back to article Brit Sci-Fi author Alastair Reynolds says MS Word 'drives me to distraction'

In August last year, one-time-sysadmin and now SciFi author Charles Stross declared Microsoft Word ”a tyrant of the imagination” and bemoaned its use in the publishing world. “Major publishers have been browbeaten into believing that Word is the sine qua non of document production systems,” he wrote. “And they expect me to …

  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Windows

    Not unheard of

    Well, since Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the Command Line" we were alerted to the vagaries of "Word".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not unheard of

      I wrote two novels on Google Docs. I gave it up because of extremely heavy bandwidth use that topped out my bandwidth. Libre Office is now my favorite software to compose books, but I do have to save the final copy as DOC for my editor.

      1. Roger 11

        Re: Not unheard of

        Not sure if serious.jpg.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not unheard of

        "Libre Office is now my favorite software to compose books"

        I can only assume you must be on a budget or you are using a *NIX OS for which there is no MS Office version. Libre Office is vastly inferior to Word for pretty much all parts of that task and is far more buggy.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Not unheard of

          MS word is vastly overloaded with feature bloat.

          Most people use less than a dozen features of their editor program. The rest is all just padding.

          One could as easily use Abiword, which is screamingly fast.

          Bear in mind that MS came to dominate the market not by being the best but by being "good enough" to do most functions for most people and "cheap". Once they had market domination they followed the lead of all monopolies everywhere and pursued lock-in as hard as they could.

          Libre and friends scare the shit out of MS, not because it's "the best" - but because it's "good enough" and "cheap"

          Personally I find the Libre UI somewhat more easy to use than MS's, but I haven't had to undo years of exposure to MS's bad habits first. (I have used Wordperfect, Wordstar and friends in the past, but spent most of the last 20 years not having to deal with secretarial programs)

        2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Re: Not unheard of

          > Libre Office is vastly inferior to Word for pretty much all parts of that task and is far more buggy.

          If your task is fighting with a substandard, bloated, crash-prone P.o.S. that has one of the most abominable user interfaces this side of Blotus Notes, then yes. Otherwise the only functional use of MSWord is as a doorstop.

    2. toughluck

      Why use an unsuitable tool in the first place?

      To be honest, I can't understand why anyone would want to torture themselves with a full-featured word processor to write anything serious.

      You're the Writer, NOT the Editor. You're there to write, not to edit or prepare for publishing. If the writer is trying to do the editor's job, and even the best writer might be a mediocre editor/publisher, the primary task will suffer and the resulting book will be form over substance.

      I can understand a writer emphasizing certain passages, introducing quotations, digressions, etc., but it's the choice of the editor whether to italicize or embolden, not the writer.

      What any self-respecting writer should do is to submit his or her work in plain-text or at most in light markup (such as RTF, for all its shortcomings), and the publishing house should be the party to actually decide what the final form will be.

      With that in mind, either use a typewriter (with a facility to save text, of course), or software such as focuswriter (it's free) that comes with features specifically for writers.

      Do note that the alternative is to let the writer do everything, including (virtual) typesetting, preparing for publishing, sending to the printer, promoting it, hey, why not pay for the whole thing while he's at it, in effect self-publishing, but where the proceeds go to a publishing house that didn't do anything worth paying for.

      1. illiad

        Re: Why use an unsuitable tool in the first place?

        hey, you may be the writer, but you need to be GOOD to the publisher!! do you want to earn any money from your work???? that means stuff he can read *easily*, not full of tons of errors... any excuse he can give NOT to use your work!!! :(

        1. toughluck

          Re: Why use an unsuitable tool in the first place?

          Did I make even the slightest hint that the work should be submitted full of errors?

          1. The tool I suggested (focuswriter) has a spelling dictionary and checks on the fly or at the end.

          2. Word is not better (or worse) in this regard.

          The software you use is not an excuse for errors. However, let me point out that it used to be common to submit written works as typescript (or manuscript) and the writers did not have the luxury of spellcheckers or even error correction. And the quality of manuscripts and typescripts was vastly superior to some examples of today's works where the writer did not even bother to run a spellchecker on his or her text once.

          However, it's Alastair Reynolds we're talking about. So your comment that the publisher would give excuses not to use your work is absurd. Mr. Reynolds has been published extensively and his publisher is definitely not going to give excuses not to use his work since it's basically printing money. Well, okay, I presume if he submitted utter rubbish, the publisher would firmly say 'no,' but otherwise, you're very unreasonable.

          Your post reveals that you may have been rejected by some publishers. However, I would offer an alternative explanation. Whatever tools you use (or don't), they're not the reason you were rejected. And they were right -- they want "stuff" that's readable. Yours is not. It displays as three lines on my screen and I can say with all certainty that if I were to read through three thousand lines of such dubious quality, my eyes would bleed out of my eyesockets.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Personally ...

    ... I use vi as my text editor. Because I'm inputting ... er ... text.

    Correct tool for the job, and all that.

    Markup comes long after typoing/editing.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Personally ...

      It's difficult to know when jake is feeding the fish and when he is being serious.

      I can imagine that you might do some scripting with VI but 250 pages of Sci-Fi novel sounds a bit dubious.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @ Khaptain (was: Re: Personally ...)

        First, it's "vi", not "VI". Second, I'm totally serious.

        BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi (EMACS, or other ASCII text editor of choice). vi just works.

        Adding rainbows, stars, unicorns and sunsets aren't actually functional.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

          There is nano these days. Sometimes progress is good.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Linux

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            "There is nano these days."

            Or joe, which uses Wordstar commands, just as nature intended....

            Actually, it's now an automatic reaction on a new install to type "aptitude (or zypper) install mc joe"

          2. Mage Silver badge

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            I just wrote about 140K words in last two months using notepad++

            Tabs for open documents

            Wonderful regex search and/or replace on selection, document, all open documents, all in directory or including subdirectories.

            Minimal markup when imported later to something else:

            _and_ for auto itallics

            *and* for auto bold

            Auto tables from comma separated lists

            Auto headings base on line spacing

            I now distribute copies for proof reading etc to Kindle etc using .prc fornat

            (text -- > Word or Libre Office --> Save as filtered HTML --> Mobi Creator --> eBook)

            Kindle DXG is nice for proof reading and allows markup. The "share" feature is rubbish sadly.

          3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            Nano is awful.

            With so many common control-key shortcut standards available, why did they have to produce another one ?

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

              nano is derived from pico, which was a purpose built mail editor.

              The keybindings are the same ones used by tcsh and the bourne shell- the idea being that people who were comfortable in a shell environment didn't have to learn yet another set of command strokes.

              FWIW: Joe uses wordstar bindings by default but can switch to _any_ of the common text editors commands - something which keeps the jed diehards here very happy.

          4. SineWave242

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            I was just going to mention nano! I find myself using it more and more these days. Great editor!

        2. Steve Knox

          Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

          BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi...

          Remind me again which of those is a science fiction novel?

          1. mmeier

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            >>BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi...

            >Remind me again which of those is a science fiction novel?

            Linux. It starts with "When Linux dominates the desktop". About as likely as the Orion VII taking of from Base 104.

          2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            BSD and Linux (and Minix, Coherent, et alia) were written in vi...

            Remind me again which of those is a science fiction novel?

            Don't know about that, but I expect MSWindows would qualify as fantasy...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

          No novels. But I've written documentation, programmes, HTML and collaborative stuff by the shed load in vi(1). Much easier than Word or similar, much quicker and I can call any shell level command within it (e.g. sort(1)), mark up with HTML, troff(1) or whatever else you like. For personal notes, programming etc. I still use it (and for the ksh command line history :))

          I rather think the original C manuals and lots more were done in vi(1) or something very like it and the output is just the text you want, not the overhead deemed essential by the supplier. If you look at the older text books, they often say they were marked up in troff or similar and those were for text files that would be thoroughly broken by word processing software. So a text editor, usually vi(1) or emacs(1) was the normal tool.

          An incalculable advantage for those who can touch type is that one need not move the fingers away fro the home keys to reach arrow keys, function keys, <insert> and so on. This provides speed and simplicity. And, being text, a text editor provides true portability.

          Finally, interesting subsitutions and rearrangements across thousands of lines and simple macros are simple, quick and can be automated (using the vi(1) subsets, ex(1) or ed(1) or, the streaming, ec(1)-like sed(1).

          The missing feature, for collaborative work, is inbuilt change mark-up. Somehow, with decent source code control systems, such as RCS, Subversion or even SCCS, we managed very well.

        4. TimeMaster T

          Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

          I am amazed at the number of down votes to such a simple comment. I know some people have issues with vi but I never imagined them to get this incised about it.

          vi is a great editor, it can handle files of arbitrary size, has no formatting info to worry about, and the resulting file can be imported into any full featured editing suite without issues.

          Personally I wouldn't use it for a novel but hey, to each their own. It what makes vi so great, if you want a clean text editor it just works.

        5. Roger 11

          Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

          You pedant.

        6. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

          "vi just works."

          A pencil and paper 'just works'. That doesn't make it a sensible choice.

          1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: @ Khaptain (was: Personally ...)

            "A pencil and paper 'just works'. That doesn't make it a sensible choice."

            Very right. Let's spend billions on the developpment of a pressurized ballpoint pen instead.

            http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

      2. xenny

        Re: Personally ...

        Ahem.

        If you read this post by Charlie:

        http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/01/writing-tools.html

        he mentions having written several novels using vim (vi improved). I've read at least two of those novels. They're pretty good.

        1. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: Personally ...

          Jake as much as I agree that "vi" just works, I find it hard to believe that today someone would choose vi over the multiitude of WYSIWYG solutions. As an example "Scrivener" is a dedicated writing program with a multitude of tools that can assist the writer. Whereas vi is a just "text editor". ( yes I know it is more than just a text edit but you get my point).

          What advantages does vi offer a writer ?

          Personally, on Linux, I use nano because I really do not like vi. I never remember the shortcuts, which forces me to pull out my cheat sheet, which i don't like having to do.

          1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

            Re: Personally ...

            Charles Stross has also mentioned that he uses scrivener - although he likens comparing it to a text editor as similar to comparing Word and Project.

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. jake Silver badge

            @ Khaptain (was:Re: Personally ...)

            "What advantages does vi offer a writer ?"

            The ability to just write. My goto for shifting ASCII from my brain into my computer has been vi (with the help of a Model M keyboard and a serial attached so-called "dumb" terminal) ... to the point where I have a user-name "write" that uses vi as the shell. When I'm writing (code, documentation, contracts, dead-tree letters), I don't like distractions.

            Once the words are on the page, I'll format them as I see fit.

            1. Roger 11

              Re: @ Khaptain (was:Personally ...)

              So, stuck in the past?

          4. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            Re: Personally ...

            Because a wanter wants to write, not page-set ? As someone else said, the content is very different from the layout. Concentrate on text and let the typesetter make it look pretty - you'll be more productive and he'll do a better job.

            1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

              Re: Personally ...

              @Adrian4

              For producing simple narrative text, Notepad will do; or Geany/Kedit on Linux machines.

              But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives. So it is Libre Office or Word. Also, I need the spell check: not because I can't spell, but because I can't type (to a professional standard).

              I like using One Note for first drafts.

              1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

                Re: Personally ... (@Primus...)

                > But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives.

                If you only have tables, illustrations and captions (all quite simple) you can use something simple like aft or ReStructuredText.

                For more complex stuff I prefer Lout to LaTeX, as the whole install is around 1 MB instead of 5-700 MB for a usable LaTeX setup. It is also a single piece of software, maintained coherently, which means that everything from the C code to all the high-level metacommands is coherent. Makes it very easy to remember the parameters you may want to faff around with.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Personally ...

                You think Word tables are good? Only if they conform to the ideal defined by MS.

              3. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Personally ...

                "But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives. So it is Libre Office or Word. "

                As soon as it goes for publication the first thing that will happen to your document is that it gets fed into LaTeX for reformatting - if you don't want your stuff being buggered around with, use the right markup editor in the first place (where "right" = "what the printing industry uses")

              4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: Personally ...

                But for a complex technical document with tables, illustrations, and captions, you may not have the time to faff around trying to remember the Latex directives.

                There are LaTeX editors, such as LyX, which will remember most of them for you.

                I wrote my undergrad thesis in plain text with roff markup, using vi. I wrote my doctoral dissertation1 a few years later in WordPerfect. When I wrote my MA thesis last year2 I went back to plain text, this time with LaTeX, and mostly used LyX as my editor - though I occasionally did some stuff in vim when I wanted to make a quick change or just throw some text in without markup.

                The last published piece I did (a book chapter) had to be done in Word format - the copyeditor and publisher insisted - so my co-author and I used OpenOffice. Round-trip collaboration was OK (though we both missed having the easy revision control that plain-text plus git would have given us) until the copyeditor got involved, at which point it became a tremendous mess.

                I loathe Word. I have to use it for work, and every time I do anything with it I come to hate it a little bit more.

                1Incomplete; I'm ABD on that degree. Life and general procrastination interfered, and I didn't have the job market as an incentive to finish and defend.

                2Getting the master's before the doctorate is so predictable.

          5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Personally ...

            >WYSIWYG

            If you are an author you don't need to care about layout - that's what you have publishers, editors and cover designers for.

            It's like saying a composer should use a mixing desk because they need to know what level of compression will be used when they music is played on Radio3.

            1. dajames Silver badge

              Re: Personally ...

              If you are an author you don't need to care about layout - that's what you have publishers, editors and cover designers for.

              It's like saying a composer should use a mixing desk because they need to know what level of compression will be used when they music is played on Radio3.

              No, it's more like saying that a composer should not compose at the piano because he's there to write the music not to play it.

              It overlooks the fact that while some composers may be happy to write straight to manuscript paper without playing or hearing the work as they go, others will want to play passages through, listen to them, and maybe solicit the opinions of their friends and families; and that some composers go on to perform their works in public themselves.

              Just as some writers write only text that is later edited, laid out, and published in house style by a publisher while others want to see and review their text laid out (not necessarily in its final form) and ohers again may be publishing their own work and have to perform the tasks of writer, editor, and typesetter themselves.

              There's more than one way skin a cat!

              No animals were harmed in the production of this comment.

          6. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Personally ...

            "I find it hard to believe that today someone would choose vi over the multiitude of WYSIWYG solutions"

            Show me any serious author who uses anything other than a text editor.

            The first thing a publisher does is throw out the formatting and select an apprioriate font/size based on the target market/papertype/sale price.

            Prettifying your words is the mark of an amateur or a sales droid.

            1. mmeier

              Re: Personally ...

              >Show me any serious author who uses anything other than a text editor.

              Well, Jerry Pournelle for starters. Larry Niven as well if one believes Mr. Pournelles "Chaos Manor" column. Serious enough?

      3. keithpeter
        Windows

        Re: Personally ...

        "I can imagine that you might do some scripting with VI but 250 pages of Sci-Fi novel sounds a bit dubious."

        I don't write books, but study packs in the 30 to 90 page range can be done in 'mark up' quite easily using a text editor and a previewer now and again to check the typesetting.

      4. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Re: Personally ...

        Why so? For simple things (text, the occasional title, table or image, regardless of length) rst markup is enough (usually I just rst2pdf it). For more complex stuff I use lout. Never a problem with putting half a word in italics or with randomly-shifting left alignments etc. That alone makes it worth trying... not to mention, the result is beautifully typeset.

        For collaborative work, comments and corrections à la MSWord are a source of problem as often as a solution, so while I understand the reason people use them, I personally find inline corrections with comments markup (or a quick diff) more useful.

        Matter of taste and work habits I suppose. There's something you can't argue against though: ressource usage. I typed entire sections of my last article on my Ben Nanonote.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Personally ...

        @khaptain

        Aye, aye, sir ...

        I maintain a 2000+ pages book almost exclusively with vi. Sed and awk come in handy. Actually, it is 2000 distinct pages in 13 books. Part of my work is tech writing.

        Never had an issue - I must say that I use wiki style for markup, links, and tocs ... if I need to move a chapter of 5 topics, I open the toc file, locate chapter, "5dd" move cursor to correct position "p", done ... no select, cut, [prays the scrollbar does not freeze] scroll & paste hoping the formatting is not all down the gutter.

        I even have a preview function in vi that renders the stuff into HTML and opens a browser, complete with links, images, etc, etc ... spellchecker, grammar checker, markup checker ... you name it. I can output almost any format.

      6. Oninoshiko

        Re: Personally ...

        not able to write a 250 page SciFi novel without word?

        I wonder how Heinlein managed Stranger in a Strange Land?

      7. John Gamble

        Re: Personally ...

        I can imagine that you might do some scripting with VI but 250 pages of Sci-Fi novel sounds a bit dubious.

        Seriously?

        First: Look up "typewriter".

        Second: Do a page count of Brit Sci-Fi author John Brunner's novel Stand On Zanzibar

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Personally ...

          > First: Look up "typewriter".

          More than a few SF authors preferred to write - using a pen (or in some cases, a crayon)

          Given the entire thing had to be reentered by typesetters anyway (typed or handwritten), it didn't make a lot of difference to the end product.

    2. b0hem1us

      Re: Personally ...

      Yeah I know I went back to plain text as well, just use #*@ for own mark-up. WYSIWYGs in general distract you with visuals you don't need when you write creatively (imagine coding in a WYSIWYG). The downvoters don't know any better.

      1. Roger 11

        Re: Personally ...

        Well said. The crap which is vi was not intended to write books. It is meant for script kiddies.

      2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: Personally ...

        WYSIWYGs in general distract you with visuals you don't need when you write creatively

        WordPerfect had the right idea way back when they made their first MSWin version: you could work in WYSIWYG, or you could edit in a screen that looked like the MS-DOS editing screen (colours to represent bold, italic etc), and you could just type without dealing with formatting. It's a feature I would like to see LibreOffice add (along with "reveal codes").

        Would like to see a clean-mode on LO Calc also (as well as an equivalent of the old worksheet map from Lotus 1-2-3)

    3. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Personally ...

      Wait, how do I undo my upvote? I thought you said "I use Emacs"...

      ... Oh, they are the same. :)

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Personally ...

      The best editor for markup is LaTex. Everything else is just handwaving.

      1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Re: Personally ...

        > The best editor for markup is LaTex. Everything else is just handwaving.

        ERP DERP

        > As soon as it goes for publication the first thing that will happen to your document is that it gets fed into LaTeX for reformatting

        Nope. the first few things that will happen will be proofreadings and sub-editing; the people who do that are used to MSWord and Acrobat and that's why most editors require everything in .doc (or .docx) and sometimes .pdf. Which is a pain in the backside, but no big deal since my document processing software can output pdf and ODF (which is then easy to convert to whatever crap they want).

        I've even had someone tell me they wished I stopped sending files in "that weird .txt format" as they had to copy and paste them into Word to read them. I kid you not.

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: Personally ...

          Simply rename long_novel.txt to long_novel.doc

          Word will open it just fine

  3. BongoJoe

    Word has always been poor for any form of Long Documents. This has been known from the days of Word 2 even though I used to develop for it.

    It's good for some stuff, but for manuscripts it's terrible. When I so attempt anything that's going to be an article then I either kick start it in TextPad (still my text editor of choice after all these years) or fire up the excellent Skrivener.

    For anything more than a dozen pages, sections, sub-documents and the like then Word isn't the best tool for job. Which is a shame as that is exactly what it should be used for.

    1. Ralph B

      @BongoJoe: Word isn't the best tool for job

      That rather suggests that you think there is some other software that is the best tool for the job. So, what is it? Alastair Reynolds' point seemed to be although Word is awful, there is nothing else that supports the functions required in the publishing business. But if you know better then please let us (and Mr Reynolds) know what it is.

      We know Microsoft make a substandard hammer, but does anyone else make a better one?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: @BongoJoe: Word isn't the best tool for job

        "That rather suggests that you think there is some other software that is the best tool for the job. S"

        Well Word Perfect was use to write the manuals for Boeing aircraft.

        But Microsoft managed to kill them pretty well.

        1. Hans 1 Silver badge

          Re: @BongoJoe: Word isn't the best tool for job

          > Well Word Perfect was use to write the manuals for Boeing aircraft.

          >But Microsoft managed to kill them pretty well.

          That probably explains it all ... broken since inception. Even the name suggests bouncing .... and we all know aircraft do not bounce well ... ;-)

      2. BongoJoe

        Re: @BongoJoe: Word isn't the best tool for job

        Ralph, Skrivener is what I have suggested along with many others here.

        edit. I keep spelling it with a 'k' rather than a 'c'. Apologies; it's habit after using Norwegian for many years where 'skrive' means write and I forget to Anglicise the spelling by replacing the second letter.

      3. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: @BongoJoe: Word isn't the best tool for job

        That rather suggests that you think there is some other software that is the best tool for the job. So, what is it?

        It think the challenge is the downstream publishing process. The actual writing can be in anything that works for the author (more accurately, doesn't get in the way of the flow of the creative process), but it then needs to be presented in a format that allows markup and editing.

        As I work on OSX I use Ulysses and Daedalus on the iPad for when I travel (they integrate to a reasonable degree). The apps go full screen and allow me to exclusively focus on structure and content creation, but stay away from styling which is IMHO one of the main problems and distractions with WYSIWYG based writing - basically, the whole reason many people still use LaTEX and derivatives.

        I also use LibreOffice, mainly for short work and for mapping writing into some form of design template so that the Word addicts of the world don't get frightened by hints of something outside that narrow band of experience.

        I don't create much on the iPad unless I have a bluetooth keyboard with me (I'm no fan of screen keyboards), but it's good for post production review and small edits.

        So there :)

        1. Tom 13

          Re: the challenge is the downstream publishing process

          Alastair Reynolds comment was specific to the comment and change markup feature in Word, so were talking about the part of production where it is transitioning from creative to production. I wouldn't call that the downstream process. I haven't done much work on that end of things in years, so I don't know how well the competing collaborative tools work. Also part of the issue is simply that there be a standard. If you have 12 people reviewing the document and only 3 of them are actual employees of the publishing company (as opposed to independent contractors not on the premises) they all need to be using something that allows them all to talk to each other.

          MS's dominance of the writer, spreadsheet, and power point market is probably an even more odious result of their OS monopoly than killing Netscape was. While some people still prefer WordStar, my processor of choice back in the day was WordPerfect either DOS 5.1 or Windows 6.x. Word always insisted on doing weird stuff with my documents via automatic formatting corrections, and no I don't mean the auto-correct feature which can be disabled. I was doing document production at the time, and whereas WordPerfect would leave my codes exactly where I wanted them, Word would always concatenate them in the order it preferred. That wasn't a problem when it was doing something like [i][b][red] to [red][b][i] but for me it was critical that [i][^]t[v][space][i] not get concatenated to [i][^]t[v][i] because that was going to cause all kinds of havoc in page production package. Similarly either Lotus or Quattro Pro were better than Excel and I still recall being able to easily do some things in Harvard Graphics that I can't to the day easily to in PowerPoint or Excel.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: the challenge is the downstream publishing process

            "MS's dominance of the writer, spreadsheet, and power point market is probably an even more odious result of their OS monopoly"

            It's exactly the other way round. It was Excel, followed by Word and PowerPoint, that propelled Windows to be the OS people wanted. Excel allowed accountants, sales and managers (who control company money, remember...) to do what would have required add-ons and complex setups in Lotus 1-2-3, especially graphics (and mixing them with data) and printing on laser printers. Excel was much easier to use, and made people ask for Windows. Same for Word among the non WordPerfect addicts.

            When moreover OLE was introduced and you could easily put a spreadsheet or a graph into a word document or a slide and keep everything in sync, Windows became what most office people wanted.

            Especially when competitors like Lotus and Borland/WordPerfect made their best to kill their own products with sloppy releases and bad GUIs.

            Without Office, Windows would have never become what it is now. Nobody then cared much about the OS itself, which offered very little by itself, but a shell to run applications.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: the challenge is the downstream publishing process

              "Excel allowed accountants, sales and managers (who control company money, remember...) to do what would have required add-ons and complex setups in Lotus 1-2-3, "

              Nothing to do with DOS being specifically tweaked to NOT run Lotus 1-2-3 then?

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: the challenge is the downstream publishing process

            "MS's dominance of the writer, spreadsheet, and power point market is probably an even more odious result of their OS monopoly than killing Netscape was"

            MS make far more money from their office products than the OS. They could _give_ windows away and still turn a massive profit just on office sales.

        2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: @ Fred Flintstone

          An honest question. Do you ever think styling can be included at times, though through verse and other means? This has some effect, does it not?

          1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

            Re: @ Fred Flintstone

            An honest question. Do you ever think styling can be included at times, though through verse and other means? This has some effect, does it not?

            I think we need to be careful with terminology. I am a great advocate of the use of styles in full blown word processors as well as bare bones writing environments, but only insofar that it marks a section as being of a type (headline, chapter, subchapter, and more locally bold & italics, aka emphasis).

            How such a style is formatted (i.e. font, weight, attribute, spacing, colour etc etc) is a later issue and is sometimes not even under your control (epub formats, for instance, can apply the reader's preferences instead).

            Where practically all WP packages go wrong is that they permit localised formatting attributes, which means a Godawful amount of work post production because you have to strip ALL of it out and replace the formatting attributes with styling markers before you can start working on the look and presentation of the content. Personally, I think the ability to insert such local formatting should not even exist until the post creation stage, and it is my personal belief that that "feature" alone is responsible for an enormous loss of productivity in places that produce reports and documents for a living. They are genuinely producing documents without style :).

            So, the short answer to your question is yes, it is more or less implied in the way I work. I start with a structure, which means I have a pack of lines marked as chapters which I can move around etc. In Ulysses I have some styles set up with highlighting, so I quickly get a visual overview of what I'm doing. Having said that, I am examining Scrivener now as well (thanks to this article and the comments, that's why I hang out here :) ) - just to have alternative options.

            1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

              Re: @ Fred Flintstone

              > Where practically all WP packages go wrong is that they permit localised formatting attributes, which means a Godawful amount of work post production because you have to strip ALL of it out and replace the formatting attributes with styling markers before you can start working on the look and presentation of the content.

              Speaking as someone who's done the process from writer's output to PDFs for the printer (all small run POD apart from the very first which was offset printed), I agree. It's OK where the formatting is sparse, but where there's a lot of (say italics for quotes) then it's a right PITA. Either going through searching for the styles and inserting markers before stripping it back to plain text to get rid of all the random font and size changes, or doing search and replace on styles until all the text is using the present style sheet - both take time and effort.

              But I just let Mum get on with her writing - asking her to change would be hard seeing as after "some years" she still needs to search the keyboard for some of the letters !

              But as many posters have missed, the problem is when interacting with editors/publishers where they want to be able to turn on "track changes" and start editing. Boy, the output from that was fun to work with the first time I came across it :-(

              Plug, http://magpiesnestpublishing,.co.uk/ if I can get away with it ;-)

      4. mrtimzo

        Re: @BongoJoe: Word isn't the best tool for job

        I used to use OpenOffice as my go-to for years. Earlier this year I started using "FreeOffice" and then tried out the full version ("Softmaker office pro" free 1 month trial) - I happily paid the (very modest price)$ after my trial ran out, and I could not be happier. The apps have a good solid no-nonsense interface. They work well (really snappy to open, run, etc - way faster than openoffice). They are easy to use. They don't interfere with me in the process of doing stuff. And they are (very!) compatible with Microsoft formats as icing on cake. What the hell. I wish I had found these things years ago. I realize I probably sound like an advert, but I really like this software. (Heck, there is a linux version as well as the windows version). Yup, it isn't open source, nope, it isn't free. I've come to realize, this is not as important to me as having a tool that works really well and does what I need, and is priced very fairly. So. Give it a whirl if you are even remotely curious. -Tim

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Word has always been poor for any form of Long Documents. "

      A few years ago, a few people starting their third new company (serial entrepreneurs) wanted their IT set up from scratch. We agreed in the infrastructure services required, and I started talking to them about Windows 7, but saying they'd need to find someone to support them. One of them stopped me and said "What do you use?" I showed them my Linux laptop running LibreOffice and they said "Right, that's what we'll use." A few months later I got an email to say that they had finalised their business plans, running into hundreds of pages, including spreadsheets, graphs and all the trimmings. They said it was the first time they had had no trouble at all generating large complex documents. It was also the only time that I have ever had an unsolicited positive response to technology.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        I've often found that Open/LibreOffice is much faster than Word and handles long documents far better. Formatting interchange issues are the only reason I keep a copy of "real" Word. Also up there on my list of peeves are things like document template macros - in one company I was at, the standard template ran off your personal profile on local drives, and thus failed every time a document moved from one computer to another since the username and thus template directory changed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "I've often found that Open/LibreOffice is much faster than Word and handles long documents far better."

          With what file format? I have tested with DOC and DOCX and Libre Office is several times slower doing pretty much anything - especially loading and saving.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            " I have tested with DOC and DOCX and Libre Office is several times slower doing pretty much anything - especially loading and saving."

            Something to dowith having to import it into Open Document format and then reexport back to Doc, I imagine.

            Try comparing Opendoc opening/closing.

            DOC/DOCX is not a standard, it's a set of proprietary moving targets.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            With what file format? I have tested with DOC and DOCX and Libre Office is several times slower doing pretty much anything - especially loading and saving.

            Strangely enough, load and save times are something I don't worry about *at all*. The only thing that matters to me is functionality and usability - which is the whole reason I switched to OpenOffice and later LibreOffice in the first place. Caveat: it works for *me*, as usual, YMMV.

    3. Roger 11

      Sorry, but bullshit.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Roger 11 writes: Sorry, but bullshit.

        I suspect we'd be more inclined to accept your apology if you'd stop posting the bullshit.

  4. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    OpenDoc support

    It's strange that word is the non-sequitur for publishing since as far as I'm aware from the publishers I have spoken to, the format of choice is XML, because this basically allows the book to be generated into the many formats where we find books nowadays.

    Now the later versions of word can be saved in a XML format, but as someone who is responsible for maintaining such documents once explained to me the format is "...adequate".

    I would of thought OpenDoc support through tools like Openoffice would make far more esense

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OpenDoc support

      "I would of thought OpenDoc support through tools like Openoffice would make far more esense"

      Surprisingly, MS Office supports the Open Document formats far better than Open Office does!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: OpenDoc support

        Surprisingly, MS Office supports the Open Document formats far better than Open Office does!

        Oh puhleeze. The only "surprisingly" here is that someone seems to think this is a credible statement.

        This nonsense keeps getting posted - as if a company that has been fighting the ODF standard tooth and nail suddenly is capable of handling it as if it had invented it. ODF support in MS Office is, not to put too fine a point on it, sh*t. It is very evident from the way MS has implemented it that it really wants people to use MS formats.

        That statement also fails the logic sniff test: OpenOffice and LibreOffice have been working with ODF from the day it was invented, whereas MS is the Johnny-come-lately in this format. To state that MS is anywhere *near* handling ODF properly is ludicrous. Prove it.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It isn't called "Word" for nothing

    "Word" is a program to enter words. You'd call it "Sentence" if it was good at creating sentences, and "Novel" if you wanted it to help you write novels.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: It isn't called "Word" for nothing

      ""Word" is a program to enter words. You'd call it "Sentence" if it was good at creating sentences, and "Novel" if you wanted it to help you write novels."

      Neat.

    2. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: It isn't called "Word" for nothing

      A "Sentence" is what you've endured while trying to write a long document only to find Word hang and auto save corrupted.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It isn't called "Word" for nothing

      "Novel" if you wanted it to help you write novels

      What a "novel" idea..

      /tiptoes away

    4. mark 63 Silver badge

      Re: It isn't called "Word" for nothing

      no its called Word to make it hard to use in a sentence without people going "eh?" same with Access

  6. Forget It
    IT Angle

    Anyone know are the change tracking features in ODF and DOCX compatible?

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge

      I do not know, but when you work with text files in vi, diff is pretty neat change tracking system ... and svn diff is even better, if you make sure you svn commit regularly, that is.

      Same goes for CVS and git, btw.

      How do you diff two word documents ?

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
        Unhappy

        How do you diff two word documents ?

        With some difficulty.

        Word offers the ability to compare/merge two documents and shows the difference using the same "track changes" feature that can be used to show your own (and other's in another colour) edits/revisions.

        However, it was always sh*t at many things, often showing a whole table as "changed" when in fact only a word or even some formatting was different, and would often flag up changes in automatic fields (table of contents, heading numberings, page numbers, etc) that really you don't normally care about because they are designed to update anyway..

        Word sucks, as does Open/LibreOffice writer, but in different ways. I prefer the Office 97 version of word, even though it is more buggy and won't do odf or docx in any usable way, but that is probably down to my years of sorry experience in using it and not really liking the ribbon of later versions (though I also use 2010 at times). As others do, I often write the main multi-section document in LibreOffice to get content OK, then import to Office 2012 for final formatting for those who can't cope without Word or if there is something it does better than LibreOffice.

        p.s. macros in documents are the Devil's work.

        p.p.s. MS has a long and inglorious history of embedding absolute paths in linking stuff that promptly breaks when you try to edit it on another machine.

        p.p.p.s. Thunderbird has also degenerated in to storing absolute paths to things, even though they are all folders/files in the same profile sub-directory so should be relative to there.Then if you move your profile to another user name, or a machine with different directory structure, random bits of your email don't appear/work any more.

      2. b0hem1us

        Badly, XML (which DOCX is) is notoriously hard to diff for obvious reasons. Last time I used Sharepoint it was lock on checkout so only one person at a time could have it checked out, I suspect the two might have something to do with each other.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Re: are the change tracking features in ODF and DOCX compatible?

      What do you mean by that? Compatible, how?

      The software I use when dealing with MSOffice users can read and write ODF and DOCX, including change tracking features, so I can open a DOCX doc and save it as ODF and vice versa but that's a feature of the software not the documents. If what you want to do is copy/paste bits between the source XML, forget it: ODF is pretty clean but DOCX is a mess, trying to faff around with the source has always resulted in a corrupted document in my hands (Although I've only ever done it to try and get something from an already corrupted file so that may be the reason).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Anyone know are the change tracking features in ODF and DOCX compatible?

      I tend to avoid the "x" formats because they don't render well in LibreOffice, but in general, my experience is that between LibreOffice and Word (using .doc as the shared file format), change tracking works pretty much OK.

      In my case it's LibreOffice on Mac, with the other party using Word on Windows.

  7. Jeff Lewis

    Here's the thing most people don't know about SF writers (in general, of course, there are exceptions) - they tend to be technophobes, or at least very wary of tech.

    I can't count how many famous SF writers use classic mechanical typewriters or surreal old computer systems like Kaypros or Osbornes (I'm not making this up..). Remember when J. K. Rowling got bent out of shape because the TSA stopped her from carrying her manuscript on a flight?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5344472.stm

    To be honest, I'm impressed she flies.. Asimov wouldn't.

    So, do I care if a couple of SF writers don't like Word?

    Not really.

    I also don't get upset when the Amish tell me that using computers is a sin either...

    1. xenny

      I've worked on late stage proof reading of novel length documents (admittedly generally technical documents). Paper and a pen is rather more flexible than track changes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Paper and a pen is rather more flexible than track changes"

        I think that conventional typed and set workflow gives rise to fewer errors than a lot of computerised publishing, it just costs more.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: conventional typed and set workflow gives rise to fewer errors

          There's actually a lot to be said for the computerized aspects of publishing. Word simply isn't one of them. Early in my life I did DTP work for technical publications. Getting an electronic copy of the document was usually a godsend. Whether it was Word, WordPerfect, WordStar or any of half a dozen other formats it tended to save a lot of transcription errors. We'd pull whatever the document was into our system then I had a raft of macros to reformat the document according to our text codes. Usually printed copies had already been distributed to reviewers who would edit the documents for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I'd receive the copies and have to incorporate those changes. Then we'd print it out from our program and send out another set of copies. We got them back and did another round of clean up. Next we'd put together the document as we expected it to be published. At this point I'd sometimes be tweaking spacing to pull a line up to save a page. Then we'd get the blue line from the printer and distribute it authors for final edits.

          Keeping track of all that paper requires discipline and I suspect publishers have tried to sidestep that by forcing the changes to be made to the electronic documents. It would also save on mailing costs. The problem of course is that creates a different reconciliation process. One which when you think about it, is much more difficult to manage and requires unified software across authors, reviewers, editors, typesetters, and publishers. They probably ought to go back to paper.

          1. Old Used Programmer

            On the vagaries of copy editors

            In one of my wife's novels, she had a reference to big vs. little endians. The copy editor changed it to Indians. She changed it back with a marginal note saying "See J. Swift" It was later that I pointed out to her that big/little endian was also CPU deisgn issue, which was amusing because the novel heavily involved virtual reality (or as I've been known to describe it, "cyber, but not punk").

    2. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      SF writers may be technophobes. I'm neither of which. But I still think MS Word is crap for writing anything more than a couple of pages.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Amish tell me that using computers is a sin"

      I don't think the Amish are a monolithic group, and I don't think in general they regard computers as sinful. They are very clear about separating business from family life, which is why they may have a telephone in the office and only answer it during work hours. It is interesting that some German and French companies are now coming round to the view that this is a Good Thing.

      The Amish aren't technophobes; instead they have an idealised view of how family and social life should be, and are very careful about allowing anything that might interfere with it. They also believe that travelling too fast dislocates you, hence the limit on speed to that of a buggy.

      If I was in charge at Microsoft, which of course I am not, I would put the Amish onto designing the features of Word. No bloat at all, every part perfectly functional, and designed never to be obsolete.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: "Amish tell me that using computers is a sin"

        "If I was in charge at Microsoft, which of course I am not, I would put the Amish onto designing the features of Word. No bloat at all, every part perfectly functional, and designed never to be obsolete."

        You'd be fired in short order. Feature creep is necessary to keep selling updated versions.

    4. Jonathan Richards 1

      Category error

      I don't think J. K. Rowling has ever published anything that might reasonably be described as science fiction.

  8. d3rrial

    Or he could simply use git and LaTeX...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      You would still need an editor, but anything simple would do.

      1. d3rrial

        @DAM

        I didn't want to start a vi vs. emacs vs. nano debate in comments here ;)

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      @d3rrial

      I worked for a company that used Latex for its documents, partly because of its ability to handle mathematical stuff. But the Latex whizzkids in the company kept changing the header files we used, which meant that old documents could no longer be edited or reprinted.

      There is an arguable case for using L/M/O Office and saving documents in html - thus avoiding page format issues. Minor edits are then possible even with vi, or by hand-punching extra holes on paper tape.

  9. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Trollface

    "Microsoft is losing the hearts and minds of British Science Fiction writers"

    Both of them.

    SCNR

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    As hammarbtyp says: He could even...

    ...go and use Open Office Writer. Granted, it's not got a lot of features (yet) that MS Word afficionados (I'm being polite here) want, but given time, it'll get there. Best bits: It's free, and available on a WIDE range of platforms, and WILL export to a wide variety of formats as well, including RTF & TXT. And either TXT or RTF are really all you need to be able to export, at the end of the day, as they're both internationally accepted standards.

    1. Een8nope

      Re: As hammarbtyp says: He could even...

      Well, regarding giving it time to catch up with word, this feature request has been pending more than 10 years:

      https://issues.apache.org/ooo/show_bug.cgi?id=3959

    2. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: As hammarbtyp says: He could even...

      Come on, it does not miss any important features ... maybe the treble underline, but who really needs that ???

      And you forgot maybe the most important file type for publication ... docbook - yes, LibreOffice supports docbook.

      Do not work with publishing houses that insist on using word, simple. If you are any good, you will find a house that does not hire window cleaners.

  11. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    But what does Word do the rest of the time?

    It seems so bloated, takes ages to load and can take ages to open even the least of long files.

    Why does it do so?

    1. BongoJoe

      The reason is that it tries to do everything and it doesn't. In the early days, going back to Word 2 (I never saw any earlier incarnations) any changes to the application tended to be bolt ons and updates tended to be lashed on rather than replaced and if one thing didn't work in one release it was mangled in the subsequent releases (remember the disasterous Styles and Numbering which was really borked in Word 7?).

      Every update was basically a wrapper around the previous code and the wrapper would try to correct errors of the previous code. And any updates or corrections made to that wrapper would be made in another wrapper.

      And so on. The thing became a bloated mess and very few of the fundamental errors or shortfalls were ever properly addressed.

      Some were. For example the diseased Styles and Numbering (which used to cause me no end of headaches when working on Word development projects) was only sort-of fixed with the larger law firms in the US all got together and said that they'd move onto another product en-masse if the S&N wasn't sorted.

      It was sorted. To some extent but that is what it took for the MS to actually change the faulty code. It was still crap but significantly less crap than before.

      Then over the years things just got bigger, more bloated and really didn't offer much more than before. But features had to be added in order to sell new licences. Going back to the stuff from Office 2000 isn't necesassily a bad move. At least I can modify the menu bar with VBA for the application any my templates.

      1. SineWave242

        "Every update was basically a wrapper around the previous code and the wrapper would try to correct errors of the previous code. And any updates or corrections made to that wrapper would be made in another wrapper."

        Sorry for OT but I'd just like to mention that that's the same way how Windows are written. It seems like that's just a standard Microsoft practice of doing things and the reason why their software is not good, to put it mildly and politely.

  12. James 100

    Not WYSIWYG

    Whatever you use for a novel, it really won't be WYSIWYG or even close to it!

    Leaving aside the fact a novel now will be ending up in multiple different formats anyway (hardback, paperback, maybe a large print edition, each with different type and paper sizes and different margins - then we get into the different e-book options, where it's the user who selects the typeface and size), the author just doesn't control the formatting anyway.

    I've occasionally seen journalists at work, filing newspaper stories electronically. Definitely not Word - and not formatted, either, some sort of plain text editor.

    On a pro level, trying to display (and edit) formatting while you work on text is just a nuisance: a waste of computer resources and a distraction to the user. It's why the high-end pro stuff like InDesign have features like "story editor" where you can edit just the text, without formatting in the way; it's why I like that and LaTeX.

    Word? Save it for the school essays thanks, leave real work for real software.

    1. iLurker

      Re: Not WYSIWYG

      Agreed Word is not WYSIWYG. It never can be (oh and wait till you change languages).

      Use a pure text editor, as if it were a typewriter, or a nonlinear text editor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not WYSIWYG

        I couldn't agree more.

        The formatting and layout are the last thing undertaken before printing and/or producing an e-book, both of which require individual formatting and layout.

        We occasionally get material from clients in a word format and the first thing we do is rip that to plain text to work on (copy editing). It stays as plain text until it gets to our layout person and only then is it prepared for the final production process where page size and margins are king. Trying to do any of that in word is counter productive and far from cost effective.

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Not WYSIWYG

      But Word has Themes.

      A style is a set of attributes (font, size, colour, etc) for a specific type of text such as body text or caption or whatever. A theme is a related set of styles for all the components of a document: body text, various header levels, etc.

      So in Word you can use a default or a chosen theme, and mark headers, captions, etc as if you were writing html or Latex. Someone else can change the theme, and the appearance of the document is changed at a stroke. That is, if the author has used themes and styles properly.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: Not WYSIWYG

        Even going so far as changing themes takes you out of the flow of writing. It's a distraction; you might as well be asking for writer's block.

        Get the text in when you can. Themes can be delt with once the important part is done. I kind of think this mentality comes from much of the web-driven world, where being pretty is more important then the content.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: Not WYSIWYG @ Primus Secundus Tertius

        First: save yourself the trouble. No, the author has not "used themes and styles properly". Almost no-one does that, because it's so much easier not to. That's been a problem with Word since pretty much day 1 - I routinely deal with Word documents written by 50 different people, all software professionals - and barely 20% of those know how to use styles, or can be bothered to learn despite all the times I've tried to educate them.

        Second, even if they did, what the hell is the point of changing all that at a stroke? What is the use-case where you'd want to do that? If the author is creating content for a specific audience, that has to go into a specific format, then that's what "templates" are for - give them one and let them get on with it. Anyone who's capable of using "themes" correctly is, automatically, also capable of using a template. If you really want to change all the styles later, you can write a macro for that (and store it in your own normal.dotm, so you can run it on any document you like, themed or not).

        Third, what does that have to do with writing a novel anyway? Just how many subheadings and captions does the average novel include?

        Personally, my text editor of choice is Notepad++. When writing a long book, I create separate files for each chapter and keep them open in different tabs. Easy enough to merge them when I'm ready.

      3. BongoJoe

        Re: Not WYSIWYG

        That is surely the job of the template.

        The trouble wth Word is how that it's evolved. Once upon a time it was simple everything worked on normal.dot as the default template. Any global 'templates' (i.e. .dot files loaded in the start-up folder) added code functionality and menu items to the whole Word session.

        Then the concept of the document template was added. Here we could put the styles for the document as well as the layout and so on and so forth. Any VBA which was required for the template could go in here and this is where one should have had a Manuscript.dot template for the authors.

        The idea by now was for the user to get rid of the normal.dot stuff. In fact, it was never ever a good idea to put any code, styles or formatting in normal.dot as it became something which had to be sacrificed from time to time as it ended up as Microsoft's scratch pad and all sorts of internal bonkersness went on in there.

        Problems would then occur with users of MS Word when they didn't use document templates but instead formatted directly on normal.dot and this is then when things started to bork even faster than before. I always trained my clients to have a three layer 'trifle' going on: normal.dot at the bottom, the document template (the .dot file) and then the document at the top.

        As someone rightly said above here; putting VBA into documents is the work of the devil. I agree, there should never be any code in any of the .doc files; they should either be in one of the global templates (I used to have dozens running which really made them not templates per se) or in the document template.

        Then advance further to today. And we have Themes. This is complete bollocks and baloney; this ought to be in the templates and not in the document and MS have managed to break something that was more or less broken anyway. They've managed to wean a whole generation of uses off something that almost worked onto something that I have been spending (or have spent as I don't touch Word development any more) years on educating users.

        But, hey, it's the Microsoft say. It makes things more dumbed down, more shiny and underneath they've really buggered it up.

        Back to Scrivener; that works well and it does export to Word. Writing to Word via COM works really well. Well, to an certain degree. Which is why in my code when I write to Word in my nightly document runs (I tend to create at least half a dozen documents a night of over 100 pages of densely formatted text in tables, using tabs and styles) and I have found ways to stop Word exploding.

        It isn't for no reason why I have a routine that I call every few paragraphs that I have had to write which I call PreventWordDeath() . The name of it may explain what it does. I've had to as Word is utterly borked in about every department but at least it's got a COM interface, has a good Object Model inside so it does the job. At least if one has struggled with it for decades and knows its many thousands of foibles.

        Enough of this. I need a drink. My consultant told me this morning that I need to drink up to six litres of clear fluids a day and one can't get any clearer than gin. So this is me signing off my brain now...

  13. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Spot on Mr Reyonlds

    His works tend to be rather lengthy. As a fellow author I have to totally agree with him about word and how crap it is in handling long documents.

    I've just finished a Technical Manual for work that is some 300+ pages in length. It is also 22.5Mb in size because of the numerous pictures and illustrations.

    Office 2010 freezes when navigating ove a TOC that spans several pages. This is on PC with a Quad i7 CPU, 32Gb or Ram ans SSD's for HDD.

    I only suffer this when putting the final document together. It is all in short sections and only comes together to create the TOC and resolve references.

    This freezing does not seem to happen with Office 2011 for Mac on my IMac.

    For my own Novels, I use Scribus on the iMac. Works like a charm especially for eBooks.

    (Published under a pseudonym)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Word is an absolute disaster for large documents

      Typically, larger documents combine material from many diverse sources, and if there is one thing that is /guaranteed/ to bring Word down, it's format fragments copied in during cut & paste. In a larger document, the chances of your file becoming unreadable by Word (by the many format conflicts) thus increase the larger the file gets. Add to that the manual formatting that beginners use in Word instead of using styles and it becomes worse and worse until it eventually can no longer cope and just crash when you try to open the file.

      Let me translate that for you: the closer you get to your deadline, the more likely is it that Word will crash and make you miss it. I have rescued many, many deadlines by taking Word files (in .doc) into OpenOffice or LibreOffice which will still open them, clean out ALL formatting and start again by only applying styles. After that, save as .doc and Word would again happily work with the file.

      I haven't done this with a .docx yet, because I switched fulltime to using Open/LibreOffice before MS came out with that file format. I only have one copy of MS Office installed somewhere for compatibility reasons, but we're pretty much all using LibreOffice now. It's cool that it works on any platform, and people can work at home with the same software.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Word is an absolute disaster for large documents

        There is actually a question WTF styles have to be copied with the text instead of defaulting to "match surrounding text", aka plain text only.

        Someone came up with that many years ago, and we have been suffering those problems ever since.

        In the 30+ years that I write I have NEVER had the need to copy a style or formatting across. That doesn't mean others don't, but I haven't come across them yet so the defaults in Word as well as Open/LibreOffice are set for a minority.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Word is an absolute disaster for large documents

          In the 30+ years that I write I have NEVER had the need to copy a style or formatting across

          Correcting myself here: today was the first time, ever. And it didn't work properly..

  14. DrXym Silver badge

    So they force him to use Word hmm?

    I doubt publishers *demand* Word. It may be some use it as their defacto interchange format but I expect most authors with a relationship with a publisher could ask to use another format assuming it fitted the process, e.g. ODT.

    At worst it means doing a bit of importing / exporting to get a file to them in the format they want. It doesn't mean the author has to use the tool day in and day out. The bulk of the book could be written any way they please. Even in a .txt file.

    I expect the main use of Word is when a manuscript is submitted and has to go through some rounds of editing - to pin notes on sections, revise paragraphs and so on. It's hard to see how some advanced word processor is avoidable at that stage unless they want to go back to the old process of scribbling over a printed manuscript in red ink.

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Re: So they force him to use Word hmm?

      Most publishers want Word documents since that's what their office staffs are used to working with. Same with the writer's agents, copyeditors etc. That doesn't mean the writer has to compose their text in Word, just that there needs to be some kind of output TO Word format at the end of the composition process. That format could be as simple as .txt though or even .rtf as long as Word can swallow it.

      Classically manuscripts on paper were submitted in a publisher-specified format, large margins and double-spaced lines for pencil editing notes and corrections, monospaced font such as 10-pt Courier to make word count easy, author name and book title on each page in case the loose paper got floor-sorted, that sort of thing. Old habits die hard in the publishing industry.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So they force him to use Word hmm?

        Robert, it is faster to use a double spaced paper manuscript for copy editing. Flipping pages backwards and forwards to check something is much faster than scrolling in a word processor to check something on a previous page.

        Word is fine if you want to produce a two or three page letter on company letterhead, useless if you want to copy edit a 500 page novel or any length of a technical manual.

    2. Dave Bell

      Re: So they force him to use Word hmm?

      People such as Charles Stross and Alistair Reynolds work with publishers. They know what they are talking about. They write stuff that is good enough to win Awards.

      I think you underestimate how much Word gets used as a format. Mr. Stross has written a lot on how the process works, and I don't think you're far wrong on why it gets used. Most of the cost of producing a novel from a manuscript is in the editing, and Word is the de facto standard. Microsoft have been destroying the alternatives in the word-processing market, and nobbling the process that sets standards, and there isn't a practical alternative for what the publishers have to do.

      Yes, it is possible to change file format. but if you go back and forth between Word and ODT a few times, what information about the document have you lost?

      (There is, incidentally, a standard manuscript format which, within the limits of an ordinary typewriter, encodes a few format changes, such a bold and italic.)

      If you just want the WYSIWYG, download Open Office or Libre Office.

      Scrivener looks like a good choice for writing long texts. I use it a lot now.

      Perhaps the biggest problem is that our schooling is focused on writing short, stereotyped, texts in response to exam questions. What was the longest thing you wrote at school? How many of us, when a novel today is typically 100,000 words, can judge the ability of a program to handle such a work?

      Have you even tried NaNoWriMo?

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: So they force him to use Word hmm?

        "I think you underestimate how much Word gets used as a format. Mr. Stross has written a lot on how the process works, and I don't think you're far wrong on why it gets used. Most of the cost of producing a novel from a manuscript is in the editing, and Word is the de facto standard. Microsoft have been destroying the alternatives in the word-processing market, and nobbling the process that sets standards, and there isn't a practical alternative for what the publishers have to do."

        Exactly. There isn't a practical alternative. So moaning about Word seems to overlook the fact that there isn't anything much better. The publishers need a common tool for collaborative review and have settled on Word because it is ubiquitous and works relatively well.

        And this is for review purposes when the manuscript is mostly in draft. It doesn't mean the author has to live their lives in Word. They could write in markdown for all it mattered or some ancient DOS word processor. Providing they submitted in a format that the editor could open. The likes of George RR Martin does exactly that. And it's not like someone can say "ah by George RR Martin can dictate his workflow because he's so famous" because he's been using it for years and before his fame.

        Authors probably find the whole process of editing to be tedious. In a large book it probably does mean throwing a file back and forth many times. And perhaps Word isn't perfect for the job. But the alternatives are no better. The editor could send stacks of manuscript with red ink and postits. Or maybe they could maintain an exhaustive side document of issues and have the author reference it. But neither is particular good

        As for ODT I did not mean to say the editor and author would be switching back and forth between it and .doc but that if another tool were better for the purpose then they could aggree to use that and then convert at the end. There isn't much that a format has to remember - basic structure and formatting. All the rest would be done during typesetting.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: So they force him to use Word hmm?

          There isn't a practical alternative. So moaning about Word seems to overlook the fact that there isn't anything much better.

          Clearly many here feel otherwise, as do the journal and book publishers who use LaTeX as the house format - many in the sciences do, for example.

          But feel free to continue generalizing from yourself. That echo chamber isn't going to fill itself!

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: So they force him to use Word hmm?

      I doubt publishers *demand* Word.

      The journal and book publishers I've worked with do. So doubt all you want; you're still wrong.

  15. Fihart

    Big and not clever.

    Word for Windows (version 2 or whatever) did the job. Since then the program has multiplied in size. Doubtless, lazy coding and adding stupid features -- I get angry when Word starts capitalising words or creating bullet points, unasked.

    When I first started computing, Superwriter supplied free with the Apricot would run from a floppy disk with room left for documents. In fact, I ran it from a virtual disk, so it started instantly. Word now comes on a DVD ??

    Oh and Word versions recently started saving .doc files as .docx just to madden us further. Hopefully, the subscription sales model will kill it off.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Big and not clever.

      Word for Windows (version 2 or whatever) did NOT do the job.

      IMHO the last worthwhile version of Word was Word for DOS 4.0. It was fast, even on a 12MHz PC-AT, blindingly fast on a 40MHz 386 box, and significantly faster than Word Perfect at operations such as 'go to end of document'. But, by far its best feature was that you didn't ever need to lift your hands off the keyboard or use the mouse. You could mouse round if you wanted, but that wasn't necessary because function key usage was very well thought out, e.g. hit F8 and the current word was selected, hit it again and the sentence was selected. Third tap selected the paragraph. Fast. Simple. Memorable.

      Word 5.5 slowed things down by adding crappy drop-dpwn menus which were slower than Word 4's function key system. Word for Windows completely stuffed productivity by making a grab for the mouse a mandatory and frequent distraction from keyboarding. Yes, I know it has 'keyboard shortcuts' but can you honestly say you remember or use more than a couple of them?

      In fairness, Libre Office suffers from exactly the same mouse-centric problems as do most graphical text editors (gedit, I'm looking at you).

      Me? I use vi when I have to and microEmacs the rest of the time because its entirely keyboard-driven multi-buffered editor and so is the fastest way to input, edit and compare text files. Its also OSS, written in ANSI C and trivially easy to port between OSes and hardware architectures: took me 10 minutes to have it up and running on a RaspberryPi.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Big and not clever.

        Little known fact about Word: those repeated-F8 taps still work, after all these versions. Tap once to extend the highlight, twice to select the word, three times to select the sentence, four times for the paragraph, five for the whole document (well, technically the whole *story*, I think).

        I say "little-known fact", because I don't think I've ever seen anyone else using or mentioning that feature. But it's still there. So are, I think, most of the other keyboard commands introduced in early versions. In fact, my biggest single problem with Libre Office is that it doesn't support nearly so many keyboard combos, which strikes me as pathetic from a product aimed at a geek audience.

    2. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Big and not clever.

      That's ok. I found out that in Windows 8.1 this had all been improved. Not only does Word automatically capitalise your writing for you, Windows also automatically turns off half way through your work to "update"...

  16. iLurker

    Even with revision markups Word is notoriously unstable, likely to crash or corrupt the file irretrievably.

    Never, ever rely on markups in Word - the safe way is to compare two versions, before (accept all changes) and after.

  17. Cipher
    Joke

    Some text editor fanboi war this is...

    Not a mention of emacs or ed...

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Some text editor fanboi war this is...

      My first document editor was DEC's EDT. It had a 'word wrap' feature so you could get a paragraph looking nice again after you had hacked it about. OK, you had to do that manually, but nothing else at that time (ca 1980) would do that except a dedicated word processor box.

      1. Old Used Programmer

        Re: Some text editor fanboi war this is...

        Vi has had that feature as far back as I can remember. On the other hand, it's not a good thing to use if you intend to post-process for formatted output (typically using nroff). The standard practice with vi was to type in phrases with newlines between them. Makes editing easy and tends to produce cleaner writing. WYSIWYG processors tend to make people run off at the keyboard in long, convoluted sentences.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some text editor fanboi war this is...

      Not a mention of emacs or ed...

      .. but I think you can be sure that the reason that people hung on to XP was not because EDLIN has finally been phased out in later versions of Windows :)

  18. James 51 Silver badge

    Sigil. I know it's not being developed anymore but it still does everything I need.

  19. Financegozu

    As long as they have the authors' money ...

    ... who cares if Microsoft looses their hearts

  20. Andy Non
    Thumb Down

    Word is a creativity killer.

    I tried using Word to write several short stories and gave up and used Notepad instead. The problem was Word killed the creative flow by stopping me, pointing out typos or other issues or automatically changing the spelling of some words and just generally getting in the way. The solution was to copy/paste the text into word AFTER writing the stories and do the clean up at that stage. It was either that or turn off all the features within Word that got in the way and turn them all back on again to do the clean up and proof reading. I want to write, not have a wrestling match with the software.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Get a distractionless wp

      I recall once seeing a review of some "distractionless" word processors. The idea is that the word processor offers just one text window with minimal decorations and other distractions, meant for writers that want to fully concentrate on the text.

      Too bad I cannot right now remember where I saw it. (Thought it was lwn.net but nothing turned up when searching there).

      None of them were household names, which is not surprising since their users are a rather specialized group. I think the idea has merit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Get a distractionless wp

        A number of them have been mentioned here: Scrivener, Ulysses - they're all explicitly "blank screen" setups to minimise distractions.

        Having said that, you *can* kill the automation in most modern WPs and do it all at the end. Spelink, grammar - it's OK for a small letter but for creative flow you best to it post writing..

  21. present_arms
    Coat

    So what is wrong with...

    Edlin...

    Mines the one with the bullet proof lining

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: So what is wrong with...

      real men use COPY CON

    2. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: So what is wrong with...

      What's wrong with EDLIN? Well, if I remember correctly, EDLIN could deal only with one 64k block of text at a time. To handle a larger file, you had to manually switch between the blocks. One reason why in the MS-DOS era, I always installed MicroEmacs to any new PC I encountered. At one time had a personally customized version of it that fixed some irritants in the original (possible since it came as C source).

  22. Trooper_ID

    interesting

    I use Word from office 2011 on my MBP. I have published four 300+ page novels and a few magazine articles. Never had a problem, but, yes it can be a tad slow when searching through documents. I did try Pages but really found it lacking in almost everything. Never had a freeze or corruption yet, perhaps I have simply been lucky?

  23. Adam Hartfield
    Pint

    What, no love for EDT or WPS-PLUS? What kind of technology site is this?

    Adobe FrameMaker (and before that, Aldus FrameMaker) is the gold standard for book publishing. It's everything that Microsoft Word isn't. I worked with it from 1992 until 2011 or 2012 (save 1995-1998, 3 long dark years when I had to work in Word) when I switched to Oxygen XML Author for its integration with my company's content management system that Frame lacked.

    If you ever want to read some now-quaint technology observations from a sci-fi/fantasy writer, check out Piers Anthony's author's notes in the Incarnations of Immortality series.

    And Jake, IBM Model M here too. Nothing better. Mine was built in April 1988 and is still going strong.

    Beer because I want one.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Model Ms

      "IBM Model M here too. Nothing better. Mine was built in April 1988 and is still going strong."

      You can still buy them, if you're willing to pay through the nose.

      You can also buy Cherry G80 keyboards (aka MX3000) for a much more reasonable figure and they have as good a feel (although slightly quieter)

  24. Gary Bickford

    CS Lewis' food for thought

    Once, a very long time ago, a young girl asked CS Lewis how to become an author. Among other things, he told her, "Always write in longhand, do not use a typewriter." He went on in this vein: using a typewriter makes you think differently, and what you write will not be as good.

    This is a point worth pondering a bit. When you write longhand, you have more time to think about what you are writing, and the words get polished a bit more at least. Writing with a keyboard tends to be more of a 'brain dump' - I think it's faster, and it's easier to backup and rewrite a word or a sentence. This must have a significant effect on what we write. I suspect that text written longhand is going to be less frenetic, at least, and probably more concise.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: CS Lewis' food for thought

      Worked for Shakespeare - not so much for CS Lewis perhaps...

      Quite simply, in electronics its called impedance miss-match. Engines tend not to work without some resistance from the exhaust.

      We only produce our best work when its not too easy.

      Comments are too easy...

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: CS Lewis' food for thought

      Yeah, like C S Lewis knew about "good writing"...

      Tolkien used a typewriter, and is generally considered to knock the pants off Lewis when it comes to prose quality.[citation needed]

      1. mmeier

        Re: CS Lewis' food for thought

        Tolkien? Wrote a lot of low grade stuff like "Lord of the Blings" and "Bilbos 14". His OED on the other hand - still a great work. A bit dry maybe.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: CS Lewis' food for thought

          Tolkien? Wrote a lot of low grade stuff

          Ooh! Let's drop the file-format and editor flame wars for a Tolkien one.

          (Personally, I think JRRT is rather overrated, but who cares?)

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: CS Lewis' food for thought

      Auden, on the other hand, thought it necessary to go from holograph to typed as soon as possible, because, he felt, authors like the appearance of their own handwriting and so aren't sufficiently self-critical until they see the words rendered in relatively impersonal type.

  25. /dev/null

    Wasn't that long ago when novels were written using a typewriter, or even (as CS Lewis recommended) with a pen. Didn't seem to stop plenty good stories being written and published. What's changed?

  26. Mark Simon

    Not the first one …

    I remember Douglas Adams writing about Word some years ago:

    http://www.smartquotes.info/douglasadams.php

    1. Salts

      Re: Not the first one …

      Thanks for that, the late, great Douglas Adams, sadly missed :-(

      As for writing, markdown text works for me and exports well to PDF, but as they say YMMV.

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Not the first one …

      He was complaining, wittily I grant you, that Word at that time did not have "smart quotes" or a word count. Both are long since fixed.

      1. veti Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Not the first one …

        That bastard. "Smart quotes" are one of the dumbest things about Word.

        On-by-default, a way to guarantee that a Word document can't be translated into a web page without breaking in half the world's browsers. Simply imbecilic.

  27. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    WTF?

    Word's "Best Feature"

    Must be the "urgent deadline detector". That's the one where the courier is drumming their fingers on your desk while you are poised to print the definitive and final, final copy. THEN your figures disappear and are replaced by large red crosses and random chunks of text are rendered in Baskerville Old Face 130 pt.

  28. Sarev

    Reminds me a little of the Gimp

    I know, I know, you get what you pay for but this reminds me that I could write a book about all the shit things I keep finding in the Gimp. Yes, I could use Photoshop but they want to move us all to a subs model. F*ck that.

  29. fung0

    Not even scratching the surface

    I've written several non-fiction (published!) books in Word, and hundreds, if not thousands, of long articles. I've created some macros to help me out, but it's still agonizing. The problem with ALL the options mentioned in this article is that they are just word processors. They fundamentally do nothing more than WordStar did on CP/M. For long documents, Word and LibreOffice offer little advantage over something like vi.

    What they should have evolved into by now is document processors. Something that can truly help with structure and content. For example, I'd like to be able to attach metadata to paragraphs, identifying the source of the information they contain. This is a perennial problem with typing up research notes: you lose track of their origin. I'd also like something far, far beyond the miserable 'outliner' in Word. I continue to use Ecco for outlining and tracking various types of content, but having it integrated with a proper word processor would be an enormous help. (LibreOffice has no outliner at all, demonstrating its utter lack of ambition to be anything but an inferior clone of Word.)

    These kinds of tools I'm talking about would be of even more benefit to the non-professional writer. Most people never learn that with anything longer than a a single sentence, structure must come first. The only tool that ever attempted to place structure first was Lotus Manuscript. It was full of great concepts, but buckled under the limitations of its character-based user interface. There are also writer's tools, such as Scrivener, which are promising. But last time I looked, Scrivener lacked such indispensable features as macros, or in fact, any form of customization. (Again, its creators seem to think they're 99% done, even though they've yet to replicate even the basic features of Word.)

    Microsoft is operating as if Word already had EVERY FEATURE that a word processor could ever have, and the only thing left to do was to monkey around with the UI (making annoyingly needless changes even where the long-standing approach was already optimal). Application software development has generally stalled, because of their attitude, but nowhere is this more apparent than with Word and word processors as a category.

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Embedded source refernces

      Sounds like you want footnotes or endnotes. Vi plus nroff has had that for decades.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Not even scratching the surface

      The only tool that ever attempted to place structure first was Lotus Manuscript

      LaTeX does, for some values of "structure" and "first". Try document creation with LyX, for example: start by defining the type of document (document class), optionally populate a template, then add one of the structural elements defined for that document (e.g. front-matter, chapter, abstract, section...). Populate it with content and optionally sub-structure. Create more structures. Repeat.

      I've used the Freemind mind-mapping tool to create an outline, then export it as a LaTeX document that I could then open in LyX, giving me all the structure and content from the mind map. Not suitable for all sorts of projects, or for all authors, but it was definitely structure-first workflow.

      And, of course, all nice marked-up plain text that is handled well by tools such as Subversion.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not even scratching the surface

        used a mind-mapping tool

        seriously?

  30. Doug Bostrom

    "Everybody else dips their pencils in s--t so I have to dip mine."

    Why the situation stinks for everybody: by mutual consent.

  31. ItsNotMe
    Mushroom

    And we should care what this clown thinks because why?

    WGAF?

    1. DF118

      Re: And we should care what this clown thinks because why?

      Don't be a fanny.

  32. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    collaborative mark-down

    I think this is by design - collaborative writing is all to often a book written by a committee and retains the worst of all the authors.

  33. Andy Non
    FAIL

    Clippy is gone in name only.

    I've cursed Word many times when it decides to create a bullet list without my permission or change the formatting or font of the text or just generally bugger around while I'm typing. The days of Clippy may have gone "It looks like you are writing a letter, would you like me to interfere?" However, the sentiment remains, and Microsoft tries to be helpful while I'm typing and fails utterly. If I write technical documents containing snippets of other languages it tends to auto-correct words incorrectly or switch from British English to American English spelling and mangle my English spelling. Tiny graphics within help documentation intended to show which button to press in an application suddenly turn into a graphical bullet list.

    The worst case of Microsoft's automated interfering happened with Access a number of years ago when they introduced a spell checker into it. I'd inherited a project based on a large Access database. One of the non-unique key fields held the lower-case alphabetic letters a, b, c, ... p and the fields were referenced by the software. We made an update to one of the tables and shipped out hundreds of CDs to our customer base. It wasn't long before complaints came in that the program was falling over. The key field data had mysteriously been corrupted - all the key fields consisting of a lower-case letter "i" had been changed to upper-case letter "I". Thanks Microsoft.

    1. fung0

      Re: Clippy is gone in name only.

      Very true. Microsoft can't wrap its collective brain around the idea of giving working writers really powerful tools. Instead, they target some 'dumb' user, and do everything they can to make them even dumber. They're like that person who tries to help you by taking over. "Here, let me do that - it'll be quicker."

      1. SineWave242

        Re: Clippy is gone in name only.

        They do it with their operating systems, too. Quite unsuccessfully I might add. As a long-time computer support guy I can only say this: users love shortcuts on the desktop. They love when everything can be done within a click or two. So "upgrading" a start menu to a menu that needs a manual on its own to use is absolutely cretinous. XP menu and especially "quick-start" shortcuts are brilliant. That's just one of the reasons why people like XP so much. I find its user interface incredibly great and I try to mimic it in my Linux OS because its so perfect. When you have a perfect product like that... well, some things just don't need to be "upgraded", eh?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Clippy is gone in name only.

          When you have a perfect product like that... well, some things just don't need to be "upgraded", eh?

          And that, in a nutshell, explains why MS interfaces now suck - they put people back on the path of hoping that the next version will be better (it used to be with drivers, but now it's the UI), without realising that that will NEVER happen - not even with the subscription model.

  34. jnemesh

    Call George RR Martin!

    He has a spare copy of DOS and a DOS version of WordPerfect for him! :)

    1. fung0

      Re: Call George RR Martin!

      I think it's WordStar he uses. (WordStar 2000? Not the best version, anyway.) Personally, I was wooed away from WordStar 3.3 by Borland's Sprint, which picked up WordStar's UI, ran faster (even in text mode under Windows) and added a mass of new features.

      Of course, this was back when there was actual innovation going on. Word essentially stopped evolving in the mid to late 1990s. After Word 2003, the product actually started to backslide, becoming harder to maintain, more buggy, uglier, and far more annoying to use, while offering no meaningful advancement whatsoever.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Call George RR Martin!

        I loved Sprint - saving every character on a computer that had not even 1% of the power most machines have now. Actually, I generally liked Borland stuff, the Turbo languages, Quattro Pro - even their "use it as a book" license model.

        If we stopped adding so much crud to code we could have machines that were fast as lightning now, but strangely, you still have to wait 20 seconds or more for a machine to boot. Why?

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Call George RR Martin!

          "you still have to wait 20 seconds or more for a machine to boot. Why?"

          Tru dat , its mind boggling , just look at the list of processes in task manager for a clue - what the hell is all that stuff doing??

          Its like there's a rule - coders will always fill available resources.

          Just like my dad will fill all available shed space with junk.

          I remember watching a guy with a flashy pc switching between word and excel like lightning - and that was because he had 32Mb of RAM. because he was a "power user" .

  35. This post has been deleted by its author

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Then stop complaining and use a proper writing tool?

    Writing isn't even the main thing I do, but I still only use Word for final presentation and sharing (often with people who can only except Word).

  37. Ian Easson

    So, someone encounters a small bug in a word processor (Word) having to do with scrolling, reports it to the producer (Microsoft), producer acknowledges it is a bug and promises to fix it soon, and then the person declares the product to be ”a tyrant of the imagination” and bemoans its use in the publishing world..

    Overreaction, anyone?

    1. Adair

      Hardly an over-reaction,

      more like a surprisingly restrained response to the seemingly unending catalogue of presumptuousness and arrogance from a large corporation as it seeks to entrench it's monopolistic dreams, and milk its customers, with a piece of software that first and foremost is intended to serve the interests of said corporation.

      Word is a functional and ergonomic disaster, barely suitable for writing letters, let alone any serious document. The only reason it continues to thrive (if that is the right word) is because of Microsoft's success in persuading/bullying large institutions and corporate entities into using it as the default standard.

      MS can't be blamed for that, it's a corporate entity itself---it's what they do. The problem is we're talking about a tool. And anyone who uses tools knows that the best kind are the ones you hardly notice you are using because their design functionality and aesthetics have been so well honed to performing the intended task that that is all the user is concious of doing---getting the job done, without having to wrestle the tool into submission, or worry whether it is going to let them down.

      MS Word is not that kind of tool, it's the other kind---a cynical bit of money grubbing corporate w*nk.

      Now some may say that the above is an over-reaction, but considering what Word could be, given the time MS have had to make it into something useful and usable, I would argue my response is proportionate and finely judged. Of course others may beg to differ.

  38. chuckufarley

    Microsoft is losing...

    Microsoft is losing the hearts and minds of /*

  39. MyffyW Silver badge

    In defense of the word processor

    I wrote one novel on Word (with the occasional help from notepad or phone when inspiration struck). I naïvely used the normal level of formatting, only for the KDP publishing process to require that I scrubbed most of it. These days all I really need is a spell checker and a rudimentary headings / table-of-contents. Sort of functionality found in every word processor since WordPerfect 5.1 I suppose.

  40. LDS Silver badge

    It's always funny how many people complain about Word because they never learnt to use it.

    Most complains from Word users are because they never learnt how to use Word. Most user try to use is as a digital typewriter, but that's not how Word is designed to work but for very short documents.

    Word can be configured to match what you need to do in a given moment. Need to enter large amount of text without taking care of formatting? Switch to draft mode, hide the toolbar/ribbon, and you have something very much alike a plain text editor.

    Need to handle large, complex documents? You'll need a template, styles, and maybe some macro. After all, how do you design an HTML document today? Using inline formatting, or using CSS (the template..), styles and JavaScript?

    Need to avoid a single document grow too large? Use a master document.

    There are many features in Word that when known and properly use make it a very powerful tool. If you just try to use it as a typewriter with some fancy effects, you won't go far.

  41. Charles Manning

    Fool me once....

    shame on you.

    Fool me TWICE, shame on ME!

    You are a victim of your own thinking, not a victim of Microsoft.

    Silly whiny-pants author. Don't like it? Don't use it!

    1. SineWave242

      Re: Fool me once....

      I'm not sure if I should down-vote or up-vote your post because I absolutely agree with your "Don't like it? Don't use it!".

      However, so many people are just simply bullied into using Word for writing articles, books and whatever, because people are not informed well. All they hear about is "Microsoft Office" and "Word" and all I can tell them is: use something else. "Word" is so far from being one and only for everything. Ask around for alternatives - there are hundreds! Microsoft is a company who makes subpar one-track-minded corporate software and have succeeded *somehow* [even using malicious practises] to push their software upon so many users. That doesn't mean AT ALL that their software is the best. Just use whatever suits you bes,t and if someone tells you that you should send them a "doc" or "docx" just use Libreoffice to convert the document into whatever format they ask of you for free. On Linux with LibreOffice you can even easily "print it" to PDF. It's THAT EASY because you don't have to install anything else like in Windows.

  42. Bakana

    How Awful is it?

    If you want to Really find out just how bad Word can be, take a document created in Word, make a COPY of it. Rename that copy to a .TXT file. (Don't SAVE it, Rename it.)

    Then, just for fun, open that .txt copy with notepad and browse through it.

    Your will be Amazed. You will also find out just Why a one page document with only 2 or 3 paragraphs can use up as much as a Megabyte of memory when saved.

    I first did this myself with an E-Mail from a friend that included a Word document as an attachment. I didn't Have Word on my computer at the time and my word processor didn't want to open theWord document. As a last resort, I tried the "Rename" trick.

    I not only found the Text of the document she sent me, but a Whole Bunch of stuff that belonged to Other Documents she'd been working on in the recent past. Seems Word saves all it's Work Buffers along with the Document.

    I let this friend know that she had unintentionally sent me large chunks of several Legal Documents she had been working on for Clients of her Law Firm in those "Work Buffers".

    She and her Co-workers had to change their work habits to Close out Word completely and Re-open word when changing from one document to another.

    No more just clicking on the "New Document" button on the menu.

    1. SineWave242

      Re: How Awful is it?

      Exactly! People are not aware of what kind of things are being saved in all of their doc and docx files! When I first found out about it using the same method as you, I was like huh!?!?!? It's preposterous!

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: How Awful is it?

      A much better work habit is... don't send Word documents to clients. Ever.

      That's what PDFs are for. Even Microsoft finally relented to include "Save as PDF" as a native option.

      1. SleepyJohn

        Re: How Awful is it? Export to PDF

        Yes. After getting fed up with my wife constantly complaining that her MS colleagues opened her Linux Textmaker DOC files and found bullet points in the wrong place I asked if they needed to edit them. No, she said. Then send them PDFs, I said.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Re: How Awful is it?

      "I not only found the Text of the document she sent me, but a Whole Bunch of stuff that belonged to Other Documents she'd been working on in the recent past. Seems Word saves all it's Work Buffers along with the Document."

      Again, a classic example of not knowing how Word worked (it should happen with .doc documents using OLE compound files only, not .docx).

      If "allow fast save" is active (and it should be the default) Word will *add* changes to the current document incrementally. It allows for faster save, but old data will be still there. It means that:

      1) The document grows larger and larger, even if you actually delete or change text mostly

      2) If you create a new document reusing an old one (a bad habit of many lazy users...), it may contain data from a totally different document!

      http://support.microsoft.com/kb/291181/en-us

      This is was well known among Word users who took the time to learn to really use Word...

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        fast save

        and all that pissing around , wasted space , possible data security problems just so you can "save faster"?

        how long is a slow save?

  43. AndyDent

    Scarred but understanding now I'm an author too

    I wrote "Getting Started with LevelDB" last year, for Packt. They too insist on using MS Word for two reasons. One is the collaborative markup with commenting and change control. The other is a strong style-based production pipeline.

    They produce cheap 120 page, highly-focused books and have a production process that requires the author to use an exact range of MS Word styles that then map directly into their production styles (presumably using InDesign or similar).

    The collaborative markup was both a blessing and a curse.

    Some chapters went through 5 revisions with the technical editor (trying to write about Objective-C in 4.5 pages per chapter with multi-line wrapped source examples is a nightmare).

    You need a way to have comments attached to specific points in the text, with anchoring that will survive editing by more than one party.

    That is a non-trivial exercise, far more complex than any stylistic markup.

    I would love to see an extension to Markdown which coped with editing markup or maybe a tool integrating Markdown with version control that offered at least the functionality of MS Word's commenting, for non-technical users.

    I am NOT a fan of Word and the bubble comments don't scale - beyond two participants and multiple reviews they become a confusing morass. I would be very happy to hear that there's a better alternative.

  44. Turgut Kalfaoglu

    why not libreoffice?

    Why not use Libreoffice like everyone else does?

  45. Henry Dorsett

    I realize that I'm in the minority here, but I actually enjoy using Word for writing. I've been using it for the better part of my life, and no other piece of software covers as many things as well as Word does. Sure, I could go caveman use vi (actually, I'd rather shoot myself in the head than use vi ever again, but I could use nano), or I could break free of the tyranny of Microsoft and use LibreOffice or AbiWord, but I find the lack of ability to format things in a way that pleases my eye while I'm writing, a major reason that people are citing as a BONUS to using a basic text editor like nano or Notepad++ (which is what I use on Windows), to be more distracting than any amount of feature bloat on Word. And finding any features in LibreOffice that aren't the absolute most basic, commonly-used ones means having to look things up, which is REALLY distracting, because then not only am I not writing, but I'm also pissed off that I'm not using Word, where I already know how to do damn near everything that I'd ever want to do while writing a novel or short story.

    If you're talking about distraction, it's important to remember that while Word may not be the best program for every single job at every single moment, the way so many of you seem to expect it to be, it is able to do almost any word processing job reasonably well. The trick, I've found, is to use an older version, one from before they started screwing with the UI. Personally, I like Word 2003. Microsoft even has patches to support their new document formats.

  46. tuhaybey

    Alastair Reynolds is, IMO, the best science fiction writer currently publishing. You can find a good list of his best works here- http://sciencefictionlist.com/authors/alastair-reynolds.php

  47. Rick Giles
    Linux

    What's wrong with .TXT?

    Seriosly, as long as you can read it, why the hell do you need all of the MS bullshit?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: What's wrong with .TXT?

      I'd take that over a pdf anyday , because then i wouldnt have to have use a superconputer to run adobe reader to read it.

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