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back to article 'Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination'

This was the week when Brit sci-fi author Charles Stross published an almighty rant about the omnipotence of Microsoft Word and how the program should just up and die. And being a writer, he's capable of a few good putdowns: Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination, a petty, unimaginative, inconsistent dictator that is ill …

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Steve Jobs was born in 1955 - WWII ended in 1945 - this account is obviously a complete fabrication.

Now, I don;'t believe in reincarnation but is it me or is this poster a)logically deficient or b) a massive 'tard? A WWII fighter pilot could have died at any time before 1946 and, according to the reincarnation crowd, reborn at at any time after that. So what's the problem? Exactly?

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A tard...

A WWII fighter pilot could have died at any point after the start of the war. Presumably Jobsy thought he was one because of his urge to pull back on the wheel and fly his car, though how he arrived at this being from WWII I don't know. To my knowledge, no fighter planes of the second world war had a two-handed wheel or yoke. Most had a joystick and the spitfire had a round one-handed wheel (on the end of a joystick). Two hands on the wheel would be more akin to a bomber or transport, which is why Jobsy "sexed it up" to make it sound more exciting...

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Happy

Re: A tard...

Perhaps he was channeling Troy Tempest?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A tard...

> Two hands on the wheel would be more akin to a bomber or transport.

British fighter planes of the time had the ring welded to a stick type yoke which was meant to be held in both hands and a lot of heavy fighters like the beaufighter, the mosquito and the P-38 had legit wheels.

However I think the ME109 was probably more his style and that had a stick.

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SSD

I agree here, this pilot may have died of cancer or was hit by a car in '55? Fun Fact - Some of the Air force(British/American/Japanese/German etc.) actually made it out of WW2 alive!

And who's to say that reincarnation means you move straight into your next body/form anyway? If you believe in reincarnation surely you can beleive in going into a state of purgatory/heaven aswell? We don't know what Jobs beliefs were, even if he followed a religion, everyone has their own version of their religion.

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Trollface

Re: A tard...

> However I think the ME109 was probably more his style and that had a stick

I see what you did there.

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"Fun Fact - Some of the Air force(British/American/Japanese/German etc.) actually made it out of WW2 alive!"

Otherwise you wouldn't be reading my comment.

Although to be picky it was, at the time, the Army Air Corps my dad was in.

"And who's to say that reincarnation means you move straight into your next body/form anyway? If you believe in reincarnation surely you can beleive in going into a state of purgatory/heaven aswell?"

Not to mention the possibility that his "soul" stopped off in some kid who was born as a fighter pilot was dying and died as Jobs was being born, and didn't have a life glamorous enough (fighter pilot being a tough act to follow) to have made much of an impression on ol' Steve.

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assuming

and all this assumes that time is linear for the dead....

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Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

And Charles Stross is not alone or the first, here's an 'oldie but goldie' from Edward Tufte on PowerPoint:

http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint

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Coat

Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

an xymoron - an idiot with a graph.

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Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

Or a very confused male.

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Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

Not to mention the twin evils of Excel and Project:

Excel - forces you to think inside a 2-D grid of boxes.

Project - forces managers to use an outdated and inflexible model of project management.

I used to wonder if MSofties used their own tools but increasingly I think they have been. I speak from experience as I have worked for a number of failing engineering companies throughout my career and they all used these software packages extensively!

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Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

"Excel - forces you to think inside a 2-D grid of boxes."

Oh really so the computer grabs you by the throats and pulls you into the screen and forces you to work inside a 2D box does it? I doubt it.

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@The last doughnut

"Excel - forces you to think inside a 2-D grid of boxes."

Weren't spreadsheets supposed to emulate - well, paper (as in 2-D) spreadsheets? (As I first heard them called, though Wikipedia says they're worksheets, apparently.) MS isn't the only one guilty in that case.

"I speak from experience as I have worked for a number of failing engineering companies throughout my career and they all used these software packages extensively!"

You've mentioned two things those companies have in common.

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Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

"Excel - forces you to think inside a 2-D grid of boxes.

Project - forces managers to use an outdated and inflexible model of project management.

"

Neither do what you say - if that’s how you work, it’s your own inadequacy and the desire to rely on incorrect tools to do the job

Project management - which is what I get paid for - is about human interaction and judgment, balancing hopes and expectations against complexities of which the project members usually have no idea exist and mostly would be beyond their ken even if exposed to them

MS Project just gives you a planning tool to look at who should be doing what and where - so if you consider its for project management you are a twat.

As for engineering co.s failing - correlation does not signify causation - if you are talking about Brit ones - most fail because of two things - lack of market understanding and awful financial management. For the latter maybe if they had used Excel they might have delayed their demise

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Re: @The last doughnut

"Weren't spreadsheets supposed to emulate - well, paper (as in 2-D) spreadsheets? (As I first heard them called, though Wikipedia says they're worksheets, apparently.) MS isn't the only one guilty in that case"

Yes. I am old enough to remember a time before Visicalc, and so whole walls of a financial or engineering departments in big companies would be coated with paper into which people wrote numbers and then did calcs and carried results.

The growth of Apple 2e was based on Visicalc replacing this method, and then Lotus 123 on IBM (bigger spreadsheet and a few snazzy clacs) swept it away - and the rest follows.

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Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

Nice. I was making a Friday beer joke. And I almost exclusively use xemacs.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron @The last doughnut

"Nice. I was making a Friday beer joke. And I almost exclusively use xemacs."

Always hard to tell when people are making jokes around here. Apart from the easy, trite ones. Though I thoughy hplasm's xymoron graph thing was good.

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Re: Mircosoft makes 'Productivity Software' sound like an xymoron

Don't most Excel users work in cubicles?

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Bad workmen.

Nuff said.

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FAIL

Re: Bad workmen.

Stross has had well over a dozen novels published commercially - recent works making #1 in the US and UK Amazon sales rankings in their category - and won several Locus and Hugo awards.

Wish I was as bad a workman as that.

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Pint

Re: Bad workmen.

"A bad workman always blames his tools"

Don't fall into the trap of assuming that anyone who complains about the quality of tools must be a bad workman. That's not what the old proverb tells us.

A good workman knows bad tools from good and won't use them. That's part of what it is to be a good workman. Anyone choosing bad tools will, of course, turn out not to be a good workman, and some of the blame for that will be down to the tools he uses.

Charles Stross is a successful author. Not a bad workman at all (you may not like his books, but they do sell so he's doing something right). He does not use the tools (MS Word) that he's complaining about (read the blog, he uses something called 'Scrivener'). He is a good workman criticizing the tools that others use -- and complaining that some of those others (his publishers) can't see how bad they are.

Beer for Charlie, because he's right!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bad workmen. @dajames

"(you may not like his books, but they do sell so he's doing something right)."

To play Devil's Advocate, that could be said about Word and other MS stuff too. In all honesty I don't feel sales of books are an indication of quality - there's no quality in fiction - just whether someone likes it or not. Entirely subjective. Just my two pence worth about that bit - I realise software quality is another matter, but to be honest I don't mind Word. But as others have said, for my needs I could just as easily use something like Wordpad.

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novels and editing

What Charlie Stross is actually complaining about is the fact the publishing industry has been making increasing use of Microsoft Word formats in document production systems "And they expect me to integrate myself into a Word-centric workflow". Word processing is an open market, there are many alternatives for writers - he mentions Scrivener (recommended).

Most novels I read make precious little use of typography so I'm rather curious what onerous load is placed on Mr Stross by his publishers. A topic he largely ignores in that piece in favour of sharing his personal take on the history of word processors. After all its ever so fashionable to rant against Microsoft and its products.

My own view on word processing is not a million miles from his. Disappointing that alternatives to the Microsoft Word philosophy of word processing (imitated by Libre/OpenOffice) remain in the margins. However "Microsoft Word has to die before we can move on" is pure polemic. More useful if commentators would focus on what can be done to open up the world beyond Microsoft Office and what if any obstacles lie in that road.

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Re: novels and editing

My wife was looking at self-publishing on Kindle, and all of the tutorials assume that you use Microsoft Word as one of the last-steps in the formatting process (just prior to submitting the resultant file for final conversion by Amazon).

When I pointed out that Libre Office could write .doc and .docx files, she showed me various reports that somehow the resultant files would be unreadable on a Kindle, all written by people who appeared to know very little about font, typeface and styles from what I read, so I don't totally believe that you can't use other tools. Seems like there is either some (unspecified) fundamental lock-in, or a lot of misinformation washing around, which creates a feeling of FUD amongst writers.

Eventually I ended up putting one of our limited number of Home and Student 2007 licenses we have onto her machine (licence obtained to satisfy our local secondary school for whom using Impress to create assessed presentations would result in the work not being marked!) just to stop her complaining.

Maybe I ought to write something myself and see what the process really is. If I can get it working and document it, it may enable self-published ebook writers to escape from the Microsoft hegemony.

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@eter Gathercole (Re: novels and editing)

Yes. Good idea. You could even use Amazon to self-publish a book about your experiences in self-publishing on Amazon.

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Re: @eter Gathercole (novels and editing)

It's been done, but not using Open Source software!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: novels and editing

I wrote a novel using Emacs and some simple mark-up that I found convenient. The publisher asked for Word, so I converted my text to HTML with a tiny Perl script, converted the HTML into RTF using OpenOffice.org, and sent in the RTF. The publisher seemed happy enough with that.

Novels are one of the easiest cases: there's not much mark-up and they take long enough to write that ten minutes spent converting them is not a significant burden.

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Go

Re: novels and editing

> Maybe I ought to write something myself and see what the process really is.

I did - and I wrote it in LibreOffice, no less! I had zero problems with formatting issues. I simply laid out the manuscript exactly as I liked, artwork and all, and produced a PDF for CreateSpace to drop print. Publishing was the easy part, actually, it's writing a manuscript that takes the time.

You can see the results at http://www.amazon.com/Elven-Fire-Living-Vida-Medieval/dp/146620074X/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1382351938&sr=8-10&keywords=elven+fire (NOT advertising, it's a manual for a role-playing game we developed with and for our children and grandchildren, sort of a Lawful Good-only variant that you would expect from a grandpa ;-).

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My prediction is that the iWatch will be the beginning of the end of iFashion

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right on

Word is a "pita"

fortunately msft strong-armed the ISO into adopting their ooxml standards for the new iso open document standards.

i note that LibreOffice v.4 is now better at compatibility with the hated ms/word . hopefully others e.g. Google Docs will join in breaking this nasty ms/word monopoly like a punkin after Halloween

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Anonymous Coward

Re: right on @mike acker

You know, if you'd run that through Word first it would've picked up your failure to capitalise your sentences (a pet peeve of mine,) and your mis-spelling of pumpkin :)

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Re: right on

Maybe LibreOffice is getting better at playing catch up, but it's still playing catch up. It's targeting the same market as Word, so develops the same features. For Mr Stross (who I'm sure it's been mentioned is a *nix user anyway), I can't imagine LibreOffice is any better than Word. And for the people who want to do what Word is meant to do, Word is still the best in the market.

There's really not any point expecting a serious competitor for the mass-market word processor, because it's just not feasible for a small company to compete with MS -- and if they did any good at it they'd be bought up by Google or Sun or MS themselves to improve their products.

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Stop

Re: right on @mike acker

Unless he turned off the auto-capitalization feature, given it often can't tell the difference between a sentence and other character strings containing periods/full stops.

Or had turned off auto-correct entirely, being tired of, say, trying to type an abbreviation such as "BMW" only to find MS Word has helpfully "corrected" it to "Bmw".

Or unless he turned off the "Check spelling..." option, being tired of distracting red underlines in documents containing perfectly good words the built-in dictionary doesn't happen to know (you don't work in biological research or advanced science, do you?)

I don't care for misspellings either, believe in rules of grammar, do my best to write well. However, this is an informal online forum, and contributors are often in a hurry.

Sure, I'll be one of the first to point and jeer at a mistake in an edited, proofread, professional publication.

But suggesting someone run their comment through a word processor before posting seems a bit cruel. If there is anywhere we should be allowed freedom from the tyranny and repression of exposure to buggy, crashing applications, it is here. A time and place to rest and recover from the software beating we take elsewhere.

Also: Vive l'orthographe créative!

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.doc format retired 6+ years ago

Microsoft changed their default formats to a much more readable, XML-based "Office Open XML" format with their 2007 releases. Since he complains about the ribbon, Mr Stross is surely aware of it, yet still complains about the old file format. Does he complain about the data transfer rate of using 90min cassette tapes as well?

Word is not without its problems, but it's not intended to be something to fuel your imagination. It's meant to let you type stuff and format it with the minimum of fuss -- which in fairness, it does. For a generic word processor, it is by far the best-in-class -- as are Excel and PowerPoint.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: .doc format retired 6+ years ago

Indeed, why is he surprised that a productivity tool originally written by enterprise FOR enterprise documents isn't compatible with the publishing industry?

Not really a case of worker blaming his tools, more like his industry adopting the wrong tool for the job.

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Devil

More dour proficies

iWatch won't just be a totally unnecessary bit of kit that links up to your other iStuff, but will instead be a fruity overlord over the entire home.

So will it let you choose ring tones?

Or will it just have one ring to rule them all?

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wheels and Word

Back in the 1960s there were stories of pilots who had to fight the impulse to pull the wheel back to pass on the highway. I'm guessing they weren't new then, and that Steve Jobs had heard them in childhood. Will the next Steve Jobs think that he was reincarnated from a helicopter pilot and be tempted to use clutch and accelerator as rudder pedals?

As for Word, Stross uses it to write documents far longer than most of us do. I don't object to it, particularly, but it unusual for me to write even a 10-page document with it.

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Most writers I know use Scrivener these days (including me). It's a tool very much designed around how writers work. Word clearly tries to please everyone - most people getting an compromised experience and a horrific mess of bloated functionality - much of which I suspect the majority of users will never touch. I couldn't imagine having to use Word for creative writing, but similarly, Word *is* pretty useful in the context of my day-job.

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Word is appalling, complicated bloatware. By trying to give you the options to 'create' a document, it just ends up overwhelming everybody.

So called professional programs such as InDesign and Quark are actually a hell of a lot easier to use and much more user friendly.

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"deliberately or intentionally"

Redundancy. Tsk!

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