Word Should Live–But We Need Something Else

Steve Wildstrom / April 11th, 2012

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.




Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Milosavp39

    I am surprised that as a veteran technology writer you have not heard of Openoffice / Libreoffice writer, part of the free office suit supported by IBM and other major players … including Google. With over 25 million users world wide its not exactly unknown.
    Australia is just too Microsoft concentric. Europe on the other hand has a far more holistic view of things. A good example of this is the French governments recent adoption of the Libreoffice suit and its distribution of 800,000 usb copies to its educational institutions … meanwhile here in Australia most students are still forced to fork out for Microsoft products and are course content is totally Microsoft biased.

    Milosav Pelic
    IT Consultant

    • steve_wildstrom

      I’ve known about OpenOffice/LibreOffice/Lotus Symphony/StarOffice for years. It’s an alternative to Word but I don’t think it offers the sort of stripped-down simplicity I am hoping for. In some ways it’s worse: The complexity of Word with a loss polished UI. (The same is true of Word Perfect, which is still out there after all these years and still has a small but devoted following, mostly in the legal profession.)

      OpenOffice has fans mainly among those who object to dependence on Microsoft in principle. Cost is sometimes cited as an issue, but for most enterprises, the initial cost of Office pales besides the support and training costs of a free alternative. Compatibility is a big issue, especially with Excel.

  • “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.”

    True. Yet for over a decade IT departments have dogmatically insisted that Word is the one and only indispensable word processing program for the Enterprise.

    The combination of mobile word processing solutions and Office’s absence from the mobile space may have finally broken the spell. For well over two years, users have had to learn to use word processing programs other than Microsoft Word. And much to their surprise they’ve learned that smaller, more nimble and more focused word applications often suit their purposes far better than Word ever did.

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