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Goodbye Cruel Word 565

Posted by Zonk
from the it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night dept.
theodp writes "The problem with Microsoft Word, writes the NYT's Virginia Heffernan, is that 'I always feel as if I'm taking an essay test.' Seeking to break free of the tyranny of Microsoft Word, Heffernan takes a look at Scrivener and the oh-so-retro WriteRoom, which she and others feel jibe better with the way writers think. 'The new writing programs encourage a writerly restart. You may even relearn the green-lighted alphabet, adjust your preference for long or short sentences, opt afresh for action over description. Renewal becomes heady: in WriteRoom's gloom is man's power to create something from nothing, to wrest form from formlessness. Let's just say it: It's biblical. And come on, ye writers, do you want to be a little Word drip writing 603 words in Palatino with regulation margins? Or do you want to be a Creator?'"
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Goodbye Cruel Word

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  • by BWJones (18351) * on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:07PM (#21934524) Homepage Journal
    The problem with Word and notably Microsoft, is that they have attempted to make both Windows and their apps, notably Office, all things to all people with an interface that has not really changed at all over the course of its lifetime.

    I used to think that the reality of the situation was that you really could not have a professional class word processing application that does all things that professional writers need used by the same audience that merely wants to write school reports or letters to friends. However, it is all in the interface and Pages [apple.com] from Apple has shown that many of the "professional" features in word processing have to do with page layout or formatting issues as well as integrating not just text and fonts, but also images. Fundamentally the issue with interfaces is not providing features piled on features, but figuring out how to craft a tool that people can use to get work done rather than having to learn how to use the tool. I want my word processing environment to simply let me craft written word and images into a form that allows me to communicate my intent to the audience without getting in the way or making me learn arcane and occult methods for getting my page numbers to appear just right or getting the text to wrap around an embedded image without constantly having to reformat an entire 80 (or more) page document. Writing my doctoral dissertation in Word back in 2003 was a repeated lesson in pain as every time I changed a single image, the formatting of the entire document would be altered with entire paragraphs seeming to disappear or get hidden outside of margins and I never want to return to that world.

    Granted, I still have to return to Word from time to time as Pages is not yet perfect, still needing better integration with Endnote, but it is getting pretty close. The perfect environment would be Pages that can read and edit Adobe Acrobat files along with markup, comments and notes along with full Endnote functionality that would also run on a tablet that takes advantage of gestures...

    • by sethawoolley (1005201) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:11PM (#21934564) Homepage
      Amen, brother. That's why I like to use sed and shell echos, pipes, and redirects to do my word processing.
      • by Fred_A (10934) <fredNO@SPAMfredshome.org> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:20PM (#21935686) Homepage

        Amen, brother. That's why I like to use sed and shell echos, pipes, and redirects to do my word processing.
        See ? I'm not the only one who doesn't like ed !
    • by gcnaddict (841664) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:11PM (#21934568)
      "The problem with Word and notably Microsoft, is that they have attempted to make both Windows and their apps, notably Office, all things to all people with an interface that has not really changed at all over the course of its lifetime."

      Office 2007 is leaps and bounds over anything Microsoft put out before. The interface is also heavily improved, so I don't know where you're getting this (unless this is pre-2005 when Office 2007 wasn't public knowledge)
      • by digitig (1056110) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:24PM (#21934666)

        Office 2007 is leaps and bounds over anything Microsoft put out before. The interface is also heavily improved

        That is very much a matter of taste. I found the Office 2007 user interface an unusable, intrusive abomination, that was constantly in my way when I was trying to work [1], so after a few months I went back to 2003. I agree that it was "leaps and bounds over anything Microsoft put out before", but in the bad direction. Your mileage may vary, of course.

        [1] It did look good, though, I'll give it that. Perfect for the exec who chooses his PA on bust size rather than on organisational skills.

        • Perfect for the exec who chooses his PA on bust size rather than on organisational skills.

          If she can organize her large bust to keep it out of the way when she needs to get other things done, she might be great at other organizational skills as well.

        • by loganrapp (975327) <loganrapp.gmail@com> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:03PM (#21936064)
          Perfect for the exec who chooses his PA on bust size rather than on organisational skills.



          That is redundant, sir.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BWJones (18351) *
        Well, I started using Pages back in February of 2005, so I guess Microsoft had something to emulate for at least a couple of years. :-)

        Admittedly, I've not used Office 2007 much because of an initial attempt at using the trial version corrupted *all* of my .doc files to be only compatible with the new Office 2007, essentially forcing users to upgrade and make the purchase. That irritated me considerably and if I did not have a backup to recover everything, I would have been really upset. However, since I'
        • Shades of Word 97 (Score:5, Interesting)

          by IvyKing (732111) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:52PM (#21935438)

          Admittedly, I've not used Office 2007 much because of an initial attempt at using the trial version corrupted *all* of my .doc files to be only compatible with the new Office 2007, essentially forcing users to upgrade and make the purchase.


          I remember hearing about this issue with the trial version of Word 97 converting all files it was allowed to touch to Word 97 format. Some things never change....


          This is an area where I think Sun is far more on the ball than Microsoft - for one, SO/OOo defaults to saving in the same format as the original document. More importantly, the file formats are better documented than the ones for Word, so you should be able to read them for the forseeable future. The downside of SO/OOo is that it is too much of a clone of MS-Office and dealing with all the formatting issues does get in the way of writing.


          I've been thinking of getting a Mac specifically to be able to use Pages.

      • by Jugalator (259273) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:46PM (#21934880) Journal
        I agree, the Office 2007 suite is for me the most improved version MS has put out of Office in ages.

        It's a bit mind boggling how when you've been used to apps like OpenOffice and Office 2003, you find (after an adjustment period, of course) what you want and that without opening a menu! Exception being when opening files... If there's one UI idea as neat as a tabbed browser, it has to be a tabbed toolbar where one tab is context sensitive.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Reivec (607341)
        You are insane. 2007 is not leaps and bounds above anything. The interface looks different but once you get used to it... it is really the exact same thing. The only NEW thing I noticed was the theme section that changes your doc or spreadsheet to preview the presets (which all suck anyway). 2007 on the other hand has a host of other problems such as retarded defaults that make your fonts look like shit and double spacing is the norm. It also likes to change the size of my pics from the original size wit
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Leaps and bounds indeed. Office still does all the annoying things it did before (placing graphics and captions is nothing short of witchcraft), but now I can't find any of the menus that might help me fix the problem. I won't even start on the equation editor. But most of all - what happened to the speed? I can type faster than Word puts letters on the screen. On a 3GHz machine with 2GB RAM. And my typing skills suck.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eebra82 (907996)

      The problem with Word and notably Microsoft, is that they have attempted to make both Windows and their apps, notably Office, all things to all people with an interface that has not really changed at all over the course of its lifetime.

      I was thinking the exact same thing until the release of Word 2007. It's one of the biggest improvements ever seen in a Microsoft product, really. It went from bulky and advanced to - dare I say - Appleish with simplicity and great options for customization.

      I guess it's difficult to release a perfect Word since there are so many different types of users, yet Microsoft can't release five different versions simply for the sake of avoiding too much confusion. As if all the Vista releases weren't bad enough

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Yaztromo (655250)

        I guess it's difficult to release a perfect Word since there are so many different types of users, yet Microsoft can't release five different versions simply for the sake of avoiding too much confusion.

        Why not? They did it with Vista.

        Yaz.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      You really should have learned TeX/LaTeX.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Yeah, I have to agree. 80 pages of doctoral thesis without LaTeX sounds like a nightmare. I'm surprised someone capable of writing code would consider using Word for a thesis.
      • by BWJones (18351) *
        Been there, done that. TeX/LaTeX is nice and cross platform, but for real page layout, you should really try Pages...

        • by Bluesman (104513) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:25PM (#21935206) Homepage
          LaTeX tries to do a different thing than "desktop publishing," and for what it does, it does it extremely well, and is far better than any alternatives.

          Back in the day, we had "word processors," and we had "desktop publishing software," the difference being that the desktop publishing software let you precisely control page layout and were WYSIWYG. Word processors were things you typed documents into and they broke that document into pages to send to a printer. Word processors had extensive features to help you enter your document correctly, like spell and grammar checkers, ways to emphasize text by making it bold or underlined, and not much else. They processed words, not pages.

          Then someone had the not-so-bright idea to bring WYSIWYG into word processing, combining Desktop Publishing Software and Word Processing Software into shitty abominations called WordPerfect > 5.1 and Microsoft Word. Putting a small subset of desktop publishing power into cheap, buggy software ensured that secretaries everywhere would abuse Comic Sans and clip art until the end of time, and attach their creations to what should have been plain text email.

          My first "office suite" let you type your document into the word processor, then you could set up the page layout in the desktop publishing program and link the text in, where it would flow into the predetermined layout and fill it. Two discrete steps, which couldn't have been easier. Trying to do this all at once is a pain in the ass, especially if you're changing the document around (editing). The problems worsen when multiple people work on the same document.

          Initially, it was obvious that word processing and desktop publishing were two very different things, and never the twain shall meet. We'd all be a lot better off if this distinction had stayed, because the problem with word processors today is not that they're trying to be all things to all people, but that they're trying to do two different things at the same time.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by syousef (465911)
            Sorry but in my view you're dead wrong. WYSIWYG done well is exactly what is needed. In the real world you'll get asked to make precise changes to the way your document looks, and document format is not just an afterthought or a separate step of the process. Having to make changes to a document seldom means making changes to one or the other. What's more changing/rearranging the content can have a major impact on the layout of your document, which needs to be dealt with. Being able to see those changes as y
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by linguizic (806996)
      I don't know anything about endnote, but Pages has the ability to make beautiful PDF's. My resume is a pdf that I created with Pages and whether I got the job or not, people have always commented on how good my resume looks. I would never have been able to create it in Word.
    • by yankpop (931224) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:55PM (#21934946)

      Fundamentally the issue with interfaces is not providing features piled on features, but figuring out how to craft a tool that people can use to get work done rather than having to learn how to use the tool.

      That's fine, if you just want to write letters to your friends and family, or update a personal blog, or whatever. But if writing is something you do professionally, what is wrong with investing an afternoon or a weekend in learning how to use a truly powerful editor? My work involves a combination of technical writing, popular writing, and coding. I could do all of these using Microsoft Word, or Word in combination with Notepad for coding, with very minimal time required to get going.

      But investing a week (over a period of several months) in learning to use Emacs to serve my needs has paid off dividends. When you consider that most of us spend 40+ hours a week, 48+ weeks a year, editing text of one kind or another, I think the expectation that a good tool is one that take no effort to *start* using is misguided. If you are going to be spending a large chunk of your life doing a particular task, a little short term pain to gain access to a tool that will grow with your needs over the rest of your career is really not such a burden.

      Emacs is not the answer to everyone's needs, of course. But I think anyone who is at all technically savvy should at least consider learning to use a proper editor.

      yp

    • by frisket (149522) <peterNO@SPAMsilmaril.ie> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:27PM (#21935226) Homepage

      It also depends on the balance between the textual content of what you write (the words) and the form they take. In past ages, writers simply wrote -- the formatting was the job of the publisher, and the author had no control over it (unless they were a Big Name). Now that it is possible for every writer to be their own typesetter, many of them feel that it is therefore their job to spend as much if not more time formatting what they write, than actually writing it.

      The first thing your publisher does when they receive your final draft is probably to rip out every scrap of your formatting and put in their own, to conform to their house style. They would actually much rather have your book in plain text, with virtually zero formatting, than have to go through the expensive and time-consuming task of removing all the unnecessary hard spaces, hard linebreaks, hard pagebreaks, etc that authors insert in the fond belief that they are "helping". Smart publishers and skilled authors in technical fields use LaTeX or XML because the writer or editor can indicate what is what without prejudicing the formatting; but there are no interfaces to either system yet that are usable by the average non-specialist writer (see my paper [epu.ucc.ie] on this topic to the Extreme Markup conference in 2006) although a couple are beginning to get close.

      Unless you are writing for self-publication (just about viable now; in which case get professional typographic advice), your best bet is a wordprocessor with a stylesheet that uses some kind of Named Styles and that saves in XML so that the publisher can pick out your text with minimal formatting, and trash all the rest of the junk that wordprocessors typically insert. For a novel, however, which typically has only minimal formatting requirements anyway, it's probably not important what you use.

      In fact there are a dozen or so simple interface changes that editor makers could implement that would radically ease the burden on the writer of formal or complex documents, but this would involve a paradigm shift in the interface away from concentrating on the appearance to concentrating on actually writing. Editor makers are reluctant to do this because it would reveal just how much of their interface is actually eye-candy and how little of it is really there to help the writer; and authors are naturally reluctant to forsake the comfort of their favourite wordprocessor, especially if they perceive a new interface as restricting their ability to decorate their text (not actually the case, but a perception nevertheless).

      --

      Claimer: the usability of interfaces to editing structured documents is my thesis topic.
    • Mellel, DocBook (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LKM (227954)

      Writing my doctoral dissertation in Word back in 2003 was a repeated lesson in pain

      Wow, I feel your pain. After Word couldn't reliably handle a small 100-page thesis I wrote, I switched to Mellel [redlers.com] for the rest of my time as a student. Highly recommended. Does everthing a dissertation needs, is easy to use, looks nice, and is fast.

      XMLMind [xmlmind.com] + DocBook might also be a good option.

      But please, whatever you do, avoid Word at all cost. It's just not suitable for this kind of writing.

  • OpenOffice? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AndGodSed (968378) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:10PM (#21934538) Homepage Journal
    I am just wondering if the author has a problem with MS, MS Word, or how the package works and "feels".

    OpenOffice is presented similarly, but "feels" different. Like Office 2007 does, only better.

    I enjoy writing in OpenOffice more than with MS Word, but that just may be because that which you use often gets familiar, like a favourite pair of shoes...
    • Re:OpenOffice? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by westyvw (653833) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:59PM (#21934986)
      I dont know what it is about OO either. I find it just easier to work with. Not in the finding buttons to do things I want, but just to sit and type on, particularly the linux version.

      Aside from that, I switched to OO when I was grant writing, it managed a project better then MS Office and the integration with the Spreadsheet was better then Excel and Word. Go figure.
  • One Word: Lyx (Score:5, Informative)

    by gambolt (1146363) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:16PM (#21934594)
    It's the "killer ap" that got me to convert to linux full time.

    http://www.lyx.org/ [lyx.org]

  • by crush (19364)
    For long projects I've found LyX [lyx.org] to be the easiest environment due to its WYSYWIM paradigm and easy handling of references, notes and citations. It's just very easy to simply get down to work with LyX. I'll grant you that I quite like the feature of Scrivener where one can have inspirational/reference material included in the appropriate section folder, but I wonder would it become distracting?
  • by charlie (1328)
    The best green-screen creative writing environment is Vim. Which comes free with every Mac, already, if you've the wit to open a terminal window. (Although I'll give you a free pass if you prefer Emacs.) WriteRoom stinks to me of an attempt to sell a reinvented wheel to folks who don't know any better.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by chebucto (992517)
      Emacs and Vim are both great programs, but you have to admit they have a steep learning curve.

      Also, they can't be made to run full-screen on a mac without booting into a command line (afaik).

      The advantage of WriteRoom (which I've just tried out for a couple of minutes) is that it has no learning curve. Also, it's a true full-screen app - all you see is a black background and green text. No menus or windows to bother you.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Squid (3420)
        You want Megazoomer. [ianhenderson.org] I also pair it up with Blacklight [michelf.com] for light-on-dark text.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)

        Also, they can't be made to run full-screen on a mac without booting into a command line (afaik).

        Install iTerm and use command-enter to switch to full-screen mode. You can't do it with OS X's default terminal emulator, however. I stopped using iTerm when I switched to Leopard, since for most things the new terminal was better. Running a full-screen terminal on a modern screen isn't very useful since (unless you pick a very large font size) your lines will be too long to be comfortable to read.

    • vi for writing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by remitaylor (884490) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:54PM (#21935456)
      I have to agree that, for me, the best writing environment is a terminal with vim (often using Compiz' ADD Helper [compiz-fusion.org] to dim the desktop and all other windows)

      Also, a lightweight markup language, like Markdown [wikipedia.org], lets you write normally - but be able to convert your document to XHTML, LaTeX, PDF, etc etc.

      The biggest downside to using vim is that, unlike Scrivener, it doesn't give you explicit places to put your notes / outline / etc. So, using vim, you're free to put your notes / etc wherever you want ... both an upside (freedom) and a downside (something you have to figure out and that might distract you).

      For drafting, I often using an SCM like git or subversion, but for little snippets and free-writes, etc? They might be written down on paper, they might be in a random note file ... who knows?

      It might be worth it to use screen [gnu.org] or vim split screens to reproduce something like Scrivener provides, with designated places on the sides to have notes, etc etc. I think I might try that out ...

      But, come-on, really ... don't we use vim because it's what we use all day, anyway? As sysadmins / programmers / etc, it makes sense for us to use the editor that we always use (which is available on all OSes, as well).

      I use vim for my writing, because it's what I use all day anyway.
      I use git for keeping track of my files / drafts / revisions, because it's what I use all day anyway.
      I use markdown for my markup, because it's what I use all day anyway.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:57PM (#21935496)
      I'm Jesse Grosjean, the guy who wrote WriteRoom [hogbaysoftware.com].

      You are not the first to say that WriteRoom == Bad copy of VIM, probably the best example of this idea can be found here [diveintomark.org]. And frankly I can see where you are coming from, but I also think that you are not really understanding WriteRoom's purpose.

      The key is that WriteRoom isn't meant to be a VIM, emacs, etc replacement. It looks a little bit the same, but if you play around with it you'll soon find that WriteRoom's features have very little overlap with a traditional unix text editor. WriteRoom isn't meant to be a flexible powerful tool for editing text.

      Instead, it's just meant to provide distraction free writing. "For people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world." That's the one feature. To allow this these are a few of the features that WriteRoom provides that are not easily possible in a tool like VIM. I say easily because "you" may be able to get VIM to do just about anything, but for a normal user who doesn't want to write custom scripts and edit config files it's just not possible to set the same environment up in VIM that I've provided in WriteRoom.

      • No distractions. Full screen. Hidden menu bar. Hidden scroll bar. Nothing but text.
      • In full screen mode text doesn't wrap over the entire screen. Instead your text is formated in a readable column in the center of the screen.
      • Few important writers statistics (word count) pop up at bottom of screen, but hidden by default.
      • Lots of control over the look (colors, cursors, and fonts and paragraph formatting, even in plain text mode)
      • "Normal" app, user doesn't have to know about command line.


      So that's what it does. If you already are a VIM expert these features may just not be worth it. But for many users they are, and for many other users the barrier to learning a command line tool is just to high. So the choice is really between something like WriteRoom and MS Word.
      • by IvyKing (732111)
        Back in the early 80's, Jerry Pournelle was enthused with a program called WRITE (Writers Really Incredible Text Edditor). What it allowed him to do was simply to sit down and write text without a lot of distractions - nothing on the screen other than text.

        One consistent criticism of most word processors is that they promote presentation over content - programs like WRITE, WriteRoom shift the focus back to content. The same could be said of most text editors, with the choice being a very personal matter.

  • another good one is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:19PM (#21934622)
    http://texmacs.org/ [texmacs.org] FREE!

    from the looks of the front page you would think math geeks would only use it but it also functions as an excellent word processor...
  • Ack. (Score:3, Funny)

    by The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:23PM (#21934660)
    I can't watch "Juno" and read that article in the same day. My brain is really tired of text and dialogue as dense as a ten-year-old Christmas fruitcake.

    Can anyone here translate into "concise" for me?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wsanders (114993)
      - Writer likes Scrievener and WriteRoom
      - Everybody hates Microsoft
      - Who knows, maybe writer was drunk
  • Tools vs Content (Score:5, Interesting)

    by postbigbang (761081) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:24PM (#21934668)
    A guy with a brand new Fender Strat doesn't sound like Jimi Hendrix. Nor can you drive better in a Lotus than an xB.

    What's more likely is that if you think you're doing better and that helps you, so much the better.

    Document composers for mass mailings, labels, newsletters, all need different features that aren't part of the word processing function of creativity, rather its creative exposition. I'll write (a dozen books, thousands of articles so far) on whatever, and won't go to Jerry Pournelle's years of bitching about the nuances. It's the content, Jerry. It's the content. Word, Word Perfect, WordStar, Zedit, Joe, Vi, textedit, don't much matter. Grammar checkers, spell checkers, syntactical analyzers, pretty printers, code-indenting hoohaa, I don't care. Let me write. Grace and elegance are for those that need glitter and swan-like moves. They look pretty, but it's only style, and style will always be subjective. Content rules; fancy-assed WYSIWYG twelve-key-combo-crap drools.

    Just my 2c worth.
  • by mav[LAG] (31387) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:35PM (#21934778)
    Microsoft Word. Light of my mind, fire of my frustration. My sin, my soul. Mi-cro-soft-word. The mouth contorts with anti-poetry. My. Crow. Soft. Word.

    This was a coffee-out-the-nose moment for me - it's a parody of the very first paragraph of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
    • Zen (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Per Abrahamsen (1397) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:17PM (#21935144) Homepage
      Mod parent up, it really sums up everything worthwhile about the subject.

      "Curse these personal computers!" cried the novice in anger, "To make them do anything I must use three or even four editing programs. This is truly intolerable!"

      The master programmer stared at the novice. "And what would you do to remedy this state of affairs?" he asked.

      The novice thought for a moment. "I will design a new editing program," he said, "a program that will replace all these others."

      Suddenly the master struck the novice on the side of his head.

      "What did you do that for?" exclaimed the surprised novice.

      "I have no wish to learn another editing program," said the master.

      And suddenly the novice was enlightened.

      -- from "The Zen of Programming" by Geoffrey James, 1988.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Flambergius (55153)
      Re: "Mark Pilgrim said it best a year ago"

      No he didn't. While the sound bite you quoted is snappy, the rest of the his post is just blindingly stupid. The only even remotely sensible part is "I guess the part I don't understand is the target audience. Who is so serious about writing that they need a full-screen editor, but so unserious that they don't have a favorite editor already?".

      Uh? Trying to make tools better is bad now? All the possible good text editors exist already?

      There is actually a serious fall
  • Since 1.0 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mschuyler (197441) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:37PM (#21934808) Homepage Journal
    I've used Word since version 1.0 when it came on two 5-1/4" floppies and included a mouse in the box and ran on the original IBM 8088. Before that I used Word Factory, Wordstar and Zardax. I've used every version of Word since 1.0. It is now certainly bloated and busy. It's advanced features such as multiple indexing can drive you crazy with their ineptness, but at heart it is simply a blank screen for you to fill in. Turn off the Nazi grammar feature and it pretty well leaves you alone to do what you want. If you aren't creative, Word won't make you so. If you are creative, Word isn't going to regiment you into not being so. To claim otherwise is an excuse. Maybe you just aren't, like, creative at all. Blaming the software won't turn it around any more than the paper you use. If 8-1/2 x 11" paper is too authoritarian for you, try Charmin to better express your creativity. By all means use another word processor if it makes you feel better, but I don't think a few people looking for another cause are going to lead an exodus away from Word any time soon.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:45PM (#21934852) Homepage

    There's something to be said for a writing tool for writers.

    First, professional writers need only minimal formatting capability. Formatting is someone else's job. Any formatting done by the author will just interfere with page makeup later. Writers need to be able to insert chapter breaks, and that's about it.

    Second, the word processor should not interrupt the flow of writing. Auto-completion is usually not wanted. Spell checking is probably better done after the fact, not during writing.

    Third, not losing the text is important. The writer should not have to "save". A word processor which guaranteed it would never lose the text, backed up by continuous remote backup to multiple sites and an insurance policy, would probably have a following among pros.

    There are newsroom systems like this, on which reporters compose stories.

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:46PM (#21934872)
    I read TFA, and these guys seem to be worried about the wrong thing. Word menus, etc, are easy enough to deal with. What makes it a god-forsaken piece of shit are all the bugs. Documents are always getting corrupted, figures don't do where you want and stay there, can't save sometimes for no apparent reason, the entire thing just bombs out, etc. We had a "Platinum Support Ticket" or some similar nonsense open on Word for a few years. The upshot, direct from a Microsoft senior support line, was that if we wanted documents to not get corrupted, was to print it out on paper, make sure it was right, then use a scanner and save it as a TIFF. Thanks, that's good advice.

            What is so pathetic is that I have ordinary technical documents from the late 50's and 60's that are laid out better, have better graphics, and are still perfectly readable today. While at the same time, a Word document I saved last week either can't be opened, or has all the symbols corrupted.

                  Brett
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fons (190526)
      "What is so pathetic is that I have ordinary technical documents from the late 50's and 60's that are laid out better, have better graphics, and are still perfectly readable today."

      Those documents were created by a team who were experts in their field (technical writer, illustrator, layouter, typesetter, printer, ...).

      Now (in many cases) all those jobs are preformed by one person. That's the problem. We thought the software would be smart enough to help us. But it's not. And we don't know the basics of all
  • I bought Scriviner (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fear the Clam (230933) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @03:54PM (#21934940)
    I've used various versions of Word (and before that, the original AppleWorks on an Apple ][e) to write books and book-length dissertations. Just so you know where I'm coming from, I still think the best version of Word for the Mac is 5.1a.

    For the last decade or so my strategy was to use Word's outliner then fill in the text. Pretty straightforward when you know exactly how things are supposed to go, like for a paper or a report. Unfortunately, I found them wanting for my creative writing, where I tend to write from the inside out, starting with a scene or a character or a funny sentence but not knowing where that bit would fit in a story. Sure, I could just dump everything in the ol' slop file, or link a bunch of individual files using Word's master document, but it was always forced and clunky.

    Last October I was looking for a new tool for Nanowrimo [nanowrimo.com] and I experimented with WriteRoom, Jer's Novel Write, Lyx, CopyWrite, Storyist, and Scriviner. In the end it came down to Storyist and Scriviner. I liked how Storyist had novel templates, but they seemed overly restrictive--and the software cost twice as much. I ended up buying Scriviner.

    What I like about Scriviner is that it gracefully handles working with both long chapters and little scraps, easily allowing you to change the views to an outline or index cards on a cork board with synopses, or as individual documents, or all run in together in a single window.

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:35PM (#21935848)
    Someone here linked to this [diveintomark.org] which has so many good points I have no problem with reposting it.

    But anyway: These people are being silly. The text editor problem has exaustivly been solved about 10 to 15 years ago. Since then we've gotten a few more, nearly all for free and one better than the next. And to all those who after 20 years of GUI computing still haven't gotten it:

    YOU DON'T WRITE TEXT IN A WORD PROCESSOR!

    If you're thinking "I know what I'm gonna do now - I'm gonna write a text." then DON'T use a word processor. Use an Editor of which there are countless around and available. Word processors are for formating and making documents print-ready. Repeat after me:" Word processors are *not* primary writing tools. " And don't even dare think of using a word processor for programming. There's a special place in hell for people who do that. Really.

    I've been programming and writing for more than two decades now and the last time I abused a word processor as an editor for writing down my initial draft was with AmiPro on Windows for Workgroups 3.11 running on MS-DOS4. And only because I was a n00b at writing on computers, it was a print document from the get-go and AmiPro was good enough not to suck at writing and Win 3.11 lacked a good editor. I've been using jEdit for allmost a decade now and have recently picked up Emacs (not recommended for people who don't know what awaits them) because it runs on the CLI which I often have to use.

    Bottom line: It's called Text Editor, or 'Editor' for short, folks. This type of programm has existed for over 30 years. Pick your favorite. And they've all got a fullscreen mode too.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:47PM (#21936414) Homepage Journal
    For 30 years people have been trying to get at the perfect computer tools that fosters creativity. There is no such tool. Before the computer writers wrote with pencils, pens, quills, typewriters, chisels and animal fat paint on the cave wall.

    Did you know for instance that the sort-of-great Victorian English writer Anthony Trollope wrote on a clipboard using a stopwatch to time his writing down the minute? He did this because his day job was railway inspector and he was shackled by the station to station train times.
  • by bbyakk (815167) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:08PM (#21936618)
    They're masochists. It's hard to imagine a clunkier, fussier, more limiting and more annoying UI than a typical word processor (ms word or OOo, makes little difference). It's a torture. Now, the reviewed software appears to be better than nothing (I can't try it since both are mac-only). Perhaps they will fit the bill for those who prefer prepackaged solutions. For myself, however, I built a custom system based on XEmacs. It has all these conveniences - full screen, collapsible outlines, plus many more: one-key access to dict.org and to internet-wide concordance (actually just phrase search on google with results in a new buffer, very convenient to see how often and in what contexts a word or phrase are typically used). My analog of Scrivener's "snapshots" is much more powerful - it just commits the document to its svn repository on each save. And since my local svn server is always on, I can work on the same document from any desktop or laptop in my home easily. Plus, of course, one-key access to scripts for export to XML, PDF, HTML, etc. And many, many other small conveniences I have been adding for years. Perhaps the cruelest thing about Word is its search. I can't believe - even in office 2007 it's still a pop-up window that jumps on you, obscuring your text, and then jumps around like crazy when you try to search forward. It's absolutely insane. XEmacs's incremental search with highlighting matches, from statusbar at bottom, with autocomplete working, is a godsend by comparison, though in fact it's just the natural thing to do. And yes, you do need to search your text all the time when you are just writing prose, not only when coding programs. Here's a chance for OOo to differentiate itself on usability, if it cares about this kind of thing.
  • reveal codes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nevurthls (1167963) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:33PM (#21936842) Homepage
    Any slashdot article that's bitching about microsoft word needs at least one person sadly referring to the wordperfect reveal codes option they so miss. I didn't see it being referred to yet so here I am, karma in hand. (Knowing it's off topic and all) I guess I'll finally bow down to the masses, this will be my last cry for the good old days of the reveal codes screen. The alt-F3, the underwaterscreen as we used to call it... whether due to mass ignorance, evil microsoft package deals, or maybe we reveal codes lovers were just the weird ones, and the word meta-information handling won due to it's actual superiority. I don't know, but it's absolutely too late now, and I need to let it go. But why why why does openoffice emulate that Word crap to the extent that when using that suite you run into the exact same horrible formatting issues! Press backspace, and suddenly the whole text document is bold. You can't get that picture to move down one line, unless you want the formatting of 2 paragraphs to turn into a complete mess, and blank pages added. Why why why? I want my underwaterscreen! Please god give me the strength to let this go and not long for something archaic and so much better than everything the rest of the world uses for some weird reason. I mean, there even was a time when word perfect 8 was available on linux! where did that time go?! Ok that was it, I promise I'll never rant about that again. I hope I can do this.
  • Blech (Score:3, Funny)

    by Orp (6583) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:44PM (#21938126) Homepage
    If the summary was written using the features of this software, I want nothing to do with it.

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