The problem with Word.

/The problem with Word.

Charles Stross makes a compelling argument for the death of Microsoft Word. The history of the product is interesting, especially this:

One faction wanted to take the classic embedded-codes model, and update it to a graphical bitmapped display: you would select a section of text and mark it as “italic” or “bold” and the word processor would embed the control codes in the file and, when the time came to print the file, it would change the font glyphs being sent to the printer at that point in the sequence. But another group wanted to use a far more powerful model: hierarchical style sheets. In a style sheet system, units of text — words, or paragraphs — are tagged with a style name, which possesses a set of attributes which are applied to the text chunk when it’s printed.

[…] Arguments raged internally: should [Word] use control codes, or hierarchical style sheets? In the end, the decree went out: Word should implement both formatting paradigms. Even though they’re fundamentally incompatible and you can get into a horrible mess by applying simple character formatting to a style-driven document, or vice versa. Word was in fact broken by design, from the outset — and it only got worse from there.

Coming from the cut-throat world of teenage girl webdesign, I confess there’s nothing more infuriating to me than inline formatting in Word documents. And also people who use underlining on headings (seriously, it’s not a typewriter, stop that).

Nowadays, I rarely use Word in any context outside of work, and that’s because our office, like many, is ten years behind the technology curve and deeply embedded in Microsoft products (if for no other reason than the average age and non-technical bent of our workforce makes large technology shifts difficult). At home, I mostly use Pages for basic document formatting–and the recent changes to that are a post in themselves–and Scrivener for writing. Plus a whole host of other tools, from Evernote to iA Writer to GDocs.

With that said, this is also relevant:

The reason I want Word to die is that until it does, it is unavoidable. I do not write novels using Microsoft Word. I use a variety of other tools, from Scrivener […] to classic text editors such as Vim. But somehow, the major publishers have been browbeaten into believing that Word is the sine qua non of document production systems. They have warped and corrupted their production workflow into using Microsoft Word .doc files as their raw substrate, even though this is a file format ill-suited for editorial or typesetting chores.

Scrivener has a nice “Compile” feature to churn out .doc manuscripts, and yet I still spend hours pouring over these trying to ensure everything is “perfect” for submission to editors and agents. Which is a double pain in the ass because, as implied above, I primarily use a Mac and don’t have Office on it, and I don’t quite trust Pages and Word to play nice with each other.

The ironic part, of course, is that, in my experience, a lot of editors and agents seem to use Macs as well. And yet .doc is still the default submission format, coupled with a whole armload of industry standards about formatting requirements (Times New Roman, 12pt, double spaced, 1 inch margins). Except I’m submitting a manuscript to a publisher, not a job application for a typesetting specialist. You’d think that it would make more sense to have some sort of industry default that divorced the formatting from the content. Something like, oh say, EPUB. Or even text documents formatted with Markdown, intended for display in some application that allows the reader to select how she’d like the text to be displayed.

(Not to mention both of these formatting options would be significantly smaller, file-size-wise, than their Word document equivalents.)

I guess Word still exists as a standard in the publishing industry because a lot of authors still use it to write books. Maybe that’ll change over the next decade or so. And by “maybe” I mean “hopefully”.

Microsoft Word will (probably) never die. But at the very least we can stop using it for everything.

2017-07-14T12:00:59+00:00 9th November, 2013|Tags: publishing|Comments Off on The problem with Word.