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TorgoX (1933)

TorgoX
  sburkeNO@SPAMcpan.org
http://search.cpan.org/~sburke/

"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Thursday January 10, 2002
12:46 PM

Word Processing and the Dancing Paperclip Bad Touch

[ #2042 ]
Dear Log,

My nomination for the greatest interface breakthru of the 1990s: word processors that automatically underline mispelled words as you type them. Actual autocorrection is handy too, if it does only what you mean, and that's a big "if". Both autocorrection and typo-highlighting also assume you know when and how to turn on your wordprocessor's feature for "this is no longer English text that I'm typing, so stop spellchecking it -- yes, I know 'tyakawehtö' isn't in the spellcheck file!".

Everything else in word processing has been downhill tho. You wouldn't believe the hassle I went thru the other day trying to get WordPerfect to print in "journal preprint" style -- i.e., two virtual pages sideways on 8.5"x11" paper. The insane difficulty of it was reminiscent of word processors whose representational model of things (gleefully reiterated in its interface) makes no easy provision for "double-space this document!" -- and sometimes they even have no entry for the term "double space" in the help index.

I recently banished all the default "tool bars" (boo hiss) from my word processor's display, replacing them all with one small simple custom toolbar consisting only of these:

  • Font face
  • Font size
  • Boldface
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Monospace (i.e., Courier font)
  • This-is-not-English (which I symbolize with a Hindi / Sanskrit / Devanagari letter "A" -- अ)
  • The blank that displays the suggested correction(s) for the word you just mistyped.
  • Zoom magnification to margin width
  • Zoom magnification menu
  • Spellcheck
  • Thesaurus
  • Funny symbols menu
  • Justification menu

The first thing I always do with a newly installed word processor these days is go thru its Configuration menus and figure out how to turn off most of the features of the interface that weren't there in 1990, like the Dancing Paperclip that invites me to sit on his lap as he reads the help file to me. I don't like that Dancing Paperclip -- he did a bad touch on me!

Best feature of MSWord: getting it to stop saving files in MSWord format by default -- "Tools : Options : Save : Save Word Files As..." and RTF. RTF is not exactly an "open format", but it's better than the bloated core-dumps that pass for ".doc" files.

Best feature of WordPerfect: the "Reveal Codes" option. MSWord is crippled for lack of it.

I'm not exactly thrilled about either, but they basically came (free) with my (free) latptop.

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  • How can you live without styles? They're definitely the single most important part of a word processor IMHO, especially if you're doing a long piece of work.

    FWIW, I think KWord looks really nice as far as word processing tools go. Unfortunately OpenOffice just became TOO MUCH. Very slow to load still, despite lots of work in that direction.
  • OK, my corresponding MSWord icon bar has styles. But for some reason I've never bothered with them in WordPerfect. Dunno why.
    I'm simple!
  • I think one reason that I had no problems with markup languages when they showed up is that I spent years as a medical typist using WordPerfect and its fabulous Reveal Codes feature. I was so used to opening and closing tags and the logic of code interspersed with text that various *ML things were no problem later.

    WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS was the best WP ever.
    • Completely! In 1995, the way I explained hypetext to people is: it's like help windows you get in MSWindows, with the clicking on underlined things. And the way I explained HTML is that it's like WordPerfect reveal codes. Everyone who'd worked with WordPerfect immediately got it -- and that was a whole lot of people then, before MS flooded the market with MSWord. But I know lots of people who still use WP5.1 for DOS.