Microsoft Word is 40 today

Originally published at: Microsoft Word is 40 today | Boing Boing


Pretty remarkable that a program that’s ostensibly used for word processing got so bloated over the years that it’s now part of a MS Office Suite that requires more than 2 GB of disk space to install and often takes longer to start up on today’s computers than the original version did on the older machines that had a tiny fraction of the power.


Yeah, I really really don’t understand how some of these programs balloon in size so badly. Something with a lot of graphics? Sure. Word processor or spreadsheets? WTF?

Also, Jesus H Christ… people who try to layout shit in Word and then want me to do something with it need to be sent to a remote island somewhere. Holy cow, it is so bad at that task, yet people keep trying to pound in round pegs in to square holes.


old man blathering: yep 40 y’ars ago, had a tuition defraying job taking away University office folks’ selectrics and teaching them (poorly) to use a huge Microsoft grant of IBM-XTs and Microsoft Word. man-oh-man, did they hate to see me and my hand truck showing up - and i never could blame them. (now wish i’d spirited away one of those selectrics from the stacks of selectrics -sigh-)


When I wrote my master’s thesis back in 1991, I used Lotus Ami Pro, and it was soooo nice. Everything was simple and intuitive. Now, I’m using Word to write a 25 page paper for law school, and nothing is intuitive. I’m sure some of that is me, but some of it isn’t. Finding things in the menu bar feels like a random search. “Ok, where would this function be? Edit?..nope, not there, umm…Format?..nope, not there either, fuck. Tools?..yep, there it is. Why is this in Tools?” This is my experience using Word today.


It’s because Office installs all of the Office apps, you can’t select, even if you don’t choose to use them, they’re installed for speed should you want to install them later. Luckily, the price of storage continues to fall.


I don’t get all the hate for Word - it is a fantastic tool for producing large amounts of text relatively simply and with decent layout (to my colleagues: please learn how to use styles). The tools like grammar and spell checkers can really help fix the most common problems with documents.

But it isn’t a perfect solution for all documents, so I find myself most productive using Scrivener[1] for when I’m playing with ideas and trying to find the narrative; then switch to Word for when I want to get down and write and style the main text of the document.

On the odd occasion - such as writing a paper or generating a lot of formula then it has to be LaTeX for when I want it to look perfect.

[1] Honestly, if you write a lot - fiction or not - Scrivener is simply brilliant for trying to work out what you want to say and in what order.


This actually ties in directly with a recent experience here in the library. I wrote it up on one of my profiles on a different site. This is directed to one of our frequent patrons:

One of our customer service staff members offered to help you, but you rejected her curtly. She asked me if I would try because one of our first missions here is to help those that come to us.

Yes, I caught that look when you glanced up at my beautiful trans self and said that you didn’t think I’d be able to help you. Mother f*cker, you’re writing a MS Word document. I’ve been using MS Word since version 6.0 was released, so about 30 years now. I seriously doubt you’re doing anything I don’t know how to do.

And then you said that you wanted V to help you? Really? Yeah … can I watch while that happens? Guess who V goes to with all of his computer questions.

You rejected the first offer of help because she was a woman and mine because I’m trans? You want help from a staff member who is much less knowledgeable in this area because he’s a man?

You know what, thank you. I’m f*cking proud to be in the set of people that you have determine “cannot help you.”

Yeah, so “only” 30 years. Guess I could have had 10 more years of experience with it? :laughing:


Still does not Reveal Codes like WordPerfect could…. Still miss it when trying to fix odd layout issues … especially with pasting text from other documents.

Glad we have word processors, I would never go back to typewriter days.


My favorite feature in Word is the shortcuts for accented characters. You press ctrl and some punctuation mark that looks like the accent, and it usually gives what you would hope.

Ctrl ’ e = é
Ctrl ` a = à
Ctrl : u = ü
Ctrl / o = ø
Ctrl ~ n = ñ
Ctrl , c = ç
Ctrl & s = ß

I could also definitely complain about the ribbon and subscription and all, but for a birthday I figured I’d save it. I mean, who does like all the features they picked up by the time they were forty.


Its “What You See is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) design philosophy

Yes it IS shit at laying things out. What you see may be what you get but what you want is rarely what Word actually does.

Styles? But its a WYSIWYG editor - why do I need to learn to use styles?

Probably some /s in there somewhere, but more snark than sarcasm.

All that function bloat long since stopped it being able to do basic, simple WYSIWYG writing and editing and now you need a degree in deep function permutations and combinations to get it to do the most obvious things.


How does Scrivener help with this over, say, creating an outline where you move things around manually? Genuine question.

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I can understand users’ frustration with the bloated beast Word has become, because I was a satisfied Word user starting way back in the last century. I reluctantly switched from WordStar to Word 5 when it became obvious WS wasn’t going anywhere. My needs for formatting, layout, and such are limited, and Word did what I needed without effort. Especially with version 5.5 when they replaced the old backslash menu with a more convenient Alt menu. I continued to use 5.5 DOS well into the Windows era. When I finally switched to a Windows word processor my first try was AmiPro, which I loved. It was soon gone and I settled for Word for Windows. For my needs the 1998 version had the best balance between features and efficiency.

Nowadays I use Open Office, which does the job and doesn’t assail you with disorganized boxes of icon-laden menus which may or may not do what you want. Truth be told, on my laptop I run Word for DOS 5.5 in DOSbox and export in RTF.


Hard to believe it’s 40 years. And in all that time, they still haven’t made a good Mail Merge function. Which is a real crime, because Microsoft Works handled that much better.


Oh God, yes.


star wars GIF


Very simply…

You can think of a Scrivener document as a folder on your computer into which you drop documents images and the like. You can create new documents inside the application or import them from elsewhere.

The key feature is a Finder/Explorer style view where you simply drag items into a new order whenever you want and it is easy to see the structure of the document at a glance. Stuff can be edited, split, merged and styled inside Scrivener - although the formatting options are quite limited.

When you’re finished working in Scrivener you export the compiled document out in a format of your choosing. I usually do my rough drafting in Scrivener so that 90% of the text is written but the formatting needs attention in Word.

The real drawback (for me) is that Scrivener doesn’t play nicely with reference managers so it doesn’t really work as a single solution for academic writing.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It is a stupendously powerful program from a very small development team.

There’s a free 30 day trial at Scrivener | Literature & Latte for iOS, Mac and Windows - I recommend working through the awesome tutorial to show what it can do (In case anyone wonders, I don’t own shares or know the owners of the company - it’s just saved my bacon on numerous occasions).


Thanks! It could be time to check it out. I’ve got a pretty thing going with word/gdocs, but I could always use a new way to organize my process a little bit more.

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Yep, I figure the late 90s was peak MS-Word, with Word 97. It’s been downhill ever since. The closest I get to that experience today is LibreOffice Writer, which is what I use unless I’m forced by my job to use the disastrous Office365.


Use Styles for consistency. Say the document is a cookbook. A Style for the title, another for ingredients, a third for procedure. That way they stay the same, and, if you decide that the ingredients should have a 8 mm indent rather than the 6 mm you started off with, you make one change in the Style, and the whole document is updated to use that.