Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




My word processing experience

I recently posted a rant on MSWord, a lot of the replies are along the lines of "learn how to use it".  Um, ok.

In 1980 I used Electric Pencil on a TRS-80.  Got me through college for 2 years.  Then I got Wordstar, never liked it but I wrote several docs with it.  In around 1983 at work our PHBs got a Unix box.  So I learned troff.  Learned it well enough that I used to write my own macros.  troff rocked.

Around '89 or '90 I discovered TeX, more precisely, LaTeX.  I loved LaTeX.  Around '95 is when all the office documentation was converting to MSWord.  So I learned Word.  In '96-'97 I had to do a huge doc, about 120 pages.  I got pretty danged good at Word.  I took classes.  I read the help pages.  I experimented.  I got good enough that I quit beating myself up over why I couldn't figure some things out.  They were bugs, pure and simple.

Up until Word,  actually formatting the document, as opposed to writing it, took maybe 20% of the time.  With Word I now spend well over 50% of my time just formatting the bloody thing.

I think I'm pretty good at word processors, and I can distinguish a bug from not knowing how to use a tool.  I use styles.  I like styles.  I'm better with MSWord than anybody else I've run across.  I seldom learn new things about Word anymore.  I constantly show people new ways to use it.  What's most surprising is most people don't use styles.  They have no clue.  They highlight a line, up the font a few points, bold it, and call it a header.  It blows them away when I a) show them there is a header style they can use; and b) they can actaully modify the style.

The point?  When someone who knows what they're talking about says Word is full of bugs, don't blithly say "you shouldn't do that, get over your ego and learn to use the tool". 

Snotnose
Monday, June 28, 2004

Since we are shaing :-)

My experience with word processing - started with "Script" an IBM mainframe markup language. Very similair to HTML but even more powerful. Spent days formating simple documents but the output looked beautiful. You basically had to "program" your document. Very tedious.

Then PCs came out and we started using WP for DOS. It was great - much faster than Script but you spent half your life rearanging those damn formatting codes.

Windows came along and Word 2.0 came too. Much better than WP for Dos. Could actually see your layout before you print it. Was forced to use WP for Windows for some time but was so buggy it was unusable. Finally got Word 6.0 It was a hugh leap and so was Word 97.

Snotnose, sorry that you seem to be having so many troubles, but with all my years using the different versions (haven't got Word XP yet) I have not have had anywhere near your level of bad experiences.  I have done quite a few large, complex documents as well. So I don't know why you seem to be having so many problems.

Oh well...

DJ
Monday, June 28, 2004

The problem is, everyone with a clue *knows* MSWord is a design mess, is full of bugs and is an absolute pain to use. Those clued up people also know you can waste hours longer formatting a document (in MSWord) than actually writing it.

Unfortunately, knowing the problem and complaining about it may be cathartic, but it is doomed to failure as far as achieving any change is concerned.

Microsoft Office is the "standard" and is bought as such by corporate decision makers who really don't know or care or understand that the word processor may actually be crap. How could the WP possibly be crap when it is the standard, and everyone in the world uses it? What is more, these same corporate managers don't much mind if secretarial staff spend ages on formatting documents. That is what they (the secretarial staff) are paid to do.

So please be comforted. You are correct in your complaints. Many others also complain the same way. The only thing you can do, if you have a choice, is use a different word processor.

If you don't have a choice, use Word, but apply the absolute minimum of formatting. If your manager complains, suggest that it is not efficient for a highly paid person such as yourself to spend time prettifying a document, and this task is better delegated to an admin assistant after you have created the content. (PS I know this is not realistic, and that there are no longer admin staff available who are prepared to format other peoples' documents for them. That is your manager's problem, not yours, though.)

Oh, and continue to let off steam here too. It is fun, and achieves common feeling with all the other disgruntled Word users out here.

Ian
Monday, June 28, 2004

>>"When someone who knows what they're talking about"

That's *YOUR* claim. 

>>" says Word is full of bugs"

If a program doesn't do things exactly the way *YOU* think they should be done, it's not necessarily a "bug".

Yes, it's true, Word has some flaws and there are probably some things that could be done better.  But you really need to get over your ego and learn how to use the program.

Made Up Name
Monday, June 28, 2004

So long as we're sharing:

I used to be temp officer worker in NYC, during period from changeover  from DOS to Windows.  Late 80's early 90's.  Specialized in word processors and desktop publishing, using lots of different software packages.

Later I became a lawyer.  Worked in a large firm (> 200 lawyers) that had standardized on Microsoft Word.  Used heavily modified (w/VBA) version of Word with addons to make storage system for thousands of documents that could be searched and retrieved firm-wide.  Everyone was forced to use templates and styles.  Everything pretty much worked fine.

Sorry, but there are huge businesses where hundreds and thousands of people are using Word to churn out documents, in many cases very sophisticated documents.  It's hard to imagine a business app (i.e., not system app) that's in heavier use or that has been revised as thoroughly as Word has since it's first version.

Sorry, but if someone tells me they're finding an obvious, severe bug in MS Word, then I'm betting the problem is with the user, not with MS Word.  Not saying that Word is perfect or that it doesn't have any bugs, but a lot of businesses depend on it and don't experience major problems.  I virtually never experience bugs.  So I'm skeptical when people just flat out say that MS Word is buggy.  It's not, at least not any more than competing programs. 

Herbert Sitz
Monday, June 28, 2004

I'm one of those people who loves MS Word. I use Styles and tables, and all kinds of great tricks. I know how to turn off Auto-Correct when it's bugging me, and I know how to turn it back on when I need it.

I think Word is an incredible product for word processing.

But it is absolute shit for page layout.

A few years ago, I was a technical writer, and I had to produce a 500 page document with tables, figures, captions, margin notes, footnotes, and hyperlinked table-of-contents and index.

Now, technically, all of those things are *possible* in MS Word. But they get really clunky.

So I did the right thing, and I switched to a proper page-layout program (I wanted to use Adobe InDesign, which is an incredible piece of software, but I ended up using Quark XPress instead (which is almost as good)). In reality, I think the word processing features in MS Word are excellent. As a word processor, I think it really shines.

But as a page layout program, it's a kludged-together monster.

Benji Smith
Monday, June 28, 2004

Hrmm.  AppleWriter II, AppleWorks GS, AmiPro, WordPro, Word.  With some bits of MacWord 5.1 in there, beautiful piece of software it is.  Oh yeah, and some time with QuarkXPress.

The problem is that people simply don't *get* styles.  Especially when they cascade happening.  I've tried to use similar concepts in software that I've written, and the users didn't get that, either, nor did they see what the big deal was.

It's like HTML.  Plain HTML is a great way to mark-up both literal and some semantic meanings, with ADDRESS and STRONG and CODE and BLOCKQUOTE and other such tags that cover most of the true meanings you'd want to encode in a document.  Except that nobody even thinks of using them, they just use the B and I and other tags.  Even though a bunch of tags are rendered mostly the same way, they still have different semantic meanings.

The biggest problem with Word, as far as I can see, is that it really doesn't do well with big complex documents that sit on the borderline of publishing and word processing.  And, as an extension, the dream of OLE/OpenDoc/ActiveX/Talligent/etc. has never actually been realized, so you end up with either one or the other, where your border case sucks and you need to make a decision.  Maybe I'm a genetic mutant or something, but I've never really seen any case where Word's styles didn't combine in a way I expected them to.  I'm not sure how you could spend 50% of your time just with formatting.  I know I haven't.

I think that Word really has given up at some level on the style system, because 95% of the world doesn't grasp them and doesn't care.  So a lot of the big changes past Word 6.0 were generally just trying to prod the useful bits of style sheets out of people and just get out of the way the rest of the time.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, June 28, 2004

Regarding the people advising you to 'learn to use it', I have used MS Word for more than 10 years now and I have been regularly plagued by all of the problems you mention, and more.

It has been my observation that those who deny that Word is buggy typically have never tried to create a document more than 50 pages long, or with an index, a table of contents, or complex formatting.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, June 28, 2004

Word is indeed buggy.  My favorite is the one where inserting a Table of Contents fails silently if "Track Changes" is enabled.  Took me weeks to track that one down...

Grumpy Old-Timer
Monday, June 28, 2004

I guess there are two camps here - people who have used it for years, created large and complex docs and didn't have too many problems and think Word is alright for a word processor, the other camp have used it for years, created large and complex docs and had tons of problems and think Word is a steaming bug-filled pile of dung.

So who's right?

DJ
Monday, June 28, 2004

Interesting points people.

I'd like to see a word processor that makes a clear and delibarate attempt to separate content and presentation in the UI, in a way which makes it seem intuitive to the end user. Eg two panes:

One for editing the content. Here you just /can't do/ things like change the font. You can create structures with semantic meaning (like lists, tables etc) and change between various levels of header, etc. These will be presented according to the current style set in the style pane in a WYSIWYG fashion.

Another pain for editing the styles. This would ideally be presented in a nice open visual way rather than a bunch of obscure dialog boxes which don't really give sufficient emphasis to what you can/should do with styles. You can load and swap stylesheets if you want. Changing things in the style pane will instantly be reflected in the content pane.

Essentially very much like HTML/CSS (although I feel even most HTML editing tools could do a lot more to orient themselves towards this method of editing).

Matt
Monday, June 28, 2004

Matt - are you talking about a Dreamweaver-esque product for word processing?

nathan
Monday, June 28, 2004

My apologies to the OP.  JOS is a pro anything Microsoft wants to felch our way fan club.

You're not wrong.
Monday, June 28, 2004

Matt,

although your approach sounds like the "best" way of doing it, it doesn't really work for small documents. At least when I'm writing a small document I like to see what I'm doing in real-time. But for a big doc, I like to split content and presentation. So you'll have to decide first if you want to write a small document and format it by hand, or write a big document that is formatted with the use of a CSS-like thingy. Not very practical.

My personal experience is that Word handles documents with one linear text flow very well (w/o autoformat, that is). Using both styles and custom formatting. It's when you throw in pictures, or use columns and tables, that it starts to do weird things.

I loved the "underwater" view of WP. Why can't they do that in Word as well? It worked back then...
(of course there is the "visible spaces" option, but it's just not the same though)

Janonymous
Monday, June 28, 2004

"Sorry, but if someone tells me they're finding an obvious, severe bug in MS Word, then I'm betting the problem is with the user, not with MS Word."

In many cases that may be so. But Word still has at least one huge, killer bug. On a save, it will declare that the drive is out of memory and the document can't be saved. The only option is to copy the entire document, quit, relaunch, paste, and save. If you're editing more than one document, you're hosed. I believe it is related to embedded objects, like equations.

This killer bug has been there since at least '97, when it bit me while working on my thesis. It just nailed me last week in Word XP. This is definitely not a user error. It's also very sporadic.

Word 6 and 97 were also known to eat and destroy documents when using the Master Document "feature."

I wrote my Ph.D. in Word 97 -- it is very powerful, but it was by no means bug free.

There are lots of quirks with the auto-numbering outlines. While they are probably brought on by the user, it's because the auto-numbering is so inscrutable that the user doesn't know he's running afoul until too late.

I'd say that anyone who believes Word doesn't have bugs is so used to them he unconciously works around them.

DaveF
Monday, June 28, 2004

'Word is indeed buggy.  My favorite is the one where inserting a Table of Contents fails silently if "Track Changes" is enabled.  Took me weeks to track that one down..'

Worked for me just now on Word 2002. What were you doing?

Thom Lawrence
Monday, June 28, 2004

DaveF - do you have the KB article on that bug? I, thankfully, haven't come across it.

DJ
Monday, June 28, 2004

I'd just like to draw attention back to this comment:

"Used _heavily modified_ (w/VBA) version of Word _with addons_ to make storage system for thousands of documents that could be searched and retrieved firm-wide.  Everyone was _forced_ to use templates and styles."  (emphasis added)

I think that quote sums up the whole story for people on both sides of the love it/hate it divide.

Kyralessa
Monday, June 28, 2004

And, no one commented about using xml in word?

Xml is REALLY  a true ticket to automating, and building consistent documents.

Anytime you have some type of document (say, a safety standards document), you usually have a bunch of places in the document where you want to have a pick list of data. XML documents solves this problem with brilliance.

I know of several large companies now making the switch to using word, and xml documents. This is another revolution happening in the word processing industry, and once again while people debate what internal format Open Office should use, or some formatting feature....the xml features in ms-word is now starting to take off.

As more and more companies start realizing how incredible using xml with ms-word is, then the competitors to word will once again be playing catch-up.

For document automation...xml is the key...

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Monday, June 28, 2004

Heh, this is a fun thread.  Glad I started it.

I did a table of contents for this beastie (9 pages).  First entry?  The title of the doc.  Why?  Hellifiknow.  Never seen that one before.  Spent about 20 minutes going through my styles, nothing jumped out at me.  Not to mention I kiped the style from an earlier doc, which doesn't put the Title into the ToC.  So I distributed it that way and made a snide remark in the introduction.

And I forgot all about Master Document.  In 2000 there were 3 of us working hard to get a proposal out.  We figured Master Documents were the way to go, we'd all work on our chapters and I'd stuff them all into the Master Document.  Worked well.  Until, at the last minute, I decided we were close enough to being done to put doc into VSS.  Whoops.  We never did get the Master Document stuff working again.  Each chapter started at page 1.  Each figure in a chapter at figure 1.  Each style was the original, not what the master doc defined it to be.

I was there until 2 AM that night cutting and pasting all that crap into 1 huge doc and making it look like 1 person wrote the silly thing.  Never used Master Document since.

Snotnose
Monday, June 28, 2004

I've got to put my two cents in here.  It's been my experience that 90% of the time, when I've seen someone have a problem with Word, it wasn't so much that Word wouldn't do what was required, but that the person using it didn't know how to tell it what to do.  Word has some very bizarre ways of doing things, and it does what you tell it to do, not what you want it to do, and they are rarely the same thing.  My favorite examples are when people try to make bulleted lists and they don't format correctly, or when paragraph spacing needs to be adjusted.  It's easy enough to set it correctly, but it is far from intuitive to most people.  Despite all of Microsoft's supposedly usability testing, their applications still seem designed by programmers, rather than users.

Jesse Walton
Monday, June 28, 2004

Word is the most stable and reliable program that has ever been written. I have used in since version 1.0 for projects with fifty-thousand page long documents that include linked files, 30MB embedded images, forms that live connect to the internet, and every other possible feature used simultaneously. My word documents function as their own servers. I have never seen a single bug. Everything works flawlessly. I think the OP is either lying or incompetant. Clearly he does not understand how to use this fine piece of software. A few minutes reading the manual would easily address all his problems. Thank you all and good night!

"Randomly" selected member of the audience
Monday, June 28, 2004

>fifty-thousand page long documents

Would you mind telling us what that document was on?

KayJay
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Certainly my good man!

It was a scientific experiment in simian intelligence collection through a brute force production algorithm.

"Randomly" selected member of the audience
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

LOL! Must sharpen my reading-between-the-lines skill. :-P

KayJay
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"I guess there are two camps here...  So who's right?"

I bet the two camps falls along the following lines: The Stylists and the Typists.

The Stylists like to use styles.  They set up styles in advance and use them in a very consistant manner.

The Typists just type, formatting on the fly.  At the end they go over there document and tidy up.

For the Stylists Word keeps getting better and better.  Styles have become more powerful and are now used for everything.  I think these are the ones who are happy with Word, and have used it successfully with large documents.
    
For typist Word has become almost impossible to use.  In the past Word served both camps, leaving them both happy.  Now, however, word is styles based.  What it tries to do is guess what the Typist is doing and then apply all the styles for them behind there backs.  It doesn't do a very good job of it.
    
I'll bet the majority of programmers are stylists.  Using styles better matches the way programmers work.  You change it in just one place only.

However, in the population in large the stylists are very much in the minority.  The majority of the general population people do not approach problems in the manner.

Word is not a programming tool.  It's primary user base is not programmers.  It's primary user base is secretaries, typists and other non-technical staff.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Random is a case in point.

Word is becomming a better and better tool for those that what to do such things.  As a programming tools it gets better with every release.

Last week I used word as a com server to generate a huge amount of reports.  I found the application to be much better at this type of thing than it was in the past.

On the other hand, try sitting in a call centre and support real world users as they grapple with Word, trying to make a simple change to a document with just 10 minutes before they need to hand out 20 copies in the boardroom.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

For once I think I agree with Albert.

If anyone wants to know where I am, I've gone for a lie down.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"DaveF - do you have the KB article on that bug? I, thankfully, haven't come across it. "

DJ - no idea if there's a KB item on it. It's just something that's bitten me a few times over the years.

DaveF
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I have seen MS Word, f**k up a document for no apparent reason, why can't i see the reason... because the !#¤#"%!¤%&¤#" document would not open in word. Import it to OpenOffice and save it as a word document. My god the thing opens up in MS Word again. If that is not a bug I don't know what is. Leason learned, keep an OpenOffice installed if you don't feel like explaining to your million dollar customer why MS Word ate your document.

Not going to tell my name!
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Yeah I'm not saying that approach would necessarily be best for small documents (although if you gave it a good set of default styles and threw in a few autoformat features for the content-editing bit that might be fine too).

This is just what I want when editing big (well, more than a page or two) documents

Matt
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home