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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 gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:11PM (#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)
  • another good one is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:19PM (#21934622) [] 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...
  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:24PM (#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.

  • Tools vs Content (Score:5, Interesting)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:24PM (#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 BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:30PM (#21934730) Homepage Journal
    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've been moving most of our systems to OS X from Windows and Linux, it has not been an issue, and Pages is so much nicer... Though I'll carefully give the new Mac Version of Office 2008 a try when it is finalized.

  • by linguizic ( 806996 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:30PM (#21934732)
    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 Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:46PM (#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.
  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:53PM (#21934932) Homepage
    The one thing that I ask of a word processor is that it begin with the assumption that I am writing something that will be printed on paper, not as a web page. Why oh why do programs like Word default to turning blue and underlining anything beginning with http or containing an @?
  • Re:OpenOffice? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by westyvw ( 653833 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:59PM (#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.
  • LaTeX (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:01PM (#21935006) Homepage
    Use LaTeX instead of plain TeX, it allows you to concentrate on content without the distraction of presentation.

    The time needed to to be spend on presentation of a 250 page LaTeX document (and yes, I have written a handful such documents) is around 10 seconds, if you are willing to live with the (somewhat boring) default layout, plus some sloppy spacing.

    [ It is actually one of great advantages of markup based typesetting systems, over wysiwyg based systems. AT&T did measurements when trying to switch from troff to PageMaker. Internal regulation demanded a pilot project to show benefit. Management wanted to switch, but the troff based beat out the PageMaker based team each time, despite both teams having no prior knowledge of the tools. The PageMaker based team spend too much time too early on layout. ]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:16PM (#21935134)
    is that it's narrow (narrow (narrow (narrow (narrow (narrow (narrow (...))))))).

    You must have an open environment such as Smalltalk where everything is at the same level, not dumb applications that live in their own universe and communicate through shoddy wormholes. *shudders*

    Take the Sophie project as an example of a good thing: []

    Watch the demo!

    *Anything* other than the application concepts of today is good!
    Damn, people. Wake up from this nightmare of MicroSoft and operating systems!
    That's not made for human beings..
  • by Aging_Newbie ( 16932 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:18PM (#21935154)
    No software since WP5.1 has done as good and obvious a job of indexing, hierarchical sections, cross referencing, and tables of contents. I could do all those things so painlessly in WP and never managed to achieve them proficiently in Word. Throw in simple keystroke access for almost everything you did and it becomes a writer's dream. I have often thought of setting up a DOS PC simply to run WP but now finding a supported printer is quite a feat.

    WP was proof that you did not have to invent an abstract and incomprehensible model of a document simply to make a tool to author one.
  • by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:25PM (#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.
  • I just use TextEdit (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cannelloni ( 969195 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:26PM (#21935214)
    I use TextEdit for everything that's just plain text, and for code, it's Smultron all the way. In the past, I used TextWrangler (freeware) or BBEdit a lot, and they are still good. But Smultron (free!) is great! []

  • Re:Tools vs Content (Score:3, Interesting)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:43PM (#21935372)
    Long ago, far away, in what now seems like another universe, my guitar teacher did one of those 'eastern' lessons on his grasshopper student-- me. We went to a famous guitar store where he took seven different guitars, coupled to an MXR 10-band EQ, then asked me to rattle off the names of four famous guitar players. With each instrument, in about twenty seconds or so, he made each one of them do trademark chops from each of the four artists.

    The lesson was: don't play the best guitar unless you have the money for it. Instead, play the best music on each instrument. I was both cowed and crushed, but also enlightened.

    Today, decades later, I play a Telecaster with a humbucker in the bass position, and a fat-wound treble pickup. I can make that guitar talk many languages, many idioms, as my musical mouthpiece. Blind, you can't tell the difference. It's versatile, and a personal choice. Other people don't like playing a tree stump (perhaps ES-335 players, but that's a different thread).

    Therein lays my point: yes, there are some widgets that help, but in the end, it's no substitute for content, and a journeyman can use most any 'modern' WP package and get the job done. Writing coherently is still another, allied discipline. If you want to venture into graphics composition packages, it's another story, and another discipline. When I pickup my son's Hamer SG clone, I can make it talk; this frustrates him but also makes him excel at wanting to best me. So be it. Tools are important, but a journeyman can make do. I'd like to eliminate the keyboard and go thought-to-screen one day. There would be a lot of 'backspacing' but a lot more output, too. Eloquence isn't font or word count; it just needs a medium.
  • Shades of Word 97 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:52PM (#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 smchris ( 464899 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:06PM (#21935556)
    I would say the earlier Windows versions up to about 6 were the zenith of Word Processing. Novell was one thing but when Corel got it, ugh. Became buggy in their quest to dumb it down to "Wordishness".

    I've never quite understood the bloatware bitching. If there are a lot of features you don't like, then shut up, sit down and don't use them for Chrissake. You can write your novel very happily in AbiWord I'm sure but don't complain because I want something that can do more. I used WP to do double-sided tri-folds. I don't know what I would have done without reveal codes for micromanaging stuff that as often as not was in text and graphics boxes rotated this way or that. Get a publishing package you say. Why? WordPerfect produced the B&W laserprinted trifolds we needed. Used macros to take a delimited server db addresses dump, convert it to a WP data file and do the merge and print. Routinely ran a whole bunch of lists that way for years with WP as the core program.

    When Microsoft used their OS monopoly money to dump Office 97 on the market it was one of the most shameful examples of a monopoly murdering quality with artificial underpricing.

  • by backwardMechanic ( 959818 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:15PM (#21935642) Homepage
    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.
  • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:15PM (#21935646)
    I'm going to use LyX for mine, it's essentially a GUI for LaTeX -- take a look!
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:47PM (#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 Azarael ( 896715 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:50PM (#21936440) Homepage
    I wonder if dosbox supports (or could be modified to) emulate a dos compatible printer. There's probably quite a few other non-game pieces of software from those days that would be worth reviving.
  • reveal codes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nevurthls ( 1167963 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:33PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:37PM (#21936886)

    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.

    Personally, I'd take your position even further. The tools we need today are not the same as the tools we needed in the '80s. Documents are not handled in the same ways, nor published via the same media.

    I think there are at least three major areas of interest for a modern document preparation system.

    1. Preparing the text and related material. This has absolutely nothing to do with rendering that text, but concerns logical structure and content. (This area is very poorly supported in most classical word processors and DTP packages, which is why all the niche products for writers with numerous note-taking and organisation features are springing up.)
    2. Automatic rendering of long documents with relatively simple layout rules, such as a book, research paper, formal specification or contract.
    3. Manual rendering of an entire document or part of it where customised formatting is required, such as a magazine, newsletter, flyer or brochure.

    Clearly the first of these will typically be used in combination with one or both of the others, but the tools and application interface required in each category are quite different (but sometimes overlapping).

    On top of this, there is the fact that a document won't necessarily be published in paper form these days. Distribution in electronic formats such as PDF is widespread, and on-line collaboration in the writing and editing of a document may be as important in many business contexts as the finished article that gets signed off. Then there's web publishing: while the same content almost certainly won't be appropriate to use in both formal/printed documents and web pages unedited, providing a common interface so that a single application can target multiple media with professional quality output is likely to become increasingly important IMHO.

    In other words, traditional word processors, DTP packages, typesetting systems and HTML editors are all dead; they just don't know it yet. Frankly, most software in these industries sucks badly, but no-one has been brave/foolish enough to attempt a comprehensive, professional standard replacement to bridge the gaps and make the others literally redundant.

  • by Columcille ( 88542 ) * on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:19PM (#21937196) Homepage
    Anyone actually enjoying Microsoft products must be a shill, ehh? Thanks for helping to prove my point about anti-MS rhetoric. And considering the vast majority of the Slashdot crowd is in the must-kill-MS crowd, a few voices actually supporting Microsoft hardly constitute a force.

    (P.S., your comment loses 50 credibility points for saying M$... Can't the anti-MS crowd ever grow up?)
  • Yep, I also learned Tex after I knew Word, and I also like Tex better.

    The problem here is that people are complaining that with word they have too few options on how their text will look like. Well, with Tex they'll have fewer. All of them better than what Word provides, but still fewer.

    Of course, a Tex guru can customize a document anyway he wants. But we are not talking about gurus here. By the way, I don't really know who are we talking about. What kind of writter wants fine control of the margins? Is TFA fusing writters and graphical designers on a single person? Tex has excelent support for writters and graphical designers separated into two different persons, but isn't good for the case where they are the same.

  • Notepad & FrameMaker (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:25PM (#21942840)
    I use a combination of Notepad and Adobe FrameMaker for technical writing as a profession.

    Granted, I haven't tried much else, but the combination of very basic, just text notepad and the power/formatting for FrameMaker works for me.

    FrameMaker doesn't do anything that Microsoft Word can't, the difference is that with FrameMaker I was able to figure it out. I also don't feel the need to constantly go back and check formatting to make sure things didn't get messed up by adding an image or changing a margin or anything.

    I don't know if it's the best tool out there, but it works for me, and I prefer it to MSWord.

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