretty darn legit. It really is the worst thing going.

Except for everything else.

(I really miss AmiPro. That was nice: Clean, fast, easy to use, had a really transparent file format....)
posted by lodurr at 9:19 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Granted, formatting grants is a pain in the ass, but that is because it's the one case in which the formatting is left up to the author and not to the editor who would put the plain text into a usable format.

It may be the one case that you have encountered, but I assure you it is not the only such case.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:59 AM on October 14, 2013


Any love for Docbook?
posted by five fresh fish at 5:07 PM on October 14, 2013


lodurr: You're right, of course: many, many people really like Scrivener and I don't think they're lying about liking it or somehow deluded into liking something they shouldn't. I just felt disappointed because, from what people said about it, I really thought it was a universally correct solution for book-writing, and it turned out not to fit my (fairly vanilla) needs, to the point of actively getting in my way a lot of the time.
posted by escabeche at 5:37 PM on October 14, 2013


Almost twenty years ago I wrote my master's thesis in Interleaf. (Anyone remember that one?) Wouldn't recommend it. Also, yes, I'm old.

These days I am very much in the camp of "use a text editor, add formatting later." Though for longer-form docs - like the book I just wrote - I use Pages, the Apple word processor. (Eventually we laid out the book in InDesign, thus bypassing Word altogether, which was a pleasure.)

P.S. For spreadsheets that I don't need to share with Office-using colleagues, I find Numbers - Apple's version of Excel - to be surprisingly good.
posted by mark7570 at 7:50 AM on October 15, 2013


Ever since I learned better I've used vim to mark up HTML/CSS for all of my document production. If needed, it imports into pretty much any word processor app with minimal difficulties. It is human readable, exists in a file format that is widely supported and unlikely to be deprecated any time soon, and is infinitely tweakable. In my later years it earns bonus points for being amenable to many free and useful version control systems.

Hit Publish too soon...

I used to manage a computer lab at $SATELlITE_UNIVERSITY and could guarantee at least one thesis per semester going up in flames due to a bad combination of using Word and not keeping a billion different backups. There have been few more powerless moments in my life than trying to explain to someone that their life has just now been monumentally fucked with.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:00 AM on October 15, 2013


escabeche, this is one of those occasions when people have very different ideas of what it means to 'get in the way.' I know people who praise EMACS to high heaven for how it 'gets out of their way.' I sort of know what they mean by that: Because they invested tens to hundreds of hours learning it, they don't have to think about it anymore.

I shifted to Scrivener because it gets out of my way by letting me not worry about things like how to navigate between scenes, what clever filename conventions to use, setting up macros to change formatting when I want to compile for different purposes, conventions for keeping my notes on a chapter linked up with the chapter, etc. I've found I can spend a ton less time thinking about the miscellanea of writing workflow, and a lot more time writing.

There's very little that I regard as functionally important in Scrivener that I couldn't do with Word; but I'd have to write macros and develop styles and templates to make it happen, and I don't want to screw with that.
posted by lodurr at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2013


fezboy!: There have been few more powerless moments in my life than trying to explain to someone that their life has just now been monumentally fucked with.

Yeesh...I have been in very similar situations (never with a diss, though), and while I'm strongly empathetic to their plight, it is actually true that they should bloody well have a backup of some kind. When I worked overnight in a public computer lab, we used to hammer it into people's heads that they should KEEP PRINTOUTS, because WHEN (NOT if) the one diskette they were trying to get by with for their whole college career melted down, that would be the only way they had to get it back.

I mean, nobody literally deserves that -- but it's preventable, by very simple means.
posted by lodurr at 10:40 AM on October 15, 2013


Kirth Gerson: "It may be the one case that you have encountered, but I assure you it is not the only such case."

Oh no, clearly not. Should have typed "the one case I regularly encounter". But yeah, trying to use Word for formatting anything involving accurate placement of floating elements, good luck.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:41 AM on October 15, 2013


lodurr: I mean, nobody literally deserves that -- but it's preventable, by very simple means.

This is all very true and every department's guidelines suggested as much, as did the lab policies, as did the wallpaper on each computer's desktop. But at the moment when the realization hits no one is at all interested listening to speeches about how this all could have been prevented if only they'd paid attention to the warnings. I'm not really good at being 'that guy' so I had a hard time with the 'I told you so' part of the job.

There are other examples of outright fuckery too. For example, Word keeps its temp files in the same directory as the file itself instead of, say, the really useful AppData directory. They also prepend '~$' to the file name. This is truly awesome for the unwary user that grabs that instead of the actual file when copying a file to a USB device or a network share. By picking '~$' Microsoft pretty much assures that this file will be the first one a user sees when rolling through an Explorer window. A simple drag/drop of the wrong file and a Ctrl+Q later and their homework assignment is a fart in the wind. This garden variety user castrophe happened with alarming regularity.

Sure, who would ever mistake '~$Foo.docx' for 'Foo.docx'? A lot of people. We don't read by looking at characters sequentially. We recognize shapes of words and it's really easy to add/drop individual characters from a word shape when one is hurried, tired, or distracted. Word is an abomination for so many reasons.
posted by Fezboy! at 11:52 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not really good at being 'that guy' so I had a hard time with the 'I told you so' part of the job.

Yeh, you kinda don't want to hang around with the people who are good at that part of the job. they can be a real drag.

And oh, my, that's not the only bit of temp-/meta-file fuckery that bewitches folks who migrate amongst machines, particularly if they move between macs and windows boxes. We send zip files to clients a lot, and we used to get lots of people complaining that the files were empty or corrupt, because they were trying to open the resource-fork.
posted by lodurr at 12:40 PM on October 15, 2013


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