On Word

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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