In the beginning was Word — but now…?

Thoughtful article by Jeremy Reimer about how the world has changed since Microsoft Word first appeared.  It originated from Bravo, the word-processor designed by Charles Simonyi at Xerox Parc and was first released for the IBM PC in October 1983.  I was a user from the beginning and was entranced by the DOS version, especially by the way it used style sheets.  Word for Windows always seemed to me to be a step backwards from that original, Linux-type idea.  But for years I stuck with it, partly because of the lack of an alternative with equivalent functionality, but mainly because of the network effects: it had become the de-facto standard for office work, and my colleagues built elaborate peer-review systems around Word’s commenting and track-changes facilities.

In the last few years, though, I’ve noticed that I use Word less and less — and only for ‘work’-based activities.  Among the reasons for the change are: I like an uncluttered writing environment; I don’t want to be distracted by the endless temptations of sophisticated formatting options; I like to use outliners when I’m trying to think things through. 

But mainly the reason I’ve gone off Word is that it’s a program designed to help people compose paper documents, and increasingly — like Jeremy Reiner — I write for the web.

So I wind up using web-authoring tools like VoodooPad, blogging tools like WordPress and ScribeFire, sophisticated text-editing tools like TextWrangler and even Apple’s Pages (especially using its nice full-screen view which shows only a white sheet and a live word-count).  Word has been reduced to the tool I use only when a colleague sends me a draft with Track Changes enabled.

Footnote: Quentin and I were talking about this today, but neither of knew the other would blog it. Great minds etc.