back to article MS Word deserves DEATH says Brit SciFi author Charles Stross

British science fiction author Charles Stross has published a mighty rant on the subject of Microsoft Word, which he is attempting to will out of existence. Stross has form as a critic of Redmond, having penned a Linux column for another outlet. His complaint on this occasion is not just with Word itself, but rather the fact …


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  1. returnmyjedi

    Word is indeed a pain in the bum, but so is every processor since the days of early Word Perfect. If they all have an issue it's that they have too many features.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You should give WordPad a go, in Windows 7&8 its evolved to about the level of a word processor circa 1995 ie it types, it spell checks, it has fonts and it now is setup for A4 all without the unnecessary gubbins.

      1. t.est

        Yep I refuse Word, and use Wordpad instead. It's by far more reliable (not had hone crash with wordpad) and doesn't try to format stuff in a way you don't want it formatted.

        Wordpad almost reaches up to the quality level of the text editor in OSX.

        As long as I don't need specialised third party integrations that only work with Word. It's all Wordpad.

        1. big_D Silver badge


          Hmm, I've not had Word crash on me for years, well apart from the time when the document got up to over 500MB before I split it up.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @t.est

            > Hmm, I've not had Word crash on me for years

            Neither have I, since I moved to LibreOffice. :-)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        He could always return to something more his technological level like a type writer - and then use Word's built in OCR functionality.....

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or maybe not. I reinstalled the old version (and they don't make it easy) when I upgraded to 7 from XP. Reason: Couldn't handle the ribbonesque frivolity.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      WordPerfect still lives

      I use Word when I have to but my default editor and document creation is WordPerfect - it's so vastly superior to Word that there's really no competition for any document creation where you actually care about the final appearance and content.

      1. nsyms

        Re: WordPerfect still lives

        MS Word always was and still is is for the landfill in comparison with WordPerfect. I still use WP10 on Win XP and it is always a breeze to use.

    3. Cucumber C Face

      Word Perfect largely has itself to blame for it's demise

      While I don't dispute one could do a great job with Word Perfect back in the 1980's - IMHO it made Vi and Edlin seem like user friendly text processors by comparison.

      Ease of use (by the untrained majority) was where WP 5.1 lost out to Microsoft Word V2. The much belated Windows GUI version of WP stank (yes I know about the hidden api stuff) but they never caught up.

      By the time MS lost the plot with the ribbon it obviously had all been over for 15 years.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Word Perfect largely has itself to blame for it's demise

        > it made Vi and Edlin seem like user friendly text processors by comparison

        What do you mean by that? Vi is *very* user friendly.

        Just a bit choosy as to who its friends are. :-(

      2. PJI

        Re: Word Perfect largely has itself to blame for it's demise

        But vi is user friendly, fast, consistent and powerful. I am serious.

        1. Gordon 10

          Re: Word Perfect largely has itself to blame for it's demise

          No - you are on drugs.

          Vi is both obscure and has a very abstract interaction paradigm and whilst powerful for the cognescenti has an unbelievably high learning curve that is unacceptable to the average joe.

          1. uvavu

            Re: Word Perfect largely has itself to blame for it's demise

            No, you are on drugs.

            I stopped using the word 'paradigm' ten years ago. (I never actually knew exactly what it meant)

            We invest in the lengthy learning process of adopting products and we generally stick to them because of this personal investment. That is, the time and mental effort we expended to learn them. It's inertia. The product we see as best, is the product we know the most about. We learn to work around it failings and make the most of it.

            I used VI on unix. It's like learning to drive a car. Once you've learnt it, its second nature and worth taking the time to learn. And at the time there was naff all else to beat it on Unix. You don't want to trash all that learning for something else. And then GUI based editors came along.

            I've seen the same with the Windows/Mac/Linux debate. We tend to stick with what we have the most invested time and knowledge on, and stay with it and make the most of it.

        2. sisk

          Re: Word Perfect largely has itself to blame for it's demise

          But vi is user friendly, fast, consistent and powerful. I am serious.

          Fast, consistent, and powerful, yes, but if you're calling vi user friendly and being serious then you and I have very different definitions of "user friendly". To me the term implies that an average user could fire up the software and start using it immediately with an acceptable level of proficiency. With vi even geeks have to RTFM, usually more than once, before they can use it with any kind of success. That's not user friendly, even if it is a dang good program.

    4. TonyB

      Give me WordPro

      WordPro, last updated c.2000, is still my word processor of choice. I do use Word 2010 on occasions and it is just such hard work as compared with WordPro's right-click property boxes. Even simple things in Word are poorly implemented when compared with WordPro - for example insert an index entry in Word and you're asked for the index text each time; WordPro gives you a combo drop-down list of what you've already added so you can be consistent.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Give me WordPro

        I grew up on Protext and WordStar. Protext was excellent at producing long texts, but it was very basic. In fact, I'd write my text in Protext for a long time and them export it into Word Perfect or MS Word for formatting and printing once it was finished.

      2. dssf

        Re: Give me WordPro

        WordPro's sections and divisions, and "Special Views" are really nice. Years ago, when Star Office became, and Oo.o was canvassing input, I urged them to mimic WordPro vice MS Word. Of course, it is obvious they never even bothered to look at LWP for ideas. Just because ms has the most inertia does not validate cloning it and ignoring Lotus WordPro.

        WordPro's interface, to me, STILL trumps all the other word processors in terms of balance of features, crispness in the GUI, and reasonable stability. Even the WYSIWYG in print preview and in the Special Views, man, hard to beat.

        Unfortunately for WordPro, IBM, as I understand, as well as Lotus SmartSuite, will go unsupported circal Nov 2014. Apparently, nobody is picking it up. If anyone does, I hope it is not for the purposes of shutting it down.

      3. Down not across

        Re: Give me WordPro

        Ah, the old Ami Pro. Was miles ahead of Microsoft Word ...back in the day. It was much more intuitive and pleasant to use than MS Word.

      4. Hyper72

        Re: Give me WordPro

        Yes, I miss Word Pro, it was an amazing update to Amipro. I wish LibreOffice would adopt those incredible right-click popups.

        It felt like Word Pro was built around styles whereas in Word styles have always felt bolted-on.

    5. Paul Renault

      No kidding! Just this morning I was thinking: "Why doesn't anyone implement WordPerfect's oh-so-useful "Keep Text Together" command?

      (I don't know if it's in Word, but I know it's not in LibreOffice.)

      1. dajames

        Keep Text Together

        Why doesn't anyone implement WordPerfect's oh-so-useful "Keep Text Together" command?

        (I don't know if it's in Word, but I know it's not in LibreOffice.)

        Would this be something like Libre Office's "Keep with next paragraph", which is one of the text flow options available with paragraph styles?

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: Keep Text Together

          "Keep with next paragraph" is better than nothing.

          But "keep with previous paragraph" is more useful, and that's not included in any of the formats I'm familiar with.

          To the suggestion of WordPad: that's fine if your document is up to about two pages long. But if you're trying to write a 300-page book, then it's nice to have some way of navigating it. A fully functional word processor, whether it's Word or WordPerfect or Libre Office, provides that.

    6. Danny 4


      Why not give TeX or LaTeX a go? Edit using any text editor you choose - no obscure binary file formats. Multiplatform. Source code easily available. Powerful and portable. What's not to love?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: TeX/LaTeX

        What's not to love?

        Well, there are certainly things not to love in TeX and LaTeX. The syntax of TeX is abysmal in many areas, to be perfectly honest. LaTeX2e helps a great deal \but \is \still \far \from \ideal. The typography crowd will tell you that some of Knuth's typesetting algorithms are infelicitous, particularly for languages other than English. There's the perennial issue of what to do about overful hboxes; you can make a strong case that's a feature (LaTeX is telling you "hey, there's no way to format this line that is visually acceptable, using my current set of parameters"), but it's still a stumbling block for people who just want to produce a document and don't care if it's less than perfect.

        There are too many LaTeX packages, many of them redundant. That's not LaTeX's fault, but again it's a barrier to adoption. The packages vary widely in quality, and here too some of the typographic decisions made by their creators are unfortunate. (For example, the Koma-Script packages are very nice in most respects, but BLOCK CAPITALS for heading are typographically too strong in most contexts.)

        All that said, LaTeX, used properly, is probably the best widely-available text-production system. I agree entirely with Stross. Word processors are bad, MS Word is particularly bad, and editors and publishers who insist on Word are a huge part of the problem. In the past few years I've done publications in Word and LaTeX, and the former was a goddamned nightmare throughout the editing cycle.

    7. Marshalltown

      Word perfect

      WP's file format was at least easy to clean up. Word in comparison was and is a nightmare when it breaks. The thing I didn't like about WP was that it would accumulate orphaned formatting codes. By default deleting text didn't delete the formatting. A document could grow astonishingly. I had an employer who asked me to look at his document because although it was only 4 pages long, it was terribly slow to print. I opened view codes or whatever it used to be called and discovered that 90% of his doc was orphaned codes. I deleted them and things worked fine. He almost fainted though when he saw the size of the new document. Thought I had deleted most of his work.

    8. uvavu


      Multimate under dos. How on earth did we manage? Tables -- Luxury. We were lucky if we could even set Tabs. Not to even mention inserting jpegs. I'll get my coat.

    9. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      It's a terrible shame that there are no open source word processors out there.

      Oh, wait! There are!

      And they even can save a document in Mickeysoft Curd format.

      Or to RTF. Or to PDF. Or to...

  2. jake Silver badge

    Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

    "It is, quite simply, unavoidable.”

    Fortunately, "unavoidable" doesn't mean what you think it means. Simple ASCII .txt is still compatible with Word. Demand it. I do. Almost nobody has the artistic ability to "art-up" simple documents, without completely cocking it up.

    Note that I don't run anything from Redmond younger than a dozen years ago or so (Win2K and ACad2K are about it; the CAD box is air-gapped) ... and I started refusing all contracts based on Redmond systems on January 1, 2010.

    1. JC_

      Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

      How good is the change-tracking in an ASCII text file? Editors would probably prefer to use a tool that has this feature when revising a document.

      1. Bronek Kozicki

        Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

        "How good is the change-tracking in an ASCII text file?"

        You do not seem to be familiar with the concept of version control .... it works best on pure text files.

        1. JC_

          Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

          You do not seem to be familiar with the concept of version control .... it works best on pure text files.

          I work with SVN and Git everyday (and VSS in the past - shudder), so I'm quite familiar with version control; you, on the other hand, do not seem to be familiar with what an editor would think of being asked to "merge your changes into the trunk"...

          A single file has the advantage that it can be emailed around the office and between the author and the editor and all changes are included, along with formatting, in an easy to use way. Word may not be perfect, but it's a good enough solution for millions of people.

          1. Khaptain Silver badge

            Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

            One of you is speaking about *.doc or *.docx files ( ie MS Word Format) which can hold formatting etc, the other is speaking about *.txt files ( Ascii text files which does hold formatting etc).

            Please do not compare appels to oranges, they are both fruits but they are nto the same fruit.

            1. jake Silver badge

              @Khaptain (was:Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.)

              LaTex and Post/GhostScript are ASCII text files.

              Please do not compare ampules to syringes. They are both technical bits of kit, but do not exactly do the same job.

          2. Gav

            Single file, Ha!

            A single file has the advantage

            This is exactly where the likes of Word fails. Because you have absolutely no idea, and no way of ensuring, that you have a single file. For all you know you may have four different versions emailing their way around the office. Try merging that all back together.

            And that's before you even consider the inevitable situation where two of the contributors to the file are using the style templates, and one is setting fonts and paragraph formatting. Someone at the end then has to fix it all together in a consistent way.

            Stross is 100% correct. The way Word works was broken from the outset.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Single file, Ha!

              That's just if the last version of Word you used was 2000...

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Single file, Ha!

              "Because you have absolutely no idea, and no way of ensuring, that you have a single file. For all you know you may have four different versions emailing their way around the office."

              That's what SharePoint is for.,,,,

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

          No - you're wrong. It happens just that most VCS comes with diff/merge tools for plain text files only. As long as you have a tool enabling diff/merge for a given format, there's no problem using them with any good VCS allowing for them.

          BTW: Unicode may look a "text file", but it's not. Unicode is really a binary encoding for text.... (just think it allows for different representation of the same character, i.e. combining diacriticals or using a single codepoint when avalable)

          1. disgruntled yank

            Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

            'BTW: Unicode may look a "text file", but it's not. Unicode is really a binary encoding for text...'

            Where ASCII and EBCDIC are?

      2. Hans 1

        Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

        Ever heard of /usr/bin/diff ? Version control is another tool, but seriously, diff and patch are the two most used programs apart from vi on my box ... I write/maintain a 1800+ pages book, trust me ... as for styles, I use wiki text formatting, an awk script spits out docbook XML which I convert to the format of my liking ...

        I remember working with a big software house who were using XLS files for project tracking involving several people ... I was getting modified files from 5 different people at one point, how do you merge that ?

        Save as CSV, diff the buggers, patch, open in OpenOffice and save as xls ... Everybody was asking me how I manged to do it so fast ... I kept replying: "Use linux". I know, you can get the tools on windows, add them to your path and work your way around the braindead windows terminal (cmd.exe) ...

        Oh, and Windows tools seem to have problems with CSV, comma-separated values, files. Some tools expect it to be TAB separated values (Excel), others semi-colon separated values (Windows contacts import wizard) ... Excel allows you to import the files, which is just plain f'ed up it should apply heuristics or at the very least ask, contacts import wizard simply refuses to load proper CSV files....

        Gates should be canonized, or is it you who are just too thick ?

        1. hplasm

          Re: Gates should be canonized

          Do you mean tied to the front of a cannon? Just wondering...

          1. channel extended

            Re: Gates should be canonized

            That's two 'n's for cannonized. Sometimes spillcheck can change you meaning.

          2. willi0000000

            Re: @ hplasm; Gates should be canonized

            tied in front of a cannon?

            wouldn't that be "atomized?"

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

          "Ever heard of /usr/bin/diff ? Version control is another tool, but seriously, diff and patch are the two most used programs apart from vi on my box ... I write/maintain a 1800+ pages book, trust me ... as for styles, I use wiki text formatting, an awk script spits out docbook XML which I convert to the format of my liking"

          No - and I think I will stick to Word, it does all of that with none of that crap, thanks...

        3. channel extended

          Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

          I agree Gates should be cannonized! :)

        4. Grant Alexander

          Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

          Last couple of days I have been thinking about the "Apparition of Productivity". This is the appearance that "apps" and "gui tools" help people do useful work quickly and productively. Your examples show how this is the case. I have a few scripts I use to take Word format documents and convert them to plain text and then to html (all without opening a GUI). The time it would take me working in Word and some GUI app is many times what I can achieve with command line.

          Another example is a .csv file I had coming from a supplier. I started off summarising the data in Excel, but ten moved on and wrote a Python script. The script ran the process in less time than it took to open the file in Excel.

          This message has to get through to users and employers. The potential of computers to improve productivity is being eroded by users who are GUI-centric.

          1. TheOtherHobbes

            Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

            >The potential of computers to improve productivity is being eroded by users who are GUI-centric.

            I believe that used to be called VBA - which proved, in spite of everything, that some people will write and use scripts if you make it really easy for them.

            Unfortunately UNIX etc makes it really difficult for them. The learning curve is just too steep for most people, so they don't use them, don't understand them, and feel there's no good reason to learn.

            The best way to compete with Office would be to make the usual suite of apps, but include simple, easy-to-understand, shareable and social scripting.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

              > Unfortunately UNIX etc makes it really difficult for them.

              The problem is most users don't care to put in any kind of effort to learn.

              Using shell commands is not difficult and you don't need to learn many commands to be truly efficient and productive.

              The problem is, so many people have been brainwashed into believing GUIs are the easiest and most productive ways to work. They are not. What they do is lower the threshold to doing anything, the simplest task.

              Most GUI-based word processors are pretty sophisticated but because of the low threshold many never go on to learn how to use them properly, ignoring styles and formats to waste their time manually formatting each and eery paragraph to get it looking right. Using styles makes this easier and quicker with a little up front effort.

              People are lazy.

              1. Martin 71 Silver badge

                Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

                Also the word processors themselves, along with their help files, do NOT make the learning easy. Most non-gui tools, because of the higher threshold, are better documented (not necessarily MORE documented, but better).

                If I have a problem with a command line tool, google will find the answer for me. If I have a problem with a GUI tool, google will find a twisted morass of users also having the same problem, and 18 solutions, none of which work with my particular version and build.

                This has happened repeatedly, with GUI products from many vendors

          2. Goat Jam

            Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

            "I have a few scripts I use to take Word format documents and convert them to plain text and then to html (all without opening a GUI). The time it would take me working in Word and some GUI app is many times what I can achieve with command line."

            You might appreciate this:

            Geeks vs Non-geeks

          3. Phil Koenig

            Re: Concur with Stross. With a couple caveats.

            And how much time do you spend writing, debugging and maintaining those scripts?

            And when you don't have control over the nature of the input data, or the "automagic HTML converter thingy" creates some kind of HTML that modern browsers don't like?

            This is like the software vendors who gush "Just press one button..."

            Yes, after you've pressed 22 other buttons before, twiddled some knobs, moved various things around, scratched your head for awhile, did some test printouts, discovered a display incompatibility with your video driver, scratched your head some more..."

  3. erikj

    Douglas Adams'...

    ...similar thoughts, but far less bitterness in 1987:

    "Something wrong, sir?" he said. "Oh, nothing," I said gloomily. "It's just the new version of Microsoft Word."

    PS. Maybe someone has a better, more official link?

    1. Mark Simon

      Re: Douglas Adams'...

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Douglas Adams'...

        Sadly, MS did listen to Adams, and they put "smart quotes" in and made them the default. Thus ensuring that you can't translate a Word document to a web page without making random squiggles show up in half the browsers out there.

        One of the first things I do, on receiving a document from anyone else, is search-and-replace-all quotes with quotes. First double quotes, then single quotes. And because my copy of Word has the "replace straight with smart quotes" disabled, the new ones it inserts are straight quotes. So I guess I have to hand it to them, at least they made it easy to fix.

  4. HMB


    Monopolies, bad for everyone but the owners of the aforementioned.

    Of course eventually they loose the plot so badly that a smaller, more flexible upstart will challenge them, but luckily this problem is being fixed by patent libraries so large than any attempt to infringe on an established market will lead to immediate financial ruin.

    Whatever happened to a good old honest free market economy powered by ideas, innovation and meritocracy? (With social safeguards of course)

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Monopolies

      In the interests of publicising some more flexible upstarts...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Monopolies

      MS establiesh a monopoly just because its competitors commited suicide happily. WordStar was unable to build on its own early success. WordPerfect struggled and started to release buggy software. Lotus, which had the only suite that could challenge Office, decided Notes was enough to make money and started to release bad software with the ugly Notes UI. Word and Office were the most expensive software, yet users bought more and more of it. Why? Because most of them could have their job done using Word and Office, while had to fight with the software using others. I know - I tried to use WordPerfect first, but it kept on crashing on Windows NT. Then I tried Lotus WordPro, but it had a really ugly UI and was also really buggy, after endless calls with support and several new disk sets sent, uninstallations and installations, I gave up and switched to Office.

      1. MrRtd

        Re: Monopolies

        Competitors didn't happily commit suicide. There were many undocumented "things" in Windows software that the competitors simply didn't know about or weren't able to know because of MS's proprietary system. Microsoft used it's dominance as a operating system to become the dominate office software. Underhanded, sneaky and down-right unethical tactics were used, just as they are today.

        Creating the best software is not even a part of their mission statement.

  5. Canopus

    A De-strossing Article!

    I am a great admirer of Mr Stross's novels, but ranting - no matter how satisfying an outlet for the ranter -never achieved anything....

    Give us some requirements, some constructive criticism... what features are so sorely needed?, which ones need to be "liberated" from the stifling limitations of Redmond's design?

    Or maybe you happen to have a laundry designed spell processor you could share?

    It could be put to good use to unleash waves of popular writing creativity.. or is it

    the wrath of the ancient ones? (one may wonder which one would be worse...)

    1. Adam T

      Re: A De-strossing Article!

      Indeed I was thinking the same, or similar.

      I'm regularly annoyed by Word's evolution of features - ribbon UI; where'd they put that button I used to use a lot?; why is it such a PITA to do this thing I want to do?; and so on.

      But he's talking about file formats. What has that got to do with being a novelist? How many novelists open their Word files in an ascii editor so they can alter...what...XML? And, while not a fan of Word, I do know I can export a multitude of file formats if I ever become dataformatphobic.

      Sounds to me like he should write his own, being clever and all that.

      1. Gray

        Re: A De-strossing Article!

        His concern with file formats was a seriously legitimate concern in earlier days, when it was reasonable to expect that his word processor should be able to convert and open a file sent to him from my

        word processor. There was a thriving cottage industry for format conversion utilities, and built in filters in most applications. His point is well taken: MS Word continually changed their formats to destroy all efforts at interchangeable works. Even the .rtf format, meant to be an exchange format (which Stross mentions), has been so ill-documented and maimed by lack of standards support by MS that it cannot be relied except for the most basic needs.

        I once lived in the "encoded file" world of copywriting and typesetting, entering command codes for formatted output, and his commentary on the MS Word evolution is spot-on. For a glimpse of the absurd, save a MS Word file in HTML output, and then look at the code, and try to work with it in an HTML editor.

        As a side note, the increasing popularity of "markdown" codes in plain-text documents is a respectful return to the early days of text output discussed by Charles Stross. It is blessedly simple, efficient, and provides a universal master file serving many outputs.

        Strosses article is here:

        1. Adam T

          Re: A De-strossing Article!


          Thanks for the link (why was this not in the main article?). Quite a good read, and his argument is a lot more tangible when seen in the full context of his rant.

          It's easy to sympathise with him, particularly when I think of the software I use day to day, which of course is also forced upon me, and I in turn must force it upon young minds who come to work for us - thus the cycle is guaranteed.

          Standards are supposed to be a Good Thing. But sloppily constructed standards that lock you in, are Evil. Sadly, you can't run a monopoly with good intentions.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Adam T

            "Standards are supposed to be a Good Thing. But sloppily constructed standards that lock you in, are Evil."

            I can't let that pass. Microsoft Word is a classic example - almost the classic example in fact - of a so-called "de-facto standard". In other words, a product that everyone must use because everyone else uses it. But it's absolutely not a standard because it is entirely controlled by a single proprietary vendor, and no one else has the slightest say in how it works or how it is changed. That's entirely up to Microsoft, and those decisions will be made in the commercial interests of Microsoft alone.

            A real ("de-jure") standard is agreed by at least some different parties, and usually takes the form of a specification. Anyone who wants to may then write an implementation of the specification, and sell it or give it away as they please. There may or may not be formal validation tests to determine whether a given implementation satisfies the specification - it may do so, possibly, at any of several levels. But even if there are no validation tests, users will notice and word will get around. (Which is better, of course, than Word getting around. Well, I had to say it before someone else did). In a way, a de-jure standard is like open-source code: it is publicly available, and anyone can criticize it and suggest improvements.

            De-jure standards suffer from all sorts of problems and drawbacks, but unless you want a monopolist's product crammed down your throat, they are the best way to go. In the case of word processors, the relevant standard at present is probably OpenDocument ( No doubt critics of de-jure standards and advocates of Word will now reply, pointing out all the drawbacks of de-jure standards. But they are clearly the right way to go in principle; and if they are far from perfect, they have that in common with democracy, which as Churchill observed "is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

            So, Adam T, proper de-jure standards usually have well-constructed implementations because there is free and open competition to write them. And for the same reason, you can't be locked in to any one implementation. If you think that a given piece of software is sloppily constructed and locks you in, that just shows that it isn't a real standard.

            1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: @Adam T

              You want an unassailable example of a de-jure standard, look no further than the Intermodal Shipping Container, which is no less than the physical manifestation of a set of ISO standards on the transportation, identification and handling of freight. It transformed the freight industry so completely that the cost of worldwide shipping has gone almost completely flat and is no longer governed by distance or mode, but rather by content.

              Every time anyone complains about ISO standards all you have to do is point at that. Or road traffic signs. Or bolt threads. Or any number of other things that we take for granted and assume are "just so", but are in fact the result of a piece of an international agreement to set a standard.

              I'm saying this as someone who's really not all that keen on transnational and supranational organisations: there are times when they just bloody work. Setting standards is one of those times.

              1. dssf

                Re: @Adam T Shipping Container/ISO of word processors

                A DATABASE application.

                Lock down the style, permitted formats, and more.

                Force the users to enter text into text fields.

                Allow them to see the prospective finished product in a view tab or print preview callup. Tell them, "YOU, text. Someone else, graphics. Someone else, layout czar. Someone else, attribution and references and bibliography verification..."

                Besides, revisions could be in the form of drop-down items in a table. Need to recall a previous entry or contribution? Check the database. At least a databse would be the equivalent of making the wild west of spreadsheets more managable.

                Once all the approved submissions are tagged and the non-wanted submissions/edits are flagged as suppressed, the concatenation could then be almost instant, so long as the top-most entries are those being performed on. I do this in Lotus Approach. It's a fairly simple database app, and it is great for prototyping things. Word processors' days could be numbered if databases had word processor features.

                Just my two cents.

              2. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: @Adam T

                The Intermodal Shipping Container is a good example, of a de-jure standard. In it's original form it conquered the world. However, ISO and others are chipping away at it's uniformity by coming up with variants, some with dimensions just different enough to cause problems either preventing stacking or exceeding transport loading gauges...

        2. Paul Shirley

          Re: A De-strossing Article!

          @Gray: "save a MS Word file in HTML output"

          One of my regular chores used to be diving into the office intranet to repair the damage every time some idiot edited pages with a Microsoft tool, usually Word. Rewriting every hyperlink in non standard ways only other MS tools could use was a daily reminder of how they built a monopoly. Wasn't going to work in our office, with equal numbers of Linux & Windows boxes but it was a useful reminder to not trust them every time MS came calling with a tempting offer of help ;)

        3. Gray

          Re: A De-strossing Article!

          Concerning the .RTF interchange standard (and indeed, adherence to any file format standard as encountered by MS, here is a valuable read:

          Even today, the writing community suffers from a lack of uniform .RTF implementations. Nowhere is it possible to take a Word document and import/export from a competitor's product, and expect a clean result. If MS sold beer, they'd find a way to piss in everyone else's brew. Just so it suited their taste.

    2. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: A De-strossing Article!

      A laundry designed word processor? That would literally be a demon. "I need to invoke my word processor - anyone got any bat's blood?"

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: A De-strossing Article!

        "anyone got any bat's blood?"

        You'd never get the stain out of the parchment.

        1. hplasm

          Re: "anyone got any bat's blood?"


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A De-strossing Article!

        "It seems that you are trying to invoke a lesser Shoggoth, would you like some help?"

        Yeah, I can see tech support being messy..

    3. Hans 1

      Re: A De-strossing Article!

      How often have you come across poor Windows losers who have to copy-paste text into notepad, then back into word to get the formatting right ?

      There are so many formatting bugs in Word it is not funny anymore ...

      1. Geoffrey W

        Re: A De-strossing Article!

        @ Hans 1

        "How often have you come across poor Windows losers who have to copy-paste text into notepad, then back into word to get the formatting right ?"

        They only do that because they don't know how to do it properly. You can find Open/Libre Office users doing the same thing, if you care to look.

      2. Simon Westerby 1

        Re: A De-strossing Article!

        Thats me ....

        But then again, I can also use vi without any issues ....

        Maybe I'm not the "loser" its just the after all...

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: A De-strossing Article!

      And, on the one hand he complains that .doc is not a file format, it is a nightmare, yet he lambasts Microsoft for depricating .doc and replacing it with a file format that met his definition, because it was "forcing upgrades"... Even though MS provided a free converter for older versions of Office, so that they could read and write the newer format.

    5. Lars Silver badge

      Re: A De-strossing Article!

      "Give us some requirements, some constructive criticism... what features are so sorely needed?, which ones need to be "liberated" from the stifling limitations of Redmond's design?"

      An open standard like ODF is all we need, just start using it.

  6. Lusty


    Perhaps he ought to try a newer version. Word hasn't used .doc for many versions now, and the online collaboration tools are excelent - it can highlight a single paragraph being worked on by someone else so you know not to touch. I fail to see how full Word is appropriate for novel writing though. Maybe spell check is useful but it's a little overfeatured when the end result will be unformatted text. Word is designed around 100+ page fully formatted reports at which it excels

    1. That Awful Puppy

      Re: Perhaps

      >Word is designed around 100+ page fully formatted reports at which it excels

      Yes, it excels especially at buggering up the whole bloody document if one tries to move a table or, god forbid, a picture, a few pixels to the left. Or right. Or any other direction, by any other amount of pixels, dots or centimetres.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Perhaps - a few pixels to the left

        There in a nutshell is what is wrong with Word. Is it a document production tool or a layout tool? Everything is mixed up in one humungous clump.

        If the workflow was clearly separated, and the underlying content could be edited in one place and laid out in another, so that a layout foul-up would simply mean returning to the content document and starting a new layout, much frustration would be avoided.

        But Bill Gates obviously knew a lot more about how things should be done than did the publishing profession.

        1. mitch 2

          Re: Perhaps - a few pixels to the left

          "Everything is mixed up in one humungous clump". Right on- it amazes me how few people seem to realise this. Oh the wasted cumalitive decades people have spent re-massaging layouts due to trivial content changes.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Perhaps - a few pixels to the left

            You know of course you can put in hard breaks, section breaks etc. so that there is no need to mix things into one humungous clump and trivial content changes then have no effect on the rest of the document?

            Heaven forbid someone actually takes the time to learn and use the tools available to them... complaining is so much easier...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Perhaps - a few pixels to the left

              Of course I know about hard breaks, section breaks, paragraph layout, putting things into containers, anchoring things to different parts of the document and the rest of it.

              My complaint about "humungous clump" referred to the user interface, the awful ribbon, and the fact that there is just one user interface for everything, encouraging users to have poor workflow.

              In a sane version I would be able to produce the document with paragraphs, page markers, markers for tables and pictures and all the rest of it, and be able to save it. Then I would be able to apply styles and layout,preferably by just importing a template (i.e. the template is bound after content, not at document creation). If anything went wrong, a simple revert would get me back to my plain document.

              Document structure tools would be clearly distinguished from layout tools instead of being mixed up.

              Heaven forbid anyone takes time to design a system that is based on the long experience of publishers...oh, they did. It's called HTML + css.

              1. Harman Mogul

                Re: Perhaps - a few pixels to the left

                Splendidly level-headed posting nails it!

      2. Diogenes

        even my kids with learning disabilities can manage that

        " god forbid, a picture, a few pixels to the left. Or right. Or any other direction, by any other amount of pixels, dots or centimetres."

        they just remember to find the puppy dog and select the correct option :-)

        1. Sean Timarco Baggaley

          Re: even my kids with learning disabilities can manage that

          It helps if you check the anchor and text-wrap settings for tables and pictures. Once I understood what each of those settings actually did, I had no further issues.

          That said, Mr. Stross needs to learn that he should use the right tool for the job. MS Word isn't designed for writing novels. It's a *corporate document* creation tool. (Which I use frequently and have never had any problems with. I translate for a living, so MS Word is unavoidable: unlike most professions, translation has no concept of a "standard" document format, so I have to be able to deal with DOC, PDF, XLS, CSV, AI, InDesign files, PO files and more.)

          For book design and development, I use tools like Ulysses III or Scrivener. Both are highly recommended and a far better fit for writers and novelists than MS Word. The only reason for using MS Word as an author is either wilful* ignorance or masochism. There's no need for it. I know professional novelists who swear by Scrivener, for example.

          I believe Scrivener has a Windows version now. I'm not sure about Ulysses III; I suspect not. Then again, even Screenwriter 6 has a "Novel" template now, though it's mostly aimed (not surprisingly) at screenwriters.

          * (Google exists, Mr. Stross. A novelist whining about how hard it is write with MS Word is like an architect whining about how hard it is to design buildings in Logic Pro X. All you do is make yourself look like an ignorant twit.)

          1. dajames

            Re: even my kids with learning disabilities can manage that

            Mr. Stross needs to learn that he should use the right tool for the job. MS Word isn't designed for writing novels.

            I think that is Mr.Stross's point. He knows that MS Word isn't designed for writing novels, but his publishers nevertheless insist that he use it.

          2. Jes.e

            Re: even my kids with learning disabilities can manage that

            Mr Stross *does* use Scrivener.

            [The register really should have published a link to the original fine article:


            His complaint is that one must *submit* ones writing using (one of) Microsoft's proprietary Word formats.

            Then the corrections come back in same (or maybe subtly different version of) format.

            And your corrections to their corrections go back again in Word.

            Both the data format and the tool are irrevocably broken.

            ..And as other folks have pointed out, importing stuff into Word can alter the content so even if you do use another tool..

            My main complaint with the otherwise fine LibreOffice is that it might solve the file format issue, out replicates the (mis)behavior of the original naff tool.

            Interestingly enough O'Reilly is pursuing this question as they have problems converting their books into online versions.

            They want an open format tool which you can publish into many different formats directly from the editable source.

            While I'm pontificating, I'd like to nominate for one of my personal favorite word processors as an example of a well designed tool. This was Gobe Productive for BeOS (the Windows version didn't cut it). They implemented essentially the OpenDoc plug-in architecture in a closed platform.

            You could put anything in anything. There was only a single file type no matter what document type you had; spreadsheet, text, or graphic.

            Of course OpenDoc itself was a pretty neat idea in that it broke up the idea of monolithic applications.

          3. Paul Shirley

            Re: The only reason for using MS Word as an author is either wilful* ignorance or masochism.

            Sean Timarco Baggaley: "The only reason for using MS Word as an author is either wilful* ignorance or masochism. "

            That simply demonstrates your wilful ignorance of the true nature of Microsofts monopoly. It's firmly rooted in the almost universal belief that Word *is the solution* to *any* text editing problem. It's a monopoly of belief they've worked hard to implant in the minds of ordinary users.

            Depressingly too many people that should know better also believe it, enough to force use on others, regardless of the sanity of that use.

          4. DavidAtEeyore

            Re: even my kids with learning disabilities can manage that

            Did you read his blog post? His major objection to Word is that his publishing houses insist on work being submitted in a proprietary format - MS Word .doc/.docx files.

            MS Word is simply overkill for many users who would be just as happy with WordPad (if they have to have MS product) or an alternative such as Atlantis (just checked - still around: up to V 1.6.5) And don't get me started on that ~%%@!#*+ Ribbon!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Perhaps

        "Yes, it excels especially at buggering up the whole bloody document if one tries to move a table or, god forbid, a picture, a few pixels to the left. Or right. Or any other direction, by any other amount of pixels, dots or centimetres."

        So you're suggesting that your lack of Word skills is actually not a lack of skills at all but instead the computer working against you? It's about time we had a culling of "IT Experts".

        1. That Awful Puppy

          Re: Perhaps

          >So you're suggesting that your lack of Word skills is actually not a lack of skills at all but instead the computer working against you?

          No, I'm suggesting that Word is absolutely fucking useless for page layout.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Perhaps

            "No, I'm suggesting that Word is absolutely fucking useless for page layout."

            But since those of us who CAN use Word don't have these problems, that kind of confirms your lack of Word skill.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Perhaps

   the wrong hands, yes, obviously.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Perhaps

        > Yes, it excels especially at buggering up the whole bloody document if one tries to move a table or, god forbid, a picture, a few pixels to the left. Or right. Or any other direction, by any other amount of pixels, dots or centimetres.

        And then ^Z doesn't bloody undo it to quite how it was either!

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Perhaps

        Perhaps you should learn to use it properly then... Stick it in a container and you can move it all you want, leave it in the text flow and it'll cause the issues you have.

      6. Harman Mogul

        Those wasted nights...

        ...spent re-doing large, multi-author bid docs, trying to nudge those tables into place without shagging the pagination or -- always the fear -- getting that 'out of memory' error message that meant you would have to start all over again. Again. If only I could have those chunks of my life back!

    2. Bill the Sys Admin

      Re: Perhaps

      "hasn't used .doc for many versions now."

      I think that’s why he got his grump on in the first place, the fact they change the .doc/.docx every version forcing users into upgrading to keep up with their constant change of proprietary formats. Which in reality make no difference to your common user.

      1. JC_

        Re: Perhaps

        the fact they change the .doc/.docx every version forcing users into upgrading to keep up

        .docx has been around since Word 2007, i.e. 3 releases, hardly changing "every version".

        1. JC_

          Re: Perhaps

          Ah, two downvotes already for stating ".docx has been around since Word 2007, i.e. 3 releases, hardly changing "every version".

          Can my downvoters can get both hands on the keyboard for a minute and let me know which part is mis-leading or inaccurate? :)

          1. xenny

            Re: Perhaps

            I didn't downvote you, but I support 2007, 2010 and 2013. They each handle complex .docx files subtly differently.

            1. Not That Andrew
              Thumb Up

              @xenny Re: Perhaps

              Thanks for mentioning the most important issue with OOXML, which I somehow missed in my slightly incoherent rant.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Perhaps

              And lets not forget they didn't implement their own standard anyway:

              Inventing the oxymoron of 'normative variations' - so you can either conform to the standard or have interoperability with a given version of MS Word but not both.


          2. Not That Andrew

            Re: Perhaps

            Perhaps you received the downvotes because OOXML is by default default just a wrapper around the binary blobs, and it has already gone through at least one revision since introduction (ostensibly to deprecate the binary blobs) and was introduced purely as a spoiler for ODF?

          3. Uffish

            Re: Perhaps

            I didn't downvote you and have no quarrel with your posts, but please don't remind me too often that Word has gone through three bloody releases since Word 2007.

            Progress is wonderful, and a business needs cashflow and all that - but my wordprocessor requirements are simple and stable.

            1. Sandtitz Silver badge

              Re: Perhaps @Uffish

              Nitpick: just two bloody releases since Word 2007: 2010 and 2013.

              It's not any different from OO: In 2007 OO was at v2 and we've had two versions after that. (and countless minor releases)

          4. mad physicist Fiona

            Re: Perhaps

            Ah, two downvotes already for stating ".docx has been around since Word 2007, i.e. 3 releases, hardly changing "every version".

            Can my downvoters can get both hands on the keyboard for a minute and let me know which part is mis-leading or inaccurate? :)

            .docx is not a format. Neither was .doc which preceded it. It sprouts new bells and whistles every version which is why you have the problems using the same file between releases. You can't even trust pagination of the same document to be the same between two different versions.

          5. Jan 0 Silver badge

            Re: Perhaps

            Well perhaps because there is simply no need for three 'releases' since 2007! The change from .doc to .docx is the version change we notice. Most of us would be quite happy if Microsoft just fixed all the bugs in, say, version 4.1 and let people continue to use that.

            At the end of the day 'catdoc' makes all Word documents easy to read, easy to search and easy to compare.

          6. FrankAlphaXII

            Re: Perhaps

            No, they can't. Because using reason would go against their blind hatred for everything that is Microsoft, which is a popular currency 'round these parts. They probably also don't live or work in the real world where you generally have to use and/or support whatever you are told to by those above you or those paying you unless you want to lose money by not accepting jobs or contracts related to a particular vendor like some fool stated earlier.

            I don't particularly care for Canonical personally, but if a customer wants me to implement a full switch to Ubuntu from what they're using, I'll do it with no bitching. I may kindly suggest something else, like SuSE, Debian, or RHEL but if they're adamant I'll gladly do it. I absolutely despise Oracle, but I have no problem with helping roll out a Oracle Linux or Oracle RDBMS solution. I don't care for Windows 8, but you guessed it, I'll support it if I'm being paid to. Why? Because its my job. And to quote one of Monty Python's underutilized lines: There is no place for sentiment in business.

            It might be that you have to use or support Word, it might not be. But Word isn't perfect, and neither was WordPerfect despite its name, LibreOffice's text editor isn't perfect either, neither is WordPad, neither was StarWriter, and anyone who doesn't believe that any piece of software doesn't have flaws somewhere is either delusional or a blind zealot.

        2. Allan George Dyer

          Re: Perhaps

          ".docx has been around since Word 2007" - but is it the same .docx? Word 2000 with the "compatibility pack" opens some .docx files, but not others.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I fail to see how full Word is appropriate for novel writing

      Getting a novel to the point of unformatted text first demands several stages of revisions, not all of which involve the author, some of which might be subsequently reversed or otherwise revised: that's where version tracking and collaborative tools come into play. This is why many publishing houses demand submissions in Word format.

      Of course, if you want total overkill it's entirely possible to write a novel in InDesign.

    4. cynic56

      Re: Perhaps

      Are you clinically insane? (no offence intended).

  7. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    And this is news, how?

    Seriously, for anything more than a simple letter it is not only completely useless but worse, outright destructive. It is called Word and not even Letter, after all. Once, yonks ago and I still deeply regret, I used MS Word to write a term paper. To add to the trouble it was with a fellow student and in the end we had to put our parts together. I think this experience had quite an influence on my level of insanity.

    This was early nineties and out of curiosity I now wanted to check on wikipedia when Word was let loose on humanity. But what caught my eye is this: "Stable release 15.0.4517.1509". I have yet to discover a stable release of Word...

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: And this is news, how?

      "But what caught my eye is this: 'Stable release 15.0.4517.1509'. I have yet to discover a stable release of Word..."

      You're just parsing it wrong. Think 'Horse', and 'stable door'.

      They're just admitting at what point they said, "To hell with it, ship that sucker!"

    2. Caesarius

      Re: And this is news, how?

      After being forced to use MS Word for what feels like a life sentence, I have come to the considered opinion that, if you have to use it for more than half an hour, it is the wrong tool for the job. I have a mental map of MS Word's features, and most of it is marked "here be dragons".

      Perhaps I gave up on OpenOffice etc. too soon, being so disappointed with MS Word, but it was not the most productive tool for me.

      I'd happily dive down the vi-svn-diff-latex-postscript route, but other posters have hinted at what normal people are supposed to do ;->

      I recently spoke to a non-techie user who was writing her thesis using MS Word, and she lives in fear of the department's mandatory review of her document with the man called the Publishing Expert who is the only person in the department who knows how to adjust the formatting without losing several paragraphs. And there was me cherishing the thought that universities used Latex!

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: And this is news, how?

        I was the "unpopular guy" at one work place because I said what I thought about the god-awful Latex. If you think moving a diagram in Word is a pain, try getting it to go to a proper place in Latex.

        Then we had all the "special to us" include files for Latex, which evolved like a jungle and made it impossible to rework old documents. OK, our fault with lack of configuration control there, but with Word there is no nonsense of 'include' files.

        Most of the difficulties mentioned in these comments amount to trying to work with someone else's document. I suggest that would be difficult in any word processor. There is a lot to be said for extracting the ASCII, then running autoformat (which MS have carefully hidden away in modern versions of Word).

        Finally, three cheers for Open Office. I used it to rescue some old Wordstar files for a friend.

    3. KayKay

      Re: And this is news, how?

      You can save a document as a template. Any file (doc or docx of course, not xls etc) you open in that template conforms to it. I've done work with 3 or 4 others, each contributing a section. As long as they marked lines header, subheader etc instead of hand formatting these lines, it would take about 6 minutes to get one decent looking document out of 5 contributions. (After the first time THEY had to manually remove their manual formatting, they started doing it right).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, Word is the worst word processor....

    ... but there isn't anything better.

    I tried to use Wordperfect for Windows and Lotus Word Pro. They didn't work. Libre Office may be useful in Cuba, but nowhere else.

    Anyway the file formats are now fully documented - why nobody delivers a word processor bettter then Word able to handle .doc/.docx formats is a mistery.... or not?

    1. jake Silver badge

      @LDS (was: Re: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

      "... but there isn't anything better."

      Bullshit. I can put ASCII into a computer faster in vi than anything that Redmond ever produced.

      As a side-note, the .docx file format is an anathema on the userbase. IMO, of course.

      1. tony2heads

        Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)


        no, - not the fetish stuff

        1. Michael

          Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

          Lyx for those that want to see as they type.

        2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

          Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

          LaTeX indeed

          I was forced to use Word for a scientific conference recently. I sent two colleagues the last version I edited, and all equations are promptly scrambled (by saving from Office 2010 in .doc format as required by the conference). I then import the file in an old 2003 install, and save again, my colleagues now get the whole thing more-or-less right. I submit, and various bits get screwed up in the publishing process. AARGH!

          I now bin any request to write a paper in Word instantly. With LaTeX, I can collaborate with people all over the world, and it just works! The typesetting is also WAY better. For version control (also for ASCII) use Subversion or any source-code version-control tools you like.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

            You're just reminding us that for many people out there the concept of version control tools is alien - the borked kiddie version in Word is all they know, so of course when faced with the question of how you would version control ASCII text, rather than ask the question "has this very obvious problem not been solved over and over again years ago", the immediate thought is "well, you need to put it into Word to do this."

            When all you know is hammer, you will want all your screws to be nails.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

              The problem is that versioning an ASCII file and showing its changes is easy. Versioning a complex document with formatting, images, data, etc. is not. Yet. there are diff/merge tools for Word too, but it requires an "educated user".

              I tried in a couple of organization to convince administrative, marketing and PMs to use a versioning system to exchange documents, at least a CMS. No way. Sending multiple copies around with versions in the filename is all they understand and can manage. Even forcing some to use Polarion for requirements management was difficult, because Word/Excel are "simpler to use".

              Moreover Word documents are designed to be reviewed without the need of a central repository - try to send a contract to a lawyer for a review, and teach her how to use your version control system to update and merge changes - and unlike merging in a VCS, Word documents can retain all changes and show who made it - it's a different way of working, compared to VCS designed for source code management, you don't need to reconstruct them using the changelog. It's made for a different kind of user.

              Anyway Sharepoint ( allows for a collaborative document management - just it's expensive. O course MS likes to sell you Word and then Sharepoint... it's their business, after all.

              1. PhilBuk
                Thumb Down

                Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

                Ah yes, Sharepoint. The software equivalent of treacle.


                1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

                  Ah yes, Sharepoint. The software equivalent of treacle.

                  That's unfair. There are good uses for treacle.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

            I now bin any request to write a paper in Word instantly.

            As do I, but I sometimes get caught out by people who claim Word won't be required, then - after initial submissions - hire a copy editor who refuses to use anything else. Then I'm in the awkward position of either switching to Word, or pulling my submission and letting down other contributors to the project. Yes, I can justify breaking my commitment on the grounds I said "no Word" at the start; but it punishes the wrong people.1 So I swallow my pride, convert to Word, and slog through the mess.

            1Whether my potential readers would be better or worse off is a question I delegate to posterity.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

          From Wikipedia: "As of 2013, a future version called LaTeX3, started in the early 1990s, is still in development. Planned features include improved syntax, hyperlink support"

          Ohhhh, hyperlink support!!! In version 3, and only after 20 years of development!

          BTW: I think LaTeX is a great tool for academic papers and complex documents. Not a tool for the everyday user.

          Word has also the advantage of a tight integration with the other Office applications. Younger people may not remember it, but one of the killer features of Office 4 was "OLE" - you can drop an Excel table in Word, and edit it locally, and so on. For the average user, it was simple and effective.

          1. Chris Fox

            Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

            The fact that LaTeX3 intends to incorporate some features into the core, such as hyper-linking, does not mean those features are not already available through the extensive package library. Hyper-linking has been available in LaTeX for many years in both LaTeX 2.09 and LaTeX 2e (e.g. see the hyperref package). I recall first experimenting LaTeX hyper-linking around 20 years ago, before most people even knew what a hyper-link was. LaTeX3 is about reworking the core, and pulling some features from into the core that are currently implemented as packages. With LaTeX you can also do nice tricks like including live data and plots, or pushing data out to R and incorporating the results. But you have to know what you are doing (which might not be a bad thing).

      2. Stretch

        Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

        @jake text input != word processing

        1. jake Silver badge

          @Stretch )was:Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....))

          You never published a major paper using a Displaywriter, did you?

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: @LDS (was: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....)

          @jake text input != word processing

          And word processing != writing. Indeed, in most cases, word processing != anything useful.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....

      If fully documented means 'do this like Word 97 does it' and 'do that like Word 2003 does it' then yes, I suppose it is.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....

        Fully documented means this:

        I wonder how many people didn't understand what happened in the last ten years in the IT industry...

    3. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....

      To paraphrase Mr Churchill,

      "Word is the worst form of Word processor, except for all the others which have been tried." ;)

    4. dajames

      Re: Yes, Word is the worst word processor....

      Anyway the file formats are now fully documented - why nobody delivers a word processor bettter then Word able to handle .doc/.docx formats is a mistery.... or not?

      The .docx format is documented -- but its documentation is so convoluted and obfuscated as to be almost useless -- the .doc format is not.

      I wonder why you think that a better word-processor than Word would necessarily use Word's own data formats, when it is the data formats that are the worst features of Word?

      There is no mystery ... or mistery, for that matter.

  9. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    I see

    A rant in the spirit of Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning ... Was the Command Line"? Great minds think alike etc.

    While I see nothing wrong with Microsoft putting software houses selling add-ons out of business, I agree that the whole concept of a fickle WYSIWG editor mixing presentation and content into a mash that is then spiced with document-wide or paragraph-wide configurations via undiscoverable means is in dire need of being "taken care of".

  10. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Up

    Word is.....

    An excremental pile of unimaginable bloat with 100 times more "features" than anyone is ever going to use.

    Yet it often can't handle a minor edit without completely screwing up the formatting of an entire paragraph.

    I did most of my uni work (1994 - 1998) using Lotus Ami-Pro and found it far better than Word of the same vintage. Possibly rose tinted specs, but I think I'd rather be using it now instead of Redmond's current be-ribboned turd.

    1. Adam T

      Re: Word is.....

      "An excremental pile of unimaginable bloat with 100 times more "features" than anyone is ever going to use."

      Unfortunately you can say the same for any mass-market productivity software out there, from Photoshop to 3D Studio Max.

      They have to try to be all things to all people, in the hope that they hit that one unique selling point to each individual need.

      The irony of course, is that they're so cluttered half the USPs go unnoticed because they're buried under a menu option that is only visible if you have the correct docking panel visible, which is only active if you're in the correct editing mode, where editing modes are to be found under Window->Advanced->Views->Modes.

      1. Adam T

        Re: Word is.....

        Actually, the opposite can be dangerous too.

        I have to work with a guy who is obsessed with learning everything about Word, and this means I'm constantly being handed Word docs with the most fucking awful abuse of layouts and styles imaginable. It's physically impossible to edit anything without destroying everything.

        When I think of myself using Word, I'm not too fussed because I don't touch things I don't want to understand. But when I think of other people giving me Word docs they think are 'fancy', that I have to do something with, I want to curl up and die.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Word is.....

          I am reminded of someone I know, fortunately only slightly, who acquired an expensive PC with the latest version of Word when .docx first came out.

          He proceeded to circulate the minutes of a meeting to a whole load of people who were unable to read them due to still being on .doc.

          With much complaint he agreed to "downgrade" his precious minutes to .doc, while demanding to know why everybody else couldn't be bothered to get the latest version.

          When they arrived, they turned out to consist of unformatted text in Arial.

          And he wasn't even employed by a Microsoft partner.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Word is.....

      "with 100 times more "features" than anyone is ever going to use."

      And that was what lead it to success. The less expensive, more limited products - like Works, Symphony, etc. - never had success. People always preferred the more sophisticated tools, even if they barely use 20% of the features. Anyway, two users may not use the same 20%, thereby a product with a large use-cases coverage usually sells better than one with a narrower one - or you get the really perfect feature set, or you may just become a niche product.

      After all how many people use Photoshop for basic photo retouching instead of less powerful, less expensive products? How many people owns PCs too powerful for web browsing, YouTube cat videos and some chatting?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Criticising the .doc format is soooo Word 2003.

    But seriously, for all Word's faults (and it does have many) it's still a pretty capable word processor, and I still haven't found an all-round better one. I think most people's frustrations with Word stem from not taking the time to learn how to use it properly. I'll admit there's a fairly steep learning curve, but once you're over it Word is a pretty decent tool.

    I don't remember the last time I installed a piece of software and used it to its maximum potential immediately without any time spent learning how to use its features. I don't know why people expect Word to be an exception.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Goh...

      I have to go with this view as well.

      Every program has it quirks and idiosyncrasies and you have to learn them if you do not want constant frustration. And yes, Word does have a steep learning curve and yes, somebody really ought to make it or something else a little bit more intuitive, but that goes to my ongoing animosity with interface designers in general...

      Today's WordPad is a great suggestion by another poster. Compatible enough with Word as long you aren't trying to use it for heavy formatting and Word can even can Save As a Wordpad file.

      Which brings me round to versions. Save As is right there, again. I know it's a bit old fashioned and terribly, terribly inconvenient, but you can actually put a number in the new title. Each time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Goh...

        "Which brings me round to versions. Save As is right there, again. I know it's a bit old fashioned and terribly, terribly inconvenient, but you can actually put a number in the new title. Each time."

        Simples. Just use OpenVMS, and then every save will automatically be a new numbered version of the same file. It's all there, and you can clean them up with a command like PURGE/KEEP=20 any time you want (or if disk space is getting marginal - which on a modern hard drive is, well, like, never).

        Oh wait.

  12. Gray

    A well-deserved brew

    to Mr. Stross for his remarkably restrained review. An admirable demonstration of self-control!

    The "unavoidable" aspect is the well known demand by publishing houses (and author agents) that works must be submitted ONLY in Microsoft Word. And, no, substitutes such as LibreOffice or Softmaker Office are frowned upon, as authors can expect to receive a heavily marked-up and commented return file, again in Microsoft Word.

    Frequently authors will draft in a more amenable app such as Scrivener or a favorite text editor, using markdown formatting, etc., but will ultimately be confronted with dumping the pile into Word and sending the result off as a .DOCX heap-o-shite. Once editing commences, one remains trapped in MS purgatory.

    Not likely to change, anytime soon, until the scale tilts further to self-publishing and authors can use whatever tools suits best for edoc output.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: A well-deserved brew

      If LO would properly support DOCX, it wouldn't matter if publishers used Word for their reviews...

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: A well-deserved brew

        Since .docx is simply .doc in xml format and .doc is a memory dump, nobody is going to support .docx or .doc properly (not even MS does between Word versions). How about the revolutionary idea of Word properly supporting .odt...?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A well-deserved brew

          "Since .docx is simply .doc in xml format and .doc is a memory dump,"

          Thanks for demonstrating your complete ignorance to the world:

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: A well-deserved brew

            Sorry, I will revise my completely ignorant view...

            A .docx is simply .doc in xml format and .doc is several memory dumps concatenated together.

  13. Harry the Bastard

    word? mention it not

    things peaked with troff, a macro package for the job, and eqn, grap, tbl etc., plus you could embed command line stuff to dynamically suck in data to populate tables etc., since then everything has been downhill

    for arty stuff, indesign is the bees knees, although bloat has set in there too

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Damn. You beat me to it.

      Although I can say that I handed in my first year University computing project written using roff and printed on a DECprinter ( a faster DECcwriter II without a keyboard).

      I once wrote a document handling system in make, troff, tbl, pic, grap, and to top it off, integrated SCCS to do the versioning, including the version history dynamically added to the document at extract time.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: Damn. You beat me to it.

        Did you also play billiards? It seems to have been a mis-spent youth.

  14. bristolmoose

    It looks like you're writing a mighty rant...

    Do you want to

    1) integrate yourself into a Word-centric workflow, even though it's an inappropriate, damaging, and laborious tool for the job?

    2) offer some impressive vituperation?

    3) ruin your editor's day by sending it in .odt format?

    (Mine's the one with the paperclips in the pocket)

  15. What? Me worry?

    Just get on with it

    I was a late adoptor of LaTeX , catching the last version before LaTeX2e was introduced. This was around when PageMaker was sold off and I needed to find a replacement to create presentation documents. I prefer using a plain text for creating the content and then bringing it in to a processor or preparation tool for formating and layout. But these days, MS Word ends being the default simply because it's easier to send it off to other colaborators as a Word doc file and let them kludge it, than have to explain a simple 'import txt' process or provide formating files. Oh well. :/

  16. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Who cares

    Bob Howard would just have Pinky & the Brain side-load some nice macros into Word. You know the usual wards, vampire detector, etc.

    Stross seems to hate lots of stuff. Only UNIX/LINUX seems to have escaped his vitriol.

    1. xenny

      Re: Who cares

      All software sucks, all hardware sucks.

      1. Getriebe

        Re: Who cares

        "All software sucks, all hardware sucks."

        Yup, and it always will - just get used to it

        I am looking forward to getting a job back in compressible fluid flow and casting technology. The equations are so much easier

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who cares

        "All software sucks, all hardware sucks."

        Yes, but no. That's a counsel of despair, and a position ideally calculated to excuse the worst products on the market. Oh sod it, I'm feeding a troll YET AGAIN...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    get a life

    what's his name again?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: get a life

      and you, downvoters, you should get a life too, seriously :)


      as if there were not enough real life problems...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: get a life

        This IS a real-life problem. Word and its bloat and crap sucks countless man-hours of productivity out of the economy.

  18. Rol

    My environment, not ours, MINE.

    The trouble with searching the ribbon for a feature that you once could find in a second, is that you know at some point in the next week you'll be doing it again, having forgot what convoluted steps got you there last time.

    For Christ's sake it's a computer program, and one that has been around for ages, so why hasn't it gone all professional like?

    and when I say professional, I mean it can be tweaked by a user to create their very own customised work space.

    For example, allow me to define a new tab on the ribbon, which I might call "UNew" where I can now cluster all the icons that allow me to turn off all the formatting assumptions Microsoft made for me. Then another tab called *UWrite" where I gather all the icons I would normally use to compose.

    It's a bloody computer program, not a car dashboard, creating a user definable space should be easier than converting an American car to right hand drive.

    There you go Microsoft, Word 2015's steering committee can go back to skiing 'cos I've done their job already. All what's left is to invent five new document formats and drop the support for anything written on Office 2000 or earlier, which I guess has already been arranged.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: My environment, not ours, MINE.

      The irony is that the ribboned WORD (2010 in my case) is much less adapable to the user's pattern of working than older versionsof WORD..

      The old menu items could be modified, moved or just plain got rid of with a couple of clicks.

      The ribbon can no longer just be changed, instead it requires a whole new menu tab to be created with the bits you want to keep, (in effect to duplicate) so that the built in one can be hidden.

      There are things I am not going to use if Ilive to a 100.

      They are just clutter that gets in the way when I'm looking for things I do use.

      I'm sure that goes for most users.

      But to get them out of the way, or indeed to put the things I use regularly where I want them to be is no longer practical.

      1. Harman Mogul

        Re: My environment, not ours, MINE.

        True. I used to have a mini-set of commands, just enough for me to get along fine with. (I am a copywriter.) I would tear off this little tool palette and park it to one side, suppressing all the others, and have plenty of room to Get On With My Work. Even the stylesheets worked for me. Alas, all gone now.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: My environment, not ours, MINE.

      "For example, allow me to define a new tab on the ribbon, which I might call "UNew" where I can now cluster all the icons that allow me to turn off all the formatting assumptions Microsoft made for me. Then another tab called *UWrite" where I gather all the icons I would normally use to compose."

      Sort of like this?

      Scroll down to "Create Your Own Tab"

      You may go skiing now as well.

      1. Rol

        Re: My environment, not ours, MINE.

        Well, well. Thanks for the update ecoreco.

        The rest of the office will like this one, as no one has any spare time to read the ten thousand page manual, due to them spending most of it trying to use Office like it was 1997.

    3. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: My environment, not ours, MINE.

      "The trouble with searching the ribbon for a feature that you once could find in a second, is that you know at some point in the next week you'll be doing it again"

      What, no love for the ageless classic - hide and seek? Considering yourself a grown-up, are you?

      But seriously, there seem to be 2 major reasons behind that:

      - not enough screen estate for the icons, which was "solved" by moving icons around and keeping most recently used icons visible;

      - general attention-whoring, attempts to keep user looking at the product as much as possible. In the name of Most Holy Experience, of course. And in stark contrast with older approaches, where a tool had to perform its task quickly, efficiently and transparently. Well, most software companies seem to wriggle as hell to get away from the old toolmaker image. Services and entertainment is the fashion.

      And therein lies the conflict. Geeks need good tools, not to be "entertained" by the tools.

  19. davemcwish

    Publishers Workflow

    On looking at the article, it seems that he's equally upset with his publisher using Microsoft workflow. Given that, why not talk to them about accepting ascii or change publisher that uses OSX workflow or will accept his precious Scrivener or vim source format ? Or is this another click-bait post so the fruity fanbois can go 'told you M$ is ****".

    1. PerlyKing

      Reading comprehension --->

      It is obvious that you only looked at the article, now go back, read it and try to understand it. Use a dictionary or ask a friend if you need help with the big words. I'll give you a clue: pay particular attention to the last paragraph, which answers exactly the question you ask.

    2. Robert Sneddon

      Re: Publishers Workflow

      Scrivener, the package Charlie[0] uses to write the lies he tells for money is an IDE not a word processor. The publishers don't want a dump of his source code, project files, his notes, wiki articles about Colorado Springs and other research material, fourteen previous versions, that chapter he cut out because it didn't do anything for the story etc., they want the finished "executable", a large number of words in sequence that reads like a book. That .exe will usually be requested in Word format; in previous times it would have been a hardcopy manuscript laid out in a publisher-specified format to allow for pencil-edits and notes, monospaced fonts to make word count easy etc.

      Revisions will be required and at that point Charlie will fire up Scrivener again to produce a release candidate but at no time does the publisher get to see his source code, just the finished product which is words on a page. At the end of the day the text actually goes out to the printing plant as Quark files or something similar, not a Word document as it's now ink on paper, one step further along the production chain from ideas in head where it started.

      [0]I'm a friend of Charlie, I've sat in his office drinking tea and watching him shave yaks for hours instead of writing lies like he should.

  20. James 51

    Give me Scribble for the Amiga any day.

    I didn't see any alternatives suggested in the article. I've been using Sigil

    To create epubs and then review/edit on my ereader.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pagestream / Amiga

      I remember Pagestream doing everything I needed in ~1995. It still seems to be under development too (Windows, Macintosh OS X, Linux, and Amiga). I wonder how the latest version compares?

  21. janimal

    MS Word was partly responsible for me getting a 2.2 instead of a 2.1 :/

    I admit it might not have been an issue if I wasn't sailing close to the wire for the hand in deadline for my dissertation. Although that was in part due to an HDD crash & not being quite up to date with my backups.

    Anyway... so through out the process of writing my dissertation, every now & then on a completely random basis Word would change the outline levels thus rendering the chapter & page numbering into a semi-random mangled and illogical set of often non-sequential digits. After the 5th time of fixing this pile of pooh I asked the head of our course how such errors might affect the final mark. He stated unequivocally then spelling, grammar and presentation errors would all be treated very harshly & to make sure non existed.

    The dissertation has to be professionally printed & bound before being handed in.

    On the morning of the hand in date I had to twice go through the ~12,000 word document resetting all the levels & numbering, and eventually left for the printers. On collecting my dissertation an hour after submitting to the binders - a quick check through showed it had once again been randomly re-numbered.

    I had to rush tot he library fix it again, back tot he printers, another hour wait. Finally correctly printed & bound I ran to Uni to the submissions office. I was 12 minutes late - this results in an Automatic 'D' for the dissertation, which made up 70% of my final degree score.

    A rather crappy week all round that one, the consequences of which have rippled through the rest of my life in several ways.

    I don't use Word anymore.

    1. janimal

      ha ha please excuse my grammar & spelling errors :/ I blame the surge of rant fueled adrenaline but maybe I deserved the 2.2 after all! ;p

    2. BongoJoe

      Ha Ha

      I drank my way to a third and it hasn't had a detrimental effect on my life at all. Do I regret not getting a 2:2 or even a 2:1? Not at all.

      Blaming Word for failing to get an upper second is a very poor excuse. On the morning of my finals I was still exploring lock-in pubs in the dodgy end of town until three in the morning. Then again, I was a proper student and not one of yer modern nancy boy latte supping chino wearing dull youths of today.

      1. janimal


        In engineering professions they really do care about the mark on your degree. Many CVs are just discarded on that alone. However once you make it to the test phase of the interview process, then the degree doesn't matter.

    3. Roo

      "Anyway... so through out the process of writing my dissertation, every now & then on a completely random basis Word would change the outline levels thus rendering the chapter & page numbering into a semi-random mangled and illogical set of often non-sequential digits."

      I had the exact same issue with Word, so I used emacs & LaTeX in the end. It saved me a hell of a lot of time, and interestingly I started getting better grades. I suspect that the improvement in grades may have had something to do with the formatting but I think being able to spend more time on the content of the document was the main factor.

      My girlfriend at the time (who was pretty indifferent towards to computing in general) was forced into using Emacs + LaTeX to meet an urgent deadline because she simply couldn't get the Word to get the outline right. It took her all of about 20 minutes to get the hang of Emacs and the single side of A4 LaTeX crib sheet was all she needed to get going. She didn't go back to Word after that experience - and she also experienced an up tick in grades.

      1. Caesarius
        Thumb Up

        Re: My girlfriend at the time

        When I described latex to my friend who was having so much trouble with MS Word, she said "oh: that sounds complicated" (1). I'm heartened that you can mention a non-techie user who got on with it just fine.

        (1) Compared to *what*?! Rant ... rant ... rant

    4. MonkeyCee

      This is exactly my problem with Word (and other MS presentation products).

      When I throw anything big at it, 10k+ pages with 300+ diagrams at word for example, it starts failing. Not dying, just inducing layout errors. So Word is fine up to about 1000 pages, so you end up just splitting any important document up into chunks of a chapter or topic. Pretty much all the researchers I know do their writing* in LaTex

      The uni where I worked had an academic printer, who would do a bare bone print run, or the more normal typesetting and layout. They also did presentation posters with a similar deal, so you didn't have to have access to publishing tool.

      For myself, I tend to use google docs or text edit (or wordpad) for anything I'm writing.

      I started on Wordperfect on a 286, and got a hand me down "laptop" 386 black and white that had Word 6.0 on it. Which may be nostalgic, but I'm not sure there's really been any real improvement since then. Of course the most important program on that 386 was Civilisation.

      * They actually write on all sorts of programs on all sorts of inputs, then dump it into txt and then into Latex. Several do it long hand. One dictates it and has their grad students write it up :)

  22. Tom 7

    ckeditor and a few lines of code

    and we've got all our documentation in a database, accessible world wide with full access control and it's instantly webbable too. Once people realise how to use a hyperlink and separate things into small documents you've got 99% of your average office documentation requirements and accessibility too.

    For the anally retentive who seem to think their words are less important than their fonts you can use the access control to give them their own css to keep them happy.

    You can even print it but you dont need to - once people realise they can say it on screen they stop there.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There's plenty of super efficient writing tools out there (thinking Wri, for Mac, to name but one). Word need only be the tool of final presentation to the publisher, if that's what the publisher demands.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      No, Word is used as part of the editing process so change tracking and annotations are an essential part of the process and you pretty much need MS Word in that situation. I'm not going to comment on its suitability for this as I don't use it have little idea of the alternatives (presumably some kind of source control).

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Meh


      All this reminds of me of my desktop publishing days. PageMaker was once the reigning king of it all. Then along came Quark. A more retched, non-intuitive, buggy as crap DTP package as there ever was. In fact, I think it set a new standard for crap and difficulty. Thus earning its true name, Quirk.

      And I'll be damned if the entire industry didn't adopt it as the defacto production tool.

      I still don't miss Magna code (rare variant of GML), Linotype or Compugraphics, though. Oddly enough, it was Magna that helped me adapt to HTML.

  24. Charlie Stross

    If you're thinking of commenting on the original piece, please note that my blog comments are moderated and I feel no compunction about banning trolls and deleting their pathetic missives.

    (Pay attention, accident[REDACTED], this means you!)

    1. FrankAlphaXII

      >>If you're thinking of commenting on the original piece, please note that my blog comments are moderated and I feel no compunction about banning trolls and deleting their pathetic missives.

      As is your want to do. I don't have an issue with banning trolls either, but I hope it is indeed trolls as opposed to people who simply don't share your viewpoint and voice their opinion to that effect.

  25. Andyb@B5

    Horse before the cart

    If I'm working on my own stuff I always use Vim for the writing and Subversion for the change control. When I have finished adding the *content* then I load into Scribe to set the presentation.

    Always content before presentation.

    This was something I hated about the WYSIWYG word processors. I saw people spend more time trying to format their documents as they went along than they did putting effort into the actual content. It always showed in the final document quality.

    These days if I'm doing something collaborative I tend to create a MediaWiki instance and give out accounts. Gets the job done quickly and no issues about compatibility.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Horse before the cart

      Much easier to use MS One Note. With its pages and sections you can insert new thoughts in more or less random order, and then cut & paste the results into Word. It uses a reduced set of formatting options, but does include spell check aka typo-check.

  26. Faye B

    No Alternatives?

    I find it strange that he claims there are no alternatives to Word when Open Office is just as good and can even import and export .doc format documents. OK it maybe just a clone of Word but it is free and imitation is a form of flattery. What Mr. Stross should be doing is looking for a better tool rather than whinging about the old one and maybe asking why hasn't any software house come up with something better. Surely someone could have produced a better WP using the Eclipse framework, for a start.

    I stopped liking Word when it moved from being a MSDOS programm to being a Windows Application but it has been difficult to find a WP that can match it, let alone improve upon it. Yes, its annoying and crap in many places but I would rather have a poor tool to work with than no tools at all.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Alternatives?

      "Open Office is just as good"


      Oh. You were serious? Try using it in even the most basic of corporate setting....It's like a trip back in time to a cut down Office XP.....

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        Re: No Alternatives?

        My own experience is that Open/Libre Office is never completely accurate in exchanging documents with Word users. So in an office environment it causes endless minor but irritating problems with collaborative documents, even though it is fine for letters, memos, etc.

        I believe this is what the Germans have found, with some public authorities on OO, others on MS, and all having to exchange documents.

        1. Lars Silver badge

          Re: No Alternatives?

          "I believe this is what the Germans have found, with some public authorities on OO, others on MS, and all having to exchange documents." I hope the Germans understand there is a simple solution to solve the problem, just skip MS.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: No Alternatives?

          >My own experience is that Open/Libre Office is never completely accurate in exchanging documents with Word users.

          Interestingly, I've found similar problems with various PDF readers and editors, finding that I always have to have Adobe Reader installed. However, for reasons unknown, I've not come across similar formatting and presentation problems with PS3/PDF printers...

    2. John 110

      Re: No Alternatives?

      I think if you read the original blog, Mr Stross is NOT complaining about the lack of alternatives to Word, but that his publishers won't accept any of the alternatives.

      Oh and, while I use LibreOffice in preference to Word, the experience of "track changes" with documents that fly between Word and LO is an awful one that I wouldn't wish on an enemy. (Well, maybe big Bill...)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What are the alternatives?

    My biggest problem with Word is that it does not strictly adhere to a stylesheet. If I set a style for tables I want every table to look like that style without my having to correct ad-hoc style variations. the same with paragraphs, code blocks, everything. If fact Word seems pathologically averse to sticking to a stylesheet.

    So what can I use which gives me the same easy WYSIWYG editing and outlining as Word but will allow me to completely turn off ad-hoc styles, doesn't require the learning of an entirely new programming language and, crucially, can import existing Word documents and export new ones?

    I work in an environment where all documents are in Word and are expected to be passed to clients in Word, although I suspect I could export them to PDF as a much better alternative.


    1. James 51

      Re: What are the alternatives?

      Use Calibre to convert them into epub or just copy and page into Sigil and go from there. If you get your hands a little dirty with html it's very powerful but has good WYSIWYG as well.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What are the alternatives?

        I'm not writing novels. I'm creating technical documents. Word docs are hideous but all alternatives are either aimed at people writing books rather than just trying to present a specification or are trying to slavishly replicate Word's complexity.

        If I could turn off all ad-hock styles in Word it would be a big improvement.

    2. BongoJoe

      Re: What are the alternatives?

      "My biggest problem with Word is that it does not strictly adhere to a stylesheet. If I set a style for tables I want every table to look like that style without my having to correct ad-hoc style variations. the same with paragraphs, code blocks, everything. If fact Word seems pathologically averse to sticking to a stylesheet."

      This is what templates are for. Get the .dot/.dotx nailed down to how you want it and then create a new document based on that template.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What are the alternatives?

        But it constantly fucks them up. That's the point.

        I create a finely-honed template for my doc and, after several editing sessions, the document is full of ad-hoc changes to the positioning of tables and images and small variations in the paragraph styles which override the document stylesheet.

        If you look at the document after you've changed content around, you'll see that various styles are marked as variants, parts are shown as “normal text + left indent...” for example.

        Is there an editor which ONLY applies a stylesheet and will not silently override the document style? If it asks me if I want to create a new style that would help, rather than simply screw the style on a paragraph-by-paragraph, word-by-word basis.

        OK so I'm investigating LyX again although it seems overkill, and I'm thinking maybe I'll just do everything in HTML and convert to Word or PDF as required. This latter may well be the answer; I know HTML.

        1. AJ MacLeod

          Re: What are the alternatives?

          LyX is very good indeed for writing technical documentation IME. I ditched Word in 1997 and have spent a good part of my time since then helping people to work around disasters caused by that abomination.

          Note that most of these disasters are not merely a result of user inexperience but rather Word's infamous "random disaster generator" behaviour.

          1. Lars Silver badge

            Re: What are the alternatives? @AJ MacLeod

            Thanks for the "random disaster generator". I have some experience with Word disasters, some almost fatal, but newer a better expression for that Word feature.

        2. Primus Secundus Tertius

          Re: What are the alternatives?

          In Word 2010 I use themes.

          Just as a style will e.g. make all headings consistent, a theme will tie together all the styles in a consistent way.

        3. KayKay

          Re: What are the alternatives?

          Templates are not HTML type style sheets. If you insert a paragraph and type a few lines, they will follow the default ( If you want it to follow the template, overtype the last character of the previous (templated) line, put the full stop, put the line break. THEN it knows you mean your insertion to aslo follow the template.

          Test this out for yourself just using bold or different coloured text. You have to continue on from inside the /end or </endstyle> marker or it won't continue the style (whatever that marker internally is).

  28. Sandpit

    Seems confused

    While I agree with his point that (publisher) expectation of use is a big problem he seems quite a confused bunny to me.

    He complains at all the complex features M$ putrs in and then complains that some of those advances features are not advanced enough. He also seems to complain about and obsolete .doc format that Word doesn't want to use (but he/publisher seems to want to!).

    Valid rants but somewhat out of date. Could be worse, think of the mess we would be in of open/libre office were to be the norm (ooh, feeling the downvotes already, heresy!)

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Before mud slinging....

    "Before he reaches the conclusion, Stross complains that Microsoft kept adding features to Word that were once standalone products, thereby putting a few software houses out of business."

    I see you offer your works as e-books on Amazon, an outlet that is (apparently) putting bookshops out of business. Do you not see the hypocrisy in this?

  30. Vision Aforethought

    He is spot on

    As a UX designer and the guy behind AMX Pagemaker on the BBC Micro (yup, way back then!), I ran the company using two outstanding wordprocessors, whose UX (or GUI as we called them back then, not that the Beeb had a GUI until our product!) was superb, namely Computer Concept's Wordwise and Acorn's own wordprocessor, whose name I forget. (It's been a while.)

    Wordwise, being embedded in the ROM, was instant (like most BBC Micro software that wasn't on a floppy), had a cursor that remained in the same vertical position - the text scrolled smoothly up and down about the cursor position and so it was a pleasure to use.

    MS Word was always unusable and bloated to me and we refused to adopt it in the company, sticking to the aforementioned, and more recently, various Mac based text editors, and now, Google Docs or Google sites, where are content can be shared and is therefore by default cross platform and device. (And no doubt read by the NSA etc - the one downside to the cloud computing paradigm.)

    I have always liked Excel, but it didn't really have any competition, although likewise, we have of course now adopted Google Docs Spreadsheet whose collaboration features are excellent!

    1. Ed Courtenay

      Re: He is spot on

      IIRC, the Acornsoft word processor was called "View"

  31. Duke2010


    Out of interest what does he suggest we all use?

  32. Hans 1

    Time for LibreOffice

    cf title

  33. TheProf

    Real authors

    Don't real authors use portable Remington typewriters?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Real authors

      Mine's the Royal that Herb Caen taught me to type on ... I also have my Father's Smith Corona portable that got him his engineering degrees in the early 1960s.

  34. BongoJoe


    If one is looking at the other options then may I ask: that given that one of the advantages of Word, particularly, in the corporate world is the abitlty to have scrips, ie VBA running.and what is the alternative?

    I use Word all the time simply because I can write all sorts of VBA to gather data from databases, CRM and to load various templates which bring up dialog boxes for me to fill in data.

    I can program my Word templates to automatically put data in the header and footers from, for example, the Document Management System. Yes, I know that I may be able to do this in other word processors but if I need this then the list of possible replacements is reduced.

    Furthermore, one of the my applications write to Word via COM. So I can automate the writing of reports and then print to PDF all with a click of a button and I don't need to be there as I generate about half a dozen or so 100 page detailed reports daily.

    Word is a massive tool and there's not a long with it other than it has the "Made By..." badge on it. Yes there are about hundred million extra features that no-one needs but there's nothing wrong with using Word at all.

    And having had the misfortune to read some of Stross' novels I suggest that he doesn't blame the workman's tool.

    1. jake Silver badge

      @ BongoJoe (was: Re: Options)

      I can do all that under un*x, without the massive overhead of a GUI.

      As for PDFs, just say no. ::shudder::

      1. MrXavia

        Re: @ BongoJoe (was: Options)

        So.. what is the alternative to PDF?

        If I want to send a document to someone and want it to look the same when it gets there as it did on my pc, how do I do it without PDFs? I seriously want to know as its an issue for me atm...

        1. Tom 7

          Re: @ BongoJoe (was: Options)

          If you want your PDF to look the same presumably you are sending them the computer it was written on? They never look the same on a different computer. And you should see what they look like on my printer!

        2. jake Silver badge

          @ MrXavia (was: Re: @ BongoJoe (was: Options))

          Uh ... how about anything non-proprietary, like .txt and HTML?

    2. ponga

      Re: Options

      Wow, am I glad I'm not tasked with maintaining the Office macro-hacks you seem to be churning out, when the next few 'upgrades' come rolling along from Redmond. Best of luck.

    3. dajames

      Re: Options

      If one is looking at the other options then may I ask: that given that one of the advantages of Word, particularly, in the corporate world is the abitlty to have scrips, ie VBA running.and what is the alternative?

      The alternative is to write scripts, programs, etc., that carry out your data mining tasks outside your word processing tool. It is the job of a Word Processor to be good at word processing, it is not the job of a Word Processor to be a general-purpose programming environment ... we have general-purpose programming environments for that.

      In short: Let the Word Processor be a good wordprocessor and don't spoil it with functions that have nothing to do with Word Processing ... leave those tasks to other software, which can excel at them and need not also be a second-rate Word Processor.

      Beer: Because if people got simple things like this right thge first time we could all spend more time down the pub.

  35. Admiral Grace Hopper

    Surprising Omission

    Not a single word about the ribbon?

  36. Sil

    Open formats

    WTF is he talking about. It has been possible for years for Word to read & write open formats. Open source alternatives work very well with Word documents with not too deep layouts, e.g. 90% of docs & probably 99.9% of creative authors files.

  37. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Word. The *appearence* of a useful tool but not really.

    Title says it all.

  38. JDX Gold badge

    "Its pervasive near-monopoly status has brainwashed software developers"

    Software developers generally don't use Word to write code. Other than rare cases.

  39. JDX Gold badge

    "The .doc file format was also obfuscated, deliberately or intentionally"

    It's a good job we stopped using it a decade ago then.

  40. Torben Mogensen


    Word has grown in complexity to such an extent that even the save format (.docx) requires more than 7000 pages to specify its form and behaviour ( 99.9% of all users would be happy with something much less complex, such as HTML. HTML 4.01 requires less than 400 pages of specification ( And 99% would probably be happy with much less than even HTML.

    HTML has the advantage of being readable and editable by humans without using a WYSIWYG editor (though many of these exist), so power users can get the precision and flexibility of editing raw HTML + CSS while most will be happy with selecting a predefined style and editing via a WYSIWYG editor.

    HTML is not perfect, but is is a widespread standard having many implementations and is readable by anyone who has a browser (which even telephones have these days). The relatively simple format allows external tools to process documents fairly easily (compared to processing .docx files), so you don't need to have stuff like versioning, bibliography reference support, table-of-content generation and so on built in to the format: Just apply an external tool, similar to how you with LaTeX apply BibTeX and MakeIndex as external tools.

    I will still continue to use LaTeX for my own use, but if forced out of it, I would much rather work with HTML-based text processors than with Word or derivatives like Open Office and Libre Office.

  41. Neill Mitchell

    I've always used to think...

    That there can be no way Bill Gates ever used Word or he would have got it sorted out.

  42. Atonnis


    I know it won't make me popular, but I really don't see the issue.

    If he's such a purist author then he should be writing in Notepad or another simple text editor. They'll do everything he wants AND be compatible with his publisher's demands. Better yet, get out your f*cking typewriter.

    It's not exactly rocket-science to turn off the features that people like him complain about. If you don't want the features, you don't have to use them. I always turn off the spelling and grammar checking facilities, for example.

    1. Not That Andrew

      Re: Wow...

      If you bothered read the article, which a quick google would reveal is at (dunno why El Reg didn't link it) , you would see he uses a bunch of tools (including Scrivener) to write his books, but the workflow of all the publishers he has used and knows of requires you to submit it as a Word document, which they then annotate with the changes they want, and then make the changes to that Word document. Which is a less then optimal workflow, you must agree.

  43. billat29

    Grandad says

    You are all so young! You can't remember conversations like "I can't open your document because it was created in WordPerfect 4.4 and my word processor can only read up to version 4.3". And as for printing the damn thing......

  44. jrb

    oh dear

    he should probably update his copy of word, since it hasn't relied on .doc format, or even .docx in quite a while now. Not that I like word, but it's hardly the worst word processor out there.

    But then, he clearly has an inconsistent axe to grind, and as such I really couldn't care less. It certainly doesn't paint his fictional work in good light if he can't even write a half decent critique of a word processor.

  45. rurwin

    Unavoidable, unmaintainable

    Publishing houses require double-spaced text, headers and footers and a title page, all with defined contents. ASCII text just isn't capable of providing them what they need, even if it is good enough for 95% of anything any author writes. All of them accept .doc, many accept RTF, some of them accept PDF, very few of them accept anything else. I can understand that, after all, publishers can not be expected to have copies of every authoring tool under the sun, just in case some author decides to use it. There have to be standards, and apart from .doc, there simply aren't any.

    Even writing short stories, Word and LibreOffice are incapable. I need a word count, but it mustn't include the title page or the headers/footers. I have to highlight all the text every time. All I need is a word count of the current section, but neither of them have that function.

    Then, as a software engineer, I am well aware of the utility of version control. Word's own version control is pitiable. Git, Mercurial etc. see these files as binary, and so can not display changes. Even saving in RTF in Word or LibreOffice creates a file so full of markup that any text changes are overwhelmed. ODT is theoretically an XML files, but it is stored in zip format with other files.

    There are applications out there that save in minimalised RTF. But then I need to import that into Word or LibreOffice and add the title page and the headers and footers before I can send it off to a publisher. There's no automated method for doing that.

    What I need is an authoring tool that allows me very basic facilities. Most of the time italic is the only feature I use, but let's include bold, underline, subscript, superscript, paragraphing, centering and maybe footnotes. It needs to save in a text format so the version control can track it properly. Then it needs to be able to export to .doc (etc.) in a highly customisable form, maybe using a template of some sort. That template would add the title page and the headers and footers. It would set the style of the paragraphs and the font.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Unavoidable, unmaintainable

      You can do a huge amount of that with HTML and bit of javascript. I wrote some routines for a company (alas they wouldn't let me open source it but it wouldn't be too hard for anyone to repeat) that added titles, page numbers based on calculating the size of page and actual fonts used (so you could print out large print if you needed to with no effort). An index and contents can be automatically generated as well.

      If you want version control and diff's you can do that using the software tools available for the job with a small amount of pre-processing of the stored HTML.

      Exporting to .doc might require a macro in LibreOffice - but I only use that for importing doc and converting them to HTML as all of our work is done for computers not dead trees and the only things we print are things that need to be signed and we like to check those as only an idiot would send out a PDF for someone to print and sign.

  46. Valdearg

    Stross, quit complaining and finish the next Laundry Files book. You're a great author, I love your work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I agree love his books and follow him on Twitter, where he often comes across as a arrogant bully.

    2. The Wegie

      "quit complaining and finish the next Laundry Files book."

      The next Laundry book was probably the source of the rant, as it's just finished and is in the editing process.

  47. tempemeaty
    Thumb Up

    Time to break the cult

    That is the cult of using MS Office because others use MS Office loop because others say you are supposed to use MS Office because they use MS Office because others use MS Office....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Time to break the cult

      "because others use MS Office...."

      Because it just works......

  48. Test Man

    No doubt someone's already addressed this but... his rant on the .doc format is 6 years too late (Office 2007) - no one with any sense now would use .doc when there is .docx (amongst others).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "his rant on the .doc format is 6 years too late (Office 2007)"

      Office 2003 actually.

  49. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Worse things

    Back in 198? we were introduced to new word processor that was meant to be the future. Every format had to be entered with *code before and after, a bit like using html. And the only people who could actually use it were full time admins. Even they had to keep a list of codes to hand.

    WORD for MSDos was a delight by comparison. And so was every version for Windows until after 2003.

    By 2007 Microsoft seems to have reached this strange place where it expects users to adapt our behaviour to how they think we *ought* to be using the software. Instead of the other way round. Hence the ribbon, and I guess Windows 8.

    1. CLD

      Re: Worse things

      Being concerned with the rollout of the 2007 Office suite for an organiseation, I needed to both understand and "sell" its feature to the business... Key to this was the Ribbon interface. The Ribbon was innovative and represented change - change is often resisted, but with some training, videos, explainations and mentoring, people tend to embrace the change rather than resist it.

      I feel for those businesses that have IT staff that just swap out the product without providing training. I have enough stories of IT staff coming through and upgrading all staff PC's to the later versions of office without consultation and support. This causes frustration and resistance and has little to do with the end product.

      When Microsoft went to market to ask for the features people (businesses and customers) wanted in the 2007 version, over 90% of the featured existed, they just didn't know where to find them. That was what forced the radical redesign. The design worked, features are generally easier to find and not hidden in layers of Menu, Options, Tab, New Window, new tab and option.

      I see it as a good thing that Microsoft is trying to be innovative... they are between a rock and a hard place - innovate too much, people complain. Don't innovate enough, people complain. Most of the time, the market leader can rest on their laurels and let the industry try to catch up... in this case and the case with Windows 8, Microsoft had the leading market share and was still innovating.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The customer is always right.

    Mr Stross finds himself in a position where he wants to sell something, in his case, his manuscripts. His potential customers are publishing houses. It's his job to create a product in the form (and format) that his customers demand, which happens to be the industry standard, for better or worse.

    So he has the choice of either being a primadonna and whine about it whilst continuing to use Word to produce his manuscripts, or quit his bitching and use a word processor that allows to save as .doc/.docx, for example OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

    If I create some software for a customer who demands a Windows executable, I don't winge about them not asking for a Mac binary, I hop to it. Welcome to the real world.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch

      Re: The customer is always right.

      Equally, you could say that the publisher's job is the care and feeding of its stable of writers. Take Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which was famously written longhand on a long spool/scroll of paper. Evidently the publishers saw merit in the manuscript as it was delivered, and did all the work needed to get it into publishable form. Otherwise, we wouldn't have such a great work of modern literature.

      Also, as GB Shaw said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." Stross's "unreasonableness" is the kind I can get behind.

  51. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    My 'Favourite feature' in Word

    When you are viewing a document on a widescreen monitor, it is natural to display two pages side-by side. Word has a completely incongruous treatment of the cursor where if you press the down arrow on the bottom of page one, it goes not to the top of page two, but to the top of page three. This is incredibly annoying, if, for instance, using the keyboard to highlight part of a paragraph that spans two pages. It has several other annoyances that are counterintuitive, such as trying to highlight to the end of a line by pressing Ctrl-End works, unless you are in a cell in an inline table, in which case it highlights the entire cell. I could go on, but I'm sure you catch my drift...

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It all went downhill ...

    ...once we had to move from a good text editor, preferably vi(1), with roff/troff, tbl and so on. Using these, one could produce, quickly and economically, beautiful documents, using macro packages or writing a couple of simple macros oneself. You could even try out an effect on the screen using a quick command line pipe and filter.

    We used to produce lengthy, detailed documents, with diagrams and tables in postscript or pdf or text, quickly. It was very easy to change, say, the margin width, line spacing, fonts throughout the whole document with a quick change to a number. Whole books, with both simple and complex content, were produced, printer ready, e.g. K & R's C, Perl guides and much more.

    Later, I worked at places where all was in HTML, composed using vi(1) and knowing the basic HTML structure. This worked rather well too, actually, for text, though not as flexible for diagrams.

    With Word, unless one uses some USA-orientated template, producing even a simple letter with correctly laid out addresses and so on can be a time-consuming nightmare. Why should one have to become expert in the eccentricities of a proprietary product that requires specialist knowledge and support by sites ranging from Microsoft's own to user forums, to produce a document that occupies kilobytes just to print "hallo world"? You can make Word produce HTML and PDF. But have you ever compared the sizes of these files to those produced by other means? Looked at the HTML?

    Worse, now managers, engineers, salesmen etc. are expected to do all their own secretarial work with these tools: they take far longer to do this, to a far lower standard, than a professional secretary, instead of doing what they are, supposedly, trained and paid to do.

  53. mike acker

    untergang ss redmond

    actually the whole mess known as msft, aka ss redmond -- needs to go under. i think it's well on its way: from a security standpoint -- which is a requirement for online computing -- ms windows os is simply un-acceptable.

  54. Mark Simon

    MS Word shows signs of not having to compete

    I gave up on MS Word some time ago. LibreOffice does what I want to do better, but it could stand a total re-think on word processing.

    The problem with all word processors is that nobody has put much thought into changing the way we think about word processing, so we’re still trying to do what seemed magical decades ago.

    MS Word’s biggest failure, as with the rest of Office, is that all of the changes make it harder to use than ever before. What normal users want to do is trapped somewhere between the new features and the new interface.

  55. Anonymous Coward

    The battle is pretty much over, and Word has won....

    Yes, it's been over-engineered in the last 7-8 years, in order to sell users on updating. However, its reliable (I haven't had it crash in years) and it's well understood. I could maybe see LibreOffice making a run at it if value becomes a huge decision point in the future, but the fact is that purchasing Word is now outside the realm of IT. It has become one of those business applications that really belong to the users, and if someone in IT pulls the plug, for his own career interests he had better KNOW that whatever he replaces it with is going to be well accepted and easily usable by users and fully compatible with legacy Word format files.

  56. Don Jefe

    Industry Standards

    In any industry there are standards that you might not like, but you have to comply with if you want to make any real money. Whatever your product is, it takes several groups of people to get it in the hands of the end user and 99.9% of the time if you don't do what you can to make the jobs of those others as easy as possible you aren't worth dealing with.

    Every mature industry has some wonky standards that evolved from the earliest days of the industry and the older the industry the more shrouded in mystery the reasons for them become and the harder they are to dislodge.

    Try serving beer in less than a pint glass or making car tires with 13.75" openings or making machine tool blanks that aren't 1/2" square or extension ladders with 7" rung spacing... It won't end well as you're bucking the tradition and diluting the investment made by all the others whose participation you require to get your product to market.

    Is Word the best word processor, certainly not, but it is the industry standard. If you've got time to try and command the tides you're not producing enough. Best to accept some things and get back to the things you can control.

    1. Gray

      Re: Industry Standards

      No, Word is NOT the industry standard. If it were the industry standard, then MS would be building locomotives, and every time they came out with a new locomotive, it would require a new track standard, and the world would be ripping out the old rails and laying new track. And every other competitor's locomotive and rail cars would be taken to the shop for retrofitting with MS Corp-patented wheels and axles.

      At one point, MS bought up the .RTF format, and held it up as a new standard ... and then proceeded to change it with every new revision of .DOC ... thereby assuring that "no other's locomotives shall run on our tracks!"

      ODF is the only standard WP format, and MS continues the tradition of "does not play well with others" by dismissing it.

      Word's evil sibling, Internet Explorer, is up to Version 11 and yet fails to fully comply with standards. Relying on MS for standards compliance is akin to boinking for chastity.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Industry Standards

        You don't understand the difference between practice and theory do you? The entire point of the article was that authors have to use Word, even though it isn't the best option.

        Every publisher I've ever worked with in the US and Europe required me to use Word documents for every step from concept to final post-edit manuscripts. Obviously the format gets changed when actually going to press, but up to that point authors with any decent size publisher work in Word. That's the way it is, that's the industry standard.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Industry Standards

      Rant helps when bypassing standards is needed.

  57. Daz555

    It's not great. Still the best on the market though.

  58. Vociferous

    Word is the worst word processor there is...

    ...except for all the competitors.

    When the sum total serious competition is Openoffice and Google docs, then Word really is the least-worst.

  59. Gavin McMenemy

    He's got a point....

    When you interact with publishers (or those acting for publishers) invariably they ask for for .doc format.

    And that's a right pain in the bum these days.

    However I quite like Scrivener. Write your doc and when you need to send it somewhere it will export a perfectly good .doc if required (although I keep a copy of Office to proof it on ... just in case).

  60. Webslave

    IA Writer - a word processor designed for writers!


    Not for PCs sorry, Mac, iPhone and ipad.

    I use it to write long stuff - allow you to focus and not have to worry about layout, menus or weird keyboard commands. Designed for humans not engineers as well.

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: IA Writer - a word processor designed for writers!


    2. __________

      Re: IA Writer - a word processor designed for writers!

      I like iA Writer a lot, but it is only Idevice and when I dumped my iPad that was that. I wish it was available for Android, as it is quite a useful thing.

      However it suffers like any single document editor when you need to switch info around. I abandoned using IA Writer for a project I was doing, and switched to Scrivener (from the world of Mac but available on Linux and Windows) and that is a fucking joy and a half to use by comparison.

      I still haven't totally got my head around formatting the output exactly as I want it, but fixing it is a minutes work in LibreOffice Writer.

      If you have short docs, and liek having DropBox integration, and you live in the Mac ecosystem, IA Writer is excellent

  61. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So if publishers accept *only* .doc format his complaint remains valid. & what happens

    when MS drop support for .doc?

    1. Vociferous

      Re: So if publishers accept *only* .doc format his complaint remains valid. & what happens

      They don't. They support WORD FORMAT, it doesn't really matter which. Usually you can also submit articles as PDF.

  62. A Long Fellow

    Piling in on Word Abuse

    I have four complaints with Word.

    First, it attempts to overwrite system fonts with its own -- often inferior -- versions. It does this on the assumption that you will ONLY use Microsoft products to create and view your work.

    Second, it commits the sin of execrable typography. Last time I checked, ligatures were turned off by default, and it still can't seem to handle kerning pairs.

    Third, it can't seem to handle styles in any rational form. I guess I could take a few days to create a handful of 'never-to-be-modified' templates, but I'd rather get on with the task of creating content, rather than accommodating the tantrumesque child that Word has been for most of its life.

    Finally -- and this is the big one -- Word invariably pisses me off by trying to think for me. Word persists in pretending to know what I want, changing and re-arranging without my having asked it to do these things. This is why formatting gets changed, pagination gets fouled up, images won't stay where they are (or move when they should), and lists look like garbage.

    Of course, it's possible to wrestle Word into submission -- one tedious document at a time. And if you're locked into some corporate style and workflow that somebody else has created, then all you have to do is follow somebody else's script and ignore the indignities. But if you're trying to create original work that doesn't match the preconceived notions underpinning the software, then you're in for a world of pain.

    1. Harman Mogul

      Re: Piling in on Word Abuse

      Agree 100% with all four points.

  63. Don Mitchell

    Tiresome Stross

    Just more leftist hot air from Charlie Stross. His fascination with free software is certainly about his anti-business political views, not a knowledgeable technical opinion. Who cares what he thinks about technology or politics?

    It's a pity that young people do not see more science fiction that is about adventure and science. Jules Verne inspired generations of men to become scientists and engineers. One can only imagine Charlie Stross inspiring a generation of young people to be cynical and pessimistic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tiresome Stross

      Is there an American out there who can disagree with someone without attributing everything he disagrees with to "leftism" or being "anti-business"?

      If so, please could you have a word with your Republicans. They have become deeply embarrassing to everybody who believes in representative democracy.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tiresome Stross

      Mixing adventure and science is indeed a very Republican feature and scary.

  64. Herby

    Then there is EMACS

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it. I believe that it includes a kitchen sink somewhere, so it must be capable of doing some nice "word processing" somewhere!

    Then again, I think about it a little bit more, and wonder how I ever passed 8th (2nd form) grade typing class (I had a nasty cut in a finger which got me a 'B'). We used these nice manual typewriters. They included a nice new '1/!' key which some older typewriters didn't.

    I suppose we really never learn.

    1. Not That Andrew

      Re: Then there is EMACS

      Pity it's such a crap text editor

  65. arctic_haze

    It is so simple

    Friends don't let friends use MS Office.

  66. Dreams


    I use Scribus for technical writing. Word is an abomination to most technical writers I know.

  67. inahut

    WIMP! Adapt or die. Why waste your time? Stupid. Submit according to your desires and don't play the game and see how far you get. Create your own universe in thought and see how fast the world follows you. What a joke when your desire is probably integrity. Well, you wasted your opportunity.

  68. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    "deliberately or intentionally"

    Huh? Is that meant to be emphasis through repetition, or something?

  69. kzoodata

    People still bitch about this stuff?

    The 1990's called and want their article back. Cmon, anything worth publishing contains literary value, and formatting is a tertiary concern at best. Write your article in TeX or Notepad or whatever, then paste it into Word before you send it off to the publishers. If you're publishing a textbook I can see the argument, but a professional simply works with the tools needed. This is a sci-fi author, so what's the beef here?

    Isn't Microsoft bashing also passe'? Microsoft is doing enough to to harm itself, hardly needs help here.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft's monopoly in OS was okay- at the time of Windows NT. But the way Microsoft used Office suite to destroy Lotus and Wordperfect was sad.

    Coming to the present, Word's management features and networking features that are used in making products like Escription medical documentation software are important rather than its formatting features.

  71. Abacus

    There's a lot of life left in WordPerfect

    I was dragged kicking and screaming to Word (From WordPerfect X12) six years ago.

    As a forensic accountant I prepare lengthy reports laden with tables. numbered paragraphs and sub-paragraphs all the way down to sub-sub-sub paragraphs and beyond, diagrams, and references.

    I had been using WordPerfect since 1989 (version 4.2, IIRC), and had stayed up with the latest updates al the way. Finally, the pressure from law firms to "conform, dammit", and issues with engaging adaptable secretarial staff created enough pressure for me to switch.

    Despite a bunch of training and a lengthy spell on Word, my original opinion of that product has not changed. It is, for want of a better term, pure shite.

    These days my practice has changes somewhat, and exchanging electronic documents with the outside world is less important than it used to be.

    I don't need to share doc/docx documents so much, and last week, after a Word report went spectacularly tits-up, I downloaded the current version of WordPerfect (X14) directly from Corel.

    Within 10 or 15 minutes I had my old rhythm back, the old keyboard shortcuts came straight back to me, my blood pressure went down about 25 points and I produced more that afternoon than I had in the previous 2 days. The "lineal" nature of WordPerfect means you can just format as you go without having to think, pause, apply styles, insert breaks, and all that other Word nonsense. In particular, perfectly formatted tables are a dream. The in-built WP tables have all the spreadsheet functions I need for 95% of the work I do, whereas Word forces a very awkward insertion of an Excel table for such basic functions as automatic column addition, and so forth..

    WordPerfect is as close to perfect as a word processor can be. Word, by comparison, is a mere toy - and an unintuitive frustrating toy at that.

    1. Harman Mogul

      Re: There's a lot of life left in WordPerfect

      This may be 'anecdotal' evidence, but is very telling.

    2. Not That Andrew

      Re: There's a lot of life left in WordPerfect

      Huh, I thought Corel was where good software goes to die. Good to know there is still life in WordPerfect.

  72. Abacus

    WordPerfect Reveal Codes

    Oh, re my enthusiastic endorsement of WordPerfect, I should have mentioned that the wonderful "reveal codes" feature is still there. Having formatting issues? A simple Alt-F3 and all is explained clearly, easily, and unambiguously. A pleasant, relaxing dream in contrast to the Word nightmare.

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: WordPerfect Reveal Codes

      Word has the 'reveal spaces etc' icon in the ribbon, which is particularly valuable for cleanng up documents that came from OCR rather than typists. Aha, so it's that section break that was causing the trouble!

  73. Nexus Storm

    Yep WORD is god awful. Especially since I prefer ODF (Open Document Format) That is default in OpenOffice and LibreOffice, Also WORD doesn't work in Linux. I can do more with Libre Office Suite than I could ever with MS Office products. As most people only really use 10% of the features packed into any word processing package.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is a local shop

    Holy poop on a stick! Are you fkin kidding me?

    I know that there are people on here who don’t like Microsoft, but some of the suggestions of using vi and diff for txt files and then mixing that with some form of GIT/VSS source control etc are just mental. As techno geeks, writing code, editing scripts, analysing log files and all that jazz then yes I would agree, you have chosen the right tool for the job, but to even suggest that approach is better than Word for document creation and management is just bat sh1t bonkers!!

    I loved Amipro back in the day and did pretty much all my college work on it, but around Office97 I switched over and haven’t looked back. To say word is bloated with features… yes – it has a lot of features, just because YOU don’t use them doesn’t mean its bloated. In the early 2000’s when I was working on consulting gigs, I used to work with the end users quite a bit and was always learning of new features in Word which then saved me time later, it is by far the most powerful word processing tool out there. To say it crashes all the time… I think you need to check out your PC for other issues.

    I realise it’s not popular in these parts to like MS/M$/Mickysoft/Microshaft/OtherHighlyAmmusingName, and for those of you that only use B/I/U, a handful of fonts, header/footers and basic paragraphs and live on Ubuntu desktops by all means go use something else… to quote Tubbs in the League of Gentlemen:

    “This is a local shop for local people, there is nothing for you here”

    In other words, I may be in the minority, but I like Windows and I like Office… so feck off and leave us alone!

    Typed on my Windows 8 laptop with Office 2013

  75. Richie 1

    Not all publishers demand Word

    O'Reilly prefer you to write in AsciiDoc (or Markdown for short pieces). They have a very nice toolchain that tracks changes using git, and manages collaborators. Definitely the way writing should be done.

  76. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Argh!!! ****ing MSWord file format.

    Last week I spent an hour entering my details into a .docx job application. Saved it, made a cup of tea, loaded it to do a final check before emailing it back. The entire thing was garbage. Argh!!!!! **** YOU MICROSOFT!!!!!!

    (and everybody who expects you to have Software Version Half Past Ten This Morning)

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    challenge people about it

    Granted, the following is *not* possible to do in everyone's industry, I accept that for reasons put very well by others above.

    However, I always challenge people that say 'can you send that to me in Word format?'. Ask them why - in many cases where you aren't dealing with change / track scenarios, the 'requirement' is nothing more than a comfort bubble. Like people say 'Hoover' when they mean 'vacuum cleaner', Word is synonymous with word-processing without always being a necessary tie, technically.

    I push people to accept PDF, ODF, or plain text. It's been my experience that they're just asking for Word for visual familiarity.

    I last bought Office in 1999 / 2000 and I depreciated its use years ago. These days, its functionality is entirely replaced for me by Google Docs and LibreOffice. I've had no complaints, but then granted I'm focused on content and not fancy mark-up / design.

    PS - my favourite was WordsWorth on the Amiga.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great rant! I Always love to see a perfectly clever bloke behave like a complete child and make a donkey out of himself. makes us all feel human. lets hope he doesn't spend most of his time in this state of mind tho! Lets face it there are worse things going on in the world than word, I've used word for probably 10-15 years and love it although I probably only use a tiny subset of the functionality and could probably cope ok in wordpad if I really had to. using 2013 now and loving it i am old enough to remember wordperfect on the BBC Micro, now that's not something I'd like to go back to.

  79. Sheep!


    It works. It's easy to use. It's easy to share documents because most people use it (especially in the work environment). This is just whining tosh for attention.

  80. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Microsoft Word? Oh-so topical

    What will Mr Stross think of having a zany, up-to-the-minute pop at next? How about those teenagers and their transistor radios? Or perhaps he could turn his gifted pen to military strategy and explain why so called "tanks" will never replace horse on the battlefield.

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