As technical writers go, I’m relatively lucky. In my 20-odd (and I do mean odd) year career, I’ve only in the last couple of months ran into overload situations that had me working weekends as well as overtime (it’s not uncommon from what I’ve heard from other people). But I’m even more lucky because I haven’t had to use Microsoft Word as a serious writing tool for almost 10 years now. Before that, Word (up to Word 7.0/95) was a decent word processor, not terribly solid (especially for documents longer than 50 pages) but easy to customize, very scriptable and mostly predictable. Being a button-pusher by nature, I was able to find and then avoid the sharp corners and rough edges and get work done.
For people who live in their word processors, Word97 marked a major turn — downward. Corrupted files, always a possibility, became more frequent. Auto-numbering went straight to #3|| and skipped the handbasket. Preference changes would spontaneously change themselves back. Fortunately, about the time Word97 (and Word98 for Macs) landed on the world with a wet plop, I changed jobs and went to work at a FrameMaker shop. Frame isn’t the most feature-laden product in the world, but it is extremely predictable and very stable. The only way to lose significant work to a FrameMaker crash is to start typing in a new document without saving it before it crashes. Anyway, all the things I started hearing from Word users at that point made me less than motivated to go back.
Nothing I’ve heard has suggested the problems are being fixed. In fact, I’ve repeatedly asked a Microsoft program manager who works on Office file formats whether the next version of Word will fix the autonumbering problems that have been around since '98. No response. (Funny how the search function at Microsoft’s blogs.msdn.com couldn’t turn up its own blog address but Google could, by the way.)
So here’s a few quotable quotes about Word that I’ve collected from the Techcomm list....
“First thing I realized about trying to do documentation in Word is that I had to lower my expectations.” — B.A.
“Only entirely random actions, bizarre incantations and forceful oaths can make Word do what you want it to (especially when it comes to numbering).” — M.B.
“Nothing will work in Word if you're wearing the wrong kind of shoes or whatever.” — B.A.
“It's a known Word bug.” — a cast of millions
This profanity-laden rant is also notable, not only for expressing the frustration so many of us have with Word, but for being the only piece of writing I’ve ever seen that manages to use that much profanity and stay coherent.
When I first started using Microsoft Word professionally, about 10 years ago, someone told me that the only thing to do to get it to work as you thought it should was to sacrifice a small goat during the correct phase of the moon.
I ran a Google search today on ‘+"Microsoft Word" +"sacrifice" +"goat"’ and got 650 hits, so clearly this belief is now widespread. (OK, so some of the hits were about obscure religions rather than tech writing, but my point is still valid.)— D.F.
Word does (mostly) well for most people, who don’t need more than 10%–20% of the functionality it offers. It’s those of us who live and die by our word-processing skills who run into trouble with it, because we need to push it to the limit just to stay caught up. And pushing Word makes it tip over, quickly.