Word Turns 40

A very interesting quick read, for both those who did and those who didn’t live through the early years:

i was a beta (alpha really) tester for WordPerfect 5.0 for Windows back in late 1990, which was never released. I believe 5.1 was first, then 5.2 added stability (M$would keep pushing out Windows “updates” that wreaked havoc with WordPerfect). Bill was a tough competitor (M$ loved using hooks in the OS that no one else had access to…)


Word has its good points. It is, by far, the best program to track changes to documents being circulated between two or more commentators. I use it exclusively for transactional work. On the other hand, the program sucks for the preparation of any technical documents because of the inability to control individual details of a document’s layout and structure. WordPerfect is far, far, far superior to Word for that. In fact, if I had to guess 40 years ago, which program would survive (setting aside the market dominance of Microsoft Office), I would have probably guessed that WP would have been the dominant word processor.

And, yes, Microsoft f**cked with WordPerfect endlessly.

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M$ :-1:

Yes, they did, and Lotus too (DOS ain’t done 'till Lotus won’t run!).

I agree on WP as well - NOTHING let’s you micro-adjust text like it. Unfortunately, this transaction lawyer’s clients got Word for “free” as they switched to Windows - end of story.

I was never a WP user. I always had the impression they were content to be a single title while others were pushing to business productivity suites. Guess that was one trend MS either caused, or got ahead of.

Think M$ “borrowed” the idea from Lotus Symphony (DOS version) and Framework…

Microsoft’s incredibly scummy tactics aside, Word does what it needs to do perfectly.

That’s creating standard documents in a limited selection of styles. The rigidity of it actually helps in that regard as it helps prevent people messing up the layout. The editing and authoring tools are fantastic, and features added over time like pen tools are great. Not to mention the UI is wonderful; something all competitors for some reason have utterly failed at.

In terms of functionality, the complaints people have against it are mostly people using the wrong tool for the job. For freeform document creation, you’re simply better off using Publisher or even PowerPoint from the Microsoft suite. Or other desktop publishing software.

And there’s LaTex is you hate yourself.

The nicest ever version of WordPerfect was written for NeXTstep, apparently in just 6 weeks’ time (they started w/ a working Unix version and just had to adapt it to use Display PostScript and the NeXT menu structure). Still sad my Cube stopped booting.

If typography were easy, Word wouldn’t be the foetid mess which it is, and this is only made worse by the Ribbon interface which requires way too much pointing and clicking.

FWIW, finding TeX, and then LaTeX was a huge step forward for me — I found the limitations of Aldus PageMaker and Quark XPress maddening, so having a tool which was only limited by storage space, CPU speeds, and human ingenuity was a breath of fresh air, and revived my interest in doing graphic design work (the thought of doing long books using Altsys Virtuoso/Macromedia Freehand was daunting). Best example of that was the book Life Cast: Behind the Mask by Willa Shallit — each text block was to be a perfect rectangle and have the same proportions as the photograph on the facing page — no studio using any WYSIWYG design software was willing to do it, but Barry Smith of Blue Sky Research was able to write a TeX macro which made short work of doing that for the book.

An interesting new tool in this space is LyX, a “What You See Is What You Mean” document processor which uses LaTeX as a typesetting backend.

In my opinion, there’s quite a lot of snobbery and cliches that comes along with the open source community and things like LaTeX.

And they very rarely make the effort to make their software approachable. Just look a the LaTeX or LyX websites. The LibreOffice one even. There are school students who could design better websites.

My opinion is probably clouded somewhat by the rather toxic environment I found academics, where a lot of this is used, to be.

I’m sure that either project would be glad of volunteers to assist with their website — the BRL-CAD folks recently had a huge update to their site:

which makes it far more approachable, and folks try very hard to help new users on places such as:



and I’ve offered to help folks with projects here.

Moreover, I believe that Overleaf would match your aesthetic requirements:

Possibly relevant article:

which when discussed on Hacker News:

had this insightful observation:

MSWord is the ultimate benchmark. It’s been around since the Pc revolution start… | Hacker News (ycombinator.com)

MSWord is the ultimate benchmark. It’s been around since the Pc revolution started.

Ironically it hasn’t gotten much better in those 30 years since I first started using it. The new features have broken core features, and performance has gone backwards.

It is the perfect example of feature creep and over engineering that ultimately worsens usability. If I had enough vintage pcs I would do a 40 year analysis to answer why it’s gotten so much worse.

Ive been using word since 1991. I recently started a new job, got a fancy HP laptop, and I swear word ran faster on my 386SX than it does on this i9. Turn on “all markup” after a few people have edited it, and there’s a 2 second delay between keystrokes.

StackExchange, while sometimes very helpful and sometimes the only answer available, has an awful lot of snobs (to put it politely). Many subreddits are the same.

One of the reasons I like LLMs is that I don’t have to venture there as much, as the LLM is not judgemental like them.

BRL-CAD, while I’m sure great (and fantastic that it is free) is a terrible example. Even the fancy landing page has full-stops misplaced and the ‘about’ page goes to Wikipedia… And while I like fun little things and all, that terrible drawing of a surfing moose at the bottom doesn’t scream ‘quality’.

The truth is, appearances do matter and people are willing to pay for polish. That’s what Microsoft offer with their Office (sorry, 360) suite.

As Yogi Berra would say “Deja vu all over again!” I had a 286 that that could be upgraded to a 386sx - and even add the 80387sx math coprocessor if you had unlimited funds - I upgraded to just the 386sx and thought I was in heaven. And it really seemed comparativley faster than current hardware. My guess is that it is “comparative” because the jump from 286 to 386 (even six) was a monster upgrade back then.

The problem is, buying Office won’t get one a workable product if one needs anything beyond what office drones churn out.

If anyone wants help w/ TeX, it’s available, and there’s plenty of documentation:


and most importantly, it can do anything which one is able to write a macro to achieve, as opposed to being limited to the interface and featureset which Microsoft deigns to allow its users.

Which is why I think there is a recent trend of using plain text editors now. Either classics like Notepad++/TextMate or newer Markdown-based “idea organizers” like Obsidian.

Just thinking back now, don’t think I’ve composed anything in Word for 10+ years. GoogleDocs has largely taken over the collaborative function, so .docs are really only used as a legacy/inter-compatibility file format.

Excel and OneNote really are my still-relevant Office apps.

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If you don’t use Word and Excel at work then you are way out of the mainstream of business software, which signifies that you do have freedom in your business pursuits that 90% of us business drones do not have.

I recently did a project with some uni friends (mostly millenials), and I suggested we use Word—

They all looked at me like I was from another planet. :laughing:

Just curious, are online collaboration tools not popular in the legal industry?

Not in my experience - Word is the overwhelming choice (forced or otherwise) in the legal profession and the vast majority of our commercial clients. Some have experimented Google Docs and Apple but it’s a Word world - in litigation there is a fairly strong preference for WordPerfect, but still majority Word.


Same here. All of my transactional work goes out in Word.

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