Why Johnny Can’t Format [a book]

WordPerfectOne of the big frustrations of writing a book is that while Microsoft Word can be used for creating and formatting a book, it’s a real pain in the neck for ordinary mortals to use it for that purpose.  In fact, at least one person (Aaron Shepard) has written an entire book telling you how to pull that feat off.

Why is that true, do you suppose?

Well, here’s the answer:  it’s because Microsoft wiped out all office suite competition 20 years ago, before anyone making word processing software for general users thought there was a market for such functionality. After that happened, unless Microsoft thought it could make money making it easy to format a book, no one was going to do it. And since Microsoft’s products are targeted at business users, and businesses don’t write books unless they’re actual publishers, well, then, you’re just going to be out of luck.

What about the money Microsoft makes selling Word and Office to home users? That’s very small change compared to Microsoft’s sales to large, “enterprise” users. The main reason that Microsoft serves the home market at all is because one way that Microsoft was able to create, and then maintain, a monopoly was by being sure that everyone that used Word at work could use it as home as well, and therefore didn’t have a motive to learn a different program. Even more important, though, was the fact that every Word user could trade documents with anyone else, and they’d always look perfect when they were opened. If they used any other program, they might have all sorts of minor issues.

How much should you care?

Well, contrast the status of Word with that of mobile phones – devices that barely existed seven years ago, and look at the hundreds of thousands of apps that have been created to do just about anything on them, often for free.  Or (if you’re old enough to remember) with how fast features got added to word processing packages back when WordPerfect and a few other contenders were still viable. Every new release brought new tricks – borders, colors, shapes, embedded objects, and much more.  After WordPerfect was chased into a tiny corner of the market, Microsoft pretty much put Word on the shelf, except to come up with trivial and unnecessary “innovations” like adding the Ribbon (now being phased out). Once WordPerfect was out of the way, Microsoft never even bothered to get rid of some obvious bugs (how many thousands of times have you had to click “no” when the pop up asks “save changes?” when all you did was open a document), or to add the “show changes” feature to PowerPoint – a collaborative tool for which almost any business user would need that function.

You may recall that the same thing happened with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  In the first two years, Microsoft put out about 7 releases of Explorer, each one getting better, and then gave it away for free, until Netscape was driven into a corner.  And then, for almost ten years, Microsoft never put out another release – ten years being more than half the life of the Web up to that point before release 8 came out, and then only because Mozilla was taking over the marketplace.

As someone who has spent his entire vocational and avocational life behind a keyboard, that’s a heartbreaking story.  For starters, I’ve had to make do without beloved WordPerfect features like the “show codes” function. With that little gem, when you found that you were having trouble with some element of formatting, all you had to do was hit two keys and Voila!  There was the actual format command causing the problem.  Just delete it, and problem solved. Or easy macros.  Type whatever you want, hit a couple of keys, give it a name, and whenever you want that module or series of actions again, just hit a few keys, and Voila! again.

But even worse, think what you might be able to do with your word processor today if there had been the same kind of competition there’s been between mobile phone makers? Instead of having to open different programs to do slides, or databases, or text, you’d open just one, and you’d be able to do so much more with it. Want to do a book?  Just click on templates, the way you do with a free blogging site, and all the formatting would happen automatically.  Want to publish it to the Web instead?  Same deal. I guarantee you that you’d be able to do even more things that I can’t even think of (remember the mobile app analogy?)

Happily, there are a couple of glimmers on the horizon that may provide some relief. The first is that there’s a format standard, called OpenDocument Format (ODF for short) that’s been around over ten years, and which formed the basis for the greatest standards war so far this century. To make a long story short, Microsoft successfully blocked that standard, which could have leveled the playing field, making it possible for competition to return to the word processing marketplace. The reason? If Microsoft and everyone else used the same standard, you could open any document, in every program, and it would always look perfect.  If you could do that, would you plump down a couple hundred bucks for Office, or download one of the several existing free office suite packages that already do everything you want to do today.

Now, the United Kingdom Cabinet Office is considering making ODF compliance mandatory for all office suite software that UK government agencies buy, which could make a huge difference, since it has huge buying power – enough to incentivize other vendors to enter the marketplace, and especially if other countries follow their lead (some smaller countries already took the same action before the UK).  You can read more about how and why that might happen in these comments I filed at the UK Cabinet Office in response to its request for public comments on the proposed procurement policy changes.

The second piece of good news is that there are not only free open source word processing products available already, as earlier noted, but also free, open source software tools that you can use to write, format, and export your books as ePub files right now. You can find an excellent “how to,” including links to the free download sites for those programs, here. I’ve used LibreOffice, and if you’re used to Word, it will take almost no time at all to feel comfortable with LibreOffice. I haven’t tried the other tools (yet), but given the fact that using any other paid book formatting software is somewhat tricky, I expect that it’s no more difficult to use these tools. Moreover, most book formatting software carries a hefty price, and these tools are free. So what have you got to lose?

If you do go down that road, drop me a line and tell me how it worked for you.

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55 Responses to Why Johnny Can’t Format [a book]

  1. Thanks for this… as I’ve often felt alone in my frustration. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.


  2. updegrove says:

    Not alone in the least. Microsoft is a beast to use to do produce a book format file. There are lots of reasons; commands it’s hard to know are in there and harder to get rid of; automatic features that keep wanting to come back on; and much more. And as I’ve noted, since it doesn’t have a “show commands” feature, you have to know the issues well enough to do things that you’d have no other reason to know you need to do.

    What’s really needed is a program with a setting that expects to become a book when you start out and would then do the thinking and formatting for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m hardly what you would consider an expert, but for NaNoWriMo this past year, I wrote a novel in LibreOffice, and then used Calibre (another free and open source software tool) to convert it to an ePub. Between the two I have a working table of contents, with chapter divisions and a cover. Honestly, it worked great, although I’ve only given the ePub to a few people, with no plans on publishing it farther than that.


  4. M says:

    Pointed article, my thoughts exactly, have said similar to others. I’ve hit the same problem over the years for both domestic writing and professional. Business users also write books – they are called “manuals” and Word is a counter-productive mess. I have spent countless hours fixing disastrous attempts by colleagues who have dared to combine quantities of pages with tables, drawings, bullet points and numbered lists. Even for an advanced user, untangling that format spaghetti is gruelling. Putting in sections helps but even these go crazy if you don’t do it cleanly-once-off.

    Having used an early iteration of Framemaker many years ago, I can safely say that Word, by design, is completely horse-before-cart with its approach to big documents.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bimbo dimbo says:

    Kingsoft Office


  6. updegrove says:

    @me: you posted your comment to a different blog post (the “Millions of Images” one) so I’m copying it in here for you, and then responding to it:

    “I hate to burst your bubble, but there is a whole world of really, really good free (as in beer) software out there. Its called Linux and if you haven’t checked it out, you should. Not only does Libre Office have Writer, it also has Calc, Draw and Impress ! To say nothing of Linux itself, which comes with several desktops (KDE, Gnome, etc.) as well as many other really great applications. (digiKam, amarok, geeqie, firefox, thunderbird, etc.)

    If you think Microsoft has dropped the ball about what could be as far as word processors go, you should check out the entire Linux operating system. I’ve used nothing but Linux on my PC for several years now. Yesterday I installed Windows 8.1 on my wife’s laptop. You must be kidding if you think it is anywhere near what an operating system should be in this day and age.

    Grasshopper, you have only scratched the surface of what could be. I predict that people are going to wake up to what they are missing in the next few years and an all out Linuix rout will ensue.


    As it happens, I’ve been using (and championing) OpenOffice, LibreOffice and Linux for many, many years. You can find over 230 blog entries I’ve written just on OpenOffice and the other ODF implementing open source programs here: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/index.php?topic=20051116124417686 I’ve been representing the Linux Foundation since it’s inception, and more recently other key projects such as OpenDaylight and AllSeen. The point of this blog entry was to point people in that direction that might not be familiar with the non-Office alternatives.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. updegrove says:

    Thanks to everyone for all the comments. And @Bimbo Dimbo, thanks for pointing me to Kingsoft Office; I wasn’t aware of that one, although I used to follow (and also interviewed the chief project leaders) of each of the ODF-compliant packages that were around ten years ago during the heyday of the ODF-OOXML standards war. You can find those interviews in the same folder referred to above: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/index.php?topic=20051116124417686


  8. henry says:

    Why should anyone who *seriously* intends to write a book use LibreOffice, Word or the like. *TeX and friends should be the first choice, Adobe products the second. Even if nowadays with eBooks good typsetting goes down the tubes somehow one should not give up all hope at the very beginning. For conversion (e.g. pdf -> ebook) some tools are rather helpful and getting better, e.g. a combination of pandoc and sigil. Unfortunately sigil is not developed anymore but there is a chance that Kovid Goyal will implement some of sigil’s functionality in calibre.


    • A. C. says:

      @Henry, how many books have you published using TeX? Which publisher did you use? Were the manuscripts electronically submitted or submitted as manuscripts on paper? TeX, like emacs, seems to be the tool of choice for people who try to portray themselves as über unix geeks who distain GUI’s altogether.

      TeX is, or was a good tool for preparing a document for printing, especially one that has plenty of math formulas.
      For creating the manuscript – not so much.


  9. updegrove says:


    I think one point worth making is that a typical fiction book (no tables, no table of contents, no index, etc.) should be a no brainer for someone to be able to produce. There should be easy templates that give you a bunch of different font, layout, and other details to choose from and that should be it.

    I recognize that behind the curtain, there’s still a fair amount of sophisticated technical work to be done to make everything flow, and particularly if you’re speaking about having type flow properly when loaded on multiple devices where users can change the font size. Now, if you’re talking about a text book or scientific book, yes, that’s pretty tricky.

    By the way – I’m not at all a fan of dumbing down book design, a trend I bemoaned in an essay I called Digitization and the (Vanishing) Arts of the Book; http://www.consortiuminfo.org/bulletins/jun09.php#considerthis


    • henry says:

      I totally agree when you point out that even with a word processor some work has to be done to create a good book. I’m a writer, of fiction and drama, and my experience is that, if you want to achieve similar results with LibreOffice et.al., the work could be even more. Why? Because *TeX takes the work out of one’s hands to create good layout (like type area, line spacing, text wrapping and so on), because it knows better than you (I mean better than me!) With a word processer you have to do all the work on your own – and what I did see so far – with this many people are overchallenged.
      But on the other hand I honestly do not intend to talk down your really good article, so please ignore my nagging… ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. mcinsand says:

    Which version of WordPerfect is it that you fondly remember? Was it one of the Windows’ versions. I started with a word processor that a friend wrote as a project, but then was able to get WordPerfect and Word with student discounts when I was in grad school in the late ’80’s. At first, I thought that WordPerfect was just going to take some getting used to. There was that template for using the function keys, but, with all of the combinations needed for special functionalities, I felt like I was playing Twister with my fingers. Then, someone introduced me to Word, and I was sold in about a half hour. Word didn’t attract me, though; WordPerfect drove me to find something (anything) else.

    Today, though, I think I’d rather have that WordPerfect for DOS back over the current Word. Better yet, I wish we would install LibreOffice at work.


    • I’m the other way round … I had access to a variety of wordprocessors when someone introduced WordPerfect into the office. I promptly stopped using the others and used (didn’t have to learn, WordPerfect really did feel intuitive) WordPerfect from choice. Then the office moved to Word – my experience supporting WordPerfect has convinced me that WordPerfect had the same trouble as Lotus – “Windows ain’t done til WordPerfect won’t run” – I’m sure MS sabotaged it.

      Oh – and a bit of good news for all WordPerfect lovers – I’m not sure how soon it’ll happen, but Reveal Codes might soon be possible in LO Writer. It wasn’t, because the code was a mess, but looking at all the work the SoC students are doing, it could soon be on the horizon. Seeing as ODF is XML-based, it just makes sense …


      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s something to look forward to; I hope that stays part of the plan. I’ve always thought that one problem for OO and LO was that they had to spend so much energy staying in sync with Office that the developers didn’t have the time to come up with more features that would make you want to use them instead of Office. “Better” is always a better pitch than “almost as good as.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Anthony, Andrew –

        I’m still using OpenOffice and haven’t had a chance to try out LibreOffice.

        Mostly so busy with projects didn’t want to spend more time than needed relearning “another” program, esp since OO works pretty well for me.

        Can either of ya’ll say what the advantages of one over the other might be, and any sig learning curve differences if one knows one of the two already?

        Thanks you guys!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Felipe,
        I haven’t used LO yet, but if you picked up OO easily I expect you’d do the same with LO, since the two programs only diverged a few years ago, and continue to pick up some of each other’s new features. I believe that LO is supported by a larger community of developers than OO, and a number of open source platforms have switched from OO to LO (OO is more associated with large IT vendors and LO by individual developers), so in the near and the long term it maybe a better bet to go with LO.

        That said, there are lots of good folks working on the OO project as well, so you shouldn’t be disappointed if you stick with it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Andrew. I’m at a point of just beginning some new projects, so the next few days might be a good time to download LO and see how how it fits :-) Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you do, and if you think of it, let me know what your impression is (better/worse/no immediately noticeable difference). I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.


      • @Felipe (your post doesn’t have a “reply” link ???)

        As an occasional LO developer, the two main advantages (at present) that LO has over OO is its much smaller size (the primary emphasis of the first few releases was going through the code stripping out all the redundant/dead/inaccessible/no-longer-relevant code – nearly a third of the code base!) and the myriad bug fixes that have gone in.

        An important point to note is that while LO can take and use anything from AO that they see as worthwhile, the reverse is not true – licence compatibility is one-directional AO to LO only (unless the LO devs choose to add Apache to their licence list – which is frowned upon but not forbidden).

        But now most of the clean-up work is done, the two code bases are likely to diverge more and more, and I suspect AO will simply be overwhelmed by the broad developer base of LO.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Anthony – yeah, I didn’t have one either, might be a limit on Andrew’s WordPress comment format. Luckily I’ve been able to reply via my email’s reply and it seems to take me to a “Leave a Reply to” box. :-)

        I just downloaded and installed LO, and am finding it, as Andrew also mentioned, easy enough for me to pick up since I’ve gotten somewhat comfortable using OO. Had a heck of a time figuring out the equivalent for in-line images (Anchor: As Character), establishing bookmarks and internal document links, but seem to have that now.

        I’d done a post on how nice it was using OO, I’ll have to do one for LO once I have some time under my belt with it.

        On a silly level, I also like using something so closely named to my astrological sign, Libra :-)

        More seriously, really like that all the old unneeded code was stripped.

        And, lastly, very good to know : “An important point to note is that while LO can take and use anything from AO that they see as worthwhile, the reverse is not true – licence compatibility is one-directional AO to LO only (unless the LO devs choose to add Apache to their licence list – which is frowned upon but not forbidden).” – “very” good to know :-)

        Thanks so much, Anthony!


      • @Anthony,

        Sorry about that; I’ll have to go into the controls panel and figure out how to allow direct replies. I did think that was odd, but didn’t realize that there might be a setting I can change.


  11. updegrove says:

    Hmm. I’m guessing it would have been a 4.x version. More specifically, I started using WordPerfect in 1987. Just about every law firm in the country used it then, and no one I know switched because they thought Word was better. The only reason lawyers did was because their clients did, and then you had no choice, since you needed to be able to round trip documents without losing formatting.

    The “amazing” thing was that you could convert a WordPerfect document flawlessly into Word – in the beginning. But as soon as Microsoft became dominant – guess what? That didn’t work so well anymore. If I were to guess, we made the switch when we were using WordPerfect 5.1.

    Many US government agencies kept using it long after. If I were to guess, I’d say that the Department of Justice may have still been using it until as late as 2008 – maybe later (maybe they still do?) Lawyers aren’t exactly known for being technical innovators.


  12. No one’s mentioned Scrivener yet? Huh.

    $40ish program for Windows and Mac, free beta for Linux. Has a number of beneficial features for writing e-books over standard word processors (such as the ability to work on them a scene at a time, drag scenes around to re-order them, and so on). Reads from and exports to a number of different formats, including both Word and ODF, plus PDF, Mobi, EPUB, and about a zillion more.

    I haven’t tested its Mobis, but I know its EPUBs pass the EPUB validator. And it’s really great for writing. I can put my Scrivener projects in my Dropbox and pick them up from wherever I am.

    Word processors are great for writing letters, but Scrivener makes them as outdated as typewriters for serious writing.


  13. updegrove says:

    It hasn’t been mentioned, but as a matter of fact, it was another WordPress blogger’s short note bewailing her “trying 50 times to export his book in Scrivener,” that sparked me writing this one. I’ve never tried it myself, and of course one user’s travails may not be indicative of the product itself. And they did indicate that they had used it before, and were just having a bad day.


    • Scrivener is a godsend. I was a hardcore LibreOffice user until I tried Scrivener. There was a bit of a learning curve, but it took me about a day to figure it out (thanks to many generous tutorials on the web) and I haven’t looked back since.

      Scrivener is not only a joy to use for organization of my writing, but can output to mobi, epub, pdf or standard Word manuscript format. I’ve used all of them and the resulting files are beautiful.


    • I’ve had the occasional little glitch like that. Sometimes it can be tricky to make it do what you want. But when it works, it works amazingly well.


  14. A book should not be formatted in any word processor. Self-publishers are generally unaware that there is an entire field called book composition. Publishers and book designers obsess over seemingly meaningless settings and scores of rules that make a book page easy to read and beautiful. Word processed pages by untrained authors just don’t measure up, though most will insist otherwise. Compare for yourself, for free. Visit your local library with your Word layout in hand and compare it to a hardcover bestseller from a major publisher. You’ll see the difference and never look back.


  15. updegrove says:


    I don’t disagree with you. However, many self-published authors today are not likely to end up ever doing a print book, because the economics may may not support it. I’ve sold about 600 copies of my book. For the first 150 copies, they were selling 3 to 1 eBooks to hard copy, and since then it’s been more like 7 to 1. For many people, the economics of investing in having someone set up a professionally set up file for a print copy, and then going through the expense of proofing and paying for changes, may not make sense, especially for their first book. Later, if they’re successful, it may be easier to justify going back and reformatting their files for print production.

    Meanwhile, rendering in an eBook has an entirely different set of software rules, and, sad to say, the state of eBooks from a design point of view is generally pretty stark. You may have noticed a link I offered earlier on this topic, bemoaning the loss of book design values in eBooks. Hopefully some day an eBook will look a lot better, but today the device makers, of which there seem likely to be fewer rather than more in the near term, have not seen fit to facilitate this. Even then, one school of thought says that the look of an eBook should be up to the reader – allowing them to set the font type and size, etc. Doing that pretty much forces book design towards lowest common denominator design values and complexity, because it’s hard to have both style and presentation variability.

    The key to restoring book design is in improving the standards that can support interoperable styles, but we are thus far locked in a proprietary battle between Amazon, Apple and Google. For so long as this battle remains unresolved, authors of eBooks are going to be doomed to extra labor for mediocre returns. If at some time in the future these three companies buckle under and agree to support a common standard (hard to see within the near future), without proprietary extensions and other hooks, then we can get on with the business of making an eBook as pleasant a piece of design to behold as possible (as a die-hard lover of print books, I’m not willing yet to say as “as pleasant a piece of design as a physical book”).

    This is, by the way, a great discussion, so thanks once again for everyone for participating.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Amazing info how a monopoly hurts in more ways than just being (usually) over-priced. And much thanks for the link to OpenSource. :-)


  17. updegrove says:

    My pleasure. Besides the large number of blog entries I referred to above, I also started a book about the ODF/OOXML standards war that I was calling War of the Words. You can find the first five chapters beginning here: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=20071125145159900


  18. Pingback: ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words | Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego

  19. Andrew, this is exactly the reason we spent months developing a series of MSWord templates for authors who want to create their own books in Word. For several years I tried to talk authors out of doing this, but realized what they really needed was a solution, and the response from the market has been gratifying. Just last month we released a new series of templates on http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com that can be used to format both print books and ebooks from the same file, essentially cutting your formatting time in half.

    So maybe what Johnny needs is a template to solve his problems.


    • updegrove says:

      This is pretty well exactly what I had in mind, except that in a more competitive world, Microsoft would offer the templates for free. Of course, it’s good for third parties (like you) that they don’t.

      For yours, are the fonts in what I see there fixed, or could someone change them within a given template?


      • The fonts are completely user-changeable. We’ve included fonts that are licensed for commercial distribution, but users are free to change them through the Style settings, and many of our customers do, or ask us to customize a template for them. Works great.


  20. William Kinghorn says:

    Have you had a look at Booktype ( http://www.sourcefabric.org/en/booktype/ )

    There is another one comming soon called Pubsweet ( http://www.booksprints.net/2013/12/new-book-sprint-platform/ )

    These can be set up for single or collabrative use


  21. updegrove says:

    Thanks for pointing me to those. It looks like the range of possibilities in book formatting software is much wider than I realized. I knew, of course, that sites like CreateSpace and SmashWords had conversion tools at them, but I didn’t know that there were as many independent products available that were specially created to format and output files for book production. I wonder how long the whole list of currently available products would be?


  22. Ian Lynch says:

    Here is a book I had published some time ago, publishers went out of business and it webt out of print. Scanned and OCR’d it, tidied up and improved the cover graphics in GIMP and did some cosmetics on the internal illustrations. Put all of it into Apache Open Office and produced a pdf for the content. Used Lulu.com to republish it. All free. So now I say you can have it for free as a pdf download from http://www.theingots.org/community/microcosm or if you like a book you can buy it for an amount that covers the printing etc from Lulu. If anyone wants the .odt file I’ll e-mail it.

    We are getting an increased take up of the TLM Certificate in Open Systems and Enterprise in UK schools. The qualification counts in the school league tables and emphasises the importance of open systems providing guidance for teachers on open source software and open education resources. The new Open Systems Computing qualification is the first qualification deemed “high quality” by the DfE that is based on the new National Curriculum programmes of study. Education is the key to good decision making in the public sector and hence best value for the tax payer.


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  27. I’ve worked with Microsoft Word since it was 2.0 for DOS. I’ve also worked with Word Perfect, but was always partial to MW because I learned it first. Learning a new program isn’t easy, but with perseverance and the help menu, you can make your writing life easier.

    My comments won’t speak to the problem of formatting a manuscript for publication because I don’t see it as a problem. I complete a clean manuscript, with my chapter headings and scene breaks already in place, navigating quickly through it with the doc mapping feature, then convert the .doc or docx file to whatever e-files are needed with the Calibre program.
    However, I would like to address your Microsoft vs. Word Perfect woes.

    You said: For starters, I’ve had to make do without beloved WordPerfect features like the “show codes” function. With that little gem, when you found that you were having trouble with some element of formatting, all you had to do was hit two keys and Voila! There was the actual format command causing the problem. Just delete it, and problem solved. Or easy macros. Type whatever you want, hit a couple of keys, give it a name, and whenever you want that module or series of actions again, just hit a few keys, and Voila! again.

    Show Codes: Perhaps not as revealing as Word Perfect’s Reveal Codes feature, Word does have a ‘reveal formatting’ feature in the paragraph symbol found in the paragraph section of the menu. Also available is the Shift+F1, which opens a sidebar showing font, paragraph, section formatting, etc. Between the two, a lot can be discovered. Also, if you turn on your ruler, you can tell a lot about where tabs and margins are placed with a glance.

    Macros: In Microsoft Word, go to your Developer tab. Record a Macro, assign it a keyboard shortcut or a button in your Quick Access Panel for easy use later. Step by step instructions can be found by clicking the (?) button at the top left and typing in ‘record a macro.’ The steps may be a bit different, but the feature is there. I think you’ll enjoy it, once you learn the steps.

    I hope these tips help ease some of your MS Word frustrations.


    • Carol,
      Thanks for the comments. I am aware of the features, but find them woefully less user friendly. WordPerfect’s show codes allowed you to see the commands themselves, as if it was HTML for kindergarteners. You’d see, if I recall, something like (TAB) or (P) or (Indent), and if that was what you wanted to get rid of, all you had to do was delete the command, and the text was exactly the way you wanted it. There was no learning curve at all – it was just obvious.

      For Word, it was different in two ways: first, the “P” was misleading, since it didn’t mean “paragraph” at all, but was an arbitrary letter given to an envelope that contained a bunch of formatting directions – so deleting it would do more than you wanted to, and gave you no useful information at all about what was in the envelope, which might not even be the command you were going for at all. A typical idea from a software developer, rather than someone thinking of the user.

      The macro was even worse. In WordPerfect, all you had to do was click Alt/M (as I recall), type what you wanted, give it a name, and hit Alt/M again. It was insanely useful and easy. Back in those primitive days before contact managers and networks, every time, for example, I took on a new client, I’d type in the command for insert date, the clients name and address, a blank subject line, dear [client name], a closing, and then use the person’s last name as the name of the macro. Back in those pre-email days when I sent a lot of letters, all I had to do after that was type Alt/M and the last name of the client, and Voila! I had a fully formatted letter right down to the indent after the greeting, and my closing and signature line as well.

      In Word, you had to do a full programmer’s approach that was so complicated I can’t believe any normal business user ever tried to conquer it. Maybe it’s easier now, but again, it showed the same approach – Microsoft was allowing engineers to create products the way an engineer would like them, rather than the way a customer would.

      As you can tell, I still feel outrage at having to use such a gratuitously difficult approach to product creation. I’ve certainly written at least five million words in Word in the course of my career, and that could have been so much more efficient and enjoyable if Microsoft had even just copied the ease of use of WordPerfect as well as its functionalities.


    • Like Andrew, I find Word’s “show formatting” WOEFULLY inadequate.

      It was put there as a “checklist feature” for managers and basic users – for whom it was probably just as good as the WordPerfect equivalent. As soon as you got a real typist, the Word version was just useless. I *always* worked with reveal codes on (it was a full editing window) and I did most of my work in that window rather than the wysiwyg one.

      Try working in Word’s sidebar window … :-)

      Liked by 1 person

      • The thing that was really marvelous about the WordPerfect approach was that it still was very easy for someone without any real training. Instead of complicated HTML tags, they revealed as easily understood tags that anyone could understand without having to look at an index. Oh well. It’s only been about 20 years. What am I complaining about?


  28. Pingback: There may be Hope for Johnny (the Book Formatter) Yet | Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego

  29. WorBlux says:

    After a certain point of scale a what you see si what you get word processor just isn’t going to cut it. A typesetting engine like Tex will give you much better results at the book length level. You still need to micromanage to some extent, telling you editor things like chapter titles, default font, quotation and so forth, but final manifestation of such elements can be consistent and unambiguous throught the document without micro-managing.

    Blogging is usually pretty simple for the most most as far as formatting goes. You will always have to futz around with some level of detail for anything more complicated. Programs such as word, which are designed to hide the futz from the user are very often fustrating because thier behavior is unpredictible and the logic of thier documents opaque.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. What’s kind of a shame is that unless you are, ahem, of a certain age, you’d never know that it not only doesn’t have to be this opaque, but once upon a time it even wasn’t.


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