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Here is why Word is still the word

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.

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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