We writers, particularly legal writers, find ourselves frequently utilizing word processing software for a wide variety of purposes. Other than my legal database software, my word processor is my busiest tool. The features and functions afforded by such software have increased exponentially in complexity and breadth, now crossing over with graphics, database and publishing programs. For most purposes, Corel’s WordPerfect and Microsoft’s Word are the two leading word processing software choices. After an introduction to word processing in college with WordStar (anyone remember that one?), I was a hardcore WordPerfect user for years, employing DOS versions through law school, in my first legal position in a firm and for the first several years of in-house practice. Then my IT department made the switch to Word. I was hostile to the change foisted upon me and exceedingly reluctant to use Word, which I deemed to be an inferior product at the time. I mean, who can effectively and readily control the look and feel of one’s document without the ability to reveal codes?
Eventually, I have come to appreciate Word as a facile and effective word processing program that integrates well with the other Microsoft Office products in the Microsoft Windows environment. I recently had an opportunity to try out Word 2007 and was thrilled with the integrated tablet pen functions and lots of other neat features. But, is it really superior to WordPerfect or is its apparent dominance another effect of Microsoft’s stranglehold on the business consumer market?
Apparently I am not the only one to ponder this debate. A good explanation of the conceptual difference between the two programs is found at the Microsoft Word MVP site, as follows:
WordPerfect considers a document to be a “type stream.” If you picture WordPerfect sitting on the end of the printer cable, sending characters one-by-one, and every now and again inserting a COMMAND to change what the printer is doing, you’ll get the idea. For example, WP sends the commands for “Arial” font and “bold”. It then expects the printer to print every character that way until it tells the printer to do something else.
Word, on the other hand, considers a document to be a “container.” Within this container are more containers and, within them, still more. Into each of these containers, Word inserts objects. The objects can be bits of text, or bits of pictures, or complete files created by other applications.
Freedman Consulting, in its Law Practice Management Blog, contends that the war is over and Word has won, even if it may be in some respects the lesser of the two programs in transparency, power and maneuverability. See, for example, this explanation of why reviewers believe WordPerfect to be the easier program to use. Freedman attributes Word’s victory in part to the needs of clients who more often than not utilize Word rather than WordPerfect. Additionally, Freedman cites the benefits of the other software in the Microsoft Office suite and Word’s superior integration over WordPerfect with Access, Outlook and Excel. Some commentators also feel that the WordPerfect to Word converters are, well, less than “perfect.” Thus, if you find yourself constrained to use Word, but long for the good old days, here are some suggestions from John McGhie at the Microsoft Word MVP site:
- Forget reveal codes. They are not useful in Word. If you need them, click the “What’s This?” button on the Help menu (or press Shift+F1), and then click the text you are interested in. That will show you most of the current properties. Also see: Is there life after “Reveal Codes”?
- What you see on the screen is what you are going to get. If the text on the screen does not appear bold, then it does not have the bold property, regardless of what you feel it “should” have 🙂
- As far as humanly possible, avoid direct formatting in Word. Word is designed to run on Styles. Learn to use them. It is so much easier to get one style correctly formatted than it is to get 174 paragraphs all looking the same. Ignore the format painter: it’s a problem looking for a place to happen.
- Do not accept Word the way it came out of the box. Customise the hell out of it. That’s why it was designed that way. Start with the toolbars: piss off all the rubbish that comes on the standard toolbars and add your favourite styles and tools in their place, so everything you need is only one click away. Get into macros as soon as you can: there’s no point in fiddling around typing things you can simply assign to a mouse-click.
- Learn to use a different template for each document type. That way, you can make the template automatically set up all your styles, margins, spelling languages, etc., for the particular type of document you are making. Avoid basing documents on the “Normal” template. You can never control the contents of the Normal template, on your computer or on anyone else’s. Documents attached to the Normal template will reformat themselves each time they are opened or passed to a different machine.
- Don’t be tempted to customise Word to work like WP. You can do it, but Word will fight you every inch of the way if you do, and you will have a very frustrating time of it.
- Don’t expect to read anything useful about Word in a paper manual. All the information is in the Help. Suffer that damned paper-clip and learn to use it: it’s the fastest way to find anything. That’s because there’s too much information and it updates too frequently to be published on paper. I have found that anyone who has published a paper book about Word 97, for example, either hasn’t understood it, or has done it at such a trivial level that it is not useful. Since I write books for a living, I can tell you that it is just not possible to describe Word in less than 1,800 pages, and it’s just not possible to economically keep a book like that up-to-date.
- Resign yourself to the fact that it will take six months of daily use to really tame the brute, but once you have, you won’t go back.
Now that you mention it, John, the Paper Clip is godforsaken irritating. If Microsoft could only come up with an “Assistant” that looked like George Clooney, Word’s victory would be complete.
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