Word Should Live–But We Need Something Else

Deadspin editor Tom Scocca has written a rant for Slate calling for the death of Microsoft Word. Many of his complaints are well grounded, but miss the point. what we really need is not to get rid of word, which remains an indispensable tool in many contexts, but a much simple application for people who just want to write with a minimum of fuss.

Word iconReuters’ Jack Shafer got close to the heart of the problem when he tweeted “Word isn’t for writing. It’s for document design.” The enterprise product that Word has evolved into is designed for the production of documents far more complex than most people will ever work with.

In one of my many lives, I work as a technical writer creating and editing contract proposals in response to very detailed Requests for Proposals. These documents have to meet precise formatting requirements, are long and complex, are worked on by large teams, and are subject to complex, multi-tiered review. I find myself regularly using a great many Word functions that I never thought about as a journalist. Word–or something like it–is necessary for this sort of work, which is very common in corporations, government, and other large enterprises.

Most people could use a tool that just lets them write and handle relatively simply formatting. In the Apple world, Pages is not a bad solution, but I don’t know of anything quite like it for Windows. Google Docs is OK, provided you can always be online when you want to write. Microsoft didn’t have much incentive to fix this as long as it could sell consumers copies of Office for $150 of more, but I suspect those days are over.

That said, a lot of Scocca’s specifics are off-base. One of the beauties of Word is that in compensation for all that complexity, you get the opportunity to customize pretty much everything about how it works. He complains bitterly about Word’s auto-correct feature (while I, rotten typist that I am, miss desperately when typing in the WordPress editor) but doesn’t seem to realize that it can be turned off with exactly three mouse clicks (Tools–>Auto Correct–>uncheck Automatically correct spelling and formatting as you type.) Even better, a little work will create an auto correct list that automatically fixes the typing mistakes you make frequently while leaving everything else alone.