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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Abandon the Word

This is not a statement about Christianity, but rather, concerns that infernal organization known as Microsoft and one of its flagship products that has badly lost its way:
Nearly two decades and several text-handling paradigms ago, I was an editorial assistant at a weekly newspaper, where a few freelancers still submitted their work on typewritten pages. Stories would come in over the fax machine. If the printout was clear enough, and if our giant flatbed scanner was in the mood, someone would scan the pages in, a text-recognition program would decipher the letters, and we would comb the resulting electronic file for nonsense and typos. If the scanner wasn't in the mood, we would prop up the hard copy beside a computer and retype the whole thing. Technology was changing fast, and some people were a few steps slow. You couldn't blame them, really, but for those of us who were fully in the computer age, those dead-tree sheets meant tedious extra work.

Nowadays, I get the same feeling of dread when I open an email to see a Microsoft Word document attached. Time and effort are about to be wasted cleaning up someone's archaic habits. A Word file is the story-fax of the early 21st century: cumbersome, inefficient, and a relic of obsolete assumptions about technology. It's time to give up on Word.
I switched over to OpenOffice years ago, then after Sun was acquired by Oracle, to LibreOffice. I had to use a recent version of Word a few months ago, and although I'd been using Word since it was first released, I found the latest version very difficult to use. It's the perfect example of a software company taking a perfectly useful, if flawed, piece of software and methodically making it less and less usable with every release.

If I was in charge of the Word project, I would throw out everything and start over from scratch. The fact that a single eight-character document is automatically transformed into a 16,224-character monster is lunacy squared.

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