Jul 21

The evils of a word processor

Category: thoughts

I’ll admit I’m not the greatest fan of the modern word processor. Being in the web world perhaps the greatest evil is the markup that is generated when text copied from Word is pasted into any rich text capable HTML editor such as TinyMCE. Word is not alone in doing this, OpenOffice.org also has its fair share of ugly HTML and most other systems have a nasty habit of creating ugly HTML. But this isn’t what I’m concerned about in this blog, it is more about the plethora of formatting options it provides and lack of focus in the user interface.

I’m observing my mother fight with Word. To make things complicated she’s copy and pasting items from a PDF. This is then being pasted in a new style which alters the paragraph indenting and margins as well as some how changing the way the text that is already there looks as well. I’m not quite sure how it is doing this, or really why, but it certainly looks like crap.

But I feel the worst thing about all of this is the distraction it is causing. She’s not focusing on writing the document, she’s fighting to style the document first. This breaks up her mental workflow because now instead of thinking about what she should be writing she’s off being bothered about the formatting and style. Eventually I convince her to stop fighting with Word to format it the way she wanted and just get on with writing the document. But how much time is wasted getting a word processor to try and do what you need?

I ponder this at times when the USQ course material publishing system went from a semantic based system into a system driven by OpenOffice.org and Word. I wonder just how much time our academics waste trying to get the format right when eventually it probably is going to be trashed anyway?

As a LaTeX user, this is food for thought.

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  1. […] works in the same division of the university as me, as a programmer, with his short piece: “The evils of a word processor”. Sam reports that his mother is having difficulty with her word processor: I’m […]

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