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Goodbye Cruel Word 565

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 @04:07PM (#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 [] 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...

  • OpenOffice? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AndGodSed ( 968378 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:10PM (#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...
  • by charlie ( 1328 ) <charlie@antipop[ ]rg ['e.o' in gap]> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:19PM (#21934616) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by eebra82 ( 907996 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:20PM (#21934630) Homepage

    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, five Word releases would make it harder by a large magnitude.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:31PM (#21934752)
    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 mav[LAG] ( 31387 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:35PM (#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.
  • Since 1.0 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:37PM (#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.
  • wp 51 was the apex (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:40PM (#21934828)
    word perfect 5.1 with reveal codes. word processors, notably ms word, have just gone downhill from there. more complexity with less control and more bloatware. I don't need 50,000 features, I just need 100 that are intuitive, work properly, and work quickly.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:45PM (#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 @04:46PM (#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.

  • by Richard Fairhurst ( 900015 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:48PM (#21934896) Homepage
    I edit a (UK) monthly news-stand magazine using Apple's little bundled TextEdit as the sole word-processor. (For Windows users, I guess the nearest equivalent is WordPad.) It's superb. It doesn't get in the way: you type, you copy, you paste, you save. It happily reads RTF (default format) and Word .doc, so is interchangeable with anything else my contributors are likely to use - with the exception of those who use Microsoft Works. (They get asked to find something different if they want to be recommissioned. ;) ) The only two things it doesn't do that I need are smart quotes (apparently fixed in Leopard, and the alt-key combinations are now second nature anyway) and word count (plugins easy to find). I remember working at a Government department where the entire press office asked to be kitted out with Adobe Photoshop, full version, so that they could open JPEGs and once or twice crop and resave them. I persuaded them to settle for something cheaper. Microsoft has been pulling the same trick with Word for many, many years and with much more success. OpenOffice isn't the real alternative - the real alternative is a program that only does what you need it to. (FWIW, WriteRoom is pretty much TextEdit with a full-screen mode and a constantly-updated wordcount.)
  • by Entropius ( 188861 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:58PM (#21934974)
    I'd rather have crap in menus.

    When I want to insert a formula in an OO document, alt-I O F, type in pseudo-Latex, done.

    I don't want to have to grab the mouse and hunt around for a widget to click on.
  • by Reivec ( 607341 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:01PM (#21935008)
    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 without asking. And outlook 2007.... oh my. Using Word to render the emails is terrible, makes me want to gouge out my eyes.

    They just moved stuff around and rearranged. There is definitely no leaping or bounding in this release.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:16PM (#21935140) Journal
    Vim has a modal user interface and usually I would be the first person to criticise this as a design decision. In the case of a text editor, however, I find that it makes sense. To me, writing and editing are two conceptually separate tasks.

    I consider this a user interface error for exactly that reason. It's two applications masquerading as one.
  • Zen (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:17PM (#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.
  • Mellel, DocBook (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LKM ( 227954 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:45PM (#21935388) Homepage

    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 [] 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 [] + 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.

  • vi for writing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by remitaylor ( 884490 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:54PM (#21935456)
    I have to agree that, for me, the best writing environment is a terminal with vim (often using Compiz' ADD Helper [] to dim the desktop and all other windows)

    Also, a lightweight markup language, like Markdown [], 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 [] 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 IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:16PM (#21935650)
    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.

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

    That is redundant, sir.

  • by cicho ( 45472 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:23PM (#21936216) Homepage
    Thanks, but since when is something usable because MS says so? When I work in an application, I can tell whether or not its UI is discoverable, and whatever MS says does not change my live experience one way or another.

    The Ribbon is awful for discoverability, because (a) the tooltips are tiny and hard to read (for some people, like myself), (b) sometimes the tooltips are posisioned over the button labels, so you see the key but no longer recognize the command it performs, and (c) because you have to press the darn Alt key! A menu is something you can open and while it stays open, you can navigate the menu and read the keyboard shortcuts at your own pace. As a readout, it is much clearer and more convenient.

    Then there's the fact that you cannot customize the ribbon at all. The measly, tiny toolbar MS so graciously allows you to add buttons to is a sorry excuse.

    Then the contextual shifting of the ribbon means I can no longer just click a button that I know is always there, almost without looking, since the mouse hand has its relative position memorized. Now I must check the current page first and switch to the one I need - a displacement of sorts. The shifting is visually distracting, too.

    MS has repeatedly lied about how the Ribbon supposedly takes less vertical space than the menu and toolbars (not true), and likewise their usability claims are - at the very least - highly subjective.

  • by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:32PM (#21936298)
    Because when they added those features to Word, they set them to be active by default so that people would know Word had those features. If you don't want them, then just TURN THEM THE HELL OFF. It's in the Settings menu.

    I'm so sick of people complaining about all these horrible things Word does to them when it takes about ten seconds to turn all of those features off and get them entirely out of your life. It used to be the stupid Office Assistant, people would bitch and moan for hours and hours and I'd just finally get sick of it, go to their computer, and spend the 10 seconds to turn it off.

    If you don't like it: TURN IT OFF! That is all.
  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:03PM (#21936562) Homepage
    I have never been successful at entirely turning those "features" off. It always seemed to involve tracking down at least two obscure settings, and even then it seemed to reappear at random intervals. Admittedly I haven't yet tried to disable them in Office 2007.
  • by bbyakk ( 815167 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:08PM (#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 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.
  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:10PM (#21936638)

    This, I don't understand. If you open a ".doc" in word 07, and save, it's saved as ".doc". In fact, if you open a ".doc", do a save as, and change the name, it will still default to ".doc".

    Which ".doc" among the half-dozen incompatible variations Microsoft has hidden under that extension does it default to?

    Chris Mattern
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:45PM (#21936954)
    I'm currently enrolled in an MFA program in creative writing, and I have to say that WriteRoom is my favorite word processor, the one I begin all my new work in. To have a completely blank screen, and a simple set of controls is very important-- it leaves my mind free to attend to the words on the page and nothing else. Pico and Vim and Emacs are excellent for what they do, but they are primarily programmer's tools. Just as it's possible to drive a nail with a shoe or dig a ditch with a spoon (or turn a bowl with a patternmaker's lathe), you can write a novel with pico or vim.

    Writing prose is a fundamentally different process from writing code, if only because code doesn't live on the page. Code lives in it's execution-- compiled and run, beauty emerges. But prose, unless you read it aloud, stays where it's put. It's only ever compiled in the mind of the reader. The cliche is that you write to find out what you think, and when my writing is at its best, it most closely resembles reading, and the words that I write are fresh to me, as if someone else had written them. A tool that lets me "read myself" as simply and unobtrusively as possible is the one I want to use.

    (Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't programmers actually do a lot of their thinking on whiteboards?)

    The program I use to write has the same level of importance in my mind as the room I'm writing in, or the town I'm living in. None of them are essential to me, and it's easy to waste time worrying about imperfect circumstances-- you need to write the novel even if you're not at MacDowell. But anything that helps me improve my discipline, and WriteRoom certainly does, is a blessing.

    Thanks for coding such a wonderful program for writing.
  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:48PM (#21936970)

    All of the anti-Vista and anti-2007 rhetoric frequently strikes me as just anti-MS drivel. Granted there are people like you who don't care for the 2007 interface but most of the criticism is rather empty and shallow and often from people who have done little more than spend 5 minutes trying out the products.

    Thanks for the credit -- I don't think any OS or toolset gets it right all of the time, and I try to call it on individual cases. There is MS stuff that I like (Visual Studio, for example) and MS stuff that I don't like (Office 2007, obviously).

    The specific things I don't like about the Office 2007 UI are:

    • I don't like moving my hands from the keys when typing, so I like to access functions using keystrokes. Almost all the key sequences for common operations were longer on Office 2007. Had they just been different I'd have bitten the bullet, as I did going from 2000 to 2003, but these were longer, which slowed me down. And yes, I know I could have used the 2003 keystrokes, and most of them would work (but would nag me about using obsolete key sequences), some would not do anything, and some would crash the application without giving me the chance to save my work (yes, I confess, it was the Beta -- did the interface change much in the release?)
    • The ribbon certainly used up more space on my screen. As I work on the road a lot and don't want a gorilla arm, I tend to work on a small laptop, and couldn't afford the space. Yes, I know I could make it auto-hide, so that when I think I'm about to click on a piece of text the ribbon suddenly drops down and I end up clicking on it instead. Ornery old cuss that I am, I didn't like that any better.
    • The ribbon gave equal screen real estate to functions I would only use every couple of years when creating new templates as it did to stuff I'd use every day, and wouldn't let me change that.
    • The ribbon didn't have enough structure. When looking for a button I didn't use very often, I would spend ages doing a visual search of a pile of often similar looking icons in quite a large visual field. It was like having all the tools in my workshop tipped in a few piles in the middle of the floor, instead of having them neatly put away on the shelves and in the drawers. Yes, sure, I would have got used to where to find the common icons quite quickly, but I used the keyboard for those, remember?
    • I'm a verbal person. I don't forget names, but I forget the faces that go with them. From the days I started in computing I found pseudocode far easier to follow than a flowchart. I see "File | Save" and I immediately see what it means. I see a picture of something and my mind takes time over it. Office 2003 catered for visual and verbal thinkers: I had the menus, visual thinkers had the toolbars. 2007 took that choice away from me, and tried to force me into a style of recognition that my mind doesn't do well.

    But they are all largely a matter of personal style. A heavy mouser won't mind the longer key sequences. Somebody desk based with a huge hi-res screen won't miss the real-estate. A right-brain dominant person will be glad to see the back of the menus. There are plenty of people for whom the interface will work just fine. What got me is that 2007 took away my choice. I had to work the way MS chose for me to work -- no, worse, I had to work in the way that a graphic designer in Redmond chose for me to work, and of course they have a visual rather than a verbal mind because that's what makes a good graphic designer. And I bet they have a huge screen. And I bet they prefer the mouse to the keyboard, because the mouse is better at graphics and layouts than the keyboard is. But I am not a graphic designer.

    I've been told that there are third-party tools that can fix a lot of the problems I had. But the fact that it needs third-party tools to make the interface acceptable suggests to me that MS got it wrong in the first place. Not wrong in the sense that the interface is wrong for everybody, but wrong in that it assumes everybody works and thinks the same. One size does not fit all.

  • by gambolt ( 1146363 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:24PM (#21937618)
    Really? I bought an antique thinkpad and slapped Slackware on it just to use for writing. If you're trying to get work done, not being able to play games is a plus.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @11:01PM (#21937860)

    it is more discoverable than ever before

    Hint: if you have to tell people how discoverable it is, it isn't.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @11:13PM (#21937932)
    Ah, but if only we could have a good WYSIWYG word processor that used TeX as a backend, and lets you poke at the code like an HTML editor.
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @11:35PM (#21938062) Journal
    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 you make them makes it easier to manage them than some obscure two-step process.

    Unfortunately what we have as standard is MS-Word which is WYSIWYG done very wrong that looks "good enough" to most businesses.It doesn't lay things out reliably and its bugs and quirks get in the way. There is no more need for these quirks and bugs than there is for Windows Explorer to be unable to resume a file copy when there is an error mid way throught (or Mac to delete files that haven't successfully been moved). ie. it's just badly written software made with commercial interests in mind trumping quality considerations.
  • by QuietObserver ( 1029226 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @11:35PM (#21938066)
    When it comes to a good WYSIWYG word processor, I'd say WordPerfect is the top. I can't say whether or not it uses TeX, but it does give you access to all of the document codes (in reveal codes; true, it's a proprietary format, but at least they got it right).
  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:43AM (#21938830) Homepage

    All of the anti-Vista and anti-2007 rhetoric frequently strikes me as just anti-MS drivel.

    I'm not a huge fan of the Anti-MS drivel. For starters, I quite liked Office 2007. Considering that the suite needed a major overhaul, I think that MS did the absolute best job they could to pave the way to a better interface, while not completely alienating their current installed base. I was part of the Beta, and found it to be by far the best and most usable version of Office I've used. (That said, Apple's got the right idea with iWork, and with any luck, will have an Office-killer on their hands in the next version or two)

    On the other hand, the Anti-Vista rhetoric is completely justified. I started using Vista extensively for the first time last week. [Continue or Cancel], and found the user experience to be just about the worst of any operating [Continue or Cancel] system that I've used. This includes Windows Me.

    It's slow, it's [Continue or Cancel] obtrusive, and it seemed a tad unstable, compared to XP (which in turn wasn't [Continue or Cancel] as good as 2000). The "added security" put in place also seems [Continue or Cancel] a bit analogous to the TSA's liquid ban. I'm just not sure that [Continue or Cancel] any malware is going to break into my system by changing the [Continue or Cancel] screen resolution, and the fact that I'm constantly [Continue or Cancel] nagged by the OS to purchase an AntiVirus feels like an admission of failure from the get-go.

    Although I wasn't happy with the direction MacOS has been going (which is what prompted my Vista experiment), using Vista evokes the sort of frustration that I haven't felt while using a computer since I uninstalled Windows ME. [Continue or Cancel?]
  • by hax0r_this ( 1073148 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @04:36AM (#21939852)
    Right, but I use mail merges for much more than just printing addresses. The spreadsheet I have my mother maintain has probably 15 columns of information about the people in question that she can use to fill in forms on all sorts of letters and the like.

    I don't imagine that most consumer level users do the same, but for businesses the ability to fill in forms from a database seems rather indispensable.
  • Best tools .... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j_w_d ( 114171 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @06:47AM (#21940482)
    The problem is, there are writers, and there are people who write, and then there are people who look at a page of text and either drop it or say "ooh, pretty!!!" Word went downhill steadily from about Word for Windows 2.0 on. Word was in competition (well so were Wordperfect and a number of other extinct word processors so-called) with desktop publishing programs. Writers don't NEED the features that Word, or WordPerfect, or Open Office provide. They typically are constrained by very specific formatting rules - things like "type face - Courier," "two spaces after a period," "page numbers at upper right," "single tab at beginning of paragraph," etc. Effectively all they need IS a glorified typewriter (no more carbon paper, no more white-out, and cut and paste no longer demands scissors and paste). Publishers have very, very explicit requirements and all the menus, pop-ups, drop-downs, and general eye-candy just get in the way of a writer. So less is really better - honestly, WordStar was a great tool. Now, if your documents are the product of a one-man band, self-published (because no publisher will touch your manuscripts in fear that the crazed air you exude is contagious), then yeah, you need a word processor like Word - and a really big stapler. Or, indeed, if your employer never actually reads your reports or memos, and your income and raises depend on his appreciation of the "professional, polished appearance of your memo [about excess use of coffee by other staff]," then yeah, again you might be able to use Word effectively. But, for a writer, a scientist, or a real analyst, content is king and all that's really necessary is that lower case "L"s can't be confused with the numeral "1" by the reader, and the publisher will accept the manuscript without comments like, "type it over, correctly, and we'll see."

  • by Flambergius ( 55153 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @07:07AM (#21940562)
    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 fallacy here: the believe that because the problem is old, the current solutions must be good. The current solutions probably are best of their kind that were possible when the problem was new. That does not mean that we can't come up with better solutions today and for today. This may include rather specialized and/or personalized text editors, after all tool-making is cheaper now than it was 10-20 years ago.
  • WYSIWYG is at best overrated and at worst deleterious.

    "Writing" is actually two domains: that of the author, and that of the calligrapher / typesetter. These domains are, to a surprising extent, independent: a manuscript can be full of scratchings-out, ink blots &c. yet still manipulate the emotions of a reader able to overlook the presentation, and beautifully laid-out text can still be nonsense.

    Traditionally, manuscripts were created using pen and ink, or simple fixed-font, monospace typewriters; and someone at the publishing company dealt with setting books in type. WYSIWYG word processors have broken this natural abstraction. Ultimately, WYSIWYG software distracts you from being an author, by creating fancy (but ultimately irrelevant) calligraphic effects. (And in particularly bad cases, you get people who don't know any better trying to lay out a document using spaces; but let's not go there.)

    The author who uses a simple text editor with a monospaced font is freed from having to worry how the final output will look, and can get on with the business of writing words.
  • by fons ( 190526 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @09:25AM (#21941234) Homepage
    "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 those jobs. So we fuck up.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:30PM (#21942908)
    Some of us have to be both author and typesetter. Rare is the scientific journal that will still typeset your paper for you, and the university that typesets your thesis simply doesn't exist. Yes, you could write in a text editor and then lay things out in a desktop publishing program, but it's much more convenient to have one system that does both.

    If you're Steven King then perhaps WYSIWYG isn't important to you. If you're doing most technical writing then it's a big timesaving feature, and at least some version, such as the rendering TeX editors use, is critical.

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