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May 23, 2006

Word 2007 Beta -- Shiny!

word07a.jpg

Ooooh, pretty. I managed to snag the Office 2007 Beta today and have been playing around with it a bit, which is to say I've been playing around with Word 2007 because I couldn't really give a crap about the rest of the Office suite. So far: Very pretty. I'll be fiddling with some of the functionality soon to see what I think of it, but as I've always been partial to MS Word, I don't expect I'll be terribly displeased. I can say at this point that a) I really like the new organizational structure of the features up at the top (the tabs mean you don't have to drill down through several hundred menus to find functionality), and b) I sure hope MS improves its"Publish to Blog" feature, because right now it stinks; I can't get it to play with the Whatever, which is a tragedy, or even with LiveJournal, which it's supposed to be able to do. It has seamless integration with MSN Spaces, however. Yeah, I'm gonna get right on that.

If Word 2007 pans out, it'll make the case for me returning to my PC for my book writing. I switched over to the Mac to write The Ghost Brigades -- indeed, I rationalized my Mac purchase by saying to myself and my wife that novel writing was what the Mac was for -- but I've been less than overwhelmed by the word processing choices on that side of the computing gulf. Pages is pretty but functionally something of a disappointment for me, and OpenOffice for the Mac is alternately distractingly ugly, clunky or buggy. I could have bought Word for the Mac, but I'd already spent money on Pages. What I ended up doing was writing TGB in TextEdit and porting it over to Word 2000 on my PC for formatting when I was done writing. The book was good, mind you, but overall it was a less than optimal writing experience. As I said, we'll have to see what I think of this new iteration of Word. This beta will function through February 2007, which I assure will be more than enough time to complete The Last Colony (because if it's not, Patrick Nielsen Hayden will wring my lousy neck -- and he would be right to do it).

Incidentally, if you look closely at the picture here, it will appear as if you are looking at the first page of The Last Colony. However, in fact, you're not. What you're looking at is a previous, cast-off version of the first chapter of The Last Colony, which I abandoned because it sucked; the characters in the chapter got away from me and started babbling with stentorian gravity, and I had to knock that crap off straight away. In fact, there are five or six versions of the opening chapter, all at various levels of completion, that I have tucked away and which you will never see because they are God-awful -- which is not even counting an entire earlier iteration of The Last Colony, featuring a major character you will now never know, because I threw him down a well after I wrote three chapters of the guy and realized I couldn't stand him, and if I couldn't stand him, what chance did the rest of you have? So now he's dying a miserable death at the bottom of a well, and no one can hear him cry for help. Well, I can. But I assure you, he deserved it, and I'm leaving him for the rats.

The good news is that now The Last Colony has an opening chapter I like quite a bit, and with that out of the way the writing is coming along quite nicely, thank you. And I've learned that beginnings can be tricky for me (interestingly, I had nearly the same problem with The Ghost Brigades), but once I've got that sorted out, things typically run smoothly. At least this is what I'm telling myself. If you wish to contradict me on this matter, I have a well on my property I'd like you to see.

Of course, maybe the problem was the I wrote them on the Mac. Without MS Word. Hmmmmmm.

Posted by john at May 23, 2006 04:12 PM

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Comments

Alex S. | May 23, 2006 05:07 PM

Of course, maybe the problem was the I wrote them on the Mac. Without MS Word. Hmmmmmm.
Because you had more time an energy to be creative than having to take the time to bludgeon Word into doing your bidding?

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 05:14 PM

Well, that's just it. I've been using Word as my primary word processor since the late 80s. I don't have to bludgeon it to do my bidding because I'm used to it.

Mike B | May 23, 2006 05:37 PM

It's just as well laid out in Excel and Powerpoint. Amazing, eh? And the little hint of OS-X in the design doesn't go amiss either. Maybe Microshaft can still get it together once in a while. As for buying it once the free beta expires, well that is a question for the sacred accountant to answer...

JonathanMoeller | May 23, 2006 05:41 PM

According to the rumors, a fearsome gentleman by the name of Steven Sinofsky ruled the Office team with an iron fist, and in fact Office 2007 would have come out earlier, but MS delayed it to sync with Vista's release.

I'm looking forward to see if Vista'll be a hit or a flop, because if it's a Windows ME-esque crapbomb, Microsoft's going to be in serious trouble.

Ann | May 23, 2006 05:49 PM

So, John, have you by any chance read any of Jasper Fforde's books (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, Well of Lost Plots, etc.)? Your abandoned character may not necessarily be dying a miserable death at the bottom of a well....

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 05:55 PM

Well, I weighted him down. I think he's still there.

Kero aka Kevin | May 23, 2006 06:20 PM

I'm straddling the fence with two Macs, neither of which is my main Windows machine and was wondering if only the text entering is what was dissapointing about writing on the Mac? I've used MS Office on both and while I write no where near as much as you I found them to be pretty comparable, especially for just the text entry part. I'm pretty sure they both use the select then do metaphore but Macs love floating pallets rather than locked down tool bars.

Stripes | May 23, 2006 06:56 PM

I've been told that Ulysses ( http://www.blue-tec.com/ulysses/ ) is a very nice word processor for writers on the Mac. It even has a "no distractions full screen" mode. It is shareware so you can see how you like it before you actually have to pay anything for it.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2006 07:00 PM

Yeah, I tried it. I didn't like it much, although it does have some interesting features.

MWT | May 23, 2006 07:00 PM

Jer's Novel Writer! :D

I've switched over to doing all my writing with it. The full-screen-mode is awesome.

Mitch Wagner | May 23, 2006 07:44 PM

I 'R a riter myself, and therefore I was surprised to hear that you like writing in Word. I find Word to be way, way too heavyweight for just writing. All the formatting capabilities of Word get in the way of putting text on a page with minimal formatting--bold, italic, and, well, that's about it.

Using Word as a tool for just writing is like using a Greyhound buss for off-road driving. It's just not the right tool.

This is not me taking sides in a religious discussion, by the way--I understand that if people do need more formatting than mostly-just-plain-text, then Word is the way to go. Word is a great tool for anything as complicated as a business letter, and stuff more complicated than that as well.

The overwhelming majority of what I've written in my career is journalism. I've dabbled in fiction (unpublished just yet, but, hey, I haven't checked e-mail in five minutes and maybe an acceptance came in during that time.... ) I use a text editor, NoteTab Pro, for almost all my writing.

I do write fiction in Word, but I keep almost all the formatting turned off until I'm ready to make a printout. My drafts are single-spaced, with an extra space between paragraphs, in a proportional font (Verdana). They're meant for reading onscreen. When I'm ready to print out, I switch to Courier Dark, double-spaced, one-inch-margins, page number and slug at the top, all that manuscript format jazz.

I've recently thought that I might be able to write drafts in NoteTab, and then import them into Word for formatting--but how would I handle underlines, used in manuscript format to indicate italics? Maybe write some kind of manuscript-formatting macro?

John, I'd love it if you wrote at length about why you prefer to write in Word rather than using just a text editor. Do you write Whatever entries in Word?

clvrmnky | May 23, 2006 07:49 PM

My SO uses Office on the Mac (she is a PhD student, so she needs a fairly comprehensive writing tool), which she bought before Apple got their shit together with their office suite (AppleWorks doesn't count). It's pretty slick, and the Mac dudes at Microsoft have been paying attention to usability and design.

I know it's not cool or anything, but Microsoft is pretty much the gold standard for Office suites (on the Mac, anyway).

AliceB | May 23, 2006 08:33 PM

I've used WordPerfect since the '80s, which I think permanently turned me off Word. I find it much more user friendly, with lots of redundancies and a clean layout. All the bells and whistles that come with Word, especially the graphics, aren't particularly helpful and just annoy me.

That said, it's what each person is used to that counts. Once you've got a system down, any move from it means venturing into glitches because you don't know where things are--which slows down the main point of having a wordprocessing system, i.e. writing.

Mitch Wagner | May 23, 2006 09:27 PM

Well, jeez, AliceB, here I thought that the main purpose of having a word-processing system was to have lots of things to fiddle with that would enable you to procrastinate and *avoid* writing.

Durf | May 23, 2006 10:16 PM

WriteNow was my word processor of choice through the System 7 and 8 years, and well into System 9, although clients started demanding .doc more often around then. In OS X I use Office 2004 and am relatively pleased with it, except for the way it drags on an Intel machine, and the amount of tweaking you have to do to make it GET OUT OF THE FREAKING WAY and let you type stuff yourself . . .

Mellel and Nisus are other apps to look at on the Mac side of the fence. If you go somewhere like Ars Technica and ask for recommendations you're guaranteed to get lots of posts from people who sweat by TeX implementations for long documents.

Steve | May 23, 2006 10:36 PM

Ooooh, pretty. I managed to snag the Office 2007 Beta today
Hey, I helped make that! :) (And, yes, Sinofsky can be a bear to work for. But he's done so well with Office the last 12 years that they've moved him over to get Vista shipped.)

because I couldn't really give a crap about the rest of the Office suite.
Shhh... me neither.

I also love NoteTab, but I do all my non-Web writing in Word so that I can have it all formatted to my personal reading preferences, and then I switch templates and Bam! everything's properly formatted for submissions.

Mitch Wagner | May 23, 2006 11:22 PM

Steve - So what are your personal reading preferences?

I looked at John's screenshot above--he seems to do his drafts exactly as I do, which is to say he's got Word configured to look like a text editor.

Firebyrd | May 24, 2006 12:23 AM

I'm with you, AliceB. I've used WordPerfect for most of my life. Whenever I end up needing to use Word for whatever reason (like that's all I have available at work), I end up wanting to scream and pound my head on my desk. Soooo horrible and clunky and user unfriendly!

Sean L. | May 24, 2006 01:52 AM

John:

I don't know if this is the right place for posting this; if it isn't, feel free not to post it :D. Hopefully, however, you'll answer:

I just finished Old Man's War, which I've actually had borrowed for a while and for some reason didn't pick up; I thought it was a excellent.

Thus, my two questions are:

1. Does ever writer of your age tribute the great master Robert A. Heinlein? Because it seems to show up in a lot of contemporary work. I know that he influenced many people and continues to influence people; would you dare cast a vote on who the equal of this generation is?

2. What is, is there, or shall there be a sequel to Old Man's War, whether spiritually or directly? Is it the Ghost Brigades? Is it out?

---

And speaking of Word, I'm downloading the Beta as I type this.

Lucy Kemnitzer | May 24, 2006 01:52 AM

So, John, does the new Word have something that's really like Reveal Codes?

I've become convinced that in general the major owrd processors are converging with both hands, and the last I knew the only reasons I prefer Word Perfect are:

--Reveal Codes
--toolbars and menus that make more sense to me
--Reveal Codes
--formatting I'm used to instead of formatting I'm not used to
--Reveal Codes
-- properties/file information/word count stuff that's the way I like it instead of the way someone else likes it
--Reveal Codes
--easier to turn off the bully features that yammer at you and automatically do stuff you don't want done
--and Reveal Codes.

Sean L. | May 24, 2006 01:55 AM

And then I found your books page. Golly, that was dumb; can I restate the question? Will there ever be a DIRECT sequal to Old Man's War, that's longer than a short story?

Soni | May 24, 2006 03:13 AM

So now he's dying a miserable death at the bottom of a well, and no one can hear him cry for help. Well, I can. But I assure you, he deserved it, and I'm leaving him for the rats.

Well, it's your character. Just don't, you know, watch any strange video tapes that happen to be making the rounds of the recently dead.

"Before you die, you see the scissors icon."

Lee | May 24, 2006 05:26 AM

I have using MS Office 2007 on a 64-bit machine running Longhorn (or Vista) for a couple of months now. There is really a significant ease of use with most of the tools easily accessible on the toolbar. The feature I really like is on Excel displayed on a widescreen LCD. Since I do a lot of analysis on a spreadsheet it gives a bigger picture, literally. The only thing I find problems with is cutting and pasting between applications which tend to lose the formatting once you switch to another application. I could not experiment with cutting and pasting or embedding objects in other applications such as Adobe InDesign since I might lose valuable time as deadlines loom. One other thing that makes me like it is that they got rid of the pesky and annoying paper clip assistant.

John Scalzi | May 24, 2006 07:32 AM

Sean L: The book I'm writing now, The Last Colony, features the main character of OMW.

Dave Munger | May 24, 2006 08:44 AM

It's too bad the Mac version of Office is so slow -- can't keep up with my typing. I'm using Pages now and find it adequate, though there are a few MS Word features I miss, especially "track changes." Just curious, though, John -- what features was Pages lacking that caused you to drop it?

Elliot | May 24, 2006 09:05 AM

The new Word is indeed pretty nice. As far as other word processors go: I can't stand any of them. Mitch's comment makes sense, though. 90% of my writing is technical writing, and in that situation (reference tables, screenshots, and Visio diagrams on every other page) Word blows the competition away. At least, in my opinion.

alex | May 24, 2006 09:48 AM

What does one use to weight the body of an imaginary character at the bottom of a well? Recycled dialogue? Bad puns? A thick layer of pastiche, followed by avalanching accessories of achievable alliteration? Deposit slips from advance checks?

I burn with curiousity.

John Scalzi | May 24, 2006 09:49 AM

Alex:

"What does one use to weight the body of an imaginary character at the bottom of a well? Recycled dialogue? Bad puns? A thick layer of pastiche, followed by avalanching accessories of achievable alliteration? Deposit slips from advance checks?"

Yes.

Kate Nepveu | May 24, 2006 09:58 AM

I'm with Lucy Kemnitzer. I will give up my WordPerfect with Reveal Codes when you pry it out of my cold dead hands.

John Scalzi | May 24, 2006 10:11 AM

What is "reveal codes"?

Ann | May 24, 2006 10:21 AM

Alex and John:

I highly recommend the Jasper Fforde books to you. With your wit and writerly sensibilities, you will be highly entertained. Fforde dreams up bookworms who feed on discarded text whose excrement is punctuation marks which then show up in the characters' dialog. Or, imagine a scene where three fictional characters treat Courier, Old Bookman, and Times Roman fonts as different languages and need a character who speaks more than one font to translate for them. Check out the books and then you'll know why I say your poor character, weighted down with assorted literary concrete, may not be as dead as he appears.

Tripp | May 24, 2006 10:25 AM

"Reveal codes" lets you display the text formatting characters to figure out why things got so screwed up. It also lets you edit, insert, or delete them.

Drake | May 24, 2006 10:36 AM

It's those fucking Salong's fault.

Don McGillveray | May 24, 2006 10:58 AM

Would someone please send JS a copy of MS-Word for the Mac. All this 'back to the PC' stuff is giving me an itch.

Anne C. | May 24, 2006 11:45 AM

I feel like I'm living in an alternate universe. MS Word *has* Reveal Codes and I believe it's had them for quite a while. It's my secret weapon whenever someone asks me a formatting question.
John, it is the P-shaped paragraph button that when toggled shows the invisible commands embedded in every document. Dots for spaces, P for end of paragraph, -> for tab, etc.

Anne C. | May 24, 2006 11:50 AM

Actually, it's a backward P. In looking at your graphic at the head of this post, I believe it's the button at the right-hand end of the upper toolbar.

Tripp | May 24, 2006 11:56 AM

Anne,

Yeah, but "reveal codes" does more than show/hide formatting.

In Word hovering the mouse cursor over a tab character doesn't open a window explaining what it is. I can't directly edit the tab character by hovering the mouse over it.

That is unless I am missing something about Word, which wouldn't be the first time.

Justfred | May 24, 2006 12:12 PM

If you bought the Windows version of Office, just steal the Mac version. You're only able to use it on one computer at once so they really should have sold you (me, us) both versions at once.

I sure wouldn't keep any data I didn't want to lose (i.e. any data) on a Windows machine, especially one that was connected to the internet. Best is to use a shared file server and a non-proprietary data format.

BTW I use Excel a lot because it's a fantastic calculator; other people use it because it's a functional list and data manager, tho I despise that. "I can send you the data in an excel spreadsheet..." usually means someone's mucked with it and tried to format it so they could read it. Send me data as data, untouched by human hands.

And I use Access on Windows because it's not available on the Mac. And I have the back end data in a server database (so as not to defeat the rule above).

Anne C. | May 24, 2006 12:33 PM

Tripp - I don't think you're missing something about Word. I don't recognize a feature like what you're describing. However, the revelation of tags has been sufficient for me so far.

It seems to me that discussions along these lines are just as fraught with evangelism as politics or religion. There are always those who despise Word/PCs/Word Perfect/Macs/etc. They all have different features that appeal to different personalities.
I like what I like because I'm used to it and a passionate treatise on the virtues of its opposite is unlikely to change my mind. Concern is appreciated but unneccessary.

Brian Greenberg | May 24, 2006 12:46 PM

A thought and a question:

Thought:
I think writing an entire novel on a beta version of a product is insanely risky. There's almost guaranteed to be a combination of keystrokes that you haven't found yet that will render your file permanently corrupt, and you'll have little to no support (both from Microsoft and the Googleverse) if that happens. If you want to try out the writing experience in Word'07, I'd strongly suggest you "Save As..." an older version of Word fairly frequently (and then open the doc in the old version periodically to make sure they've got "Save As" working properly). I can't imagine what you'd do if a 90% completed book vanished on you...

Question:
When they went to the "All Toolbars, all the time" approach, did they get rid of shortcut keys? I rarely use a mouse when I'm in MSOffice apps - I just use the Alt-key combinations that I've memorized over the years. If those are gone, it will seriously slow me down.

John Scalzi | May 24, 2006 12:55 PM

Brian Greenberg:

"I think writing an entire novel on a beta version of a product is insanely risky."

Writing an entire novel on anything is insanely risky. This is why:

1. I save the entire document as an .rtf file as well as a .doc (and .docx) file.

2. I save each chapter individually as an .rtf file.

3. I send each chapter as it's written to Krissy, who prints it out so I have a hard copy.

4. I also send each chapter as it's written to a beta reader, who keeps a copy for her own.

5. I also upload the entire document as an .html file into a protected folder on my Web site on a regular basis.

In short, paranoia is a wonderful thing when you're writing a novel.

Shortcut keys: All the ones I'm used to seem to work so far.

Dr. Phil | May 24, 2006 01:11 PM

I've been using MS Word since MS Word 4.0 for MS-DOS -- and including some Mac versions. Though I have versions through the current Office, for purposes of file compatibility, I still do 99.9% of my writing (both SF and Physics teaching) in Word 95/7.0c. The major reason is predictability -- it doesn't try to be helpful and redo things on its own as much as more recent versions.

And it is faster -- if I type a Ctrl-G for GoToPageNumber, I get the dialog box immediately. Same with Ctrl-F/H Find/Replace. Try those in many versions of Word 97 and higher, and there's a several second delay the first time.

Finally, the old Word 6/95 format has been abandoned by Microsoft Office in Word 2003 and Windows XP in Wordpad. I have two requirements for OS and Word Processing software: First, do no harm. Second, you're working for ME. I'm not working for you. I work on a lot of computers under multiple OS and I am not about to convert every single document file just because Microsoft wants to change file formats for proprietary reasons.

But I have "no strong opinions on the subject". (grin)

Dr. Phil

Dave | May 24, 2006 01:51 PM

Writing an entire novel on anything is insanely risky. This is why: [long list of precautions deleted]

Um, it's a good start for paranoia, but it looks like all of your backups are either 1)somebody else's e-mail box, 2) paper or 3) open to teh intraweebs. This is probably good enough, but I personally wouldn't chance it.

My work product is 1) stored off-site on version control server (in Melbourne, of all places), updated no less often than daily, and 2) stored on an external firewire drive which is then shoved in the home safe once a month (we've got two, and swap 'em). All the home data, including pictures and music, goes on the firewire drive as well.

This can all be done surprisingly cheaply (offsite storage is $10/month, the external drives about $100) and with a lot less effort than you would think. Just sayin'.

Steve | May 24, 2006 01:55 PM

Mitch: I like my writing (fiction or technical) to be formatted the way it'll be when printed. In the case of fiction, e.g., I use a font I find pleasing to my eye, bold and italic as required, and with the margins set as for a paperback book. When I need to submit something, back to Courier New, double-spaced, etc.

Dr. Phil (and a few others): What 99% of the population doesn't realize is that Microsoft does NOT change file formats for proprietary reasons, but because enough of their (well, "our," I guess) big-time corporate customers want something that the old format doesn't support. For that matter, most of the things that corporate customers (which is to say, mostly IT departments and occasionally bean-counters) request are the same things that us "regular folk" find annoying/unnecessary/tedious, etc. (Such as "Clippy," may the little bastard rot.)

John Scalzi | May 24, 2006 02:13 PM

Dave: I do also back-up on other storage devices, including also CD-ROMs. But, you know. If the file can't be retrieved from my e-mail, someone else's e-mail, my Web site's protected folder, CD-ROM or from paper, perhaps it's a sign I should be writing something else.

Tripp | May 24, 2006 02:21 PM

Anne,

It seems to me that discussions along these lines are just as fraught with evangelism as politics or religion.

Oh, yes. I think it is well known that everyone falls in love with the first 'good' editor they ever really learned. The same is true for computer programmers and programming languages.

We old farts seem to get past that and are pretty happy with something that we know and that is reasonably good. I'm actually somewhat amazed that Word can have enough new stuff to justify a new version.

Tripp | May 24, 2006 02:22 PM

Tripp,

Ummm, I should have thought of the context here. For 'editor' I meant text editor and not the friendly person who helps you publish a book, assuming that is what they actually do.

JClark | May 24, 2006 02:31 PM

Personally, I've taken to writing everything in plain text using TextEdit. I format as I go using Markdown. Now before you laugh at that, it makes some sense.

The files are small and can be opened by any text editor on the planet, the markup is easy to read through, and I don't get distracted formatting everything. It's easy to change Markdown to HTML (using the Markdown script and TextWrangler), and then from there it's easy to bring it into something like Word or NeoOffice (my choice when I need more) for final edits and formatting.

I've also set up a CSS stylesheet to display my writing how I want it after it's been transformed to HTML, so I can simply print it out to a PDF from there without touching a word processor.

I tend to avoid MS's products if I can help it. I don't like Word, and I can't take the new UI (same for the new UI in IE7, ugh, poor poor usability design). To each his own, of course, but I find that writing in plain text lets me focus more on the actual writing, and less on the software I'm using.

Luke | May 24, 2006 02:34 PM

Durf, if you liked WriteNow but wish it was available for OS X, try out Mariner Write.

I was a write-now fan, then a beta-tester on Mariner Write, and I find them very similar, very good.

Just, almost all of my writing is best left unformatted or nearly so, so I end up using TextEdit or Xcode. If I felt like I needed any more power in a text editor, I'd get Mariner Write.

Mitch Wagner | May 24, 2006 03:16 PM

I've been playing with Markdown for a few days now. It's excellent.

Does Markdown have a command that does underlining? If so, I haven't found one--and that's a big gap for writing science fiction and fantasy. In manuscript format, an underline is used to denote text that will appear in italics when published, and we sci-fi/fantasy writers love our italics in which to print our protagonists' long, self-pitying internal monologues.

My workaround has been to use _underscores_ to denote italics, and then go into Word and and convert the italicized text to underlined text.

JClark | May 24, 2006 03:31 PM

I don't think there's an underline mark, I imagine it's becasue Markdown is intended for web based writing, and underlining anything that isn't a link is considered bad form if you're picky. John Gruber, who designed Markdown, is pretty picky.

I'm curious, what's wrong with actually using italics to indicate italics? Is it an "old standards" kind of thing, or is there a practical reason?

Steve | May 24, 2006 03:54 PM

JClark said: same for the new UI in IE7, ugh, poor poor usability design
I'll let the army of trained, experienced usability designers know you said that. :-)

Mitch Wagner | May 24, 2006 04:44 PM

As far as I know, magazine and book editors prefer underlines to indicate italics in manuscripts for two reasons:

- Because, as you say, it's always been done that way.

- Because it's more obvious at a glance. Many of the people who typeset manuscripts don't actually read them as they go, they just prop up the pages and type. As I understand it, a lot of typesetting work is outsourced to the usual places where things get outsourced to.

But I'm a beginner at this fiction stuff. Others, including our Blog Host, will know better than me.

John Scalzi | May 24, 2006 04:50 PM

Regrettably I am a bad writer, in that I turn in my manuscripts with italics instead of underlining. I get back the manuscripts and the poor copyeditor has had to underline all my italics. This is one reason I make sure to thank my copyeditors whenever possible.

The reason to underline instead of italicizing, as far as I know, is that, yes, it's easier for the typesetters to see underlining than italicizing (especially with some fonts).

JClark | May 24, 2006 05:39 PM

That makes sense I guess, thanks for the info.

As for my UI comment... Well, according to the writings of Joel Spolsky, Steve Krug, and the guys at 37 Signal, not to mention my extrapolations from Robin Williams, Donald A. Norman and others, it's a terrible design. Microsoft is known for user unfriendly designs too, so I wouldn't talk up their "army of trained, experienced usability designers" much either.

Simple example: The refresh button is on the other side of the screen from all of the other navigational buttons.

Of course my idea of good design might not be everyone's. I'm also not a fan of buttons in place of menus (I don't get why buttons are better, except that they're shiney), but many people seem to like them. Camino is just about my idea of browser UI perfection.

Steve | May 24, 2006 05:50 PM

I'm just saying that usability design at this level involves a field of experts and, like any group of experts, you can find many on one side or the other of almost any design issue.

Having said that, and without necessarily holding up Microsoft's design philosophies as examples of ideals, I do know that there are a lot of well-educated, highly experienced usability experts at Microsoft who do hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hours of testing with real-live people on nearly every facet of every product.

Mitch Wagner | May 24, 2006 06:10 PM

Why buttons are better than menus: You can just move your mouse up to the top of the application menu and click the button you want. One click.

In a menu, you click the menu, drag down to your selection, then click. Sometimes there's sub-menus, in which case you have to repeat. Often, if you're a klutz like me, when you're dealing with sub-menus, you click the wrong thing.

The situation is exacerbated when you don't know precisely where to find the command you're looking for. With menus, you have to click on each menu, and read the whole thing. Sometimes, there are sub-menus. With buttons, you just look up at the top of the screen and scan the row of buttons, without even moving your hands from the keyboard.

Dr. Phil | May 24, 2006 10:42 PM

To Steve: "Piffle."

I understand perfectly well how business works. I also know it is possible to (a) revise standards or (b) retain compatibility with older standards without throwing out the old. Unless you want to make sure that your new proprietary format replaces the old one.

You know another one of the great things about Word 95? It can still read my ancient WordStar 3.30 files.

Nothing like supporting old standards... (grin)

Dr. Phil

MWT | May 25, 2006 06:48 PM

"Reveal Codes" in Wordperfect looks very similar to HTML code.

It's not just about seeing dots for spaces and backward Ps for paragraphs like in Word. There are codes for bold, italics, underline, superscript, subscript, strikethrough, etc. You can also see codes for all the tabs, locations of font changes, page breaks, paragraph indents, bullet points, and everything involved in creating a table.

It is a lot easier to edit precisely where you want a particular formatting thing to occur when you can see exactly where in the code your cursor is. This is not possible in Word, where you have to go back and forth with the cursor and hope that you're in the right spot by guessing.

As might be guessed, I'm definitely a Wordperfect fan. However, these days I rarely use any of the common word processors unless someone has sent me a Word document (these days it's always a Word document). I do everything in text editors and (for fiction writing) Jer's Novel Writer.

I'm also a bit surprised that no one else has mentioned Jer's Novel Writer in this thread yet. The features it has for fiction writing are stupendous. It can save format templates for printing and sending to publishers, that are different from whatever you want to use while writing. And right now, while in beta, it's free.

Mitch Wagner | May 25, 2006 08:23 PM

Crap--faulty html in that one--should've previewed.

The URL is

http://jerssoftwarehut.com/AboutJNW.shtml

J Clark | May 26, 2006 03:23 PM

Well, my point about buttons vs. menus was that in IE7 (and apparently Word 2007) the menu bar is gone, but there are a number of graphical buttons that do exactly what the old text-only menus used to do. You click them and a list of options drops down.

In effect, they've taken a simple, understandable, and space saving menu (words speak well in small places) and replaced them with larger, shiney buttons that also have words on them but are bigger, due to their shiney graphical nature. Both work in the same way.

That's why I don't understand why one is better than the other.

Sean Woods | May 27, 2006 11:21 PM

John,

Resist the temptation to go back to windows. Just take a copy of your little one's report card to Best Buy, Microcenter, Fry's, whichever big box is in your area and get the "Education Discount" on MS Office.

Despite being a hard-core Linux geek (I scratch build routers, email servers, raid controllers, etc.), on my desk is a Mac, and in my breifcase is an iBook. When I want to sit down and brain dump I find it is the one operating system that takes pains to stay out of my road.

When I need to go Amish, (I sometimes find myself playing with fonts instead of writing) I whip out AquaEmacs.

Catherine | May 30, 2006 11:31 AM

Word for Mac has some cool features I like better than those found in the PC version. For example, it puts formatting functions (among others) and such in movable palettes (like adobe tools in Photoshop and Illustrator). Pretty nifty. Especially if your job contains a workload where editing long reports in word documents is key. I don't know if they have placed this function in the newer PC versins, but that is actually how the mac become my computer of choice. That and networking macs (or mixed networks) is much easier than networking PCs.

Robert | May 31, 2006 02:16 PM

1. There is a Student edition of Office for mac for 150 bucks, so price-wise, not bad. I mean, it's for your daughter, right?
2. Seriously, tho - Pages is simply not meant for book-writing. Small magazine, newsletters, and such, yes, but a book? No.
3. There should have been a trial edition of office on your mac, it's worth checking out. Word for mac is my favorite WP software, and a delight to use.

Mike Van Horn | May 31, 2006 03:25 PM

I use Word (and Excel and PowerPoint) because everyone else does, and I exchange business docs with a lot of people. It's a distraction when I have to fiddle with a text doc sent by someone else who uses a different program. Also, as a Mac user, I appreciate apps that are interchangeable between Mac and Windows. This is becoming less important as Macs learn to handle Windows apps better and better. So I may soon give up MS Office.
Text editors seem like a 1950 Dodge pickup truck; I find it much easier using a Lexus with all its power features.

My pet peeve: upgrades. I'd still be happy with Word 5.0 if I didn't have to upgrade to retain interchangeability with others.

Re the above post: We all use the student edition of Office for the Mac in our office; seems like the same program to me.

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