The Garret Tree
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
  Why I despise Microsoft Word

Almost exactly twenty years ago, the Canadian Science Writers Association held the "Great Word Processing Race" at the gym at MacMaster University in Hamilton. It was the dawn of the PC age and, yes, there were more than enough software companies competing that they flew up their reps and their computers and software and competed in the race with a set of rules set by a committee of science journalists. I remember that Microsoft was there, so was Word Perfect and MicroPro who made the venerable Wordstar and many others.

I can't remember who won that race. (I think it was Word Perfect)

We all know who won the real race. Microsoft Word and the only reason is Microsoft's monopoly power. Word has to be one of the worst word processors--because it actually interferes with the writing process, rather than enhancing it.

As I said on this blog, I have just finished the manuscript of my next book. And it was Microsoft Word and its demand that I work the way Microsoft wants that interfered with the work I was doing and slowed down a project that was already late. I'd highlight a word I wanted in italics and Word for some reason --on some occasions, not on others--then went on to change the entire file into italics. I had to undo "Autoformat" time and time and time again.

Then there was one chapter that turned into the biggest headache. I wrote that one on two different computers but both using Word 2000. When I got the file back to my home computer, the formatting was all over the place and no matter what I tried, I couldn't fix it. So I imported it into Open Office, which did not go weird on me, fixed the formatting, did the edits and then saved it as a Word file--and that worked.

I began using Wordstar 2.6 on a four inch screen on an Osborne in 1983, and I had to write the code to connect the Ozzy to the Epson dot matrix printer--but that program was a dream to use for a writer--it helped you get in the zone as you wrote. The management at MicroPro was slow to realize that the world was switching to the PC. Their catchup Wordstar never regained its market share but at least MicroPro had the right idea. When you installed Wordstar it gave you the choice of how the program was configured, either some pre-set setups or check boxes that the let you chose the features you want.
Microsoft, on the other hand, sends down the Word from Redmond and thou shalt obey (unless take hours out of your work so you can figure it out how to turn it off).

The last straw was when I was doing the final edits and print out on a chapter that had been fine the last time I opened it. Half the chapter, at seemingly random spots, had paragraph after paragraph of bold face, then it reverted to normal type.

Since I had started the project back in the academic phase when Open Office was not available, I was using Word and continued to do so.

As of now, it's Open Office all the way. And if a client wants it in Word format, I'll save it as Word from Open Office.

Every day when I go into my local subway station in Toronto, it is filled with Microsoft Office posters with office workers in rubber dinosaur masks. Microsoft wants to say that if you don't use the latest version of office you're a dinosaur. It could also mean, of course, that Microsoft Office will soon be extinct!

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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