Once upon a time, I loved Microsoft Word. Back in the last century, when Microsoft released Word 2.0 for Windows in 1992, I was in word processing nirvana – it had all the features I needed for regular writing, whether it was expository writing (I was doing a fair amount of user documentation for online databases back then) or system specs. It was fast, clean, and elegant. Remember this screen?
Over the years, however, as Word has gotten more and more feature-rich, I find I use it less and less. Now, though it’s still installed on all my computers, I basically only use it for viewing documents other people send me. For writing I tend to use a plain text editor like TextMate on my Macs or Crimson Editor or Notepad on PCs, or I write in the Ecto blog editor (which might just be my favorite) or the email editor, or in a wiki.
I’ve been thinking that I’m in a tiny minority on this, as some sort of tech geek, and that most people are happily living a great portion of their lives using Word and getting lots out of it.
Today, however, I happened across Steven Poole’s Goodbye, Cruel Word blog post, and here, eloquently expressed, were the same sentiments, coming from the hands of a real, you know, writer, and over a hundred comments, mostly agreeing wholeheartedly.
Sadly for me, although it wasn’t strictly necessary, after a few years and a colour Performa I “upgraded” to Word 98, and somehow the magic was gone. Yes, I turned off all the crappy lurid toolbars and tried to make the compositional space as simple as possible, but by this time Word was stuffed with all kinds of “features” that let you print a pie-chart on the back of a million envelopes or publish your cookery graphs to your “world wide web home-page”, and it already felt to me that Word was only grudgingly letting me write nothing but, you know, words. Trigger Happy got out of Word 98 and onto the streets, but not without routine crashes and the occasional catastrophic loss of a few finely honed paragraphs.
I was still somehow brainwashed, though, as perhaps many people still are today, into believing that Word was the “serious” word-processor: the professional tool for anyone who did heavy lifting with language. Part of the reason for Microsoft’s success in this propaganda trick, I think, was its brilliant choice of file-name extension. Think about it: .doc. That means “document”. A .doc just is a document, right? And a document has to be a .doc. Stands to reason. Anything else would look amateurish. If they had called their files .mwd or something, we might have all jumped ship a lot sooner.
Maybe I’m not so iconoclastic after all…