Death to Microsoft Word

Tom Scocca, writing in Slate, argues that we should give up on Microsoft’s word processor. He brings up a few interesting points, especially this portion about how Microsoft Word bloats simple text with insane amount of metadata:

For most people now, though, publishing means putting things on the Web. Desktop publishing has given way to laptop or smartphone publishing. And Microsoft Word is an atrocious tool for Web writing. Its document-formatting mission means that every piece of text it creates is thickly wrapped in metadata, layer on layer of invisible, unnecessary instructions about how the words should look on paper. I just went into Word and created a file that read, to the naked eye, as follows:

the Word 

Then I copy-pasted that text into a website that revealed the hidden code my document was carrying. Here’s a snippet:

<!—[if gte mso 9]><xml>

And it goes on:

<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”22″ SemiHidden=”false”
   UnhideWhenUsed=”false” QFormat=”true” Name=”Strong”/>
<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”20″ SemiHidden=”false”
   UnhideWhenUsed=”false” QFormat=”true” Name=”Emphasis”/>
<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”59″ SemiHidden=”false”
   UnhideWhenUsed=”false” Name=”Table Grid”/>
<w:LsdException Locked=”false” UnhideWhenUsed=”false” Name=”Placeholder Text”/>

And on: 

<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”70″ SemiHidden=”false”
   UnhideWhenUsed=”false” Name=”Dark List Accent 5″/>
<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”71″ SemiHidden=”false”
  UnhideWhenUsed=”false” Name=”Colorful Shading Accent 5″/>
<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”72″ SemiHidden=”false”
   UnhideWhenUsed=”false” Name=”Colorful List Accent 5″/>
<w:LsdException Locked=”false” Priority=”73″ SemiHidden=”false”
   UnhideWhenUsed=”false” Name=”Colorful Grid Accent 5″/>

The whole sprawling thing runs to 16,224 characters. When I dumped it back into Word, it was an eight-page document. 

So where did Scocca type his post?

This piece started out as a Gmail message, which saved automatically and was easy to access at home, at the office, or on my phone in transit. Then I switched over to TextEdit, which gives me a bigger window to work with and handles line breaks more cleanly than Gmail does. For protracted edits, I create a Google document, so multiple readers can work on it at once. If they want to track the changes, they can read the revision history. For short blog posts, I write straight into the publisher.

A lot of my compilations happen on Gmail as well. I like TextEdit for Mac OS X as well. Something that the author neglects to mention, however, is Word’s ability to integrate together with the other Office products: Excel and PowerPoint. I think this ability to link objects (a chart in Excel or a graphic in PowerPoint) into Microsoft Word is something that I have found to be very useful.

My final take: don’t be singing eulogies for Microsoft Word just yet.