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 that everyone he works with expects he'll use it.
“Major publishers have been browbeaten into believing that Word is the sine qua non of document production systems,” he writes. “And they expect me to integrate myself into a Word-centric workflow, even though it's an inappropriate, damaging, and laborious tool for the job. It is, quite simply, unavoidable.”
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. He also revisits the old memes of Microsoft changing file formats as a way of inducing upgrades through planned obsolescence.
Along the way he offers some impressive vituperation, such as this passage:
“Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination, a petty, unimaginative, inconsistent dictator that is ill-suited to any creative writer's use. Worse: it is a near-monopolist, dominating the word processing field. Its pervasive near-monopoly status has brainwashed software developers to such an extent that few can imagine a word processing tool that exists as anything other than as a shallow imitation of the Redmond Behemoth.”
His critique of the Word file format is also decent:
“The .doc file format was also obfuscated, deliberately or intentionally: rather than a parseable document containing formatting and macro metadata, it was effectively a dump of the in-memory data structures used by word, with pointers to the subroutines that provided formatting or macro support. And "fast save" made the picture worse, by appending a journal of changes to the application's in-memory state. To parse a .doc file you virtually have to write a mini-implementation of Microsoft Word. This isn't a data file format: it's a nightmare!”
Stross' complaint centres on Word's utility for his profession, creative writing, and there are plenty of dedicated tools for that chore. But his criticism also notes plenty of flaws in the application that afflict others, namely:
“Its proofing tools and change tracking mechanisms are baroque, buggy, and inadequate for true collaborative document preparation; its outlining and tagging facilities are piteously primitive compared to those required by a novelist or thesis author: and the procrustean dictates of its grammar checker would merely be funny if the ploddingly sophomoric business writing style it mandates were not so widespread.”
And let's not even get started on how piteously it handles text styles, the “feature” that led your correspondent away from Redmond's embrace. ®