I write a lot of documentation as part of my day job. Often, this means I have to use Microsoft Word, because that’s what every business has and expects their doco to be in Word .doc format. This sucks for many reasons that they don’t care about.
People really suck at writing documentation in Word. It can actually do some ok things if you don’t push it too hard, but it’s not really designed for large scale professional documentation. Not the way markup and typesetting languages are, and not the way Adobe InDesign, or PageMaker, or a variety of other layout style programs are.
People don’t know how to use styles, and Word makes it easy to munge them horribly in ways that are impossible to fix without starting over from scratch. It’s hard to set up global stylesheets, even if people have a LAN and shared drives. It’s even harder to stop people from killing the global stylesheets.
I had gotten to the point where I could find my way around most of the issues caused by Word 2003. I had some nice, simple stylesheets set up that made my writing look good, and made it easier to read, which is the whole point. I’d even started to get a bunch of other people interested in using advanced features like Properties and Styles because it made their life easier. Woo.
Then Word 2007 happened.
I’ve landed at a client that have it, and all their doco is being created with it. It saves in the poxy OOXML format that bribed its way into an ISO standard. OOXML is bloated, opaque, and incompatible with other software, including other versions of Word! So, I can’t use Word 2003 to edit these documents. No. I have to use Word 2007.
Let me tell you, Word 2007 is awful. They’ve changed the primary interface completely so that it looks all shiny and modern, so now, of course, I can’t find anything. Insert->Field? Nope. Try, Insert ‘tab’, Quick Parts pulldown, Field. And then the dialog box is the same as in Word 2003. So they’ve put a shiny facade over the front of everything, on purpose, hiding all the functionality you’re used to, but it’s actually the same underneath.
The workflow is totally munged. I really cannot, for the life of me, see why anyone who spends as much time in Word as I do would want to use Word 2007. It actually makes my life harder. As if Windows didn’t do that enough already. The only reasons I can see for them doing this are a) they needed a superficial change to make it look different so people would upgrade, and b) it looks all shiny on the surface, so people who’ve never used Word before might want to buy it.
If you’re one of the luck, lucky people who’ve never been subjected to the pain that is working with documents in Word, don’t. Just avoid it. Get OpenOffice. You’ll thank me some day.
And to everyone else: can we all please, please, PLEASE start using OpenOffice and a real open standard, ODF, for all our office documents? It’s free! It works on Windows and Mac! Hell, it works on Solaris. It can even load OOXML documents better than Word 2003 can.
Then maybe I won’t have to spend half my day trying to figure out how to set a paragraph as Body Text style via 5 different dialog boxes.