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Charlie Stross: Why Microsoft Word Must Die

timothy posted 1 year,13 days | from the codependence-is-harmful dept.

Microsoft 479

Jeremiah Cornelius writes "Rapture of the Nerds co-author Charlie Stross hates Microsoft Word, worse than you do. Best of all, he can articulate the many structural faults of Word that make his loathing both understandable and contagious. 'Steve Jobs approached Bill Gates... to organize the first true WYSIWYG word processor for a personal computer -- ...should it use control codes, or hierarchical style sheets? In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they're fundamentally incompatible... Word was in fact broken by design, from the outset — and it only got worse from there.' Can Free Software do any better, than to imitate the broken Microsoft model? Does document formatting even matter this much, versus content?"

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It gets worse (4, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110151)

No sane metamodel. No access from multiple applications. No sane way of creating compound documents. When you see the landscape of modern IT and you notice that the closest thing to that is the XML ecosystem, you know something has gone horribly wrong.

Malice vs. Incompetence (5, Insightful)

mystikkman (1487801) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110225)

Joel Spolsky has an excellent write up on why the Office file formats suck. A must read.

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/02/19.html [joelonsoftware.com]

He actually worked on Excel leading to funny anecdotes like this one

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/06/16.html [joelonsoftware.com]

Re:Malice vs. Incompetence (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110351)

... He actually worked on Excel leading to funny anecdotes like this one

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/06/16.html [joelonsoftware.com]

Ha, good reference -- ...Later I had it explained to me. "Bill doesn't really want to review your spec, he just wants to make sure you've got it under control. His standard M.O. is to ask harder and harder questions until you admit that you don't know, and then he can yell at you for being unprepared. Nobody was really sure what happens if you answer the hardest question he can come up with because it's never happened before."

I do the same thing as a design judge for Formula SAE, where students build race cars and the judges are from the motorsports industry.

Re:Malice vs. Incompetence (2, Insightful)

war4peace (1628283) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110391)

Yes, let's use articles from 2006 and 2008 to illustrate a state of things in 2013...
*shakes head in disbelief*

Re:Malice vs. Incompetence (3, Interesting)

peragrin (659227) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110415)

the only big difference is now word and excel are in XML. sometimes, and only partially. but hey it is an open standard now right?

Windows including 7, word, excel, and their file formats haven't changed much in 15 years. Mostly a few new features, and cosmetics. You can pull out a windows 95 and office 97 for dummies book and be able to do everything in them with windows 7 and office 2013.

That is the true state of things.

Re:Malice vs. Incompetence (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110493)

Do you really believe Word has advanced and improved since 2006?

The disbelief part is that an article from 2006 is still relevant to describing Word.

Long live TeX and LaTeX (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110153)

enough said!

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110223)

TeX is horrible in the sense that it's a glorified macro processor state machine, with every character in the input stream potentially changing everything in the output DVI - text itself, formatting registers - you can't tell form the character other than by continuing processing the Turing-complete macros, all of them capable of changing every aspect of the processor state! Change that one character? Regenerate the whole document! Good bye, interactivity. Good bye, inspectable structure. It's perfect for the hard-core typesetting jobs, but lousy as a document platform in any other sense than the typesetting one. (But it would be nice to have good exporters for it in as many applications as you can get. And when I say "good exporters", I mean template-driven export engines with fine-grained tuning, not some "just export it, I'll tweak the styles by hand" thingy. Remind me, why do we have computers again? To automate stuff? I thought so.)

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (2)

samjam (256347) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110377)

Consider TexMacs - uses scheme-like macro language (and scheme) - much better.

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110665)

TeXmacs is really nice, and actually quite close to many things I have in mind, but I have yet to see a version that doesn't hang, crash, or run unreasonably slowly. ;/

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (2, Informative)

dfghjk (711126) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110387)

"TeX is horrible in the sense that it's a glorified macro processor state machine..." ...and it shares this trait with every other system intended to be compiled.

Of course, there's the TeX engine and the default macro packages which are different things. Different front ends could have different behaviors. You are not bound to plain TeX or LaTeX or a few others, write your own. You obviously feel confident of your expertise.

"Remind me, why do we have computers again? To automate stuff? I thought so."

Apparently you need to be reminded. TeX is a system for "automating stuff", not a system for interactively enabling tweaks by hand. The problem you cite comes from your desire to do stupid things.

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (5, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110649)

Of course, there's the TeX engine and the default macro packages which are different things.

Actually, I was talking specifically about the generic TeX engine properties that make it virtually impossible to use it for incremental redisplay and similar purposes, so you have to go WYSIWYM instead, but then TeX isn't the foundation for the document platform itself but just the output module, which is what I was pointing out. It also doesn't work well for compound documents, not just simple hand-edited text ones ("simple" as in "not compound", but not excluding structured and large ones, of course), but that's sort of outside of TeX's scope (if you ignore Web2C's [\immediate]\write18, or yet another converter to "lower" the document data (for example, data linked to a live online resource) into something "set in stone" that TeX can actually typeset), so perhaps that would be an unreasonable request anyway.

You are not bound to plain TeX or LaTeX or a few others, write your own.

That doesn't solve the problem I was referring to. One potential solution that occurred to me the other day was that since TeX's state tends to be small, and the processing is "paged" in the last stages of TeX's internals, one possible option would be memoizing the internal state of the processor and resuming the execution only from the nearest place preceding your edit point in the input stream where the last state snapshot took place and going on from there. But that still requires a modified TeX implementation, and it doesn't work for multi-pass processing that, i.e., collects page number references to scatter them throughout your document in a later pass (a single inserted character could change the page number on a page reference on the very page you're editing right now, and there's no way to know without running all the full document passes again, and there goes your real-time redisplay), and that tends to be quite common, so tough luck.

Apparently you need to be reminded. TeX is a system for "automating stuff", not a system for interactively enabling tweaks by hand.

Apparently, I failed to get my point across. Of course TeX can do that, but the document application with TeX export has to export the document structure into the TeX file properly, and I have yet to see a complex application doing it in a user-friendly way. Nowhere am I suggesting that *TeX* is the right place for the necessary user interaction. If you're accusing me of a desire to do stupid things, you had better point out which ones, since I fail to see which part of my requirements is unreasonable.

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (2)

RGRistroph (86936) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110417)

https://www.writelatex.com/ [writelatex.com] and https://www.sharelatex.com/ [sharelatex.com] and several desktop latex editors seems to work OK despite your logic.

The main appleal of LaTeX is precisely that you aren't supposed to continuously re-render it, you are supposed to write things. Then you twiddle how it looks a bit at the end.

Optimizing web pages for speed of rendering the output seems reasonable, but I'm not sure that should be a big consideration in a document format.

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (3, Interesting)

thsths (31372) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110671)

Agreed. TeX uses a procedural approach, which is really not a good idea for a document. A declarative approach would be much better, and there are alternatives such as lout the demonstrate how well it works. Heck, even TeX has both styles and formatting codes available at all time.

HTML, much abused, has a much saner model. But there is a distinct lack of good editors for HTML. Which also proves zealots wrong who say "a good and well documented format will attract support". MS Word is still the most widely supported document format. Better documented alternatives (lyx, html, lout) are impossible to import/export in anything but a handful of programs.

And to be honest, Word 2007 is a completely different beast from Word 2003. I would even go as far as calling it quite usable - it deals nicely with styles, and it finally has an acceptable equation editor. Float placement is still a bit of a gamble, citations are best left to other software packages, but it is really not all that bad any more. Good enough - typical Microsoft software.

Re:Long live TeX and LaTeX (4, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110431)

enough said!

MS Office is designed for use by the 9-to-5 clerical worker --- not the outside studio or in-house team that designs your four color catalogs, print adds, brochures and annual reports.

i always thought interleaf was cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110155)

Pity it died. It was kind of like a document with built in outline on left hand side.

Re:i always thought interleaf was cool (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110227)

I always wanted to try Interleaf, but never worked anywhere that it was installed. On the other hand, any text editor (like emacs) + the text formatter Scribe from CMU was a great combination. Used this on a Vax running Berkeley Unix and then later ran the CP/M and MS-DOS versions from Mark of the Unicorn. First Mince and Scribble, later FinalWord II, which was then sold to Borland and had one last go as Sprint wordprocessor.

In the late 1980's I produced a 900 page engineering book with quite a bit of math. Source was edited on a DOS machine, printed on an Apple Laserwriter (Postscript sent through the serial port). Automatic table of contents, figures and tables. Auto page renumbering when chapters were re-arranged. Automatic changing page headings, to match chapter and section numbering. Automatic footnoting and cross referencing, including forward references (two pass formatting). Like TeX, it took a bit of work to figure it out, but then everything just worked from that point forward.

Biggest problem I have with Word is constantly fixing the same problems, over and over.

Re:i always thought interleaf was cool (1)

djupedal (584558) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110255)

Me 2 :) Interleaf became FrameMaker. I started with the former in 1996 and wound up in the later as late as 2003. To me they both live on in today's XML and Epub editors. I haven't touched WORD in over 5 years now. Pages does all I need these days.

If you like outlines/thumbnails etc. on the left and you're doing (interactive) books, try iBooks Author, just be prepared for a messy experience if you need to insert any WORD chapters.

Yes... and no. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110157)

It is called LaTeX. It does everything, except holding your hand. If you do not need the handholding, you will be extremely efficient and productive. Otherwise, you will hate it and go back to Word.

Re:Yes... and no. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110161)

LyX does the handholding for you.

Re:Yes... and no. (1)

HiThere (15173) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110587)

But it doesn't know what a line is.

Yes, you *can* do anything. But it can take a long time to do it. (Actually, I *think* it's a LaTex problem, it could be a Tex problem. I tried to get to like it for a few weeks, because it would handle some things that my other tools wouldn't handle. But it was really lousy at some things I do all the time. I had to dick around with cascading changes every time I edited a line.

(Actually, that doesn't make much sense to me, as I would expect the problem to be that it didn't know what a paragraph was, but I remember it as it didn't know what a line was. And couldn't decently word-wrap.)

Re:Yes... and no. (1)

Anrego (830717) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110193)

More abstractly, there are lots of tools which have sprung up to address the issues raised in the article.

Word has kind of become the lowest common denominator. Just about everyone can open a word document, and just about everyone can make one. As soon as more features are needed, people turn to tools like Scrivener (popular with authors), LaTeX (popular with technical people), or even bafflingly painful but powerful tools like Adobe's Framemaker (tech writers in certain industries).

Re:Yes... and no. (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110219)

Features (or lack thereof) are not the problem. It's the incessant bugs, some of which have remained untouched since word 97.

Re:Yes... and no. (2)

32771 (906153) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110263)

I wouldn't call my latex experience efficient by default, instead I call the result pretty and this is all that count's. Also it gives your resume a certain well recognized format, at least by the people in the same club. Why would you deal with Winword noobs.

Lmao (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110165)

So everyone should be using LaTex I take it?

Yes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110167)

LaTeX

LaTeX! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110173)

How about a LaTeX based word processor?

Re:LaTeX! (4, Informative)

scottme (584888) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110199)

It's called Lyx - http://www.lyx.org/ [lyx.org]

yawn (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110179)

yawn

Here's the real problem he has (5, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110191)

Like the rest of us, he's perfectly happy to use many of the other tools around, but at the end he finally gets to his point:

somehow, the major publishers have been browbeaten into believing that Word is the sine qua non of document production systems. They have warped and corrupted their production workflow into using Microsoft Word .doc files as their raw substrate, even though this is a file format ill-suited for editorial or typesetting chores. And they expect me to integrate myself into a Word-centric workflow, even though it's an inappropriate, damaging, and laborious tool for the job.

So his publisher is forcing him to use Word. I would be annoyed as well. I know at least some publishers accept PDF (and some even LaTeX). So maybe he should just choose a different publisher.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (4, Insightful)

mellon (7048) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110243)

Publishers sometimes will accept camera-ready PDF, but that's a _lot_ of work, and in the age of digital publishing, a complete non-starter, because PDF is more like paper than text. Submitting in MS Word is much easier. It's a royal pain in the ass, especially since the MS Word document is essentially a consumable, and is thrown away as soon as the publisher goes to typesetting. It means that page proof edits have to be done by hand, and that second editions often don't capture all the page proof corrections, because those corrections never go into the word document unless the author does it, but that's also time consuming, because the author has to not only incorporate the page proof edits, but all of the copyedits as well.

The whole thing is a monumental waste of everybody's time—if it were possible to do all the edits to the same document, throughout the life of the book, it would be much more efficient. Style-sheet-oriented HTML is actually a better choice than Word, but nobody uses it because there isn't a good HTML editor that does change control.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (0)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110277)

I feel completely sorry for anyone who has to format their document in Word. That is an exercise in frustration.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (5, Interesting)

MarkvW (1037596) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110479)

It's easy to format a document in Word. You just need to use styles.

NEVER try to figure out why a paragraph or couple of paragraphs are behaving the way they are in Word. That is the way to madness . . ..

Create for yourself a collection of styles that make paragraphs do exactly what you want them to do. Refine them, and use them to impose your will upon the paragraphs that you do not understand.

Now . . . I'm trying LyX. I want to see if it is even remotely adaptable to doing lawyer work.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (1)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110549)

Create for yourself a collection of styles that make paragraphs do exactly what you want them to do. Refine them, and use them to impose your will upon the paragraphs that you do not understand.

Honestly that sounds like the way to madness as well....

I have no idea what lawyer work demands from a word processor, though.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110589)

It usually works fine for me, with the proviso that you have to mark things like headings as such. Like adding metadata it's a pain, but a chore that needs to be done never the less.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (4, Insightful)

fluffy99 (870997) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110497)

Both Word and HTML suck for physical publishing purposes, as neither truly describes a page layout. Anyone who's been frustrated by paragraphs suddenly flowing over a page break, or tried to view html on different browsers has experienced that problem. Sending the publisher a Word doc gives you no guarantee that why you get back looks like what you had on your screen. PDF and PS at least nail down the exact page layout.

There are great uses for flexible standards like ebook format, because they aren't restricted to a particular page layout. Ebooks can flow to the readers screen size and whatever font size they picked. PDFs suck for digital books because they don't reflow.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (2)

houstonbofh (602064) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110585)

Submitting in MS Word is much easier.

For whom? Not the guy writing a book on Linux...

Re:Here's the real problem he has (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110249)

I am betting the publisher just extracts the raw text without formatting from the word document and does all the typesetting from scratch.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (3, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110319)

Most major publishers want to format it themselves. They've got professionals for that, and software designed for page layout. (NOT Microsoft Word.)

The effort you put into formatting it is a waste. Let the pros do what they do best. You do what you do best, generate the content.

The real issue here isn't the publishers, but businesses of all sorts, wherever documents are passed around for editing by multiple people. It would be great if those processes could avoid formatting issues, at least until the content is set, but they rarely do. So they need a format that everybody can mess with. Right now, that pretty much universally means Word. PDF won't cut it, since you can't edit it. ODF and other formats are just as good (i.e. pretty crappy, actually) but MS has pride of place: everybody else is using it and changing to a different standard is a huge hassle.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (2)

CRCulver (715279) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110459)

Most major publishers want to format it themselves. They've got professionals for that, and software designed for page layout. (NOT Microsoft Word.)

What do you mean by "major publishers"? If you mean popular fiction and non-fiction, then sure, the publishers still have it typeset by their team (although quality has gone down since typesetting is often outsourced to Asia). But when it comes to academic publishers like Brill, Harrassowitz or Springer, they increasingly want you to provide a print-ready PDF and they just slap their own title and copyright pages on the front of it.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (1, Troll)

epine (68316) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110349)

So his publisher is forcing him to use Word. I would be annoyed as well. I know at least some publishers accept PDF (and some even LaTeX). So maybe he should just choose a different publisher.

Thank you, cheerleader for the lemmings of self-marginalization. Choosing from a restricted pool tends to lead to less excellent choices. But don't stop to complain about this, even if it bites you at every turn.

The reality here is that the Word ecosystem is at least as destructive to orderly progress as IE6 was the to progression of web site design, but it's proving a lot harder to pry the cold, callous fingers of corporations who are deeply invested in this ecosystem off of the central dysfunction.

For one thing, the entire cloud business model, for any company not Microsoft, depended on an interoperability standard that Microsoft couldn't scupper with the next software release. There was enhanced visibility of the issue, and giant pools of money behind the rearguard action, not to mention the aftermath of a court case that forced Microsoft to dribble with its head down, lest it be red carded yet again for charging down the court with two muscular arms cradling the basketball.

Word is such a monumental disaster that I actually smile when formatting my documents as PDF. This despite the fact that a large percentage of all two-column PDF documents have a one-column cut and paste text model (when you try to select the top half of the left column, you get the top half of both columns, with line fragments interspersed).

The semantic web is so far seemingly stillborn. The day will come when the algorithms wish to understand text at the same level as your trusty editor--I mean the person who helps you get it right.

Maybe then this problem will sort itself out.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (0)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110419)

Thank you, cheerleader for the lemmings of self-marginalization. Choosing from a restricted pool tends to lead to less excellent choices.

There are plenty of publishers now. You don't need to suffer for your publisher.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (1)

HiThere (15173) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110623)

Different publishers handle different areas. I'm sure that mathematical journal publishers handle LaTex, but that doesn't help an author of fiction.

Re:Here's the real problem he has (1)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110687)

On the other hand, it's not like novels typically have novel, complicated layouts........

I'm not so sure... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110197)

should it use control codes, or hierarchical style sheets? In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they're fundamentally incompatible

I'm not sure that's true. I keep thinking of different systems that use both style sheets and control codes. HTML does essentially the same thing, so does LaTeX; allowing local edits and style-sheet based edits. How are they fundamentally incompatible?

ugh (5, Insightful)

Sneftel (15416) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110207)

Yes, let's enumerate all the structural untidinesses of Word. Let's blame that application -- which held its own, against many, many competitors, not because of a megacorporation strong-arming it (remember, MS was not always a megacorp) but because it was good at doing what users wanted it to do -- for the inelegance of its data model. Let's compare it to SGML, which is so much nicer and easier and so much more elegant if you're a programmer and can appreciate that sort of elegance, and if you're not a programmer, well then for god's sake why are you touching a computer?

If you want SGML, you know where to download it.

Re:ugh (5, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110363)

which held its own, against many, many competitors, not because of a megacorporation strong-arming it (remember, MS was not always a megacorp)

Actually, that's most likely the reason why it succeeded. 1) MS pushing their OSes through anticompetitive practices (confirmed in court!), 2) MS having intimate knowledge of their own OSes helping them write better apps, 3) customers buying MS Office for various reasons including more hassle-free operation on their PCs, 4) the whole network effect thingy kicking in.

Re:ugh (4, Interesting)

houstonbofh (602064) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110599)

because it was good at doing what users wanted it to do.

That may be how it got the crown, but that is not how it kept it. The scrappy upstart company is very different from the Microsoft of today. For proof I submit the release of Vista and Win8 with no apology. At least with MS Bob, there was remorse!

No, loathing not really contagious (4, Interesting)

sideslash (1865434) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110209)

This critic just comes across as whiny to me. I use Microsoft Word to typeset complex multilingual documents, and it works great for my needs. I've occasionally tried to use Scribus and some other OSS tools, and have been blocked by limitations, typically related to non-Latin text handling. Word is also very scriptable from pretty much any programming language via the ActiveX interfaces, which is how I use it.

If he has a better idea of how to set up a word processor, he didn't see fit to share his thoughts with the rest of us. But serious suggestions only, please. If the author wants Microsoft to make Word more like vi, I think then we'd really see some "loathing both understandable and contagious" from ordinary users.

Re:No, loathing not really contagious (0)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110271)

This critic just comes across as whiny to me.

Congratulations. You've just described 90% of what gets submitted to Slashdot.

Re:No, loathing not really contagious (1)

sideslash (1865434) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110289)

This critic just comes across as whiny to me.

Congratulations. You've just described 90% of what gets submitted to Slashdot.

You're right. And the other problem on Slashdot is people (like us, of course) who whine about people who whine on Slashdot.

Re:No, loathing not really contagious (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110475)

Oh, no, I NEVER whine on Slashdot...

(shuffles feet uncomfortably, keeps staring at floor, tries to think of a way to change the subject...)

Re:No, loathing not really contagious (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110439)

I've occasionally tried to use Scribus and some other OSS tools, and have been blocked by limitations, typically related to non-Latin text handling.

I believe that until very recently, XeTeX was at least equal, if not better at non-Latin text handling, and that it was much better at handling Latin text with complex diacritics used by many languages that have only recently acquired a writing system (these days, those tend to be Latin based with diacritics) and that have never been of commercial interest to many companies. OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Thunderbird support the same smart font rendering engine, but MS Office only works with OpenType which embeds the logic in the engine itself and therefore doesn't support some languages.

Re:No, loathing not really contagious (2)

fluffy99 (870997) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110523)

This critic just comes across as whiny to me.

Also non-technical. He's a writer who dislikes Word and managed to find a few technical sound-bits to support his argument, but doesn't seem to understand them. For example style sheets require the use of control codes. It's just that the control codes can specify the change directly, or they can refer to the style sheet.

Re:No, loathing not really contagious (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110613)

You kinda missed the point. It is not the poor formatting of Word he is ranting about. It is the fact that we are all forced to use it. You are lucky in that your editor of choice is the winner. But for those of us that prefer Scribus, or Libra, or just any damn thing without a fucking ribbon interface, it is a different story.

Free software probably can't do better (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110215)

because Word is the quintessential example an app where you need a large paid development staff with varying skill sets, including many (UI design, usability, localization, QA, end user support, documentation, incorporating specialized features for customers such as law firms, integration with legacy enterprise software...) which historically have not been the strengths of FOSS.

And here's something that's often overlooked: even if FOSS could put together a team to do this (perhaps with some resources loaned by IBM or Red Hat or someone else), it's not enough to do it once. Or twice. The software has to be maintained year after year and upgraded to reflect the ever-changing requirements of businesses and consumers, and people expect professional UI design, usability, localization, QA, and doc.

Ref. Fred Brooks' article about the difference between the level of effort required to produce a "neat little tool" vs. a commercial product. Brooks came up with a factor of 9, and it wasn't just about having more folks involved... it was different kinds of folks too.

Re:Free software probably can't do better (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110315)

The software has to be maintained year after year and upgraded to reflect the ever-changing requirements of businesses and consumers

You're making a great argument here AGAINST Word, BTW. Why in the fuck should a *word processor* require yearly updates? SEPARATION OF CONCERNS, DO YOU SPEAK IT?

Re:Free software probably can't do better (1)

sosume (680416) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110453)

Because the use cases, paradigms and business environments change. Word 95 was sufficient in 1995; nowadays I need Word to be compatible with the cloud, be secure, and integrate with modern environments. So you do need the regular upgrade cycle or you'll be stuck with 90's technology.

Re:Free software probably can't do better (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110533)

Huh? FOSS has produced LyX. It has been maintained for many years already, no problem there. Maintenance over time, and backwards compatibility with old versions, is something FOSS do better than MS. Today's LyX will open 12 year old documents - and future versions will too.

A new word processor does not need to cover every use-case from the first day. So what if you don't have "specialized features for law firms?" Use it outside of law then. Or have an interested law firm fund a developer for their special needs. A nice thing about FOSS is that you get exactly as many paid developers as the market wants.

An organization who can afford to hire developers, can get anything they want from open source software. They usually cannot get that from proprietary products, no matter how many developers they can afford. For they can't get to the proprietary source to improve it.

LibreOffice Write is excellent... (4, Informative)

dryriver (1010635) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110229)

... and since discovering it, I have felt no need to use MS Word for anything anymore. Particularly good about LibreOffice Write? The PDF export function works flawlessly, exports quickly, and also gives control over how the PDF document appears in Acrobat Reader (Zoom level, page order, thumbnails, et cetera). To me, Word has had its day. LibreOffice Write works well, is free, requires no internet-licensing shenanigans and does everything one could expect from a good word processor, including auto spell-checking and thesaurus functionality. My 2 Cents. =)

Re:LibreOffice Write is excellent... (1)

sideslash (1865434) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110261)

I strongly agree on the usefulness of Write's PDF support; and it's great that Microsoft was thereby pushed into including matching PDF support in Word.

The problem I have with OpenOffice and LibreOffice is that they have allowed some severe bugs to linger. For example, for the last few years and even today with the latest version of Calc (in either O.O. or L.O.), I get these long freezes when I do something as simple as copy a cell in a spreadsheet. And I'm talking as simple as just create a new spreadsheet, fill in a few cells, and hit Control+C to copy one cell. It's quite pathetic. Fortunately, I have a copy of Office.

Re:LibreOffice Write is excellent... (1)

Nivag064 (904744) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110595)

The LibreOffice spreadsheet (Calc) has had performance improvements in most major releases.

However, I have recently read that a massive amount of effort is now going in to make the LibreOffice spreadsheet very much faster (amongst several other useful enhancements), though this might not show up significantly before LibreOffice 4.2. One of the key things is changing from handling each cell as an individual instance of an object to a more efficient approach.

Re:LibreOffice Write is excellent... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110267)

Is it like OpenOffice Write, or is that a different project?

Re:LibreOffice Write is excellent... (1)

dryriver (1010635) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110291)

Its very, very similar - a lot of shared DNA - but I think LibreOffice Write has some extra functionality - like the right-click Thesaurus - that isn't in OpenOffice Write. I could be wrong though since I don't have OO Write installed right now.

Re:LibreOffice Write is excellent... (1)

AK Marc (707885) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110477)

The problem with all the Word look-a-likes is Word. My wife uses LO on her PC. Most job applications require "Word format" and many will not take PDF. So she can't put it in a portable document format. It goes out as a .DOC. The problem with that is there's not a 100% match between all the Word-clones. So she has to send it to me (I have Word), and I have to re-format it and send it back to her. Content is never lost, but going for the polished attention-to-detail look for a resume doesn't work when the tables end up misaligned and page breaks are in poor locations. So MS Word will always have a place in our house, so long as 99% of the planet uses it almost exclusively.

Re:LibreOffice Write is excellent... (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110627)

I also prefer it. But there are still those places that say "Submit your resume in MS Word format." For a Linux sys-admin job... Sigh...

Typing above a table is still a PITA! (2)

bogaboga (793279) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110231)

My problem with [MS] Word is this: If you have a table as the first item/object in your document and you'd like to type above it, it's impossible to do this! Moving the table lower moves the document margins as well! Solution is to delete it and "reserve" space for text with an invisible text box or type some irrelevant text first, which text you can replace with the text you want.

It's as pathetic as it is frustrating!

Re:Typing above a table is still a PITA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110343)

My problem with [MS] Word is this: If you have a table as the first item/object in your document and you'd like to type above it, it's impossible to do this! Moving the table lower moves the document margins as well! Solution is to delete it and "reserve" space for text with an invisible text box or type some irrelevant text first, which text you can replace with the text you want.

It's as pathetic as it is frustrating!

At least I can help you with that. Just put the insertion point in the first row of the table and insert a Page Break. If the table begins the document, then there are no paragraphs before it. And a Page Break requires there to be a paragraph for it to be inserted into.
Word's way of handling this is to insert a paragraph before the table and then insert a Page Break at the beginning of that paragraph. As soon as you insert the Page Break you can just select and delete it without affecting the paragraph that got magically created for its benefit.
Ta Da! Now you can type above the table.
You could also select the table and cut it, then paste it back in but NOT into the first paragraph, i.e., make sure you paste it into paragraph number two or later.
Thankyouverymuch!
I'll be here all week!

Re:Typing above a table is still a PITA! (1)

fluffy99 (870997) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110611)

I just tested this in Word 2007. Yes, I'd consider it a bug that if the table is the first object, you can't select in front of it in either draft or print view. The work around is pretty simply though. Add a return before you add the table as a place holder. Or to fix afterwards - select the table, cut the table, type your text and repaste the table.

If the table is the only thing on the page, then Word assumes if you're dragging it then what you really wanted is to adjust the margins. Otherwise dragging makes no sense as there is nothing to flow around the table as it's moving.

Wah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110237)

Funny how he claims its broken by design.

I use it very frequently, and while it is crap, it does actually work.

Re: Wah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110577)

That's a well thought argument. Having a broken leg in a cast is still fully functional. I can play soccer, run, swim (with the right materials), do martial arts, but you know what? If FUCKING SUCKS.
If you have a basis for comparison (there are many listed in these postings), then you could comment constructively. If you've had your leg in plaster your whole life, you know no better, and might even highlight the advantages, eg. Can't break a knee, or minimal wear and tear on knee ligaments ... Wow, must be good, amirite?

Re:Wah! (2)

houstonbofh (602064) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110631)

Funny how he claims its broken by design.

I use it very frequently, and while it is crap, it does actually work.

If you have used a rock to pound nails all your life, how can you understand the advantages of a hammer?

lol (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110239)

It's a goddamn word processor software. It does exactly what it's supposed to do. Who gives one fuck how it's built internally?

Write your fucking documents, and quit bitching.

Stross is a feminist lapdog (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110273)

And what he says is moot.

Ob WP Post (4, Insightful)

rueger (210566) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110281)

Yes, I still pine for WordPerfect 5.1, and even the early Windows versions.

Three words: Reveal, Codes, and Acerson.

With just those you could do damned near anything.

To this day, likely close to ten years since I stopped using WordPerfect, I still find myself clobbered by strange MS Word formatting edicts, with no obvious way to get rid of them.

At least with WP you could see why something was weird, and fix it.

Re:Ob WP Post (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110501)

Wordperfect is still going strong. I have a relative who has been using a version of WP since 5.2 on Windows 3.1. This version worked well until her old PC gave up the ghost (wouldn't POST.) On Windows 7 and Wordperfect X6, all her old WPD documents still open and work without issue.

The Reveal Codes feature is still there in WPX6, and it does work with Word docs.

These days, if I were to recommend an office suite, my first question would be what one is going to do with it, then go from there:

If one is exchanging documents, Microsoft Office is the lingua franca for documents. It is like the AutoCAD formats -- if you want your stuff to hit the mill, you use AutoCAD or you don't play ball. Yes, other programs can easily export/import to Word... but you usually get stuff that has came over 99% or 99.9% accurately... which means formatting is usually hosed, and formatting is critical for a lot of documents.

If one just wants something commercial, Wordperfect is still useful for legal stuff. It has kept with the times, and has not fallen into the subscription model that Office has.

For general use, I'd say it is a toss-up between LibreOffice, OOo, or Apple's Pages/Numbers/Keynote. Apple's iWork offering is decent, although Apple should take a look into it since its last major update was in '09, and not touched since.

Whiners (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110327)

One and all...

Alternatives? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110331)

So is their any decent alternatives? I personally do not really like MS:O nor OO all that much.
I have pretty much completely given up on all of them and just use unstyled text editors now.

Re:Alternatives? (1)

Anrego (830717) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110443)

LaTeX if you are generally technically minded and don't mind a learning curve. Lyx can take the edge of LaTeX while still preserving most of the benefits.

Scrivener is really popular with authors and seems generally geared more towards creative people vice technical people.

Framemaker has an almost cult following in certain circles, particularly tech writers in aerospace/defence/medical fields. It's a very powerful tool, but my god is it painful to use.

Re:Alternatives? (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110511)

Might give Wordperfect X6 a try. It is pretty decent, and the "pro" version is 300 bones, which isn't too bad for an office suite.

W. Richard Stevens writes: (3, Insightful)

Rick Richardson (87058) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110337)

"The last line of a right hand page should not end with a hyphen. This
has been a style rule for many years, yet it is amazing that most word
processors do not do this! I just smile when I pick up a book produced
with something like Frame and you immediately find these errors.
Needless to say, troff does this correctly, and has for 20+ years. A
friend commented to me that normal evolution would have gone Word to
Frame to troff, but instead, the computer industry has gone the other
way!"

-W. Richard Stevens, author of 7 popular technical books. [R.I.P.]

Re:W. Richard Stevens writes: (5, Insightful)

Blakey Rat (99501) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110629)

Gee, I can't imagine why people would use Word over this [sourceforge.net] .

Christ. This article, like so many here at Slashdot, summarizes to: Usability matters. Usability matters A LOT. Open source developers still don't fucking get it.

Here's a thought: if you want people to stop using Word, why not make something better than Word? Shocking.

All word-processors suck (4, Insightful)

dskoll (99328) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110347)

I've used Wordstar, Wordstar 2000 (or 3000?), WordPerfect, MS Word, and OpenOffice/LibreOffice writer and they all pretty much suck. Most people misuse them. They don't integrate well with other software. And they produce ugly results.

I wrote my master's thesis using FrameMaker which was quite a bit better. However, for my current document-production needs, I use LaTeX. I maintain the manuals for my company's software products and we have a great workflow for building the manuals. The same Makefile that builds the software also builds the manuals: PDF versions directly from the LaTeX and HTML versions using htlatex run on the LaTeX sources. Then a post-processor fixes things up so that our HTML documentation is linked context-sensitively from the web pages of our app, and special goodies like embedded training videos are placed in the HTML documentation at the right place.

The power and control we get from this workflow is unmatched.

Re:All word-processors suck (5, Funny)

wisnoskij (1206448) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110379)

You know the alternatives are really crappy when the better one is an Adobe product.

Re:All word-processors suck (2)

westlake (615356) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110519)

I use LaTeX. I maintain the manuals for my company's software products and we have a great workflow for building the manuals.

In other words, you've found a niche within your company where your LaTex skills are needed and appreciated. But how much of the routine clerical work that keeps your business afloat is routed through MS Office?

Rapture of the Nerds author doesn't like Word? (4, Insightful)

mschuyler (197441) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110381)

That about says it. Nobody else cares. I've been using Word since it came on two 5-1/4" floppy disks and included a mouse and used every version since what? 1983 or so? (Before that I used Zardax on an Apple ][ and, of course, WordStar.)

There's not a damn thing wrong with Microsoft Word. It is quite adequate--superb, even--for 99% of the people 99% of the time. I've written several 300 page books with it, including extensive indices, sidebars, tables, graphs, and pics and it works just fine. No, you can't do EVERYTHING you might want to do with it. And you might actually have to put some time in learning how it works, but ONE thing is CERTAIN:

It's not going to go away. The chances of it going away are equivalent to the chances the United States will convert to driving on the left. Only the nerds care about the arcane details under the hood.

Nobody else gives a rip.

Re:Rapture of the Nerds author doesn't like Word? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110451)

Heh. I love MS Word. That and MS Excel are probably the main reasons why Microsoft continually gets money from me for the office suite and their OS. Nothing on the FOSS landscape even comes close to the usability of these two applications. And I do kick the tires of OO and LibreOffice from time to time. There's simply no way that they are credible competitors.

First WYSIWYG word processor? (1)

codeusirae (3036835) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110385)

'Steve Jobs approached Bill Gates... to organize the first true WYSIWYG word processor for a personal computer --'

Ami .. was the first WYSIWYG .. word processor [wikipedia.org]

I don't get it (3, Interesting)

asmkm22 (1902712) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110409)

What exactly makes Word so bad? It seems functional enough, and I fully admit that maybe I'm just not understanding the finer points of some programming strategies, so what's the deal? He obviously hates Microsoft for things like buying up all these focused program adons like spell checkers from other companies, and wrapping them into Word, yet seems to think we'd be better off with somehow managing dozens of such apps if they were still separate companies and programs. He then goes on to act talk about how he hates being forced to use Word when he does just fine with other options... like Vim, of all things.

He mentions things like control codes and hierarchical style sheets being "fundamentally incompatible" yet the way he describes them they are basically the same thing. He very well may have a point, technically speaking, but he sure does a crappy job of getting it across.

End the end, the article kind of reminds me of some guy who's bitching about how the automotive industry should have gone with diesel instead of fuel 70 years ago.

Re:I don't get it (2)

Anrego (830717) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110505)

Word is good for casual word processing, but the cracks show when working on anything large, or where multiple people are working on the same document.

That said, those people who work on large documents or documents that get edited over a long period of time by different people have lots of tools available that support this (LaTeX, Scrivener, and Framemaker are the big three I see all the time).

I said it in an earlier post, but word is basically the lowest common denominator. It's a tool that basically does what most people need out of it, that just about everyone has access to and can deal with. When people need more, there's lots of available options.

Less is more (1)

BlackHawk-666 (560896) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110429)

After years of riding the feature wagon I am finally detoxing and going with the 'less is more' idiom. For me, a programmer and rare blogger, 98% of everything I ever need to write can be handled with either H1-H6 or markdown. I write my notes is Notepad++ using Markdown now, and paste them into my Wiki for storage and later retrieval. Blogs are knocked out with the most basic of HTML features.

I haven't had MS Turd installed for over a decade now and don't think I'm likely to ever need it again. The only outlying case for me is my CV, and I keep that in Open Office and export it to PDF for distribution.

Get off your high horse (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110461)

In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they're fundamentally incompatible and you can get into a horrible mess by applying simple character formatting to a style-driven document, or vice versa. Word was in fact broken by design, from the outset -- and it only got worse from there.

How is this broken by design? The author seems to think that a hierarchical format that uses a small set of inline codes for paragraph structure and formatting hints is inferior to Wordperfect's completely unstructured stream. With Word's hierarchy you can safely move blocks of data around without the risk of accidentally leaving control codes in the wrong place. Somehow that is supposed to be a bad thing?

Most of his rant centers about retelling history and griping about the file format incompatibilities between different versions and the challenge of creating an independent reader for the binary format. He gives the impression that the world would be a better place if we were all stuck on using Wordstar for sharing documents and Microsoft should never have had the ambition to add features to Word. Yes. Binary Word documents are baroque nightmare to decode. That's what happens when you carry a design forward for 20+ years that wasn't architected for clean forward compatibility. Considering the early versions of Word were implemented in assembly and run on machines with tiny scraps of memory, the design "flaws" were necessities of the day. Yes. DOCX has a lot of undocumented cruft to support translation from the old binary format. Word 2007+ avoids using those dark corners for documents that were not imported from an earlier version. You don't have to use that cruft at all when building XML documents from an external tool which is far better than the old hack of generating RTF to interoperate with Word.

Word has its issues and has to be coddled to avoid breakage in long-standing problems like numbering but at least I don't have to pull my hair out trying to do basic table formatting as happens in Open/LibreOffice. I'll switch when the open source rivals can match the capability and usability of Word 2003.

Am I Asking Too Much? (5, Insightful)

rueger (210566) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110469)

My number one wish for any word processor, but especially Word, is a switch that says:

I'm writing a document that will be printed out on paper with black toner.

At a minimum, I don't want e-mail addresses or URLs changed to blue, or underlined, or hyperlinked.

My number two wish is a switch that says:

Anything pasted into this document will adopt the formatting of the line into which it is being pasted.

I cannot think of a single instance, ever, when I wanted the formatting from some web page to be carried over into my document. My final wish is to find a word processor that assumes, or at least makes really easy to specify, that the Page One Header will not be used on subsequent pages. I don't recall how Word does that these days, but in LibreOffice it involves creating a style just for the first page. Assuming that you've managed to Google the specific forum post that tells you that.

Re:Am I Asking Too Much? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110621)

My number one wish for any word processor, but especially Word, is a switch that says:

I'm writing a document that will be printed out on paper with black toner.

At a minimum, I don't want e-mail addresses or URLs changed to blue, or underlined, or hyperlinked.

My number two wish is a switch that says:

Anything pasted into this document will adopt the formatting of the line into which it is being pasted.

I cannot think of a single instance, ever, when I wanted the formatting from some web page to be carried over into my document.

My final wish is to find a word processor that assumes, or at least makes really easy to specify, that the Page One Header will not be used on subsequent pages. I don't recall how Word does that these days, but in LibreOffice it involves creating a style just for the first page. Assuming that you've managed to Google the specific forum post that tells you that.

It is a very difficult and arcane setting. Double click the header. ove your mouse over to the menu that word contextually provided to the top option confusingly named
"Different First Page" the following steps are optional. Sacrifice a virgin. Chant in Latin. strip naked and roll in bacon grease.

FrameMaker (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110507)

FrameMaker should not be ignored. I started with version 4 and haven't used the versions after versions 6 and 7 for Mac and Windows, but it was incredibly fast, powerful, and amazingly bulletproof. Word led the way into some of the worst possible paradigms for page, character, and paragraph formatting, variable handling, and cross-referencing you could imagine. Frame approached everything differently and it really was brilliant. Adobe will never be forgiven for its FrameMaker decisions, by the way, but I'll leave that topic is for another day.

The sad thing is that so many other word processing applications imitated Word down to every single bad paradigm decision.

Bad design paradigms inevitably lead to limitations and bugs. I loved one bug that may still be in Word even today that involved auto-updating fields like StyleRefs in headers and footers (to display heading text, a standard document feature). You might also, of course, insert those fields in tables in the headers or footers, for certain positioning advantages. And, of course, Word lets tables extend outside of their own text columns.

The bug would arise in circumstances in which you might end up needing to edit that mess, modifying fields, formatting, table dimensions, etc. Guess what could happen next?

Well, you know how important it is to make sure you save your document frequently in case of something going wrong? With the help of the bug, Word could create a really magical crash in which the document you were working on would simply vaporize itself, never to be seen again, regardless of having been saved.

Changed file format each version? (0)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110563)

Microsoft changed the file format repeatedly -- with Word 95, Word 97, in 2000, and again in 2003 and more recently

What is he talking about?

Starting with Word 97, the file format didn't change at all until Word 2007. Word 97 could open files created by Word 2003, it would just ignore new features that were added in later versions.

Word 2007 introduced a completely accessible format, a zipped XML format, and it hasn't changed since. Microsoft even released free updates for older versions of Word so that they could open the 2007 format.

If the author wants to complain, he should at least get his facts straight!

The one true answer (2)

stox (131684) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110573)

troff + tbl + eqn

They wanted it dead in 1993. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,13 days | (#45110575)

There was even a song about it - hard to find nowadays.

It does the job (3, Insightful)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110605)

Word may have flaws, like every other piece of software ever written. But it does the job. Millions of not-so-computer-savvy people are able to created good-looking documents using it.

WordPerfect relied on the embedded codes model, but they never did get it completely right. For anything non-trivial, you pretty much had to go down to the code level, hand-placing the codes to make the text render properly. Copy-and-paste across formats was often disastrous.

Word's model might be conflicted, but it works. There are very few situations where the wysiwyg editor can't get the text to look like what you want.

If I'm creating a document, I don't really care whether the encoding is HTML or RTF or docx or whatever, I just want it to look right, and Word does that.

It is a poor workman who blames his tools (2)

DrTime (838124) | 1 year,13 days | (#45110693)

I've used MS Word since version 1.05 on MacPlus. It was everything that people here complain about.

People misuse MS-Word to create monstrosities of crap that cannot be edited.Companies use its bizaro features to make unalterable files and forms that defy logic.However, it can also be used to create actual documents using styles and formatting that lets people get work done. Google Docs is a poor substitute (I have a Chromebook and tried). None of the office tools I've seen are perfect and none ever will be.

I' like to see tools that use descriptive formatting as SGML intended, but every application of SGML since its introduction has been made by document professionals that are worse than Word. XML sucks.

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