The everyday ramblings of an everyday geek.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Stupid friggin word

My darling Zoë has been reduced to a nervous wreck this weekend because of Word 2004 for Mac. She used to work as an administrator for her fathers company and nearly all her work was done on Word, on a Windows computer. She moved to the Mac about 3 months ago, although she had a pretty high exposure to Macs as that all I use, but it wasn't until this weekend that she really started to use Office in anger - and boy was it angry.

Her biggest issue was the change from using toolbars to the side panel. This change never really affected me as I use keyboard shortcuts almost exclusively, but she was constantly look for the button to make it bold, central etc. Also, I tend to use headings and document mark-up whilst I'm working, where she prefers to do all the formatting herself. The problem is that nowadays Word really, really doesn't like you doing that and tries to 'help' you by marking up the headings itself so when she changed one section heading, all the others changed, and to be honest it really did look like random changes.

The result is that she is, to some degree, regretting buying a Mac - because she associates the bad office application with the computer itself, which is fair. You can't expect people who aren't into computers to judge a platform by anything other than its applications. But I fear that the real issue here is that Word is so similar as to actually generate this frustration. Its so close to working exactly like Word on Windows that when something is done differently it completely knocks the confidence out of a new user. I have no doubt the changes are to make the Office feel more native and to fit into the metaphors that Apple decrees, but really, for switchers, its enough to drive them insane. The same thing has happened with my Mum. She uses her Mac, almost exclusively for Office and was so put off by the experience, because it wasn't quite the same as her system at work that she is going to sell her PowerBook.

I've never been a fan of Office, either on Windows or Mac. It's a horrible application suite that has some glaring holes that have made some simple projects come to a stand still. The biggest offender is the the most important app: Word. Images, tables, autocorrect, metadata are all handled abysmally, and they are features that are essential in all but the most rudimentary document. The most ridiculous thing is that Word is still the best GUI office suite on the market. I've tried Pages, and it looks promising, but it's not quite there yet, it needs a little more snappiness' and OOo is trying so hard to MS Office that its feels like it's beginning to adopt some of its design flaws. But what about non GUI?

I decided to try and use Zoë's science project as a test bed for LATEX - the UNIX page setting software. Wow.

The document it produced was beautiful. The typesetting was exquisite, and the print out looked extremely professional - but then that's what LATEX is for. What shocked me more was how easy it was to use: you just type. OK its not that simple, there are characters you need to escape, and a few command that you need to get you head around, but to be honest its really not that complicated. I guess it's just what your used to. WYSIWYG has many great advantages, but Word, more than any other application, proves when something goes wrong, if you can't see how the document is formatted you can't fix it.

My only criticism of Latex is that tables are still a sticking point. The actual mark-up itself is pretty easy to understand, but it's also very easy to make mistakes. Most of my compilation errors were due to missing, or adding ampersands in the wrong place in the table mark-up, that and forgetting to escape & and %. But the advantages are many, auto title page creation, auto content page creation, you don't have to think about layout AT ALL and the presentation of your work is without rival.


Blogger Chris Wilson said...


How is LaTeX on the Mac? I'm not going to ask you to write me a whole tutorial, but how hard is it to get it up and running? Does it come installed?

More to the point, for a LaTeX newb, would you recommend a starting book/site?

I've recently read the pragmatic programmer, and have definitely taken to heart their adage: "What you is what you get is also What you see is ALL that you get."

Anyway, your blog is interesting. I may link to it the next time I update my links.

5:27 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you are MAC-ky, that is my new word for stupid, sloppy, queer, mac-user, ect. (you get the idea)

4:16 am


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