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Summary:

FIRST EXPOSURE It doesn’t quite rank with presidential assassinations or exploding space shuttles, but I still remember when I first saw Microsoft Word demonstrated, at a store called ComputerLand back in in the mid 80s. It’s hard to believe there was actually a time when Word […]

FIRST EXPOSURE

It doesn’t quite rank with presidential assassinations or exploding space shuttles, but I still remember when I first saw Microsoft Word demonstrated, at a store called ComputerLand back in in the mid 80s. It’s hard to believe there was actually a time when Word wasn’t as ubiquitous as air, but I’m here to say there was such a time — a time when Bill Gates’s dreams of global domination were known to but a few. A time when Apple’s market share could still be expressed in double digits. A time, in short, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I think it was an SE the salesman used — my memory of the demo is hazy — but he capped it off with something I’ll never forget: Page Preview. “You can see how the page will look before it prints,” he said breathlessly. I stared at the diminutive clumps of pixels on the screen, neatly confined in squiggly little rows inside a white rectangle representing a piece of paper. I was struck dumb — I might as well have been watching the risen Christ. By the time the test print came off the tractor feed I was a believer.

Then as now, the world teemed with steely-eyed business types who thought Steve’s Apple was just an expensive toy. Yet somehow, amazingly, the little boot-up Mac (please Steve, bring him back) smiled his way into the cracks of the corporate firmament, like blades of grass infiltrating concrete. Equally amazing, I found myself gainfully employed at some of these same companies, and whether or not it was in the job description, I gravitated toward the Macs, doing as much of my admin work on them as I legitimately could. Most of these Macs, coincidentally, came with Microsoft Word installed. My journey with Word had begun in earnest.

NEW FLAME

That journey was still young when I first thought about leaving the Microsoft fold. My motives were not ideological. When it came to platform politics, Microsoft wasn’t the enemy — IBM was. At the time I was the proud owner of an Apple Lisa refurb from Sun Remarketing. I’d ponied up a sum of money too embarrassing to mention here for a 5MB Apple ProFile external hard disk, which was loud enough to shatter fine crystal at twenty paces and big enough to store a shoulder-mounted Stinger. I was also a generally-satisfied user of Word 3.x, having by that time invested untold hundreds of hours of my life learning its quirks and crannies.

But all it took was one look at a slick full-color ad from a company called Ann Arbor Softworks touting a new high-end word processor, FullWrite, and I was ready to ditch Word on the spot. FullWrite did amazing things — it had a built-in drawing module, text wrap around irregularly-shaped objects, annotation, outlining, hell, it italicized the cursor when you moused over italicized text — none of which Word could do, and none of which I can honestly remember desiring before I saw that ad. No matter. I wanted to do those amazing things, now that I knew they could be done.

I pined for FullWrite’s greener pastures. And pined. And pined. Month after month the same pitchman imbued with the same sublime glow of the annointed (a result of exposure to the perfect consumer product) smiled out at me from the pages of MacUser and MacWorld promising nirvana. “Wait,” he said. “Don’t buy Microsoft Word.” “I won’t,” I promised (cue Jeopardy theme – set loop duration for two years). It must have been the 1987 year-end issue of MacUser or MacWorld – or both – where I first saw the term “vaporware”.

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  1. Sooooo Microsoft pumped the Mac community with buggy software to help push them to Windows? I thought Microsoft just produced buggy software as a whole.

    But if you think about it, it’s the same type of reason the ROKR ended up allowing only 100 songs.
    Microsoft cheats Apple by producing a lower quality word processor for the Mac. (Hey! I’m switching to Windows because it has a better word processor.)
    Apple cheats Motorola by forcing Moto to product a lower quality music player. (I’m switching to an iPod for my music.)

    But that’s just my 2 cents.

  2. Wow. I would be amazed if I could write more than 50 or so words about my first experience with Microsoft Word.

    Basically I was using a Performa 600CD years after it should have been retired (the PowerMac 8600/300 and 9600/300 had just been shipped and a friend who got one gave me the Performa) and I was searching desperately for a decent word processor that would run fast enough to keep up with my ability to type 20 or so words per minute (of which basically none were able to do on this slow machine, I would probably kill it with my current typing speed). Word was one of the applications I tried version 5 or 6 not really sure which. It sucked so bad that I ended up using Aldus Pagemaker 4.0 instead. A few months later Corel released the old 68k version of WordPerfect for free and I switched to it. Didn’t use Word again until I started using it at college with whatever they had installed on Windows in 1999. Unfortunately now I use the damn thing almost daily. Won’t even go into how annoyed I get with the PC version because most of the problems are platform wise not application (like the way it selects the whole word when you click instead of setting the insertion point). My main compliant about the Mac version is just how bloated and slow it can be at times.

    Okay so I can write more than 50 words about Word.

  3. MacTel boxen are NOT blazingly fast. They’re, hmmm, G4-class speed – a G5 turns ‘em into fine-grained dust whenever you see them side to side, I’m told.

  4. Word 6 was the way it was because of a decision at Microsoft to single source the Mac and PC versions of Office. The idea was that they could save having to port features back and forth.

    However, whenever you do this to a graphical app, you end up having two layers to deal with: a toolkit layer and an app layer. It takes longer to get anything accomplished and requires some dicipline to maintain such a scheme. Therefore, it gets to be a political problem.

    The Windows guys eventually ditched the codebase for Office for Windows and struck out on their own. This left the Mac group with what was essentially a Windows codebase to produce a Macintosh product. They have been fighting that battle ever since at the Mac Business Unit of Microsoft.

    And I’ve seen the codebase – around 1999. It had lots of pre-processor in it. They were working on Carbonizing the “toolkit” layer which essentially implemented Windows API calls on the Macintosh.

    If you ever wonder why Office for Mac isn’t as nice, quick, responsive, etc as a program like say… OmniGraffle, that’s why.

  5. Dave Saunders Monday, January 23, 2006

    Help me PLEASE… i’ve got microsoft word for my ibook with tiger on. But i have this realy annoying thing that i can’t send any word doc through email, aparently they have a virus on, but i’m told tiger can’t have virus’, this is doing my head in. if anyone can help me that would be greatly apreciated.

    thanks

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