back to article 'Utterly unusable' MS Word dumped by SciFi author Charles Stross

British SciFi author Charles Stross once had the protagonist of his Laundry Files series, sysadmin/demon-hunter Bob Howard, narrate his day by saying “I'm sitting in my office, shivering over a cooling cup of coffee and reading The Register when my door opens without warning ...”*. Stross is welcome in these pages for that …


      1. hplasm Silver badge

        Re: Confused

        "...end customer is using windows 8 and Office that’s what you use."

        CS's End Customer is using his eyeballs. It's the bloody middleman that's using Worm.

  1. Gavin McMenemy

    After all that expensive IT training ...

    After all that expensive IT training. All that time implementing and designing networks I have probably spent the most time helping colleagues "fix" their Word docs.

    Whether it's understanding why a page has broken here...

    "Or why all those extra blank pages are appearing... Maybe we need to put in a landscape page here... but keep the table on one page.

    Hang on what do all these multicoloured boxes mean (track changes). And why has the style changed inexplicably, why is this bullet list all numbered wrong."

    I have spent a LOT of time helping people with Word.

    Don't get me wrong. I actually don't think Word is that bad (yes I did just type that) but the problems are: there are tons of ways of achieving the end goal but no one wants to train the end user how to make the best use of Word. And if you suggest some extra training you are often stared at blankly and told "But I know how to use Word". Though the truth is that we just spent some significant time fixing THAT document.

    (and yes I still don't think it's their fault)

  2. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge


    Do Word docs still leak data? Last time I looked they contained the directory tree and other information about your PC. This was some years ago so MS might have tidied it up by now.

  3. Alan Denman

    Microsoft reach parts of authors no typewriter could ever reach

    Yes, your software soon gets declared last century.

    They owned the original SNAREtm

  4. glen waverley

    Amipro aka Wordpro?

    See title.

    Had to use it at a job site some (ok, many) years ago. Loved the way it separated content from style sheets. Avoided using MSWord for many years for the duration of that job.

  5. ganymede io device

    Sometimes fonts and layout DO matter

    It's fascinating to realise that the first Hugo award winner, Alfred Bester's "The Demolished Man", experiments with fonts and layouts on the page to describe telepathic conversations.

    Written in 1953.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Sometimes fonts and layout DO matter

      Yes but the tool for typesetting your novel is not a word-processor. Surely the publisher should do that - obviously the author would indicate the intent in his version.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes fonts and layout DO matter

      Obviously formatting and other aspects of visual presentation can convey information and have rhetorical force.1 Anyone with a passing understanding of written language acknowledges that.

      But that does not mean that conflating content and presentation is a good idea. Cognitive studies have demonstrated the drawbacks of switching between tasks, and composition studies confirm that jumping between content creation and formatting impedes the writing process. For the majority of writers there are very few cases where attempting to deal with both verbal content and visual presentation simultaneously is an effective way to work.

      And, of course, The Demolished Man is a relatively late entrant into the field of literature that uses formatting this way, coming as it does at the end of High Modernism. Props to Bester for doing it (ironically, SF as a genre tended to lag in literary innovation, at least until the "New Wave" was firmly established), but the fact that it was published in '53 isn't especially noteworthy.

      1For audiences that can perceive them. Some visual formatting can be transposed, in fairly obvious ways, to other registers for visually-impaired users; with other types it's more difficult. There's scads of research on the topic, of course.

    3. keithpeter

      Re: Sometimes fonts and layout DO matter

      It's fascinating to realise that the first Hugo award winner, Alfred Bester's "The Demolished Man", experiments with fonts and layouts on the page to describe telepathic conversations.

      Upvote for Bester reference. Those who are not familiar with his work should google for the bibliography (and biography).

      Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was using typographical effects to comment on the main narritive well back in the days of lead type in forms. He (and his printer) managed to get it to work for them. Surely we can manage an end-to-end distributed text editing and change tracking system for the novel industry at this (late) stage in the form?

    4. Dan Paul

      Re: Sometimes fonts and layout DO matter @Ganymede to device

      Upvote for mentioning Alfred Bester! One of the best SF writers of the past century.

  6. Ken 16 Silver badge

    I'm a big fan of WPS Office

    As the only office suite which runs on Linux and which successfully interprets MS Word formatting, comments and changes.

    1. revdjenk

      Re: I'm a big fan of WPS Office

      But it still keeps you in the MS proprietary cage, with fewer additional formats available to open, edit or save.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: I'm a big fan of WPS Office

        The article and several comments note that if your editor is in the cage, you basically have no choice but to climb in.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Word processors are in general awful for creative writing. The number of times I've been distracted by the interface / weird formatting choices of a word processor are too numerous to count.

    Saddly I'm yet to find a tool that helps the writing process, there are few that seem to be getting there celtx and scrivener are good options. Both are better than your average wordprocessor.

  8. NomNomNom

    Real Authors use Notepad

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boo effin' hoo

    Using Word every day to write documents, and having to provide amended documentation to clients in track changes, I can say that Word works very well indeed.

    If Mr. I-write-on-a-mac-cos-i'm-all-creative doesn't bother to familiarise himself with *the single tool of his trade*, then he deserves all that's coming to him. Good luck with the 'buggy' track changes in Libre Office. I'll stick with properly understanding the perfectly good tracking in Word.


    1. hplasm Silver badge

      Re: Boo effin' hoo

      Good for you- how's that writing award shelf coming on?


  10. ecofeco Silver badge

    Office now officially crapware

    I've given Office a chance. Been using it now for several years, new ribbon and all.

    If fucking sucks and was a giant step backwards. About as intuitive and easy to use as a fish riding a bicycle.

  11. Wombling_Free

    just the single reference

    Did you not notice that Bob Howard's full name is Bob Oliver Francis Howard?

    I also have a theory that Charlie Stross and aManFromMars share the same quantum waveform.

  12. AndrueC Silver badge

    Word is a bit more tolerable if people do the following:

    1. Use styles.

    Seriously - don't just select 'Bold' for your headings. This goes for paragraphs as well. Create styles and use those.If you want to include text in a different font (eg; italics for quotes or fixed font for some source) create a style. Don't just rely on 'Normal'. Create a style for the text under each heading (Heading 1, Body 1, Heading 2, Body 2, Source 2 etc.).

    It makes Word happier (probably because it reduces the mark-up it needs so documents are less fragile) and makes a lot of document-wide operations more sane (like disabling spell checking and auto formatting for source code paragraphs). If a document has multiple contributors it encourages conformity.

    2. Never (ever. Seriously)

    Edit or define hierarchically numbered heading styles. Life is too short. Your co-workers might tolerate some occasional profanity but no-one should be expected to put up with the torrent of abuse that you will unleash if you start messing with these styles.

  13. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    I believe that most of the really great authors used quill pens and paper ...

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Quill pens were dominant in Europe for about a millennium and a half, and in European colonies for the last few centuries of that era. That may sound impressive, but paper as a medium only came into vogue in the last third, only gradually displacing parchment and vellum. Meanwhile, considerable writing was done outside Europe using other instruments, most notably brushes in the Far East.

      There are certainly those who would argue that c. 1500-1850 Europe and North America represents a large concentration of "the really great authors", but it rather strains credulity to claim that "most" used quill & paper.

      Since "really great" is obviously subjective, I glanced through a few lists like this one (which is based on other lists, not the author's own predelictions). Looks to me like about 15% likely composed with quill & paper - and that's a very Eurocentric list.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...and for the starving writers

    Works on Windows and Wine (kinda like me)


    It was built for writers and its free, though it only produces RTF as I recall.

  15. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I decied I didn't like word the first time I had to use it.

    I used some DTP programs before word existed, that CLEARLY separated content from formatting, but Word made that hard to impossible, and everyone using Word seemed to make no effort at all to actually do this. What a mess. Perhaps Word is better nowadays, but with their proprietary doc format I'm just not that interested.


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