Saturday, September 30, 2006

Observations on Office and Professional Authors

Saturday morning,
I sat in my office and was in the middle of busily wasting time with my productivity applications, in order to perform very simple tasks. I was buried deep in Microsoft help-screens trying to delete the indelible double-line spacing that mysteriously formatted an agenda I copied from an Outlook e-mail. When I paste it into an Outlook appointment it appears with double line spacing. (see the screen-shot) As is often the case when using Microsoft Office, I was about to "just give up and give in" when I got a interrupted. It was a welcome phone call from and old friend who happens to be a local author. I relayed my frustration. He enjoys teasing me because I often use Microsoft products "in this day and age" and "despite knowing better." (I also use Linux and he knows that.)

He is retired from the tech industry and is now a professional author. I know three in Anchorage. All of them have modern computers with XP and licenses to use Office. They all make money writing books. Not one of them uses Microsoft Word.

What do they use? Two use Word-Perfect. A third uses an MS-DOS era sharewhare program that I also used to use...about 20 years ago. Why the preference?

They consider themselves competent writers. As such, they prefer to focus on their ideas, plot twists, character dialogs and such rather than manipulating a busy computer program focused on format. Time and inspiration are their capital. Losing either one is wasteful. This means they don't want to use distracting interactive applications. No animated paperclips offering to help them with their letter. No typing two letters and pressing enter, only find that what they typed triggered an auto-text substitution. No wandering though menuing systems that start small, then after a second or two cover half the screen. They ctrl-x and ctrl-v like it's second nature.

All three like to keep their hands on the keyboard and skip the mouse...unless forced. That means having a bazillion buttons, notoriously inconsistent formatting and option menus, time-delayed cascading menus and regular interruptions from pop-up dialogue boxes with "cancel" and "okay" buttons or asking if they're really simply not their cup of tea. None of these things help them pour out their thoughts. Several of these are credited for making them lose their thoughts.

Not to pick on soley on Word. Many new open-source applications have also started to develop similar bad habits. The software seems confused as to whether it is trying to be word-processor, a web-page design tool, a desktop publishing tool or a coding editor. The result is that it's not particularly good at any of those tasks.

Okay, maybe Word is not as focused and not as fast, but it helps you produce higher-quality documents, according to a white-paper in .pdf format. That conclusion can be found on "page 3 of 2."


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