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Wiki Or Word?

Posted on 05 March 2004 by Demian Turner

Finally, someone else who has something to say about MS Word, Tim Bray comments on his Fourteen Years of Pain.

I’m busily editing a fairly complex tech spec written in Microsoft Word. (Word generally sucks for tech specs except for this one is being team-edited with little infrastructure, so we needed the revision-marking feature.)

When I first ever used Word it was in 1989 on a Macintosh; this first brush with competent WYSIWYG changed my thinking about interfaces and documents. There was a problem: back then the handling of numbered lists in Word was buggy and fragile. Today, fourteen years later in a recent rev of Office, numbered lists are still buggy and fragile. Innocuous changes—simple cut/paste, joining paragraphs, applying the formatting palette—intermittently send Word into psychotic spasms, in one case renumbering the list starting at 65, in another mysteriously removing the colour-coding from all the text in the doc, in another re-indenting dozens of apparently randomly-selected paragraphs.

I suppose if it hasn’t gotten fixed in a decade and a half my grandchildren will probably be stuck with it. But I have hopes that the world will learn the valuable lessons Word taught us all about the interfaces between humans and texts, and for God’s sake move on to something better.

Word just has so many features that should be simple but are impossible to get to work right consistently. 

At work we’re consistently choosing the wiki format over Word as it’s much more manageable – my favourite flavour is Wacko, a fork of Wakka suggested on the Seagull list which doesn’t force you to use the unreadable WikiWords.

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