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Summary:

ONE FINE DAY As luck would have it, the opportunity to gratify my obsession came along one day in the form of a phone call from an employment agency. “We’ve got a great job with a great company (Hughes Aircraft as it turned out) for you, […]

ONE FINE DAY

As luck would have it, the opportunity to gratify my obsession came along one day in the form of a phone call from an employment agency. “We’ve got a great job with a great company (Hughes Aircraft as it turned out) for you, but there’s a catch. You’ve got to know a program called FullWrite,” the agent said. My heart leaped. I tried to contain myself. I didn’t want to sound too excited. True, FullWrite wasn’t on my resume, I told them – but I knew Word, I knew the Mac, and I loved learning new programs. I wanted that job. They said they’d get back with me.

Later that day they did – and I was hired. I couldn’t believe my good luck. For the next six months I was going to get paid to use a program I’d been obsessing about for more than a year.

The fires of my obsession were extinguished my first day on the job – snuffed out, as is often the case, by direct contact with their object. From its exulted place at the summit of my expectations, FullWrite tumbled ignominiously down, bloated and buggy, onto my desktop (the app took up an entire 800K floppy all by itself – shocking). Files took ages to open. Once they had and you had worked on them for a little while, FullWrite had a tendency to crash, taking your poor hapless Mac and big chunks of your time and unsaved work with it. One heart-stopping bug in particular made the contents of an entire page vanish without warning if the sidebar frame was even a smidge (that’s a technical term, outside the scope of this article) too large. Eventually I got so familiar with this problem that I could invoke it at will. My ardor for FulWrite cooled, never to return. By the end of the assignment I’d learned two things – the danger of high expectations and the value of frequent saves.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

I moved on to a new temp assignment in a different part of Hughes and entered the happiest and most contented phase of my relationship with Microsoft Word, which Redmond had by then revved to 5.1 (a version number that still mists the eyes of many Mac Word users, and is surely used by more than a few of them to this day). I discovered the joys (and also the frustrations) of tables and autonumbering. I developed enough facility with Word to become known by coworkers as someone whose brain you could pick if you had a question about Word. Companies everywhere were cutting back or killing their training programs. In response, an informal network of proficient users emerged to take up the slack. I was one of those.

I remained blissfully unaware of Microsoft’s ambitions for world conquest. Windows was in wide use in neighboring departments in my building. Windows 3.1, to be exact. It was a joke, so crude an approximation of the Macintosh you could hardly believe Microsoft let it see the light of day. With its cheesy icons and its clumsy use of separate browsers for launching programs and saving files, Windows 3.1 did not look like the work of talented people, or of a company that could ever challenge Apple. Apple must have felt the same way. They would come to suffer grievously for their arrogance.

In my free time I liked to hang out with the IT staff, in cramped offices littered with discarded keyboards, knotted clumps of cable and gutted hard drives. Most of IT was pro-PC, but there were a few Macheads there too, and I found enough old copies of MacWeek lying around to get hooked on it, and my industry education began. I learned about the wider world of Mac software (sizable but still modest compared to the PC), Apple’s place in the market (precarious), and Microsoft’s pathologically aggressive corporate personality.

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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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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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