An ample demonstration of the old joke that a word processor does to words what a food processor does to food. More seriously, an ample demonstration of the fact that a word processor is not the same thing as a typesetting system or a markup language.

It's not all bad: it does a fine job of letting someone new to computers put one word next to the other, and no doubt it has given many people the ability to write on a computer for the first time. Like many tools that are good for the novice, however, it falls flat for serious users.

Want to justify your text? That's just too bad: Word justifies how it justifies, and that's that. A proper typesetting language has a solid algorithm that handles interword spacing and interletter spacing, hyphenation, line wrapping, and so on in a unified fashion according to time-tested aesthetic principles, and then lets you, who can actually see the results, override it easily if you need to. Word's justification is "good enough" for office purposes, but any self-respecting typesetter would take you out back and euthanize you repeatedly in the head with a blunt object if you tried to publish output like Word's back in the good old days.

Want to write some math? Good luck: you're stuck navigating through menus for each character, painstakingly working out which layer of subscript you're in, and so on. Macros can make it slightly usable, but why jump through such hoops when you can just write ${1\over {4\pi\epsilon_0}}$? And God help you if you manage to bang something out this way and then try to hand it to a scientific journal.

I won't even start talking about the fonts.


Somebody complained about ${1\over {4\pi\epsilon_0}}$ not being intuitive. That's exactly my point: Word's GUI aims to be intuitive (good for novices) at the expense of being powerful (good for experienced users). The intuitive interface of a series of visual menus may be very easy to use the first time, but is a royal pain the thousandth. (And this "unintuitive" markup is very consistent and can be understood in terms of just a couple of rules, which rules allow you to figure out how to do a thousand other similar things; so it's really rather intuitive after all, once you get to know it. :P)

Some history:

Word was first released in 1983 and ran in MS-DOS. It helped pioneer WYSIWYG and an Apple version was soon added (in 1984).

The DOS version ran to v5.5, but with the rise of Windows was replaced by Word for Windows, v1.0 of which first appeared in 1989 (the DOS and Windows versions ran concurrently for a time).

There was a large version jump from 2.0 to 6.0 as a response to the strongest rival, WordPerfect 5.1 - the reasoning being that a 'version 6' would be more appealing to consumers than a 'version 5.5', despite the fact that they were different products (see version inflation).

The next version was not officially called Word 7, but Word 95, to fit with Microsoft's OS branding at the time (e.g. Windows 95, Windows 98...). This trend continued with Word 97 (v8) and Word 2000 (v9). If you examine a Word file (for example, open it in a standard text editor), it does identify itself internally by version number (e.g. 'Microsoft Word 8.0'), but Word is publicised and sold under the 'friendlier' name (e.g. 'Word 97').

The current version (v10) is referred to by Microsoft as Word 2002, but the surrounding Microsoft Office suite is known as Office XP. Previous versions of Office have shared their title with their components, so that Office 97 contained Word 97, and Office 2000 contained Word 2000, but this no longer seems to be the case. So the current version may be referred to as Word 2002, Word 10, or Word XP. The first appears to be endorsed by Microsoft.

Mac OS X users currently have the Office X suite, which includes Word X, roughly equivalent to the 2002 (or XP) version on the PC. To further guard against confusion, Word X is also referred to as Word:mac by Microsoft.

Users of Pocket PCs are provided with Pocket Word, a portable version. I haven't been able to find any version information for this product, but it maintains compatibility with the current PC version.

It has always been possible to purchase Word separately from Office, and recent versions of Microsoft Works have also included Word - an improvement on Works' previous, less compatible bundled word processor.

At time of writing, Word 2003 is in the pipeline, and in keeping with recent developments in the Office suite focuses on DRM and networking features, alongside productivity enhancements.

Thanks to Servo5678 and Twinxor for extra info.

Sources:

  • http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Word
  • http://www.microsoft.com/office/word/
  • http://www.microsoft.com/office/previous/
  • http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/editions/word.asp
  • http://www.microsoft.com/mac/products/wordx/wordx.aspx
  • http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/products/pocketpc/about/2002/pocketword.mspx
  • http://www.emsps.com/oldtools/mswordv.htm

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