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Here is why Word is still the word

Date

George Skarbek

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Last week, a column we ran calling for Death to Microsoft Word provoked a torrent of debate. In response, George Skarbek argues the seminal word processing program's powerful legacy will endure.

Some of Microsoft Word 's features are engraved in stone.

Some of Microsoft Word 's features are engraved in stone.

Recent calls for people to give up on Word as a relic and obsolete software tool are a little premature, given the program's usefulness and its ubiquitous presence in the corporate world and in education.

It is true, as claimed in Death to Microsoft Word, that old Clippy was irritating, that Word is bloated and can add the superscript "th" to ordinal numbers. But the claims are trivial.

In the corporate world, the only writing format used, apart from emails whose text editor borrows heavily from Word, is Word. Send some attachment created in a text editor and you will not be considered seriously.

Some users may call Word bloated compared with online text editors, but this indicates that they may only write simple documents. Try writing a 250-page book with dozens of images, cross references, an index and a Table of Contents (T of C) and then creating a PDF file and sending it directly to a printer using another text editor. Not easy.

By employing Word and using a Heading 1 for each chapter, I have automatically created page headers for all pages in my book's chapters. Headings 1, 2 and 3 were then automatically used in the T of C, which was created in a few clicks. Some words for the index were generated automatically using a concordance file, while others were inserted using one keystroke. Cross-references to other chapters or topics were inserted with their page numbers.

Using "styles" also means formatting is applied with a couple of clicks. These features are not available in any other text editor I have used.

Word also has some other handy text-editing features and saved a friend of mine much work. She had to remove about 30 characters from each of 500 lines. Holding down the Alt key while using the mouse allowed a rectangular selection. This is of use when removing leading spaces from tables in Word. It can be even more beneficial if users take some time to learn its features.

Certainly using a text editor or simple word processor will use less computing memory than Word. However, the average new computer has 4 GB of RAM. Word, with most options loaded, uses approximately 0.035GB of RAM. So unless you are running an ancient computer, Word will not cause any problems.

To me AutoCorrect is one of the most important features of Word. It not only corrects typing and spelling errors such as correcting "teh" to "the" but far more importantly allows you to create your own expansions of commonly typed words.

I belong to a computer club and often need to type its name, the Melbourne PC User Group. In Autocorrect I assigned the letters "mpc" to automatically expand into the club's name. A pathologist who types reports when examining specimens under a microscope is able to write a repeatedly used sentence by entering three or four letters, increasing his typing speed enormously while maintaining full accuracy.

For many users, including myself, Word's spelling checker, grammar checker and thesaurus are of considerable benefit. Send an email or submit a document without having first run spell check and your readers will not only judge your writing poor, but also note your failure to apply a simple tool that could have made you look more professional.

Yes, Clippy was irritating, but can easily be turned off and has not been around for about a decade. The superscript "th" on ordinal numbers is annoying, but pressing Ctrl + Z, the undo key, reverses it. It can also be turned off in the Word's AutoFormat preferences, hence saving the undo.

Maybe simpler word-processors are gaining users, but you bet they incorporate many of the Word features we have come to expect as minimal professional standards.

This standard is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

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159 comments

  • Well good luck George. Who can be bothered wasting their life on these pre-set-ups. Every single formatting that Word has second guessed for me has second guessed it wrongly. Word is the first cousin of the photocopier that knows for sure that you want to use A3 paper.

    Commenter
    Butch
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 12:44PM
    • It takes a few seconds to set these things up and the time saved from having the set-ups is mammoth when you use Word a lot for work. If you just use it for the odd simple document at home then of course it seems a waste of time, but when you use it all day every day at work these things are a god send. I wouldn't use another word processor.

      Commenter
      Jen
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 1:45PM
    • George lost me with this quote:

      "Using 'styles' also means formatting is applied with a couple of clicks. These features are not available in any other text editor I have used."

      Styles are available in every professional grade page layout system. Moreover they have been better managed and less buggy in every serious layout package I've used, since Ventura Publisher in the 80's through Quark to InDesign in the modern era.

      It's no wonder he's stuck on Word - he hasn't tried anything else! George has such low expectations that he is impressed by Acrobat picking up on a heading.

      As for the use of Word in corporate contexts: speaking as someone who has had the job of designing corporate content management systems - let me assure you, George, that Word's awful versioning & tracked-changes implementation is one of the major impediments to successful document control.

      Buggy, bloated and poorly implemented, Word is a triumph of mediocrity; a rebuke to excellence. I'm firmly in the "please Lord deliver us a compelling replacement" camp.

      Commenter
      kosh
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 2:00PM
    • @kosh
      Are you serious? Yes Quark was very good (had its own quirks of course), and InDesign too. But as a full version of ID costs $1k vs a full version of Word at $200 one would hope it was better.

      Commenter
      Ajax9000
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 2:51PM
    • Anyone who's sick of paying Microsoft hundreds of dollars for word, should try a free alternative.

      It's called LibreOffice.

      Google it, you'll find it. Free and open-source software, not owned by any corporation. It's worth a try.

      Commenter
      LR
      Location
      Pyrmont
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 2:57PM
    • "Who can be bothered"... anyone who has to edit large documents, for errors or for formatting purposes, can be 'bothered' because it saves them hours of unneccesary work. For example, if you follow the same ten rules for every document edited (remove double spacing after full point, set paragraph spacing to 6pt etc), then you only need to run a macro recorder, do the process manually once, assign a shortcut key, and hey presto - a job that usually takes 30 minutes takes about 2 seconds. Anyone using Word regularly should give an Intermediate course a shot - there is a wealth of handy tools that never get touched because all most people can do is basic manual formatting.

      Commenter
      Sara
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 3:29PM
    • Butch, I would rather have wasted (although I actually wouldn't use that word!) a few weeks of familiarising myself with Word 2010 and setting up all the options that suit me best under File - Options and also setting up the Quick Access Toolbar, because I can guarantee that I would be stuck at work for several hours after 5 every single night if not for Macros, Autotexts and Styles making my life easy. So yes I did suffer from 12 hour days initially but now I can leave work at 5pm on the dot! I don't call that wasting my life. One has to take the time to learn, and if they don't understand it or cannot get their head around it, don't knock it for those of us who LOVE Word 2010.

      Commenter
      Sharon
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 4:17PM
    • I suspect that the news of the demise of Word is premature and a lot of us are going to be working with it for some years to come.

      Most people don't understand how Styles and formatting are structured in Word, they use direct formatting and the results can be unpredictable and frustrating. For the technical report writing that I currently do, and converting from WordPerfect, I had to invest some time in learning how Word is structured and learning about the features are useful and how to use them.

      Many of the comments here demonstrate a lack of knowledge. As Sara says, if you spend any significant amount of time routinely formatting documents in Word, then go and get yourself some knowledge and you will save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

      Commenter
      Mal
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:21PM
  • Word 2003 is my Savior!

    Might even get around to getting a non pirated edition one day. LOL

    Commenter
    Pete
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 12:47PM
    • Shame the UK English spell checker isn't working for you. :)

      Commenter
      GES Who
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 17, 2012, 5:40PM

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