Let’s talk about Word

So far this blog has mainly been about OneNote and general product design. I started that way because I love OneNote, and with its hard core fan base and relatively newness, I thought it would be a fun thing to blog about (and I will continue to do that). I've been staying away from the "elephant in the room" though. I also manage the program management teams for two other products you would recognize: Word and Publisher. Publisher I picked up last fall, so I am not terribly familiar with the details of its history, but Word I have worked on for 9 years.

I've been a little gun-shy of blogging about Word for fear of being inundated by what are as far as I can tell a gang of "net thugs" who roam the net making outrageous claims about Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc in every public forum they find (little of which information they are privy to or have evidence for, and which I find personally offensive, not to mention incorrect - since they often are implicitly about me if the talk is about Office and therefore I for one know them to be incorrect). But enough about that - let's just dive in and see what happens. Hopefully the net-dwelling paranoid delusional conspiracy theorists won’t descend upon me… 🙂 I should note that anything I write below (or in my blog in general) is my own opinion and memory, and is in no way official Microsoft anything.

I started at Microsoft in June of 1994 on the Excel team, where I worked on Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Excel. I was a pretty strong Mac-bigot at the time. I thought Microsoft was, if not an evil empire, at least a maker of substandard products that didn't deserve its success. The elegance of the Mac appealed to my design sensibilities - I took joy from its apparent "perfection". I had been living in Japan, and was looking for a job either in France (I also speak French, being from Montréal, Canada), or on the West coast of North America: San Francisco, Vancouver B.C. or Seattle, which was just becoming known as an excellent place to live. I had a bunch of friends at Microsoft from my alma mater (University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), and on hearing I was looking for a job, they hooked me up with the Excel team, which needed a Japanese-aware person in the Redmond office. The job I was offered had everything I wanted (Japanese content, customer-focus, design, technical content, good employee benefits, location, etc), except it was for the wrong company. I wanted to work at Apple - but they turned me down with a simple form letter - quite rude I felt given I was such a fan. Actually I doubt they even looked at my resume since I think they were having a hiring freeze at the time.

I worked a little on feature design in Asian versions of Excel but mostly on the process of actually getting the product "out the door" so to speak. This process is so unbelievably complex and difficult I think you would all be stunned (by boredom perhaps) to hear the details, but that's a discussion for another time. It has also changed a lot in the intervening decade to be unrecognizable except in its complexity - which has actually increased. So I'm no longer an expert.

For the curious, here is what "drinking the kool-aid" is really like: After about a year at Microsoft, I got tired of these endless Type 11 errors every 20min running Netscape on my Mac with System 7 at home. These required me to restart the machine each time - losing everything I had been doing. Despite its pedestrian looks the flawless and imperturbable performance of Windows NT at work won me over on purely pragmatic grounds - an app that crashed just died on its own and didn't take the whole system with it. Go figure! So I finally got a PC at home.

After a year of distrusting the company somewhat, I began to gain an appreciation of how Microsoft worked, and to see it for what it was - a machine that was focused on building products that people wanted, as quickly and as well as they could. Note the "quickly" - this was what distinguished MS from Apple in the end - a focus on moving quickly, and beating the competition. Details like great design were simply not critical to most (business) customers, so that sort of thing didn’t really make it into most products, except where it mattered to the target customer. It's hard to fault this logic really - it is pure efficiency from a business perspective, and in the mid-90's, Microsoft could do nothing wrong - it was the business world's darling. (see an earlier post about methods of development)

I joined Word in April 1995. Again I was focused on the Japanese product primarily, with Chinese and Korean as part of my job as well. Did I mention I speak and read Japanese fairly well, and my (now) wife Seiko is Japanese?  I actually kept workng on Excel too until Excel95 shipped.

At the time that I joined, Word was hurting in Japan. We had a stagnant (about 5-10%) market share, while the US was well over 50% and climbing. My job was to focus a subset of the Word team on the Japanese market and try to fix the situation.

Before I tell you about that though, you need some context. So here's what was going on in the US. In the US in 1995, Word was in the process of winning its battle with the previous leader in word processing: WordPerfect (WP). WP had had a tough time making the transition to Windows 3.0/3.1. To understand that, let's go back even farther. If you remember back in the early 80s, there had been another dominator of the word processing world: WordStar. This was a DOS-based word processor, and everyone knew its arcane set of keystrokes, since it was "the" word processor you had to be familiar with - mainly because WordStar was the first one to emerge from the early years of DOS word processing as a serious company when it was anyone's guess what was going to happen. Interestingly for those who think Microsoft always tilts the tables, PC-Word for DOS (the MS product) never really went anywhere, despite lots of trying for almost 10 years, and for the conspiracy theorists: the same company was making the OS - not that it mattered. Meanwhile on the Macintosh MacWord was cleaning up - and we didn't make that OS...well, there goes that theory.

WordStar made a few releases, each time preserving their set of keystrokes and operation, as well as being able to work with old files. Then they made a huge mistake. They created an app called WordStar 2000 (WS2000). This was completely different in its interface, and in its file format (backwards and forwards). It was essentially an entirely new and different application, designed from the ground up. I would love to hear from someone who worked on that version of WordStar about what the thinking was behind that release. Maybe they thought they had the market so sewn up that they could make what they probably felt was a radically better product by doing a rewrite and not lose customers. But what happened instead was that they leveled the playing field.

Since the new product was no more similar to the old one that any of its competitors, what customers did (other than yell and scream) was evaluate all the options. And WordPerfect (for DOS) won out. It was winning reviews in magazines that year. (remember this was back when PC-focused magazines existed in large numbers, and actually reviewed products and compared them). The thing about these comparative reviews is that they tried to evaluate the products each release as if you were a Martian - that is "objectively", as if you had no previous experience in any tool - which of course did not reflect reality. I also put "objectively" in quotes because, well, these reviews were really totally subjective and reflected the bias of the reviewers pretty strongly. They rarely connected with real customers to see what mattered - instead they prioritized what they thought was important (for example to them "word count" was such a big deal but it is rarely used among the real user base outside of students and professional writers - we have quantitative proof of that. Naturally it turns out reviewers need it all the time, so it became one of the "critical features" of a word processor according to these reviewers).

Anyway, WordPerfect had a great release of its product in 1985, and people started to switch, since WS2000 had no user base familiar with it, and WP had at least some, and it was a better product according to most reviewers. BTW, MS-Word for DOS (PC-Word) was still an also-ran at this point, although Microsoft's MacWord was doing very well. So WP took on the new mantle of "must-know" word processor. If you applied for a job as an admin assistant (those who did a lot of the typing back then), this was the product you had to know.

In case you're too young to remember, Windows development started back in 1983, and it was a joke in the industry. Windows 1.0 (released in 1984 I think) was sort of a demo. Windows 2.0 (1987 or so) was much better, but it was limited in memory (286 processor had a max of 1MB addressable RAM), and ran too slowly for practical usage. It is also hard to believe now, but nearly all the pundits in the industry thought GUI interfaces with windows and dialog boxes and menus and mice (the Mac, Windows 2.0, etc.) were for novices and were basically toys, since they lacked the power of a command line interface. Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect ruled the desktop, with arcane command sequences that a professional user could work magic with, but which new users found impenetrable. Especially interesting was the discussion that came up around the impending release of Windows 3.0 around 1990. In 1989, all the editorials talked about whether application makers should bother with a Windows-version of their DOS apps. WordPerfect was pretty clear - they saw Microsoft as a competitor, Windows as a lame horse, and they felt pretty strongly that they would best serve their customers by sticking with DOS. Their customers knew the WP-DOS interface, it was faster and more professional than the goofy toy-like Windows interface. It became a point of pride that WP would not do a Windows version.

Microsoft with its PC-Word on the other hand, tired of losing reviews and not being able to shake the stranglehold that WP had on the DOS word processor market had nothing to lose by making a Windows version of Word. Fortunately, that also coincided with the direction that Microsoft was taking: bet the company on Windows. In retrospect, this seems like a no-brainer, but remember that at the time Windows was still considered a joke. Betting the company on it was a big, big bet.

Windows 3.0 came out and it wasn't a toy. It wasn't great, but it actually worked well enough that people found they could be productive using it. Windows 3.1 (and then Windows for Workgroups 3.11) came out, fixed up a lot of rough edges, and made a workable GUI system that ran on top of DOS. (BTW, one of the two guys who figured out how to get Windows to run in virtual 386 memory to break the 1MB barrier works down the hall from me)

Word and Excel (which until then had been called Multiplan on DOS, and "Excel" only on the Mac) had been rewritten from scratch as all-out Windows applications. And people liked them. Word 1.0/1.1/1.2 actually won some reviews against DOS WordPerfect, especially in things like ease of use and WYSIWYG editing. The Word team knew they had something, and put a laser focus on WordPerfect customers, asking them what they hated about WordPerfect, and making it a product goal for Word 2.0 and later to deliver features that made the most annoying things in WP trivial in Word.

Other moves were tactical. The Word planning team discovered that the WordPerfect sales force was going around to customers and showing Word opening a complex WordPerfect file (printer.tst) to show how bad the conversion was, and therefore how pointless it would be to try to switch to Word. So the Word team organized a special dev team that focused entirely on WordPerfect document import, "reverse-engineering" the WordPerfect file format (documentation for which was jealously guarded, as was the norm back then). Their goal was to make any WordPerfect doc open flawlessly in Word, but in particular their goal was to have no errors at all on printer.tst. Later the Word sales force used that same file when talking to customers as proof that Word 6.0 could open WordPerfect files flawlessly.

For the release after Word 2.0, the team merged with the MacWord team (then on release 5.1), and built a shared product called Word 6.0 (released in late 1993). That’s why on Windows the Word version numbering seemed to jump from 2 to 6 - because the Mac was already on 5.x. WinWord 6.0 was a monumental release in that it focused on ease of use, power and performance and really delivered a quantum leap over 2.0. It was devastating for WordPerfect, which until about 1992 had publicly said that they would not bother with a Windows release. Eventually it became obvious that Windows 3.0/3.1 was no longer a toy, and people were expecting GUI apps because they were so much easier to learn than DOS apps. But the WP designers were stuck - they owned the market, and had fiercely loyal customers. These customers had told them: "do not move to Windows and destroy our beloved DOS app with its arcane but powerful key commands". So the WP team compromised, and produced WP 5.1 for Windows, which was sort of a DOS app that ran on Windows. The idea seems to have been to allow DOS users to move to Windows and keep the UI they knew. The critics trashed it, saying that WP "didn't get" the GUI world. WP5.1 was unstable and was quickly replaced with WP 5.2, which was better but still the same approach.

In the period 1992-1994, Word wiped the floor with WordPerfect in reviews, winning just about all of them. Then WP 6.0 came out, which was a rewrite of WordPerfect to make it a real Windows app. So at last WP was at least a reasonable Windows application, but it had missed its "window" of opportunity (excuse the pun :-)). Word 6.0 (the third version on Windows, which had had a chance to respond to Windows users' feedback) still beat it in reviews, and in any case by then the momentum had shifted, and more importantly, the market was doubling in size every year (just about) thanks in part to the ease of use that Windows brought to what had previously been a DOS-only world for PC users. All those new users asked their friends or read the reviews to find out which word processor to use on their new Windows machines, and so Word was overwhelming selected by these new computer users who had only ever used Windows. WordPerfect began a slow decline that is still going on (they kept the loyal users, who numbered in the few millions, but almost all the rest of the market went to Word - now in the hundreds of millions). As an anecdote, the move to combine MacWord and WinWord was done to conserve development resources, but the result was that MacWord 6 was not nearly as great a product for the Mac as Word 6.0 was for Windows. That was a big mistake and got rectified later by creating a special Macintosh Business Unit to focus on the Mac business - so yes, even Microsoft makes mistakes. You can read more about MacWord on Rick Schaut's blog.

So let's get back to where I come in. In Japan, where computers had a little different history than they did in the US, word processing was mainly the realm of purpose-built devices called "Wa-Puro" (for "wa-do purosessa-", the Japanese pronunciation of word processor). PCs had only a fraction of the market, and on DOS, a product called "Ichitaro" was king. The Windows version of Word in Japan was basically a port of the English version, and unlike Excel which competed against another US import (Lotus 1-2-3), Ichitaro was a home-grown Japanese product. It sort of defined what "word processing" meant in Japan, and it was pretty different from Word - so Word was only popular with a few people who had to make a lot of English documents.

To give you an idea of how the Word team was successful at what it did in general, I'll give you a rundown of what we did to "win" in Japan. We had a team there already, but they were mainly a dev team working on porting the English product. We sent planners (and myself) to Japan to visit a lot of customers to find out what they hated about Word. It turned out that they hated Word for 5 major reasons - not because it was a bad product, but some common tasks that they did every day in Ichitaro could not be done in Word. We collected hundreds of sample documents and interviewed many users. We also set up a temporary "usability lab" in our Tokyo office and did side by side tests of Word and Ichitaro to see where we were going wrong. We used typical sample documents we had collected and asked users to create them in each application. What we found was that many of the documents simply could not be created in Word, and those that could took on average 5 times longer than in Ichitaro, even accounting for familiarity with the products.

So, we developed a prioritized list of things we had to fix in Word. Word 6.0 for Japanese was already in the bag, so our main focus was on Word95 (Word 7). We decided to work on the biggest problem, which was that Japanese documents used a lot of really complex tables - in effect their documents were more like forms than memos. So we built the Table Drawing tool (you can see this in Word today in all languages). In Japanese it is called the border line tool since that was closer to how Japanese users thought about it - table borders as dividing lines. We did a few other things that Japanese users expected, and released the product.

From a marketing perspective, we knew it was critical to "sim-ship" with (release on the same day as) Windows95, since that was a big deal worldwide and unlike Office, Windows had a huge marketing budget we could draft off of. We made our goal, and having Word95 as the only 32-bit application in the Japanese market just as Win95 hit really helped us too. Now Just Systems, makers of Ichitaro, also knew that Win95 was a big deal (they knew the WP story), and they also tried to hit the same date (which was widely known for more than a year), but they couldn’t quite get it together, and shipped several months later. For those not familiar with Japanese Windows at the time, Win95 was an even bigger deal in Japan than in the US, since Win3.0/3.1 for Japan was a pretty weak product, and the market there really needed a big advance like what Win95 offered to get it expanding as Win3.1 had done in the US. So Win95 was for Japanese Word what Win3.0/3.1 was for English Word. We hit 40% market share of new sales in the year after launch of Word95 for Japan.

We plowed on with Word97, adding features that Japanese users (and reviewers - not always the same!) expected, such as support for vertical writing, better Japanese input, etc. We simply went down the list of features that people could either tell us they needed, or that we deduced were necessary from our customer research. Word97 added another 20% to our share, and we even did a special Word98 for Japan, with only a couple of new features but a radically improved Japanese input method plus an actual merketing campaign to explain everything we had been doing and our share went even higher.

About this time, Ichitaro underwent a total rewrite. For some reason Just Systems decided they needed to redo their whole application as "component software" (a fad at the time). You may remember this idea that you would be able to "buy" individual features of a product and plug them together to get the set you wanted. Hmm…  Anyway, the rewrite took too long, and in desperation JustSystems put out a buggy, slow (over 30sec to boot - and Word was 8sec on the same machine) Ichitaro that actually had less features than the product it replaced. It also required more memory than any machines in the market had at that time (32MB, vs. the 8MB that Word required. New computers shipped with 16MB!), so to use it you also had to buy extra memory. And their big tagline was "Now, componentized!". They were clearly pretty out of touch with their customers. Meanwhile, we kept going with Word2000, which really polished off the remaining things that people needed in Japan. I went to Japan every six months to meet with customers and understand their concerns. By the time we were working on Office XP (about the year 2000), the customers in Japan had largely dropped their resistance to Word. As they told me - "We don’t see anything wrong with it. It used to drive us nuts but it's pretty good now."

So, that in a nutshell is the Microsoft method. Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback. That puts the competition into reaction mode. And of course it helps if they also make a strategic error because they are under so much pressure.

After Word97 shipped I became a lead program manager in Word, so in addition to my Asian version responsibilities I took on all the international work, as well as "basic use" in Word. For 2000, my main goal in addition to the Japanese work was to solve a problem our best customers had but could rarely articulate. The whole world seemed to assume that if you had offices around the world, you had to deploy specialized local versions of software in each office. Of course that was a hassle for large companies since they had to test all their add-ins, develop special set-up scripts, and try to understand the product differences for support reasons, not to mention the huge number of patches that had to be uniquely made and applied to each localized version (and there were over 30 of these localized versions, each slightly different). I heard this feedback in the form of all the questions I kept getting about international this and that. So my personal mission for Office2000 was to make all of Office into a single-binary, worldwide enabled, Unicode-based set of applications, with the parts that had to be different (the UI and help) being swappable components. I learned a lot about taking initiative during this time, since I just went ahead and told people they had to do this, and no one ever said "no" (well, some did, but I got everyone else to say yes first, so they couldn't really argue). The MUI ("multilingual user interface" as it came to be known) of Office and later Windows was a big hit, and is now the most common flavor of Office deployed internationally.

After Word2000 (really Office2000 for me), I worked on Word2002 (OfficeXP), as a lead for awhile before becoming the group program manager (GPM) near the end of the project. The GPM is the person in charge of all the application designers and spec writers. Word2003 was my first version where I was "running the show" so to speak. The 2003 XML work, research tools, collab tools, and so on were all done under my watch. I also oversaw the creation of the OneNote team at this time, as I have written about earlier.

I've shared all this with you to try to give you a sense of how we (I) see the world, and how we work on products. So, let's talk. Reasonable comments will be replied to. 

Comments (232)
  1. Wallym says:

    Excellent story. Funny how no one likes a winner. I got a kick out of the the WP part of the post.

  2. Cool history, but

    "Now, componentized!". They were clearly pretty out of touch with their customers

    Heh, a bit like Microsoft were pushing for at the time with OLE? I remember that OLE koolaid well.

    Also it’s a shame that Word2003 still does not have word count correct, and I’m not a student, reviewer or professional writer.

  3. Barry, OLE was a big thing, sure. But I don’t recall any MS effort to get people to build huge apps out of components based on OLE. OLE was developed in the Office team originally to solve the problem of how to embed a workable Excel spreadsheet into a Word document or a PPT deck. Or a chart, etc. It was later extended as "ActiveX", basically a way to have small components that lived on a web page. But as a way to build a word processor or similar app one feature at a time with tens or hundreds of components – not that I recall. Even if it were, any development team is responsible for its own decisions on what architecture to use. The Office team doesn’t use half of what the Windows team produces, or provides feedback as any ISV would that it needs to be tweaked or redone to make it usable by app developers. That’s the sort of feedback any platform team needs and wants. To assume that any technology is a good choice to build on in any scenario just because it can be done is poor planning.

  4. A fascinating article.

    As my company has decided to go with Finnish Office 2003 (and has already hit a bug in Word that’s not in the English version), I’m interested in the MUI version.

    Specifically are there any arguments against using MUI ?

    (Note that my own preference is for the easy life that everyone running the purely English version would bring once the users have learnt the English terms)

  5. M. Eaton says:

    This was great. It brings back a lot of memories (pretty much starting with Win 3.1). I remember trying to "get" WP. All those funky keystrokes were too much for me.

    I’ve still got my Word 2.0 disks floating around here somewhere.

  6. Robert Björn says:

    One of the most interesting computing history articles in a long time. Great stuff!

  7. About Wordstar 2000, there is a good story in http://www.insearchofstupidity.com/ (in the book). Basically, it seems the original development team went away and they bought a product from another company and branded it as Wordstar 2000.

  8. Colin Walker says:

    An excellent read.

    All I can say is, if this is the MS way and this stifles innovation then we might as well all pack up and go home now!!!

  9. The rumour going around the industry at the time about Wordstar was that Wordstar had had a catastrophic failure in their source code control system and they lost their source code. So they went out and purchased a company that made a Wordstar clone and rebranded it as WS2K.

    I have no idea if it’s the truth or not.

  10. Oh, an it’s a nit, but Opus was under development at Microsoft when I started in 1984. So Word for Windows has been around for a long time before Windows 3.0…

  11. Grr. I hate making multiple posts. On reflection, Opus may not have started until ’85 when windows shipped. It just took a really long time to finally hit the streets.

  12. Larry – right – for simplicity I didn’t want to complicate things by pointing out that Winword had been in "experimentation" mode for years, just like Windows itself. The point is unchanged though: that the product group shifted to a Windows focus as Windows got real. Of course PC-Word continued even after WinWord got shipped – but not for too long.

  13. John C says:

    Thanks for the fascinating insight into how Word came out on top. It must have been a lot of fun.

    Listening to customers and giving them what they want sounds like such simple common sense but it still amazes me how few companies actually manage to get it right.

  14. Me says:

    In the UK, a lot of students I know had a “free” (not legal) copy of Word for Dos on their home PC. The university PCs (very costly 486 systems) had Word for Windows. Therefore most people did their writing in Word for Dos, marked up the document with styles, and then transferred it to Word for Windows for the final formatting.

    What make Word for Dos so nice for me were style sheets, Word for Windows STILL does not have char styles, and I used to have a style for “quote” that I could use within a paragraph. (The first version of Word I used was on the Mac)

    When we all went to work in IT departments that were just starting giving all staff a PC it was easer to recommend Word For Windows, as we all knew it well.

    At one point I used WordStar, it main problem was that all formatting was done by inserting spaces. When Laser Printers come out, and typefaces were no longer simple WordStar could not cope. The version of WordStar (not WS 2000!) that added support for laser printers came on 18 disks, at the time most PCs in the UK did not have hard disks; it always had a new formatting system! That was the end of me using WordStar!

  15. Andreas Häber says:

    Thanks for the nice article 🙂

    "Me" wrote:

    What make Word for Dos so nice for me were style sheets, Word for Windows STILL does not have char styles, and I used to have a style for “quote” that I could use within a paragraph. (The first version of Word I used was on the Mac)


    In Word2k3 you can choose if a style should be applied to a whole paragraph, character, table or a list. Is that what you are asking for? (I’ve only used paragraph, table and list styles).

  16. D. Brian Ellis says:


    Just wondering, where does MS Works come into play? To this day it boggles my mind that MS puts out MS Works as a cheap version of Office. I have friends who go and buy a pre-packaged PC and get Works. Even worse, it still doesn’t work with MS Office well. Word processing documents require plug-ins to go from Works format to Word, while going from the old Works database to an Access database is impossible. What are the general differences between Works and Office? Why does Works even exist with Office in the picture? You own both, why is conversion between formats not more simple?



  17. David says:

    Excellent read!

    It will be quite interesting to see what you guys will do when Longhorn comes around. I assume that this will be the first time in the Word history that you are a little in the trap yourself: You are the dominating force now on the current platform. If you want to use some of the new Longhorn features in Word you stand the danger of loosing lots of loyal old customers that might not want any change to their "old" Word. If you don’t port Word to Avalon and Co, you might end up as the WP of Longhorn 😉 Well, not realisticly, but I bet the whole Longhorn thing must be one of the most difficult decisions for you guys in a long time! Would be great if you would write about that at some point. A lot of the decisions on that are probably made already, right?

  18. Hi there,

    MUIs ROCK. I’m fascinated by CJK, so I have all those MUIs installed for XP/Office2003. Speech, handwriting, etc. Awesome.

    My only question is: Why are they so hard to get?? I had someone who is Chinese, but who’s wife is English, ask how he could get XP in Chinese for his account, but still leave it in English for his wife.

    So, why aren’t MUIs made publically available? As you know, people who speak multiple languages live all over the place. There are benefits for individuals too — not just corporations.

  19. Chris Pratley writes a history of Microsoft Word from his point of view. "Details like great design were not critical to most customers, so that didn’t really make it into the products, except where it mattered to the customer." "Understand…

  20. Loryn Jenkins says:


    This is a wonderful history. It’s not complete, however, unless you also talk about the suite wars that occurred in the early to mid 90s.

    If I recall correctly, Word did not win on its own. Word won alongside Excel and Access; defeating Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, and Paradox from Word Perfect / Borland / Novell; also defeating Ami Pro, 1-2-3, and Approach from Lotus.

    In the mid 90s, I clearly remember Ami Pro being definitely "better" than Word. I was a technical writer, and clearly preferred Ami Pro … until I had to write documents longer than 20 pages, at which time Ami Pro became unstable and often crashed.

    Would you care to comment on the battle Excel had with 1-2-3, Access with Paradox and dBase, and the entire set of suite wars?

  21. Mike Dimmick says:

    "But I don’t recall any MS effort to get people to build huge apps out of components based on OLE."

    Well, Kraig Brockschmidt (author of Inside OLE, the only practical reference to the OLE technologies) was a big fan of everything componentised, but as soon as you think about all the work the loader has to do in order to realise the goal, you understand why it sucked.

  22. Chris Praley: Let’s talk about Word Every technical writer’s minor fantasy: Finding out how MS Word really became the word…

  23. Sean Graham says:

    I have never been a bit Windows fan, but it always amazes me how there is such a large segment of geekery that just hates Microsoft so much… I am all for calling a company out when they are doing something bad, as I’m sure MS is guilty of at times, but it is just ignorant to slight them for their successes too.

    Sure every user might not use every feature, but feature "bloat" is the price you pay for catering to a wide number of users. And so many people complain about this bloat, when there is little stopping them from continuing to use the old, less bloated, version.

    Office is a great application, and while I still use Office 97 (at home) as my needs are pretty slim when it comes to office suites, I have used all of the versions since and found each to build pretty nice features onto the next. When I started at my current job I was really averse to using the versioning, commenting, and routing portions of Word 2002, but after a few weeks they have become indispensable.

  24. Ed says:

    If you’ve worked so closely with Office, can you answer me a question: What’s with roundtrip HTML/Office docs? Sometimes the CSS gets parsed properly, sometimes it doesn’t. And since it really isn’t documented very well, ASP developers like myself can’t reverse build HTML documents that can be easily routed to office document. Any ideas where I can learn more about roundtripping, and is office XML replacing it?

  25. Xander Lebrun says:

    Great article, very insightful. Am I right that the key points here are:

    1) Timing – when a product’s gotta go, a product’s gotta go, and you’d better be ready.

    2) Practicality – the last 20% between you and perfection takes 80% of the time, so focus on the rest. Didn’t A. C. Clarke write a short scifi story about this?

    3) Useability – think in terms of the clueless newbie as much as the power user, cos there’s a lot more of the former.

    Is there anything you’d add to / modify in this list? I’m a student who’s probably headed for a software development career, so this is all very interesting.

  26. edmundo says:

    So the Word team organized a special dev team that focused entirely on WordPerfect document import, "reverse-engineering" the WordPerfect file format (documentation for which was jealously guarded, as was the norm back then).

    Could you tell me where I can find the documentation for the Microsoft Word file format?

  27. Everyone talks about feature bloat in word, often saying that "90% of the customers only use 10% of the features."

    This is true… however, each customer uses a slightly different 10% cross section of the feature base… and in order to truly hit 90% of the customers you really do need all (or most) of the features.

    I think that the Word team has done an admirable job of growing exponentially in inherent complexity and feature count without getting much harder to use.

    However, keep an eye on OneNote… they hit just about every major user complaint in the SP1 preview… these guys are an amazingly efficient team– I can’t wait to see where the product is a couple versions from now.

  28. Ken D'Ambrosio says:

    Interesting. Not a whole lot I can argue with about this, though there are many parts that are left out. For example, while WordStar was big, it was really a CP/M product; Word Perfect kicked its fanny pretty quickly in MS-DOS land. As for the ‘286, it could address 16 MB of RAM: sorry. [The 8088 and 8086, IIRC, were only able to access 1 MB directly.] And that was WITHOUT LIMS/EMS — that was "extended", not "expanded" memory. The reason it didn’t address it was because Windows couldn’t — Windows 1.x, which I got (came bundled with an Intel AboveBoard 2MB RAM expansion card) sucked rocks. Plain and simple. There was also an awful lot that was simply glossed over: for example, MS DOS really was a loser… but largely because there was no innovation to fix it. Large partitions, full-screen editing, undelete… all features that were added AFTER DR DOS came out. And DR DOS — as was proven in a relatively recent settlement — was crippled by Windows 3.1 beta. (See some ancient Dr. Dobbs story for proof.) MS -has- had some good timing, and some good code, but it’s also played dirty no small number of times, and those of us familiar with MS’ practices over time are unlikely to forget this.

  29. Ray Spence says:

    It’s too bad you wrote this as a one-time Mac devotee. I will only say this – I am one of the many that despise Micro$oft for all that your employer does to push out any competition, and all those mindless consumers who aren’t willing to lift a finger to find out that in pretty much every instance there is a better product out there than what M$ tries to shove down our throats.

    I never had "type 11 errors every 20 minutes" on any of my Macs. It’s too bad that you didn’t get that problem fixed in order to continue using a superior OS.

    Lastly – I work every day to get people off the expensive, inefficient M$ merry-go-round. The only winner in that theme park is Microsoft.

    seriously, it’s too bad your kool-aid has (seemingly) permanently damaged your common sense.

  30. Michael says:

    Interesting read, but I have to wonder about one thing:

    You wrote:

    <blockquote>So the Word team organized a special dev team that focused entirely on WordPerfect document import, "reverse-engineering" the WordPerfect file format (documentation for which was jealously guarded, as was the norm back then). Their goal was to make any WordPerfect doc open flawlessly in Word, but in particular their goal was to have no errors at all on printer.tst. Later the Word sales force used that same file when talking to customers as proof that Word 6.0 could open WordPerfect files flawlessly.</blockquote>

    Isn’t this what the OO Team tries to accomplish these days and pretty much has the same problem: It can’t get Microsoft to give them the specs for the current version of Office Documents?

  31. anonymous coward says:

    quote: gang of "net thugs" who roam the net making outrageous claims about Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc in every public forum they find (none of which information they are privy to, little of which they have evidence for, and basically all of which I find personally offensive, not to mention incorrect – since they often are implicitly about me and therefore I for one know them to be incorrect).

    incorrect eh? Strange the European courts don’t agree with you there…

    Why do the people that work for MS seem to think that it isn’t evil? I’ll think MS isn’t evil when it stops releasing security bug fixes once every ten days.. and when it stops changing the Word file format every year to lock OO.o and other open-source apps out…

  32. Otis Wildflower says:

    Excellent history of the word-processor wars. Also, excellent to see where the new wave of free suites (OpenOffice, Koffice, etc) are going to have trouble. What free system is going to do extensive usability studies? Info architects have rent, car ins, utilities bills to pay…

    And this is as someone who’s emerging world in the background.

    IMHO Stephenson’s right: the Win32 OS has to die since it’s so crippled with bad architecture (macro virus? 6+ months to fix remote root buffer overflow sploits? qua?), but the stuff that a proprietary company can do best should live and thrive.

    PS: take a look at Mac OS X. All the Apple design goodness, none of the sad mac nonsense.

  33. Anon Coward says:

    Just another MS spindoctor here, move along people. As long as your comment favors his opinion, he’ll issue a response, otherwise it’s "incorrect".

    We’ll see how incorrect the next $600 million antitrust suit is 🙂

  34. AEB says:

    anonymous: funny thing you say, since I can open my Word 2003 doc in Word XP, Word 2000, and Word 97. Same for Excel.

    Of course, it might be a little too much to expect people to do some research and see that the format hasn’t changed in 6 or so years.

  35. Kirk says:

    "Interestingly for those who think Microsoft always tilts the tables, PC-Word for DOS (the MS product) never really went anywhere, despite lots of trying for almost 10 years, and for the conspiracy theorists: the same company was making the OS – not that it mattered."

    Well, it didn’t better so much back when the OS was DOS, basically a bootloader…

    Anyway, a very interesting article. I was in college from 92-96, so I remember seeing the transition…WP5.1 looked old and clunky and I was convinced any program that needed a strip of paper to show you all the function keys was essentially broken. Word was WYSIWYG (or close enough) and had the standard Windows menus and overall was more pleasant to use, if you were on a machine that ran windows well.

    Though sometimes I do wish Word had the old school "Reveal Codes" feature…often times I can’t figure out what the heck it’s doing with the formatting.

    Incidentally, re: file formats, I’ve heard (at least for a certain period of time) that Word is difficult for other programs to read because it’s almost more of a "memory dump" than a proper format. (which led to some security issues at one point as sometimes previous edits of documents remained in the binary file, but weren’t visibile in the program itself)

  36. Dave says:

    I just spent 10 minutes figuring out how to get the File menu back in the menu bar, because apparently, you can drag n drop the menus off of the bar into never-never land. Can you point me to the customers who demanded this feature?

  37. Dan Abbott says:

    Excellent article! This blog is a great place to learn more about MS and software history in general.

  38. Aaron Bolding says:

    Since I work with Linux professionally, I rarely find myself using a PC running Windows. However, when I do (or, more frequently, when I’m using my Mac), I am consistently impressed with the quality of the various Office apps. I fully believe that Microsoft would be making money hand over fist on the Office suite regardless of their dominance in the OS market. It frustrates me that due to the politics of Linux, it’s unlikely that we’ll see commercial software of this quality on that platform anytime soon.

  39. tuco says:

    Your insight is interesting and informative; however, I still have a hard time with the EULA. If you can fix that maybe MS Word would be more appleaing for me.

  40. Jay says:

    Nice article, Microsoft clearly did take a huge gamble when betting the company on Windows.

    You did leave out the fact the Microsoft did decided to bundle word, excel, etc into the office suite, which was also a big gamble, that paid off.

    I do believe that the final nail in the coffin for the competitors was when Microsoft began providing "incentives" for PC manufacturers to bundle Microsoft Office on their PC’s.

    When every computer that a company buys already has an office suite installed, which you feel that you’ve already paid for, it’s really hard to spend more money to buy another product.

    Once the market share numbers shifted so quickly, it became very difficult for clients to select a competing product because it seemed that people were selecting MS Office because it was better, and it was, but the reason the market share numbers moved so quickly was because Microsoft was leveraging the distribution of their Operating System, something that it’s competitors couldn’t. Even though MS Office was better, the movement from WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, to MS Office was so fast it almost seemed that someone whished for it to happen. A technically superior product can’t move market share numbers to fast, unless they have somehow circumvented the distribution inertia present in the system.

    Microsoft did take a number of chances, they did take advantage of a number of mistakes made by their competitors, and they did build a very capable product, but the real reason they overran the office suite market was the bundling of the office suite with the Operating System. Once the market share numbers were firmly in their favor, the "incentives" for bundling the Office Suite were removed and Microsoft Office became the cash cow it remains today.

  41. Michael says:

    "To assume that any technology is a good choice to build on in any scenario just because it can be done is poor planning."

    I agree fully on that and would wish that

    more people in the software world would realize that. It can be painful if your boss

    makes you do things just because it can be done

    somehow however stupid it is.

  42. Funny note on WordPerfect: Sometime in the 1990s, I found one of my old computer magazines from around 1985, and in it was a full-page ad announcing WordPerfect 1.0. At the time, its big selling point was that it was the first word processor that was capable of keeping up with an 80wpm typist. Doubtless that’s how it got to be so entrenched in the legal market, and other industries that depended a lot on dictation.

    Re: word count, though … Chris, it’s true that it’s mostly professional writers who are going to be concerned with this. Speaking as one, though, my gripe is that Word for Mac, with its constant running word count in the status bar, does the job so much better than Word for Windows does! The first thing I always do with a Word for Windows install is rearrange the menubars so I can see the Word Count box, then define a hotkey macro to let me recalculate the word count. What a pain!

  43. Mike says:

    You are right. I grew up in Washington state and I distinctly remember that it was 1994 when I realized that it was a excellent place to live.

  44. Martin Alderson says:

    While I am no MS fan, I found this article very interesting.

    Personally I feel that MS is only starting now to gear up to real competitive program development after Linux is starting to show a viable threat. Also, I would expect all of MSs product line to do a similar thing as opensource programs do the same.

    May I ask if you think that OpenOffice/KOffice is a threat that you guys think about often?

    I was worried to see someone comment ‘excellent to see how free software will fail – with no usability studies’ – I think you will find that the vast majority of people would rather pay nothing for a slightly less usable suite than much much more for a suite with ‘usability studies’… Also, remember Novell, IBM, Red Hat etc all have significant funds to finance these things.

    Finally, Linux has only started aiming for the desktop. I’m sure MS will be a ‘Word Perfect’ in a decades time’…

  45. Chris Duerringer says:

    Thanks for spending some time elaborating the process. As a relative novice to the field (in my first job as a developer), it’s interesting to see the business strategy in place.

    With regards to the tremendous amount of misinformation that circulates about Microsoft’s business policies, I’d evaluate that as one part jealousy and one part human nature. People tend to distrust a corporation because it’s not a person; not a guy down the hall.

    With that said, I have to say that despite issues I have had in the past with IE, Office succeeds not only on the basis of word-of-mouth, but the fact that it simply does everything. In adapting to your customers needs and constantly adding more, while coding a more stable product- your team is to be praised.

    Very interesting read. Thanks.


  46. Duane Gran says:

    I appreciate the insights into the history behind these products. It brings back memories, for sure. Way back I heard rumors that the team slogan in the Excel group was "Excel isn’t done until Lotus won’t run!" The idea was that the Excel installer would cause instability and performance issues with Lotus 1-2-3. Can you confirm or deny this rumor?

    Also, for what it is worth, may I suggest that the Word XML support might have direct support for producing TEI (www.tei-c.com) documents? This would advance the production of standard XML encoded texts greatly and make Word the de-facto authoring tool in the circle of professors I work with who bemoan the laborious effort of XML authoring.

  47. Mike S says:

    Chris Pratley said:

    "So, that in a nutshell is the Microsoft method. Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback. That puts the competition into reaction mode. And of course it helps if they also make a strategic error because they are under so much pressure."

    It also helps if you have $56 billion in cash and your competition doesn’t, no?

    That is the classic force the competition out with monopoly power move. Examples:

    Build XBoxes at a massive loss to gain market share. Hope to remove the competition from the market.

    Subsidize nation’s steel industry so heavilly that your exported steel is cheaper in the home markets of your competitors.

    Form a money-losing consortium to build jets for less than the market rate to gain market share.

    Microsoft is a lot like the New York Yankees — with all that cash they had better win the World Series every year. To their credit, not everybody with cash is guaranteed a win.

  48. Alan says:

    I am a Mac user, although I just recently ‘switched.’ Although I am by no means a fan of MS, Office X is a good product and I’m thrilled to see that it follows Mac UI guidelines and widgets to a T.


    As somebody who has used PC’s for most of his career, OS X has become indespensible for me… (I’m a UI Developer) and I am baffled by any company that uses IIS and ASP.net for it’s website.. when it’s costly and has the security constitution of swiss cheese. Not to mention slower and requiring more expensive hardware. My Mac has perfect integration with all of the UNIX servers I deal with.. which works well for me. For joe website IIS and ASP are a better choice, they are simple to set up and configure, but high traffic highly secure websites are definitelty Apache country.

    Kudos to you however on Word… and this article. It was indeed a very interesting read. (Could you please tell the mac team that Enourage mac needs a ‘lite’ or ‘express’ version… It’s way to heavy for what I need it for…I use mac’s ‘mail’ app now.

  49. Phil says:

    Try OS X.

    you’ll never look back.

  50. Jumanji says:

    Chris, you’ve been slashdoted. Expect to be flamed from the "gang of thugs" you referred to.

  51. Mike S says:

    Just as a follow up to my last post, my point is that the "Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release…" method only works if you can afford to take big losses up front.

    Also, someone previously mentioned that MS leveraged Office onto new machines. Word Perfect couldn’t match this. Is that because Word Perfect was somehow inferior? I don’t see how Word Perfect could have kept up.

  52. Clayton Gulick says:

    One interesting thing that wasn’t mentioned is the evolution of the pricing as well. MS Office 2003 is a far cry from the days when you could pay $35 for your word processor.

    Though Office is a superior product, when my friends/family ask me if they can "borrow" a copy of Office because it is too expensive for them to buy ($300) I just send them over to OpenOffice.org. I haven’t had a complaint yet and have been using it for personal use for over a year now.

    Microsoft is (justifiably IMHO) geared toward corporate customers, but with the current pricing, I think we will see alot more ground lost to OpenOffice and others.

  53. Russ C says:

    Very good, and very interesting, thanks for posting this.

    Any chance you can encourage the guy who helped work out the Memory problem to start blogging or post something similar too ?

    I like success storys 🙂

  54. Anon says:

    WordPerfect the Corporation suffered from a culture of seniority that caused a major stagnation in the development team. Instead of hiring new graduates to code in C, C++ etc., WP tried to re-train developers in the latest languages. I heard a story about how some developers would only turn in object code so that they wouldn’t be embarrassed by the source code of the language they were using. This lead to slow code and bloat.

    Developers were often solo on a feature, which meant that the feature worked the way the developer SAID it would work. Anyone who used a WP Office or GroupWise Async gateway has probably run into this – should you have to know what UART you are using or be an expert in modem initialization strings to get two modems to CONNECT; much less talk?

    Having a single developer on some features also meant that if serious bugs were discovered, the one developer would be overloaded and it would take a long time to get a fix out – if the bug was acknowledged or ever fixed.

    Testers often did not know how to program. I was shocked when I found out that a tester didn’t know that a simple problem had a simple solution that the tester should have identified and even submitted a code snippet to the developer.

    I applied to be an Automation Tester and made it to the final interview. The day of my final interview, a directive from above (I think this was Frankenberg era) only allowed Bachelor’s degrees for all testing and programming positions (I was in my senior year, with more programming classes than most CS grads, and I had done some freelance programming on the side.)

    Also, there was a 9 to 5 attitude at WP – the developers got older, had families, and the Mormon culture dictates family first, so lights out at 5. I often drove by at 6pm and saw a rare light in a few of the buildings.

    WP developers had an egoistic opinion about their products. I remember looking at WP Draw 1.0 (later WP Presentations) and thinking it was complete fertilizer. I had used AutoCAD, and this product was horrible for use as a drawing tool or as a presentation tool. Keep in mind that I had not seen PowerPoint yet either. I expressed concerns and gave a lot of feedback, to the point that I got an audience with the development team (since I was a plebe at the time, this was like seeing god, at WP anyway) I expressed my points and they just walked all over me, showing how templates could be used for presentations, and how the product wasn’t designed to be a CAD type drawing tool. Presentations continued to suck. Apparently it wasn’t a slideshow tool OR a CAD drwing tool. It didn’t do anything well. I have many other examples of this hubris, but this comment will be too long already.

    WP ‘bet the farm’ on OS/2. WP 5.2 for OS/2 was a brilliant product. I know people who used it long after WP 6.0 and 6.1 for Windows became stable. WP bet wrong, and had to play cath-up with Windows.

    WP used the Borland OWL interface and compiler. This meant a layer of abstraction and all the Borland bugs as well as any programming bugs emerged. Later WP switched compilers, meaning another round of retraining for the ancient (assembly) mariners, whose heads were surely spinning wildly at this point.

    Microsoft had the advantage of building the compiler, the APIs, etc. This led to the first MS consent decree that the component developers couldn’t then be transferred to the Application development teams. WP often had to reverse engineer the function of the dlls/ocxs to see how to use them ‘the Microsoft way’, or waste time building their own.

    Comparing the development of DOS to Windows is ridiculous. DOS evolved VERY slowly, with most innovation being done by 3rd parties. Windows was a ‘whole-cloth’ religion that only the MS acolytes were trained in the arcane rites of ‘how to make apps the MS way’. Everyone else had to define a look and feel, and then later change to adopt the MS way as the widgets became more generic and defined.

    Microsoft and IBM defined the CUA, then later after WP adopted it, MS changed the CUA. Small change for MS users, two big changes for WP users.

    WP 5.1 for Windows was a Beta product. More goodwill was lost over the WYSIWYG failures of this product than anything I can mention. I heard many of the most bitter, vitriolic support calls about this product.

    WP 6.0 for DOS was a waste of programming energy – system requirements were too high for the graphical mode – you may as well have been running Windows. The reason those machines weren’t running Windows was that their system requirements were too low! By this point, everything was moving to windows, so the life of this product was about 1 year.

    Management at WP sucked. WP was the first ‘real’ company that most of the managers worked at. Because of the massive quick growth, (extremely) unqualified people were promoted. The buddy system and narcissism was rampant. The upper management was completely out of touch with what was going on in the trenches. You can read the book, "Almost Perfect" by W. E. Pete Peterson. It’s biased to his point of view, but is a pretty good approximation of what went wrong at WP (besides the competition. 😉 ) You can get it for 5 or 6 bucks these days.

    FWIW, I use Windows and MS Office every day now. I continue to dislike the proprietary file formats of every vendor who chooses to use them.

  55. lafalot says:

    I applaude the ideal of having a major software vendor like Microsoft listen to customers and taking that feedback and integrating that into their products. However, I feel that Microsoft’s large market share in OS, web browser, and office suite has created de facto standars that aren’t defined by the industry, but by one company. This is not necessarily Microsoft’s fault for having products that people want, but I think that Microsoft should examine itself and its responsibility to the rest of the industry. My point is this: If a standards-defining group composed of major companies in the industry decided on a common standard for, say, a word processor file format, would Microsoft comply?

  56. ceesaxp says:

    An article is, indeed, interesting. Am sure you get a lot of traffic and posts and trackback pings from various people/sites/blogs — not in the least thangs to the "gang of net thugs" you refer to at the beginning.

    I am sure it is difficult to be objective, especially being so much "in the center" of it all. I would not doubt that "winning Japan" as well as "winning the Internet" and dozens of other "winnings" is a part of the culture. In fact, the same gang would probably very much agree with that. Point that is normally made is whether it should really be all about "winning", as in do ends really justify the means?

    On Word: word count is probably a minor thing. My personal gripes would be as follows: styles support is still very lousy. Tables — while you may have come up with them as a great innovation for Japanese layout problems, I sometimes feel that that is where they stayed, in 1995 or thereabouts. Document size and back/forward compatibility. This wonderful reference to WP’s proprietary file format — how about openning up yours? While we’re at it — how about adopting a standard interchange format for office docs? Like the one from (now your partner) Sun’s Star/Open Office?

  57. anoncow says:

    "So, that in a nutshell is the Microsoft method…"

    I think the EU has shown us what the ‘Microsoft method’ is quite handily.

  58. Ewan Grantham says:

    Personal History – I used to get paid at the time to teach people to use Lotus 1-2-3 and Word Star or Word Perfect depending on the client. As such, I had Windows 3.0 at home as I’d wanted to upgrade my Amiga 1000 – and getting similar functionality on a less expensive platform (the 386) seemed reasonable. And I could still run a DOS window or boot in DOS for my "real work".

    So why did "I" switch. Well, about this time Word for Windows 2 (I think) came out, and MS sent out disks with a limited time evaluation. So I figured it would be no big deal to look at it just in case someone asked about it down the line. Didn’t think much more about it until a week later I got a patch disk from MS for some problem they’d found with Word. Not with the demo, with Word. Sure enough, installing the patch removed the license restriction, and I had a free copy of Word to use.

    Now, how many people do you think I influenced to convert to Word because I had a free version at home I was now using all the time, and could recommend to clients who might want to use me in the future. Yes, it cut (big time) into my training income, but being able to convince them that they could use that money to bring me in to do other things wasn’t too hard – particularly when my recommendation helped them reduce their training needs…

    As such, I wasn’t too surprised a couple months ago to get a free copy of MS Small Business Server 2003. MS seems to remember that one way to gain market share is to seed free copies to folks who talk to other people.

    Where I would be worried, if I were MS, is that their main competition can now fight on that same territory. After all, almost any Linux distribution has a free version that you can try at will. If anything, the saving grace for MS so far has been that there are so many choices in the Linux world that no one competitor can grow to a size large enough to be a significant threat.

    Oh well, just my .02 worth…

  59. DeltaSigma says:

    "So the Word team organized a special dev team that focused entirely on WordPerfect document import, "reverse-engineering" the WordPerfect file format (documentation for which was jealously guarded, as was the norm back then)."

    Isn’t documentation for these formats still jealously guarded, by both Microsoft and its opponents?

  60. Geoff says:

    Word today a very good product. But it became popular because MS used their muscle to put it pre-installed on computers. Today, people keep Windows because of Office. But originally, Office got to where it was because of Windows.

    I believe that accurately reflects the history of Word’s rise in popularity.

  61. RoseColoredGlasses says:

    A few things that were included and glossed over.

    1. MS reverse engineering WP file formats to gain an advantage. – They haven’t moved to block reverse engineering yet but there are patents that have been filed. I expect it to happen. I expect the defense to be, "They could have protected themselves, we are only doing what they should have done."

    2. Simultaneous release of 32 bit Word with Windows 95 to gain advantage. "We are just protecting innovation."

    You can call me a thug all you want. MS must die. The fact that seemingly intelligent folks don’t "get it" bothers me. MS wants control of everything that runs a processor. You are helping them.

  62. Truly an interesting article and a great insight into the history of the personal computer desktop in the 90s! There are so many parallels to the sweeping changes happening right now, that the entire article can be seen as an allegory.

    I admit, when I read the first few paragraphs bemoaning and demonizing the "net thugs," I thought I wasn’t going to get much out of this article by an apparently very defensive and paranoid author! And I wondered if that was a prevailing attitude within Microsoft? But fortunately the meat of the piece was qualitatively many steps above this beginning.

    A companion article describing the current strategy of the MS Office team as it deals with new and unique market threats would be a wonderful future project. And might reveal your strategy to the OpenOffice team, so perhaps you’ll avoid that approach?

    In any case, here’s to the struggle! I look forward to a dramatic and epic battle for the future of the market, and I thank you and all other participants for the entertainment!

  63. Mike says:

    Ah… you win some, you lose some.

    Please, in the next edition can you include an "easter egg" movie of that damnable annoying paperclip getting melted down into a golf tee or something?

  64. homer jay says:

    good stuff, thanks for the inside scoop!

  65. matthew says:

    ‘MS Office 2003 is a far cry from the days when you could pay $35 for your word processor.’

    Garbage and bullshit. Back in the 80s productivity software cost $600-$800 a piece. Microsoft brought the prices down and sold more units.

    Of course I think they did put prices back up a little (but don’t forget that the price of a gallon of gas or bread went up as well), but certainly not to earlier levels. Microsoft software is cheaper than commercial alternatives in all markets.

  66. Mike S:

    Please excuse my confusion… but were you talking about Sony and the PS2 or Microsoft and the XBOX, or Sega and the Master System, or Nintendo and the Famicom? I’m having trouble figuring out which one you meant, because all of the above use the same "sell it below cost" technique.

  67. Aaron says:

    Whenever I’m overwhelmed some part of my soul still wants to hit F11 and "reveal codes"

    /me weeps

  68. Jeremy P says:

    The reason people like Kirk don’t like Microsoft is because they can’t figure out how to work it. Word doesn’t have a "reveal codes" option. It has something close enough if not equivalent.

    To "Anon Coward" <-(nice post nickname) Why reply to crappy posts like yours?

    To Michael: No one gave Microsoft WP’s document specs- they came up with it on their own.

    To Ray Spance: Microsoft doesn’t seem to be pushing anything down your throat! Besides what constitutes "better"? :))

    Ken D’Ambrosia: Apparently you are an expert on explaining how Microsoft has the ability to improve its products.

    To edmundo: I’m not sure why people should think they are entitled to file format specs?

    To Dave: WTF?

    Ok, I put in way more than my two cents, so that’s where I’ll quit.

  69. Alex says:

    Interesting read. I concur that the early success of Word was due to customer focus and innovation. These days, however, the primary driver for Word (and Office in general) sales is the unquivocal market dominance of the file formats. A superior product cannot win against Word in the current market.

    As in the operating system market, Microsoft is essentially a victim of its own success. Office and Windows have been so successful that it turned the company into a monopoly.

    The problem now is that as a monopolist Microsoft has unprecedented market power. It sucks to punish anyone for being successful, but clearly Microsoft has abused its market power – that is inexcusable.

  70. Jules says:

    Really interesting read. It’s no more than logical though that some people have informative ‘things’ to add from their own experience/memories.

    I was just wondering, what do you think of Mac OS X and especially of mbu efforts to keep creating good Microsoft software for the platform.

    I use the newest Office on XP, as well as the newest Office on X on a daily basis and must admit I prefer the Mac experience of getting things done.

  71. mike says:

    While I lean perhaps more towards the ‘net thugs’ point of view, this was a very interesting and informative read. And it took me back to the days of moving from Dos to Windows. Interesting to get a view of what was happening on the developer’s side of things.

    I don’t use Word or Windows anymore, as Linux does what I need, but I still think it (win/word/ms) has a place and a use, and much more usability (well, for certain uses 🙂 ).

    However, I also see a very clear Microsoft Way in what you wrote, that is very much a winner take all attitude. That may be what you have to have in the software business (in most businesses really), but it is also exactly that attitude which is getting Microsoft in trouble now. Perhaps only because there are so many niches in which a Microsoft dept is trying to win.

    None-the-less, quite an enjoyable read, and I’ll be checking out your previous entries, and future ones.

  72. net thug #2033 says:

    "Net thug".

    Propaganda lesson #0:

    It’s much easier to defeat a label or name than it is to defeat an idea or argument.

  73. Well… There are one or two places in this article that I remember to be different… But I switched from WordPerfect 5.2 to Word 2 when I discovered WordPerfect 6 wasn’t all that compatible to 5.2 — and when I found I could remove all the toolbars and rulers. I previously thought that I had to work within that silly letterbox (640 * 480 vga resolution…). I created a lot of templates, wrote a lot of wordbasic code. And was hit fairly often by Word 2’s inability to handle documents with a few hundred pages. And then came Word 6, which made all my templates and code useless, and which took too big a chunk of my hard disk, and demanded too much of my memory. And which was worse at reading my megabytes of WordPerfect files than was Word 2. So I didn’t upgrade. I sidegraded. Linux, a plain text editor (doesn’t matter which one), a plain markup language and I was back in business. Later I saw Word 97 and Word 2000, and I’ve never felt comfortable with them. And later still I got a second-hand Powerbook, and discovered that Word 97 for the Mac still crashed on big documents, so even on a Mac I now use either OpenOffice, which didn’t crash, or LaTeX. I’m well out of it now, and very happy.

  74. Alex Downey says:

    awww… you shoulda’ stuck with the Mac. You want stability? Talk UNIX base.



  75. Alex Downey says:

    awww… you shoulda’ stuck with the Mac. You want stability? Talk UNIX base.



  76. Alex Downey says:

    btw, not on a mac now. The double post is the responsibilty of Linux.

  77. Rich says:

    "So, that in a nutshell is the Microsoft method. Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback."

    I actually held on to Word 5.1 for my Mac as long as I possibly could, because it was small, fast, accurate, and didn’t bog down with lots of tools that, while I could see how they’d be useful for some people, I really didn’t need. (Including, but by no means limited to: WordArt, drawing, graphics in general, embedding non-text media.) Word sort of became an uberapp that would do a little bit of anything; even if other applications existed that would do them better (for example PageMaker was, at the time, my preferred layout environment) the theory seemed to be that if you had Word, you could get by.

    Which is well and good, but those of us who just wanted a svelte yet powerful word processor were essentially left out in the cold. (The rumors that the only Mac-specific part of the port was basicly a low-level Windows emulator so the codebase could be shared didn’t help; I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I did open Word 6 up in ResEdit a couple of times and was shocked by the dearth of usually-standard Mac bits like ICNS resources.) To this day Office for Mac tries to do everything, and to this day all I want is a quick word processor. This is especially a problem since I won’t be able to upgrade my 466 anytime soon, and granted that the current iteration of Office:Mac is reasonable, but it still opens more slowly on a 466 G4 running Panther than 5.1 opened on a 68030 running at 25mhz.

    I understand that I’m in the minority, and I understand the difficulties represented by maintaining a seperate product to satisfy such a minority. But I still miss Word 5.1. (I especially miss it whenever that damned paperclip pops up while I’m using Office 2000 on Windows at the office. Even though I’ve turned it off. (For some reason, Word seems to forget this setting from time to time.))

  78. Joel Webber says:

    Having worked at Lotus (Word Processing Division) as a co-op in the early nineties, this article doesn’t surprise me much at all — it just confirms my own observation that Microsoft has always done an excellent job staying focused on building their products.

    Microsoft has also been blessed many times by remarkably stupid competition. WordPerfect, WordStar, and IchiTaro’s mistakes are pretty clearly documented here, but I would like to add Lotus to the mix.

    When I started at Lotus in ’91 or ’92, they were in the midst of an enormous rewrite (of AmiPro 3.0, which eventually became ‘WordPro’). AmiPro had a crufty but manageable code base, but they decided to bet on a cross-platform approach, building Win16, Win32, Unix, OS/2, and Mac products on a single code base.

    Needless to say, the resulting product was years late, buggy, and slow. Word for Windows had fairly well trounced any competition, and Lotus got gobbled up by IBM, which really just wanted Notes.

    In short, Word’s success appears to have been well-deserved, especially in comparison to all of its competition!

  79. Cenic says:

    I am a Japanese Major, hoping to get into localization. From your experience, is this a good idea?

  80. Charles Borner says:

    Re: Neil McAllister’s comment on WP being able to keep up with an 80WPM typist being the reason it became entrenched in legal business.

    Actually, no. The fact that the WP file format changed so little between versions is what got and kept (and in some cases is STILL keeping) it entrenched in legal (and medical) circles.

    You can take documents generated over a decade ago and open them up without any formatting/conversion problems whatsoever.

    This cut down on costs for data migration every time the office software was updated. I mean, who the heck wants to go ahead and hand-check hundreds and thousands of documents?

  81. I. says:

    Uuuuh…I guess you have to be a big business to count as a customer? Because Microsoft sure doesn’t seem to listen to my needs.

    I’m in engineering/science, where a lot of people shun Word. Some for philosophical reasons, some because Word just plain cannot do the job.

    I remember Word95, Word97 … had some rather nasty bugs that we managed to work around. Even today, those companies I was at that used MS Office complain day-in-day-out about Word.

    I use Lotus WordPro (ex-Ami Pro), much to my surprise, it does everything I want, feature-wise, they way I want it to. It has bugs too, but I’m not sure it is more so than Word.

    Word stayed in the game because most users are too lazy to learn a new system to make the switch. That’s the only thing making it hold on to market share, because I don’t think it is "the best". Is it good enough? Sure, but for those users, OpenOffice is free and good enough too.

  82. Strangely enough, I’ve always thought the WP format was horrible and obfuscating… and I supported a legal installation that ran on WordStar right up until ’99 or so, when Windowsosis finally bit. Ironic that one of the three true fonts blessed by the Connecticut court system is Arial.

    Anyhow, that’s really the whole point, isn’t it? Microsoft succeeded so well, for whatever reasons, that they became a monopoly. A monopoly, if found guilty, has to play by special rules, in the hope that someone or something will show up to compete with it.

    Now, if Microsoft were any old company with a fairly popular product, sure, in the name of Libertarianism, allow the file format to be as obfuscated as you want, and force the other kids to hack away at it as MS did WP… though MS didn’t have to worry about the DMCA. But, as is noted in the article itself, the company is ‘a machine,’ and its position means it’s legally recognized as one that threatens to cover the world in grey goo.

  83. Mike Jones says:

    So, your argument is that Microsoft Word won because it was the "best" word processor. There are several things wrong with that argument.

    First, it is naive to think that there is a single "best" piece of software for everybody. Is there a single "best" car? A single "best" phone company? A single "best" suit of clothes? (I think they tried that approach in China and it didn’t work and they are a lot happier now that they have some cohice) A single best food?

    Second, the quality differences are irrelevant to most people. Lotus Smartsuite, StarOffice, WordPerfect, etc. were all good enough for 90% of all users. But the fact is that no amount of lowering the prices of those other products made them competitive. People buy Microsoft Word even though they can get OpenOffice for free. Why? It’s not because Microsoft Word has more buttons or more features, it is because the only way people can be sure that they can read Microsoft Word documents is by buying Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word may also have been a well-engineered system, but the need to read Word’s proprietary format was the primary driving force behind Microsoft Word adoption half a dozen years ago and it still is.

  84. teenwolf says:

    "but the result was that MacWord 6 was not nearly as great a product for the Mac as Word 6.0 was for Windows."

    Talk about an understatement, there were literally thousands of people who took, or TRIED, to take it back because it was so bad. Who exactly wanted to go from a small; intuitive; FAST; stable; easy to use program designed specifically for the mac, to a bloated; confusing; buggy; unstable program that had NOTHING to do with the end users needs, but it had everything to do with cutting costs?!? And for those that had the "gall" to call customer support to complain? They were told that the new Word was "superior" and their complaints were rudely ignored.

    My father spent SEVERAL hours on the phone with Microsofts’s rude customer service people trying to get one single honest response as to why the entire interface and functionality of the program had completely changed and why it failed to have many of the features that were present in the previous version. He was actually told that he was "wrong", that the new Word was superior, and that the solution to his problems was that he needed to learn how to use it properly… The ONLY honest response, after hours of evasion, was when one woman finally admitted to my father that he was one of thousands of calls they had received about Word 6 in the week or two after release. She finally sent him to some kind of manager who agreed to refund my father’s money. Why? The retailer he bought it from refused to accept opened software, leaving my father, who relied on Word in his small business, to accept the overpriced Word 6 as some kind of write-off unless he could get his money refunded. You see, my family was not rich enough to simply throw away money on a program as bad as Word 6.

    Word 6 was useless to my father and to many others he talked to, those who weren’t forced to use it migrated back to the last decent Word, Word 5.1a. I was a kid then, but I will never forget the absolute frustration he felt using it and dealing with Microsoft, and the fact that Microsoft’s decision to switch to a shoddy overpriced program to cut costs potentially affected my families financial well being. It was the beginning of a long line of personal frustrations I have had with products and the behaviour that your company has exhibited. I have yet to feel the same satisfaction with a Word program that I had with Word 5.1a, and my father and I still use it today along with Word X on Mac OSX, and also myself with Word 2003 on Windows XP.

    You may decide to lump me in with the vague bunch of "net thugs" you described, who go around "making outrageous claims about Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc in every public forum they find", I’m sure you probably feel slighted or enraged that I would cast aspersions on your glorious company. But I, as an end user, have experienced on a personal level the basic modus operandi of Microsoft, and their seeming disdain for the end user, for the law, common decency, and their continued release of overpriced substandard products. Am I to believe that somehow all my personal experiences are nothing more than anti-microsoft propaganda that I have unwittingly been brainwashed with??? Am I to believe that all the criticism of Microsoft has no basis whatsoever? I find that implausible at best, and at the least it reeks of arrogantly assumptive ignorant condescension.

  85. Watts Martin says:

    I’m going to blithely ignore the comments here from Slashdot people, because, darn, I’m just like that.

    I can answer, to some degree, your offhand question about WordStar 2000, though. Around 1982, MicroPro laid off several of the programmers responsible for WordStar, and they formed their own company, NewStar, to basically recreate WS from scratch. By 1984, NewWord had a fair number of features that WordStar didn’t (integrated spellchecking, laser printer support) and MicroPro was convinced to jumpstart development of a new version by buying someone else’s WordStar "clone," which had been written in C rather than assembly. That’s what became WS 2000. It used the clone’s file format and tried to address complaints that some people had that WordStar’s commands were too hard to remember. (Given that WordPerfect was the rising competition then, one has to wonder why things like ^KS were supposed to be worse than things Alt-Shift-F4, but…)

    They sort of went on to compound the issue by deciding that they needed to compete with things like Volkswriter and other "low-end" word processors, and came up with MicroPro Easy and WordStar Express and the like. In 1986 they actually bought NewWord for $3M and it’s what became WordStar 4.0, but by that point it was really too late.

    I did use the fairly little-known WordStar for Windows briefly once, and if they’d come out with it about three years earlier and given it the attention it deserved, it might have done surprisingly well.

    (Incidentally, my favorite word processor from that era was XyWrite — which actually lives on in a sense, now as Nota Bene, which has carved itself a devoted niche market.)

  86. anonymous says:

    I find it disturbing that there’s this negative connotation about these other companies guarding their file formats. Hello, MS not only guards their file formats, they also recently filed patents or something on the xml format of the new format and there’s even been talk of prohibiting reverse engineering and using the DMCA to enforce it. I wish they could compete with features and usability instead of file formats. I really go out of my way to use software that lets me import and export to standard file formats so I can switch whenever a better program comes along.

  87. Interesting insights into Word development, but as someone who is always obsessively searching for the best stuff when it comes to Word Processing, I kind of take issue with Word 6 running away with critical praise over specifically Word Perfect. I’m long time user of both and Word 6 certainly never was a runaway ANYTHING over WP. Indeed WPWin 5 had a file browser in it that most WPWin 5 users chose to use OVER the Windows 3.1 directory browser.

    Word was always known as being close, but no cigar. Word had the same number of features but the features either didn’t work they way you needed them to or they weren’t able to be manipulated as completely as they were on WordPerfect. With Word I always feel comfortable making a flyer. With WP I felt I could publish a magazine and indeed I did. If I was in an office using Office, Word is certainly the obvious choice, but if someone just needed hardcore text manipulation, WP and TextPad were always the tools of choice. The hardcore Office things that make Word the great tool it is are confined to Office. Unfortunately not everyone can afford to use Office and certainly only about 10% of Office users really use Office’s hardcore highend features.

    After switching to Mac’s from the 13 year old hacker’s OS of choice – Windows XP – I got an EVEN BETTER version of Word from the Mac Business Unit at Microsoft. This version sings and dances around ANY version of Word on a PC so I’m all over that, but I would say, if Corel would put out a comparable version of WP for the Mac, I’d drop Word in a SECOND! Word – always a good tool, but a runaway critical success over WordPerfect?!? NO WAY!

  88. Rick Carson says:

    I use Wordpad at work for writing, and Word for reading other people’s Word documents.

    I like Wordpad because bullet points <b>stay where I put them!!!</b>

    Sure, its ugly, but I can also open up all sorts of files and poke around in their guts (kind of like a primitive read only hex editor).

    Whereas Word is just too frustrating to use. I get angry and upset. Word does not make me a happy Rick.

    When I’m sending someone my CV (all resume handling people and agents insist on word format), I update it in OpenOffice, and then send it to them.

    Sometimes they write back and tell me the formatting doesn’t look so good. I reply ‘really? What version of Word are you using?’ when they tell me, I reply back ‘oh, I’m not using that one… can you fix it up in your version?’. That solves the problem nicely.

    And the really funny thing is, its strictly, literally true, and I never hear them say ‘we don’t have problems with anyone else’s resume’… which leads me to believe that this happens all the time between different versions of Word.


  89. xfury says:

    Don’t even bother asking questions to these people. Marketing filters out the posts that they don’t want the guy to reply to. Note he replied to only the ones that said "Oh yeah those ‘net thugs’ are sooo wrong". Then when the slashdotters came in (myself included) who had different opinions and questions regarding such stuff on impact to open source applications and competitors, he bails.

    All I have to say is Microsoft better not do any more complaining of reverse-engineered file formats and the like from open source projects, seen as they just admitted to doing it now (although afaik Microsoft hasn’t been that bad about it).

    As for calling me a "net thug", you need to get your facts straight. People who have different opinions than you are not "thugs". They are people who come from a different view point. As such, they should be respected!

    I like the idea of Microsoft’s recent opening up, with this blogs site and the Wix code being open-sourced, as well as their recent competitive acts (good acts, not like what they did to Netscape and Linux in the past) by participating in Linux forums (like LinuxExpo). In fact, if Microsoft would like to become a more friendly company and stop with the killing of competition, I’d be glad to revoke my position and opinion on Microsoft for a more co-existing one.

    You must realize the reason we hate your company (I say hate because what Microsoft has done deserves it) is not because your products suck, although quite plainly some of them suck. It’s because of Microsoft’s anti-competitive acts. In fact, I love Excel 2003 and think that it is truly a well-designed, smooth and stable application. There are features in Excel that I think OpenOffice should have and would love to see incorporated.

    What you have to realize is, just because someone dislikes your software does not mean that you need to treat them with respect. And just because a lot of people in the open source community don’t give that respect to you does not mean you should do the same for them.

    Also, the amount of time spent on making this blog post gives me the impression he isn’t working too hard on Word at all, unless he honestly did this in his spare time at home or something.

  90. P.F. says:

    That was one of the most entertaining articles I read in a long while. I really enjoy reading about the history of IT and how products evolve — or die.


  91. Greg Reddick says:

    I was Software Design Engineer working on Access (and its previous incarnation, Omega) between 1988 and 1992. When we started Access, I designed and implemented the build process to be inherently internationalizable by putting language dependent things in separate DLLs and databases. Access shipped in three languages within 30 days of the English version. I don’t know how long all the other Office products took to catch up, but Access was there in version 1.0 in 1992.

  92. Chris Pratley on one of the main reasons why Microsoft is so successful: To give you an idea of how the Word team was successful at what it did in general, I’ll give you a rundown of what we did…

  93. Dan says:

    Nice article. Just wanted to try to balance the out the run-ins you’ve undoubtedly had with the more boorish users of some Other OS with a compliment on the insight of this article.

    As for Macintosh, I can’t say I blame you–all my rare AppleOS experiences prior to OS X (which I am now the proud user of–and find it rivals my former choices of Linux and Unix for usability and productiveness) have been quite unpleasant. Microsoft made a wise choice in focusing on a pragmatic, reliable business-class product like WinNT that for some reason never seems to have occurred to Apple.

    But just because I don’t use Microsoft at home doesn’t mean we can’t still all get along, right? Something I’ve always wondered, though–do you, or a significant number of MS employees, spend much time on MacOS, Linux, or Unix (aside from the Services for Unix folks, the Apple Office folks, etc)?

  94. Chris Prately, a project Manager at Microsoft who works on the Office suite, has an interesting article on the history of word processing on DOS/Windows and how Word eventually beat WordPerfect which had earlier beaten WordStar. I still use WordPerfect…

  95. Michelle says:

    I had the dubious joy of working at a Kinko’s as the self-serve computer support slave in 1995-1996. Maybe professional users liked WordPerfect, and we did get a LOT of people coming in to use WP, but it frustrated the crap out of novice users. A common scenario was that a person had had a "resume done" for them, they had it on floppy and needed to update it, so they came to Kinko’s… and proceeded to flip right out when they accidentally switched into tag-editing mode or accidentally deleted a closing tag so suddenly their whole document was in 36-point italics. Of course, in tag-editing mode you couldn’t easily see that that had happened until you printed, so we killed more trees at Kinko’s with customers printing out banjaxed documents… this was before Kinko’s got the nifty software to automatically charge your credit card as soon as you sent a doc to the printer, 36-point italics or no.

    So I wonder if it’s not completely an accident that the mid-nineties fall of WordPerfect roughly coincided with the rise of the casual or novice computer user. I’m sure that’s all tied up in the rise of the GUI OS as well.

    I left Kinko’s to go to work for IBM—yes, that WAS quite a step up—and I recall liking AmiPro quite a bit once I got to using it there. I don’t just think it was the IBM-Lotus connection either. Lotus Notes, on the other hand, was just about the death of me, and I cannot believe it’s still around…

  96. Jeff Mishler says:

    xfury: he said net thugs as a term for people who claims things are true when, by virtue of he himself being the one who did them and therefore knows the ultimate truth, they are false.

    And really, cut the guy some slack for not responding to y’all so quickly. His first son was born last Wednesday (congrats, btw), and he posted this at 3:30am last night. I’m guessing the reason he was up so late was that the baby kept him awake, and then he had a nice 9-5 day at work at MS, which ended about 10 minutes ago. The man’s probably exhausted.

    And good article. It didn’t realize before how market forces really shape the way a product is created mosreso than a developer’s own vision. I’ll have to try out OneNote to see what else you’ve been up to.

  97. Ron says:

    ‘Tell me how a man makes his money, and I’ll tell you what his opinions are’ – or something like that – Mark Twain

  98. Anonymous Coward says:

    Yes, I’m from slashdot, so I guess I’m one of the net thugs.

    Which does not make me insensible.

    Congrats on the baby.

  99. Jeremy Chappell says:

    OK, what drives ME nuts about Word? The feature’s race with the Mac version. I run both versions of Word (on a Mac, a very old one running Mac OS X Panther) and on a Tablet PC. Why can’t you guys get the features IN SYNC. I have features on the Mac that the PC one lacks, and features on the PC that the Mac one lacks (TASK PANES!). Want to make me happy – make them feature compatible as soon as you can (I understand they probably won’t ship on the same day).

    I bet you want to know what I think of the Tablet PC right? It’s cool, but I often end up using it as a "monster PDA" – Outlook 2003. I use OneNote on it, though I’m not quite sure about it – it seems to hate me a little. It’s a product where I can’t wait for the next version. I guess it reminds me most of Outlook – in the beginning I didn’t really get that either, now I can’t imagine a PC without it. I think I want more drawing tools in OneNote, I draw a lot in my notes, and it’d be useful if it was easier to use other Office "elements" in it too – like spreadsheets, lots of my notes have a "spreadsheet" feel (I’d like to be able to do "what ifs" and make list data behave like Pivot Tables. Other things I’d like: "go full screen" (my Tablet PC has a 10" screen – being able to make all the tools vanish while taking notes would be handy, as long as it was easy and quick to get them all back!

    Ok I know you’re wondering… why am I still using the Mac? What will it take for me to switch? Well it’s not gonna happen, not unless Windows gets a LOT better. I love the Unix tools, I like the new Mac UI, I can program in Objective-C (12 years experience) and Java. I don’t like wondering "hey – what happened, is it doing anything? Is it gonna redraw something so I know where I am?" or "Damn I know that’s in the Start Menu some place – where the heck is it?" (The new XP Start Menu is is MUCH better than the old one). Or even "WHY does this damn thing remove stuff from the menus? {trip down to the arrows at the bottom}"

    Do I think the Tablet PC is a good idea? Yeah, it begs for a better program launcher (though I have Outlook on a side button – with an envelope on it, and OneNote in a soft button – with a pen and paper on it). And more ink integration with the rest of the system (but I imagine that’s coming). I’d like ink awareness in Windows explorer, I don’t understand WHY that got missed!

  100. Just a faceless user says:

    You say you listen to user feedback? Here’s mine.

    Word and Excel would be far more valuable to me if their file formats were publicly documented.

    As it is now, if I want to send out a document that I know people using other Word Processors can read, I need to use RTF, plain text, or some other format that does not allow me to use all of the features that Word’s native file format have.

    If I could use all of those features, save a Word doc file, and know that people using other Word Processors could open it, I could take more advantage of Word’s capabilities. Right now, I don’t dare send someone who uses another word processor a Word doc, so I can’t express myself using the full power of Word.

    Open up the file formats, and your products will be more valuable to me.

  101. Alex says:

    I also come from the Slashdot (the idiot magnet) site , except I am not one of those slashdot monkies.

    I am disappointed to find that there are not enough number of thugs so far.

    xfury: No you are a thug, because you don’t respect others, you are making stupid accusations and you don’t even know what you are talking about. It is not simply disagreement, your whole ideology is based on attacking others, even through physical and or virtual (DDoS). We all know that, so you should better shut up.

    Thanks for the article by the way. It is nice to see that on the internet we can see more and more serious content.

  102. Chris Pratley Jr. says:

    First off, you need to make word compatible on ALL windows machines. This means allowing it to be viewed on the o-so-popular Wordpad.

    2 words for you: star office.

    You need to stop kissing your company’s ass, and be open to more software. Word is far from being the best word processing soft. available… why? because there isnt any single best app for ALL people.

    Go swim in your mounds of cash, greedy bastard.

  103. technomind says:

    Was doing a search for something on the Microsoft website and I came across something very interesting. There are some fascinating authors on here including some of the project and team leaders for many of the MS product lines. In particular take a look at this entry from Chris Pratley on why he converted from being a Mac entusiast to a MS lover….

  104. Hi Chris,

    Yes, the demonic Linux users hoards will

    descend upon you, and I’m one of them, but

    I’m usually very civil, and most of us want

    to reward this kind of behavior.

    It’s really great to get this kind of internal glimpse of Microsoft. It’s well known that when people have

    little information they often assume the worst.

    Google has been doing a good job, for example, of letting enough

    information leak that they seem human but not enough

    that their competition know exactly what they’re dealing

    with. Linux has many merits, but technologically,

    it is widely known that it is inferior to BSD.

    BSD386 came out very shortly after Linux, yet

    was a drop in the bucket compared to Linux.

    Technical superiority is only one fascet.

    BSD sprung from the womb fully formed, a mature,

    stable system with wide support among existant


    Linux users wrote Linux, and it was a kid

    that only a mother could love, but people loved

    it exactly because they gave birth to it.

    Not many Linux users were around since version 1 –

    well, let me tell you, early versions of

    Linux weren’t that great – unless you were in

    it for the hack value. Remember that people

    were madly pirating Minix (with an ‘M’) back then.

    I hope Microsoft realizes that Linux has an

    important niche among researchers, students,

    hobbyists, power users, programmers who like

    to share code with their peers as a social

    practise, companies that need to audit for

    security (a practise that is extremely valid

    and should not be dismissed with a handwaving),

    and other groups. Ease of use, support,

    de facto standards, accessability, and a

    good flow of new toys is enough for Windows.

    Linux poses no real threat unless Microsoft

    depends upon market domination.

    I’m happy for Microsoft’s success, and Microsoft has

    done a lot to improve the computing experience

    for the average user, but there is an obvious

    problem with "the one ring to rule them all".

    Microsoft creates a problem by virtue of

    having too much market share, even if there is

    no other problem.

    You talk about how annoyed you are at the

    constant Microsoft bashing – as an Atari 8

    bit user, it was tiring to hear the Commodore

    owners bashing on Atari. As an Amiga owner,

    you head to deal with people that thought

    the IBM PC was the greatest machine on Earth.

    I don’t think this will end any time soon.

    I certainly hope not. "Single source" is a

    dirty word. IBM put together the IBM PC

    using the parts they did specifically

    because each part had a second source – if

    Intel decided they were going to double

    their prices, IBM could work with NEC

    or another 8088 clone maker.

    Day in and day out, I work with people that

    don’t think they have an option.

    People think that other word processors

    can’t import Word documents. That only

    Excel can view .CSV files, not to mention

    .XLS files. Someone posted an anecdote –

    they asked a room full of suits if they’ve

    ever used Linux (after some other questions).

    Few raised their hands. The speaker then

    points out that Google is a Linux platform,

    so more used Linux than they thought.

    Monopolies, legal or otherwise, have

    psychological effects. Sometimes Windows

    runs very badly. Sometimes the products

    don’t fit the model of a company – even if

    Microsoft were superior in 99 out of 100

    cases – but psychologically people feel they

    have no options. Car commercials tell you why

    you want to buy their car – value, performance,

    economy, safety – but no one has the gull to

    suggest that their competition has no desireable

    qualities at all. Ford has never asserted that

    Chevy gets worse miliage, has poorer resale,

    worse safety record, costs more, costs more

    to maintain, and is less reliable.

    Ford would look despereate and silly if they

    did. Guess how Microsoft looks in their

    "white sheets" against Linux.

    When you’re as big as Micorosoft, having a

    quality product is important, but furthering

    the illusion that you’re the only game in

    town is self-destructive. That is sure to

    breed resentment.

    On the topic of frustration at the vast

    misinformation about Microsoft abounding,

    I’ve spoken to Microsoft engineers who were

    grossly misinformed about the origins of many

    technologies (remote desktops, network

    transparent protocols, virtual memory, and

    other things). As long as an "iron curtain"

    is in place, false assumptions will run

    unchecked and even propogate. Open up

    Microsoft to the world more like this and you’ll

    quash other peoples false assumptions,

    but there is a natural flip side as well.

    You talked about addressing peoples desires

    over other word processors when creating Word.

    Sun recently got their ass kicked by C#.

    Sun has, for years, been ignoring their users.

    The number one most requested feature for Java,

    generics, has gone unimplemented for 5 years.

    During these 5 years, atleast 4 3rd party

    implementations have been offered, any of

    which Sun could have adopted or bought. Not

    until the release of C# did Sun move.

    Microsoft has punted on security, too – up

    until recently. Moving to higher level languages

    from C is a critical strategy. Avoiding

    buffer overflows in C is a leaking bucket and

    energy is better spent elsewhere. But this

    didn’t happen until people realized they didn’t

    have to suffer from the constant worms, and

    they could run systems that minimally were

    less of a monoculture.

    Yet Microsoft has lobbied for legislation

    that makes open source software programmers

    liabile for their software without the ability

    to disclaim liability – including the standard

    merchantability and fitness for any purpose

    for which even no commercial software vender

    will accept liability. Linux is important

    competition to Microsoft, able to dabble in

    niche markets where absolutely no need or

    possible desireable outcome has been identified.

    It is party of a healthy relationship between

    commercial and non-commercial software.

    Even within the Linux community, people will

    commercialize ideas that were originally

    non-commercial, and this is not the least bit

    inappropriate or undesireable. Often it means

    good paying jobs for the hackers that pioneered

    the technology – a strong incentive for people

    to innovate at home.

    As a technical person, you’re not responsible

    for things Microsoft does publicly. Still,

    these are real problems, and as a techie,

    I feel techies should dominate the PR neens

    and naturally want to foster this same desire

    in you over your PR neens 😉

    Dispite the raving and ranting, most people

    are happy just to see Microsoft being a good

    citizen – we’re really not hell bent on

    your destruction. When Microsoft involves

    the community, complies to standards (atleast

    as a starting point including backwards compatability),

    people cheer. When Microsoft handles security

    in an effective way (rather than ignoring

    for a year than sueing when the exploit surfaces),

    people celebrate. Don’t feel singled out –

    we hold everyone to a very high standard for

    performance, usability, security, and citizenship.

    Look at the recent scathing review ESR published

    on Linux printing, or the mud that MacOSX is

    raked through at hates-software.com – from

    people that otherwise love MacOSX. A thread

    a while back asked what would happen if Microsoft

    made a version of Linux. The conclusion was that

    Linux could use the work – there is plenty to

    be done and it doesn’t matter where the code

    comes from. I like that. There’s plenty of work

    to be done in many areas.

    Keep the blogs coming, and next time, I’ll

    try to stay on topic.



  105. IZ says:

    Wonderful story – quite well written too. However I must point out that MS had quite an monetary advantage over its competitors. You say so yourself "Windows had a huge marketing budget we could draft off of." Having a larger budget means you’ve had a larger number of resources. Combining that with smart managerial skills, it’s the recipes for success in outbuilding your competitors.

  106. Brett says:

    Thanks for making this blog avaiable. It’s excellent to read the thinking that happens behind the scenes at microsoft.

    "Note the "quickly" – this was what distinguished MS from Apple in the end – a focus on moving quickly, and beating the competition. Details like great design were not critical to most customers, so that didn’t really make it into the products, except where it mattered to the customer."

    Excellent point. I’m very much an Apple fan, it being my primary OS atm. However I’m not one of the rabid fans that thinks it’s the best for everyone. For me, great design is more important than features, so I choose the loss of features/funcionality over what I think is better design (most features I don’t want anyway, especially the corporation-driven ones which I rely on at work).

    I can’t resist having a dig:

    " PC-Word for DOS (the MS product) never really went anywhere, despite lots of trying for almost 10 years, and for the conspiracy theorists: the same company was making the OS – not that it mattered."


    "From a marketing perspective, we knew it was critical to "sim-ship" with (release on the same day as) Windows95, since that was a big deal worldwide and unlike Office, Windows had a huge marketing budget we could draft off of. We made our goal, and having Word95 as the only 32-bit application in the Japanese market just as Win95 hit really helped us too."

    How does that shape up for the conspiracy theorists? 😉

    Excellent stuff. I love how blogs and the internet are opening up the world to insights within the companies we love and/or/to hate, especially how they show it’s not as bad and evil as it sometimes appears from the outside.



  107. Alex says:


    Scott you do not represent us and we all know that people bashing Microsoft is biased and they are not bashing Microsoft for a specific reason. If you have noticed it is all stupid accusations.

    I am a Linux user and an open source developer. I hate to see people like you talking as if you represent us. You are nothing when you speak in the name of Linux users. You are you, and we are we. That means you should stop pretending to be us and attack Microsoft. Open Source software was there long time ago, and will be there, but I don’t think people will be patient about these slashdot idiots making all sorts of accusations and physically and virtually attacking people they disagree with.

    So, you should better be reasonable and respect others, rather than pretending to be reasonable and attack.

  108. Sore Eyes says:

    Microsoft developer Chris Pratley has posted a brief history of Microsoft Word, with particular attention paid to Word’s victory over the seemingly-unassailable WordPerfect. Interesting stuff, especially Pratley’s focus on the speed with which Microsoft zoomed in on features ordinary end users found valuable (as opposed to journalists, who had an understandable – but not universally applicable – obsession with whether the word processor they were reviewing had a word count feature).It’s a worthwhile article, and Pratley is quite right to note that the failure to make a successful transition to Windows 3 killed WordPerfect. What he doesn’t mention once in…

  109. Jason says:

    Fascinating article, quite interesting. Looking forward to reading more. Now if we could only find a away to shoo the trolls away so the grownups can hold an intelligent conversation…

  110. Nelno says:

    I have a question for all you programmers who are rabid open source proponents:

    When all software is finally free, how will you get paid?

    I, for one, find it nice to be able to program and get paid for it. You, however, apparently dream of flipping burgers during the day and coding all night long. I must be a greedy bastard, too.

    I find those of you who can’t do anything but gripe about non-free software and the evil corporations that create it to have about the same level of understanding of human nature and economics as Karl Marx.

    Remember… I’m speaking to the rabid ones among you. Open source has its good points. I’m writing this in Firefox, after all.

  111. I retract my nasty XML OneNote comment from last week. I love OneNote. Enough said.

    As for Word…the one thing that boils my brains is the tightly-coupled styles. How ironic that I remember Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS so well and remember that one of its greatest features was it’s top-down, loosely-coupled styles.

    I would like a feature in Word to turn OFF the current style system and use an HTML-like metaphor without using HTML.

    Otherwise, OneNote rocks.

  112. FRiC says:

    Great story.

    I’ve been involved with supporting Microsoft Office apps for years, first in school, and now in a large multinational corporation, and it’s really interesting to read about all the problems that I actually faced and how they were solved.

    (Especially regarding unicode support in Windows/Office 2000! We held a celebration when we first saw the perfect multilingual and single binary support…)

  113. rps says:

    Interesting. Microsoft screws up their word processor for ten years, keeps on throwing money at it, finally wins, and then everybody’s stuck with it for the rest of eternity as it becomes the de facto standard, leaving you incompatible with the world if you don’t use it.

    Showing that MS failed to capture market share for 10 years only proves the point of the anti-MS crowd. A company that was not leveraging a monopoly in another market would not be able to throw money at a failing product. PC-Word would have been killed.

    But the nastiness didn’t really start until after your timeline ends. Now MS Word is probably still the best, but not worth a fraction of its cost to the average home user like me, for whom OpenOffice is more than enough. But if you don’t have MS Word, you’re incompatible with the rest of the world because of its obfuscated, incompatible file formats. And users of old versions of Word can be forced into otherwise unnecessary upgrades for the same reason. That’s the kind of practice that makes people hate Microsoft.

    Of course, we saw the same thing with the OS, browser, and (somewhat) multimedia content, and, if MS has its way, it’ll happen with console games, internet markup language, servers, databases, etc. MS can afford to lose for years, but they only have to win once and we’re stuck with their products forever.

  114. Bruce Fountain says:

    Great article Chris, thanks for the insight into the MS world. Now that you have been slashdotted I expect adding comments is a bit like screaming into the wind, but Word is a product that has always intrigued me and there are a few issues that I would like to raise.

    I have every respect for Microsoft’s marketing savvy. Obviously you guys are responsive to customer needs, but sometimes I think you can’t see the wood for the trees.

    I am a software developer. I absolutely hate using Word, but the damned product has become the office lingua franca. People use word documents for the stupidest things, stuff that would be much better as plain text, such as configuration files.

    Things don’t get much better at the other end of the spectrum – well-formatted technical documents. I am not a stupid guy, but I have never been able to master paragraph numbering. Every time I need to write a new document I have to hack an existing document because I have never been able to work out how the autonumbering works from scratch. And when I try to change the autonumbered paragraph formats slightly (eg indents, tabs etc) I manage to screw them up. If Word didn’t have an undo function it would be unusable. And don’t get me started on the weird hoops I have to jump through to insert custom properties.

    I am sure someone could teach me how to do these things, but the point is that the application itself has never made itself clear in about a decade of use. We are still using Word97, maybe later versions are more intuitive.

    On the other hand, I have fond memories of desktop publishing packages like Framemaker and Ventura Publisher. These products seemed to have a much cleaner concept of what a document really is. New users would suffer some confusion while they adapted, but that was largely due to preconceptions they bought from word processors.

    One last comment. You said "So the Word team organized a special dev team that focused entirely on WordPerfect document import, "reverse-engineering" the WordPerfect file format (documentation for which was jealously guarded, as was the norm back then)".

    Laugh? I nearly wet myself! Sorry, where can I pick up the Word97 document format specification?

  115. R says:

    It’s great to hear anyone and everyone supporting the venerable practice of reverse engineering. Thank you for that.

    Now that Microsoft is a major incumbent technology developer, some of its policy people are drawn to theories that treat reverse engineering with less respect than you have. One thing that would help undermine their misguided efforts is if more Microsoft technical people said that reverse engineering is virtuous.

    I know that there is not just one Microsoft culture and not just one Microsoft ideology. So, where are the best places to look around for interoperability advocates at Microsoft?

  116. Okay, point by point.

    First of all, "net thugs"? How sweet. I’ve got plenty of reflexive offensive terms I could call you but I’ll try to show you more respect then you show us. Frankly, in a world that has now been through several dozen rounds of "Halloween memo"s, server software that balks only when the browser IDs as Opera, and more court rulings then any of us have fingers and toes, we know quite a bit, thank you very much. Real facts and real experience. Add in the experience folks like me have had dealing with Microsoft employees and policies and yes, we damn well do have plenty of facts on which we base our antipathy and aversion.

    Next, you start out with one good point there. Apple really does have a long history of doing a mind-boggling job of being offensive to those who try to help. Calm and considerate of developers they ain’t. Just ask Umax or Radius.

    As for Type 11s every 20 min on your Mac, well, funny, I ran Netscape just fine for hours at a time right around then. So did lots of us. As somebody pointed out, too bad you didn’t get your Mac cleaned up. Maybe some XTEN conflict. And if you were "losing everything I had been doing", why didn’t you just use Save? Works like a charm for the rest of us.

    Windows NT performance "flawless"? Well, at least you admit drinking the Koolaid. Even Gates wouldn’t have claimed that, nor did MS as a company.

    On the "GUIs as toys" FUD, I was around then and I remember well that MS sales reps led the charge on claiming that. Even blatant homophobia was pretty common. Anybody using a GUI was "obviously" not a real man. GUIs were for girly-men and lusers. Funny how, as usual, MS later claimed to have led the switch and somehow most people see no damage to credibility in that claim.

    As for people switching to Word, I remember one reason on the Mac side you don’t bother to mention. MS made a big honkin’ deal that folks could get "Microsoft quality" by buying the Works package and retain full compatibility with Word. This was pushed particularly hard to low-end buyers who were considering buying another word processor. Then MS showed its "quality" orientation by, IIRC, having ALL its Mac apps query the CPU at boot to see if an ‘020 was present. If an ‘020 was found, the app autoconfigured to require a math coprocessor. This, of course, caused massive crashes on every single LC made since they had an ‘020 but no coprocessor. Funny, every other software company adapted to the LC just fine, including itty-bitty CAD companies and several math-heavy apps of which I was aware. What did MS say to customers? "Oops. Bummer. We’ll have a new release Any Day Now(TM). In the meantime, if you need to work in the intervening year or two, you’ll have to buy the full version of MS Word. And, no, there is no discount or patch."

    Most people gave in and bought Word. With the expection of one copy bought at the dealer price, I’ve never bought a single MS app since. Oops. Bummer. A few thousand dollars of my money have gone elsewhere.

    Moving on, as for your actually being proud that MS focused not on an actual fix for compatability problems with WP but on being able to demo well (your essay on the "print.tst" push), sounds to me like exactly what I want to avoid in a company. Again, At least you’re honest. Do you even know how appalling such an admission is to a sysadmin?

    As for Word 6, add my voice to the rest. When I had to use an MS app, at least Word 5.1 was clean. 6.0 was a big, soggy, fluffy mound of stale marshmallow candy. And as a user of Illustrator, XPress, and a dozen other REAL production apps, the new "features" were certainly bugs to me.

    I’ll confirm what others have said on the market share issue. As somebody who was doing computer consulting in the early nineties, three reasons and three reasons ONLY were reliably given by customers for using MS productivity apps. 1.) It comes with the machine and we’ve already paid for it. 2.) MS docs can’t be opened and worked with in anybody else’s apps. and 3.) MS makes Windows so they must be better for making Windows apps.

    Yes, I agree, that WordPerfect was beyond dimwitted as a company. It was perfect to see them working with the equivalent clueless masses at Corel. I’ll even agree that their apps were odd and arbitrary, though, yes, Reveal Codes was glorious and I miss it still. If nothing else, if sure prepared us for doing HTML 😉 But there were plenty of other options as others on this thred have pointed out. MS, as usual, won market share for reasons having nothing to do with making a quality app.

    btw, thank you for the overview of the Japanese app market. Given the rest of what you’ve written, I’m certainly not going to take it at face value, but like the rest of your essay, there is some good stuff mixed in among the, erm, "differently defined".

    You certainly have a valid point about speed to market being crucial to viable development. After all, even Steve Jobs likes to say, "Real artists ship."

    I just can’t help thinking that since MS has been releasing buggy and half-done products for over twenty years, indulging in a level of sloppiness that nobody would ever tolerate from a smaller, less leveraged firm. It’s all very well for you to crow about your ability to get shrinkwrap done but other firms simply don’t have the luxury of having customers willing to put up with an unending stream of revisions, security and bug fixes, and general evidence of cavalier ham-handedness. When a multi-billion dollar company that controls the guts of your machine sells a buggy product, people bitch but they put up with it. When a small firm releases something even half as buggy, people never buy from them again.

    In short, you’ve created a vintage portrait of an MS employee. Clever and hard-working but proudly shallow. Dismissive of uncomfortable facts and eager to cover it up with "I know better then you" smoke screens. Pseudo-objectivity mixed with genuine pride of accomplishment, cock-of-the-walk arrogance, and subtly misleading spin. All resulting in an untrustworthy final product with cool features but not able to do the job to a professional standard.

    But then you have succeeded at one goal. You have created an excellent document for displaying the MS mindset. Maybe someday the Koolaid will wear off and you’ll take what I assume is your hefty Microsoft earnings and do something a little cleaner with your life.

  117. Bill Newkirk says:

    Being in technical writing since 1978 and messing around with things like DECsystem 10 (KI-10, KL-10 era and when the pdp 11/40 was "new") and even the ancient Bendix G-15, I’ve seen some things that many new to the world are unaware of.

    Some other reasons why WordPerfect ruled the roost in the DOS era.

    Printer Support.

    Every printer you could think of and some you never heard of. And if you had something they didn’t include, you could get a tool from WP that would let you write your own driver.

    No automatic restructuring of a document just because it was opened on another computer (this bug goes back to Xerox’s Star and the Apples where the default printer selection overrides document settings — it’s not like you might have more than 1 or different printers in different places, eh?).

    Word before Word 6 didn’t handle multiple page sizes and orientations. This still isn’t like it should be (rotate to landscape in the next section and the margins need to be touched up – left isn’t always left, etc.). WP handled this much better.

    WordPerfect wasn’t originally a PC program. It was written for Data General machines (why F3 used to be "help" and F1 was "cancel").

    Also at the time when WP wasn’t going to get into Windows, even Microsoft had been in the OS/2 camp. When all this was going on, there was a version of WP for 8 different machines/operating systems (DG, DEC VAX, IBM PC-DOS, IBM PC Windows, IBM PC-OS/2, IBM 303x, Unix, don’t remember the other?). And they tried to keep the interfaces as similar as possible between ’em.

    It’s also a disservice to think WP history started with WordStar. Wang Laboratories had a lion’s share of the office business with shared logic processors and smart terminals (Z80 based IIRC) with the dual coax "928" interface tieing ’em all together. Problems we had with ’em was that the VS, Alliance, OIS, WPS and their PC-clone IIS systems couldn’t directly share files w/o some housekeeping (IIS doesn’t recognize stop codes for font changes on the "big" systems).

    Some of Wang’s problems were limitations in amount of text per page (around 4k bytes) and a limit of 120 pages per document number (no file names, documents were numbered and stored in user libraries..). I’m a little fuzzy on why, but I think it was a limitation of the file size on the archiver (external 8" floppy drive that I think was on it’s own 928 cable as well). But it was how they got fast response on machines that were as slow as they were in the 1970s.

    Regards, Bill N.

  118. After reading this I thought: "Hmm what ever happened with wordperfect?". So I looked it up and amazingly they are releasing WordPerfect Office 12 on the same day as this article!

    Back at university halfway the nineties, I remember having the choice of writing my graduation thesis in Wordperfect 5.2 or LaTEX (WinWord did exist but was to buggy). I thought then that WordPerfect would be the future product and I would have more future use for knowledge of WordPerfect. How wrong I was…

    To be honest I never really learned to use as much features of Word as I used in WordPerfect. One thing standing out for me that could definetely be improved is the formula editor in Word (WordPerfects formula editor wasn’t that hot either but you learned to tweak it.)

    As for the Wordperfect import in Word. I was never able to import my WordPerfect graduation thesis in Word….. Only perfect for printer.tst eh?

  119. Joffrey C. Abainza says:

    wow! good story.

    i am a Filipino programmer for a Japanese company as well as a Mac and Linux fan.

    i know the difficulties of porting and creating programs that will work with support for Japanese.

    you’ve done a great job. Microsoft is lucky to have you.

    thanks for sharing your story.

  120. Richard Sprague says:

    An excellent overview of Microsoft and the word processing market…

    I have one observation, having worked at Apple Japan in the early 90’s, where I worked with lots of great Japanese software companies building word processors like Ichitaro, MacWrite II-J, Wordperfect Mac-J, Nisus, MIFES and others. Microsoft Word wasn’t the best word processor, but it was bundled with the best office suite and priced aggressively. If you were interested in a word processor + spreadsheet + presentation package, buying MS-Office was a no-brainer.

    At Apple Japan, I remember we struggled to create a similarly-compelling bundle and failed because nothing compared to Office’s integration–even though other apps individually were better (Ichitaro vs Word, Lotus vs Excel)

    So, in addition to the excellent work done by people like you to make Word a good-enough product, Microsoft was blessed with a powerful long-term strategy that produced a comprehensive suite of apps just as the market was looking for that.

  121. Anonymous Coward says:

    Doing my best not be written off as a ‘net thug’, I have some significant issues with your piece and what I think it reveals about the real ‘problem’ with Microsoft: not ‘Single Minded Evil’ but, instead a really odd culture and structure that has ‘evil’ effects despite a population of generally decent and capable people. It’s not so much a ‘drinking the kool aid’ problem as a ‘breathing the air’ problem but I’ll get to the ‘Kool Aid’ vs Air bit in a minute. First, some context….

    "For the release after Word 2.0, the team merged with the MacWord team (then on release 5.1), and built a shared product called Word 6.0 (released in late 1993)."…." As an anecdote, the move to combine MacWord and WinWord was done to conserve development resources, but the result was that MacWord 6 was not nearly as great a product for the Mac as Word 6.0 was for Windows. That was a big mistake and got rectified later by creating a special Macintosh Business Unit to focus on the Mac business – so yes, even Microsoft makes mistakes. You can read more about MacWord on Rick Schaut’s blog. "

    ‘Mistake’ is an understatement of epic proportions. Word 6 (and Office 4.2 in general) was virtually unusable on the Mac. For those who may not remember, this was during Apple’s transition to PowerPC and most apps predating PowerMacs ran in an ’emulation’ mode provided by Apple with the PowerMac to support older software written for the 680×0.

    Office 4.2 (Word 6, Excel 5 and PowerPoint 4 if I remember correctly) was built both for 68k and PowerPC Macs and it was essentially unusable on both. To put this in perspective, Word 5.1 running in emulation mode was faster, more responsive and less resource intensive than Word 6 running ‘natively’. It was so bad that merely having it installed made the Mac unstable (Office Manager). Rick’s post (you linked to his Blog. I’m deep linking to the specific<A HREF="http://blogs.msdn.com/rick_schaut/archive/2004/02/26/80193.aspx"&gt; article:</A>) explains a lot but the depth of badness isn’t fully conveyed.

    Word 6 (and Office 4.2 and all patches and updates until Office 98 for MacOS) was so bad it could be argued that it damned near killed the Mac.

    Some might call this ‘The Evil Empire’ in action but I don’t. I think it was a product that sucked and was superceded by a MUCH better product later from an at least apparently overtly apologetic publisher.

    The reason Office 4.2 damned near killed the Mac (and Apple was doing a lot to help in the ‘kill the Mac’ department at the time. Can you say ‘Performa’?) is because Office 4.2 was so bad that it made the whole Mac look bad. It appeared to be the same software people could see running on Windows but the Mac version sucked. The unitiated could only assume ‘Well they look the same but on the P.C. it pretty much works and on the Mac it sucks therefore; Macs suck.’

    One would really have to be in the tin foil hat crowd to think this was deliberate but the net effect was very real: thousands of Macs were suddenly driving their users nuts. The users had no practical choice but to upgrade to Office 4.2 and suffer because the Windows users they collaborated with had upgraded and document sharing essentially required version parity. This began the decline of the Mac at three different sites I consulted at which had Macs numbering in the thousands.

    Tangentially, the release of Office 4.2 also brought with it the first (and still really only) meaningful virus problem to the Mac. Prior to Office 4.2, there were very few Mac viruses and none that weren’t made harmless within weeks of their discovery FOR FREE and with almost no compatibility and reliability problems thanks to (I hope I’m remembering his name correctly) John Norstadt’s ‘Disinfectant’. I could go on at some length about how broken and ultimately user-hostile the whole Macro-engine and product integration thing in Office (and now Outlook… ‘Outlook, you’re SoBig and ‘I love You’… really I do.’) is but that’s not the point here.

    The point is that Office 4.2 brought the Mac to almost perfect feature parity with Windows in the field of virus compatibilty. A major Mac advantage went poof. Disinfectant’s creator gave up… he just couldn’t stem the tide of Microsoft-enabled macro viruses and he killed Disinfectant and wrote a long piece explaining why and essentially saying ‘This one, Microsoft has to fix.’ Microsoft did offer fixes but none were complete pro-active or reliable and the Macro problem persists to this day and can only really be controlled with third party commercial anti-virus tools (which are, admittedly now needed to protect against other more virulent nasties as well). [Whew… how’s THAT for a tangential thought!?!?!)

    This was all largely mitgated by Office 98 and the MacBU. Office 98 really was a rather nice product. Frankly it wasn’t quite as lean, mean and quick as Word 5.1 was on much slower hardware but such is the way of feature creep.

    Meanwhile…. we have ‘The Kool Aid’ vs ‘breathing the air’ factor kicking in…

    The MacBU and the promise of a new version of Word for the Mac came as a result of an agreement between Apple and Microsoft facilitated by the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. A big announcement at Macworld Boston with Bill on screen and the co-announcement of a new era of collaboration between MS and Apple.

    Microsoft would invest (IIRC) $125 Million in Apple stock (non-voting), commit to a series of feature complete versions of Office for Macintosh and a patent cross-licensing agreement.


    Mac users can stay on the Mac and be able to rely on continued ability to collaborate with their Windows using pals. A bunch of cretins in the press completely misinterpretted the terms, purpose and real motivations for this deal. Stupid interpretations included:

    – MS is buying Apple. (Apple at the time was (IIRC) a $9 billion company and $125 million does not a buyout make.

    – MS is just doing this to keep Apple alive so they can’t be a ‘monopoly’. 5% of a market where the other 95% is owned by Microsoft is not a compelling ‘not a monopoly’ claim.

    – They finally settled the ‘look and feel’ lawsuit.

    All hogwash… the real deal was this:

    Apple was in the middle of suing Microsoft (and a third party porting/coding company I can’t recall the name of) over Video For Windows’ (now Windows Media) alleged infringement of QuickTime I.P. (some say not just intellectual property but actual source code… there used to be blocks of code, submitted as evidence in the case, floating around the web for review.)

    Microsoft was in the middle of ‘The Browser War’ with Netscape.

    Apple and Microsoft settled the QuickTime lawsuit and the terms included:

    – MS commitment to Office

    – MS purchase of non-voting shares for 125 million clams (which MS has since sold at a significant profit)

    – Apple dropping the QT lawsuit (why MS settled rather than win in court is left as an exercise for the reader).

    – Apple agreeing to make IE the default browser on all new Macs/OS releases. (You may recall Apple employees including Steve demoing web content in IE and saying: ‘Let’s open IE, my ‘browser of choice’ and have a look at this web site’. This was a not too subtle way of saying ‘If I weren’t showing this in public, I’d be using Netscape’ while still complying with the terms of the settlement)

    – A broad patent ‘cross-licensing agreement’. (deciding whether WindowsMedia would have emerged from the ashes of Video For Windows is left as an exercise for the reader)

    How do I know this? Well… I don’t…. and I do… and if you (and other readers) do a little digging they’ll end up seeing this exactly as I do.

    This was, in hindsight, the prototype for the recent settlement with Sun.

    Here’s where the kool-aid, or more accurately ‘breathing the air’ kicks in….

    Microsoft isn’t pouring kool-aid… The press, Microsoft, Apple, the courts and the market are drugging the air. It’s not ‘the evil mastermind in the house built by Bohlin and pals’ orchestrating mind control. It’s a random confluence of the crafty being supported by the clueless majority confusing the intelligent minority (including smart, committed quality focused people like you working at Microsoft).

    Because the press never reported the ‘real deal’. Because neither Bill nor Jobs benefited from telling ‘the real deal’. Because both sides were having their agendas served by the deal and because, ultimately the MacBU became a PROFITABLE unit at MS and Office 98 became a good product, nobody really wanted to dig too deep. The honeysuckle fumes obscured the truth and the net effect is the same as kool-aid but, unlike the kool-aid there didn’t need to be a charismatic corruptor adding the poison and passing out the dixie cups.

    The problem is… the effect is the same and it’s getting worse and is leading us down a VERY dangerous road.

    A little more on ‘kool aid’… your Mac was twitchy as blazes with Netscape while your PC was stable.

    I completely believe this but I think you’re glossing over (or maybe missing) some underlying issues or, to continue my metaphor, ‘intoxicants in the air’:

    – Your PC was being supported by Microsoft I.T. I’ve been told that the folks in I.T. (first roll-out of Exchange notwithstanding) are pretty good and rumor has it they have some well placed friends to get them good help understanding Windows.

    – Your Mac was being supported by you and I bet you’re a much better lead program manager than you are a desktop support tech.

    – The Mac was probably running Office 4.2 which, as we established above was so buggy on the Mac it was almost worse than useless, also included extensions and a weird ‘application’ called Office Manager that made the whole Mac twitchy whether or not any Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) were running.

    – Apple was rolling out OpenTransport. This transition (from MacTCP to OpenTransport) was NOT handled well by Apple. Concurrent with the demonically bad MacOS 7.5.2, Macs were in a 9 month or so period of such overwhelming brittleness when running network apps (your pal and mine: Netscape) that I could probably cause a lab full of Macs running in 1995 to crash just by thinking about 7.5.2 now (the laws of space-time are transcended by the kludge that was 7.5.2 and the first release of OpenTransport).

    These and other similar factors had the effect of ‘kool aid’ without some evil puppetmaster serving a poison cocktail.

    Flash forward:

    – The IE on the Mac deal (back then, the majority of web sites were actually built on Macs) contributes to the ubiquity of sites compatible with IE. (the end of the cheesy ‘Best viewed with Netscape’ badges).

    – A deal with AOL to bundle IE also helps.

    – A bunch of illegal deals also help (sorry but the fact is that MS’s actions during the browser war have been found to be illegal in several courts).

    – Office effectively kills off WordPerfect (with more than a little help from Novell).

    – File format compatibility and some REALLY destructive decisions by big business and even units of the U.S. Government to make Word ‘dot-docs’ a de facto interchange format for text documents essentially make Office a requirement.

    and POOF we have Microsoft essentially owning the productivity applications business.

    While I won’t dispute the value and sincerity of your (and your fellow Redmondians) hard work making Word (and IE) a better product, the truth is factors having nothing to do with the superiority of the product have made them and Windows dominant. There’s no ‘kool aid’ there’s just something in the air that fogs the brain and prevents you and the software buying public from really asking themselves if they need macros, mail merges, OLE, live document linking, a proliferation of toobars and all manner of feature creep to write a resume or a letter to grandma.

    The problem we have is that Microsoft has been so successful in profiting from the intoxicated air that they have ammassed so much money that it’s cheaper to give Sun more than a billion dollars to settle a Java lawsuit than to allow the truth to emerge on court and win or lose on the merits. They’ve got so much cash that $600 mil to the EU is cheaper than unbundling WiMP and potentially precluding MS control of the media marketplace.

    Microsoft isn’t evil. Bill Gates isn’t evil. Steve Balmer… well Balmer is a little gruff and bombastic but even he (probably) isn’t evil but the net EFFECT is destructive enough as to be indestinguishable from evil.

    Unless the people both inside and outside of Microsoft decide that a world where Microsoft gets rich making better products that own 50% of a given market segment is MUCH better for society as a whole and the process of technological evolution than MS owning 90% we’re all in DEEP TROUBLE.

    – Yer Pal A.C.

    P.S. If there is an interested reaction to this, I’ll dig up some links but I urge readers to seek out the recent DOJ anti-trust file ‘findings of fact’, Avie Tevanian’s testimony about MS threats to kill Office and ‘knife the baby’ and some other interesting little tidbits that might help them breathe ‘clean’ air.

  122. Superguest says:

    Haha, it’s so comical to observe rabid, illogical anti-Microsoft zealots as they showcase their lunacy in forums like this. I actually linked from Slashdot, too, but not everyone from there is a foaming-at-the-mouth, shaggy-bearded, recursive-acronym-loving, card-carrying member of the GNU army. (The "M$" and "Micro$oft" stuff, btw, is still VERY cool and innovative, guys. Kudos for your continued inventiveness.)

    Ray: Umm, the products "M$" tries to "shove down our throats"? You mean…the products that they put on the shelves with little price tags and let us purchase? I was using Office XP at work for a long time after 2003 came out. Guess what? No prompts, no incompatibilities, no warnings, no calls. How exactly are they shoving these things down our throats? Windows XP? Yeah, of course I heard when it came out. Not from "M$". From friends, the Internet, stores, and so on. MS Project? MS Money? MS Office? MS hardware? MS SQL Server? MS Exchange? I know what I know about them from actively searching, not from any shoving down proverbial throats. You should maybe try toning down your rhetoric, rejoining reality, and letting loose of some of that angst. Dunno, just sort of throwing that out there.

    Hah, and another good one in the hits parade: Microsoft abuses their monopoly power. Man, it must really SUCK being a victim all the time! All the armed MS programmers holding the cold barrel of the gun to the back of your neck, pushing you into Best Buy, steering you to the software section, and forcing you to purchase their software. What? That didn’t happen? Darn, looks like you…what?…actually… weren’t forced to purchase MS stuff at all?

    Sarcasm aside, let’s just please be practical when discussing this somehow inflammatory topic of Microsoft. They make plenty of useful stuff (and btw, I like Linux a lot; it’s rough around the edges on the desktop, but workable, and I use it for all my servers). There’s also plenty of useful open source stuffas well as useful stuff by other companies. For the sake of decency, please stop insisting that all these guys like Chris, who just like coding and working on these software projects, come in with plans of evil domination, and that any action of theirs that appears "normal," "measured," "conciliatory," or "human" is actually some ploy to fool all the dumb masses. These are normal guys, and some hate their jobs, and some love them; but I’d wager that most are jazzed about what they’re working on and want to extol its virtues to anyone who’ll listen — just like the rest of us.

    And Linux zealots: to avoid looking utterly asenine, try not mentioning that you run 3 flavors of Linux and OSX at home, with Star/Open Office, and Mozilla and Opera and Apache, AND insisting that they’re all BETTER than MS’s products, and in the same entry railing on how MS is making the world miserable with their crushing monopolistic power. Look up the word "monopoly" sometime — not as determined by government, but as determined by economics, and realize that 90% market share DOES NOT equal a monopoly (and MS doesn’t even approach 90% market penetration in the vast majority of their product lines, anyway). There are over a dozen other OSes out there, Linux in particular growing phenomenally all the time, with the distinct advantage that it’s completely FREE, and in your opinion better. Monopoly == no other options. So stop latching onto the word like a mantra, all the while ironically accusing anyone who likes MS of being a sheep because the software works well for them.

    We see articles all the time of this or that gov’t agency replacing Windows with Linux on 5000 machines, and /. people insist OSS is innovating, and MS isn’t. So…uhh… what exactly is the problem? OSS free…OSS available in many flavors…downloadable online…millions of programmers around the world…gaining market share…better software anyway….several large and competing companies behind it…runs on tons more hardware platforms… Man, that MS monopoly is holding us back big time! There are just no other options! Holy crap, stop being sore losers.

    Lastly, don’t cite the EU ruling as evidence of anything other than socialistic fear and protectionism on behalf of said regulatory body. Funny how anything MS does for money is suspect, and (read Slashdot sometime) all US government motives are suspect, but the EU files suit against MS for $600 mil, and it’s all in the name of righteousness. Laughable. Take a class on logical (or at least consistent and honest) thought. Wanna go by the heuristic that government rulings make right? Fine: black people in the 1930s really were inferior. Mitnick is a criminal. Gay marriages should be allowed. Gay marriages shouldn’t be allowed. McDonald’s should have to warn people that their coffee will be hot. Every part of the PATRIOT Act is good and proper (ooo, that hits close to home for /. people).

    Stop hating MS because it’s popular to do so. Evaluate each individual and piece of software as you come across it, and be objective. That’s how you’d want everyone to be about you and your OSS project, right? The MS employees aren’t evil, and the company’s not evil. The bias is getting very, very old.

  123. Amante says:

    Very interesting. I was wondering if the following would work.


    Or maybe the following.


    Just checking.

    love t4c.

  124. help says:

    <b> help <b>

  125. Brett says:


    "Look up the word "monopoly" sometime — not as determined by government, but as determined by economics, and realize that 90% market share DOES NOT equal a monopoly (and MS doesn’t even approach 90% market penetration in the vast majority of their product lines, anyway)"

    But it’s the government one that matters.

    "Hah, and another good one in the hits parade: Microsoft abuses their monopoly power."

    Yes they do, and have been charged of such by multiple governments. Unfortunately the fines fall far short of the benefits they gain by breaching those restrictions.

    Even in this story there is evidence of the microsoft monopoly abuse when competing with OS using software products. Word was released along side the behemoth windows 95, leveraging its marketing budget and strategies. (if I understand what was written correctly)


  126. Mind the Gap says:

    Chris Pratley has posted an absolutely fascinating look into the history of Microsoft Word. His piece is pretty accurate, based on what I know, though he misses one big point: The reason Word Perfect and others missed the boat on Windows was because everyone thought OS/2 with it’s Presentation Manager…

  127. I_abhor_net_thugs says:

    It’s funny that those net thugs knew they were actually net thugs and identified themselves so readily. Here we have an intelligent and eloquent blog entry assaulted by the mindless Slashdot gangsters. I mean look at that little turd (Amante) who pasted the long string to sabotage the discussion.

    They think they are embracing a just, moral cause against corporate greed, while they are being mass-deluded and manipulated by their corporate master (IBM) to launch an assault at Microsoft like rabid, filthy dogs.

    Regardless of my personal opinion about Microsoft and its products, the disgusting behavior of the Linux/Slashdot/OSS/FSF crowd just make sick to my stomach!

    I once contemplated trying Linux to see what it’s all about. But who wants to associate himself with these rude savages?

  128. I_abhor_net_thugs says:

    It’s funny that those net thugs knew they were actually net thugs and identified themselves so readily. Here we have an intelligent and eloquent blog entry assaulted by the mindless Slashdot gangsters. I mean look at that little turd (Amante) who pasted the long string to sabotage the discussion.

    They think they are embracing a just, moral cause against corporate greed, while they are being mass-deluded and manipulated by their corporate master (IBM) to launch an assault at Microsoft like rabid, filthy dogs.

    Regardless of my personal opinion about Microsoft and its products, the disgusting behavior of the Linux/Slashdot/OSS/FSF crowd just make sick to my stomach!

    I once contemplated trying Linux to see what it’s all about. But who wants to associate himself with these rude savages?

  129. DoubleZer08 says:

    Hey, your history amazes me and I find it incredible that you work with some of technologies heros. You yourself have made your part in history. I am in the process of starting my own company but I, too, long to be part of history. I wouldn’t mind working for such a large company but I have no clue how to get my foot in the door. Any suggestions?

  130. chort says:

    Just look at all these Slashdotters completely getting the point wrong. I’ve been trying to tell people that religious wars don’t translate into software acceptence… Oh well.

    I absolutely dispise Microsoft for their extreme anti-competitive practices (which are recognized by just about every justice system that has ever examined them), but Linux certainly won’t "win" with this mindset. Adopting from a popular bumper sticker: "Linus, save me from your followers".

    So ironic that the only way Linux will actually be adopted in anything approaching mainstream is on the backs of the eeeeeevil IBM, HP, Sun, Novell, etc… By then it won’t really look like GNU/Linux any way, and all the zealots will brood in the corner waiting for Debian’s next release (in approximately 5 years, after all the purging and purifying of every crumb not blessed by His Holiness RMS–here I thought MS was the one with the intolerably long release cycles).

    Oh well, have fun storming the castle!

  131. I found your article to be very interesting and informative. I look forward to finding time to read your other ones. I hope you’ll keep up the good work, as you clearly have a lot of experience to share with the rest of the world — both about professional project development generally and Microsoft history and internal workings in particular.

    One suggestion: I hope you won’t hesitate to simply delete the tons of absolute crap posted by the ankle-biters and knee-jerk MS haters. They don’t add anything to the discussion and they do detract considerably from the high standard you set with your own essays. At a minimum, most of the rants are way Off Topic. And the negative volume seems to have grown exponentially since lunchtime today.

    There’s no free speech issue here. It’s YOUR blog. Please do moderate the contents so it continues to be worth visiting and reading. There were a few concise criticisms arguably worth retaining. But there is no need for you to permit the same old anti-MS rants here. There are plenty of other places to read this crap if one wishes.

  132. Chris,

    In the Rapid Development of Steve McConnel there is a story about the Word for Windows 1.0.

    Steve writes: "The development of Microsoft Word for Windows 1.0 provides an object

    lesson in the effects of optimistic scheduling practices. Word for Windows,

    aka "WinWord," spent 5 years in development, consumed 660 man-months

    of developer effort, and produced a system of 249.000 lines of code (lansiti


    Can you write about that? We can learn by the success and errors from Microsoft.


  133. I’m curious as to whether you know why the comparison of Micrsoft Office vs OpenOffice.org and (to a lesser degree) StarOffice was pulled from the partners website. Do you know? Is it something you can tell us about?



  134. Andrew says:

    Interesting to see the Microsoft perspective. I think there are a couple of points you made that are inaccurate… Firstly, you state that MS made DOS and the fact that PC Word didn’t do well was testament to the argument that it didn’t matter MS knew the OS better than anyone else – it wouldn’t lead to a better product. But that’s not the point. Word made a breakthrough with Win 3.0 as you state – none of your competitors at that time would have had the knowledge or ability to produce a good Win 3.0 application, and even if they did, wouldn’t have had that knowledge until a long time after the Word team. I also remember a certain lawsuit where it was shown MS was hiding key APIs in Windows 3 from competitors in order to allow it to build better applications.

    Secondly, you also state Windows was a huge bet, while at the time I remember windowing systems being all the rage in terms of future development because while the hard-core of PC users liked the command line (I was one of them), it was obvious a better system was needed to allow business to train their staff in applications more easily… It wasn’t the big bet you say it was – the move was obvious even at the time (I remember looking at OS/2 Presentation Manager, GEM, etc., thinking this was the way to go). It may not have happened so quickly, but it was going to happen at some point. The fact experts stated it was for "novices" just proved that in my mind.

  135. crankyuser says:

    From Chris Pratley’s blog, the husband of a coworker:WordStar made a few releases, each time preserving their set of keystrokes and operation, as well as being able to work with old files. Then they made a huge mistake. They created…

  136. What I’m trying to resolve is the concept of the "visionary" who is trying to blaze a fresh trail all their own, so doesn’t have a bunch of stupid ‘ol customers telling them what to build…

  137. Chris,

    As someone who has spent a substantial amount of time helping people to use Chinese in Office on the Macintosh (see the link), I was wondering two things:

    1. Why was the Chinese bug in Excel 2001/v. X never fixed by Microsoft? I never could understand that decision.

    2. The Chinese version of Word for Windows is a strong product, and I imagine it is the result of roughly the same sort of no-nonsense development effort you describe for Japan. Why hasn’t there been an effort to fully integrate Chinese features into Word for Macintosh, like there has been for Japanese?

    The only semi-plausible theory I have heard (for both of the above questions) was that the unofficial, flawed Chinese support in the Mac products was left in place in order to avoid Chinese-based mass-piracy operations, since the profit margin for Office:mac in Asia was already quite thin or possibly non-existent. The few semi-public statements (by Microsoft reps at the Mac expos, for example) have been that there was not enough demand for full-blown Chinese support in Office:mac. But, on the face of it, given the size of the Chinese community around the world, that really doesn’t ring true. So what’s the story? You seem to be the right person to ask!

    I would also like to plead for a full set of Chinese proofing tools in the future editions of Office:mac, now that it will support Unicode. Judging from the few things I have seen (on the Unicode list and elsewhere), we will only get very basic Chinese support in Office 2004 on the Macintosh. While that will be in itself a substantial improvement, would it be so hard to then take the next step and finish the job?

    Thanks, Eric

  138. Chris Pratley has an interesting (and slightly lengthy) post about the word processor wars during the 1980’s and how MS Word came out on top…

  139. Chris,

    Whats your take on projects to reverse engineer the Word file format? Like Apache POI and wvware. Do you think they are a good thing because it helps programmers work with the format? Or a bad thing because it encourages programming outside of the Word COM model?

    Also, what do you see as the future of the file format. Do you see it going completely to XML? (That would be great by the way!)


  140. g1g3m says:

    Someone asked about MS Works earlier. I didn’t see a reply.

    Is Works a bastard step child?

    Do they only install it on some systems so they can tell novice users that this desktop will fill all your needs – it already comes with a word processor, spreadsheet, email……? OR is it actually a honest to god economy offshoot to WORD.

  141. Peter Mackay says:

    As many others have said: "Fascinating!"

    I’m in a similar boat – throughout the 80s and 90s I was about as staunch a Mac fan as you could get. My chosen platform was cool, elegant, user-friendly and supported by the artiest, the wittiest the coolest people in computing. Or out of it.

    But eventually I got tired of having to pay more for less. Sure, it was all good stuff. What there was of it. Eventually the competing pressures of Windows at work and the PC platform amongst my son’s friends influenced me to buy a PC and then to use it in preference to my beloved Mac. Got sick of "switching gears" between a one-button and two-button mouse, you see.

    And the arrival of Windows 98 and NT4 pretty well sealed the deal. Both of them were good operating systems after many years of laughably "user-vicious" systems.

    I remember the Word/WordPerfect/WordStar battles very well. I started off with CP/M boxes, first running on an Apple ][, then an Osborne I and finally DOS on a PC. WordStar was it! Those keyboard codes were automatic after a while.

    When I switched to the Mac I was right in the battle line. WordStar wasn’t available for the Mac, but everything else was. And a few more oddities. Truth to tell, they were all pretty cool. I liked using a mouse, and I was never that good a typist that taking my hands off the keyboard to use the mouse was a big deal.

    Abd I remember Word 6 on the Mac. The big thing was that the PC and the Mac used the same manual and the same software. More or less.

    But Word 6 had some slow memory leak and while it launched the equal of the PC version, it gradually slowed down until it was labouring to keep up with keystrokes and then would fall behind and ultimately crash out. Nice user interface, very powerful product, a joy to use. But not for more than a few minutes at a time!

    It was eventually fixed, but the damage was done.

    For many years I looked on Microsoft as "thuh enemy". Bunch of dwebs with no real understanding of what real users like me wanted out of software. But I came around when the reality changed and the products became reliable, powerful and useful.

    It sometimes seems to me that many of Microsoft’s most vocal opponents haven’t bothered trying the very things they criticise. For them it is eternally 1997.


    Peter Mackay MCP MCSD

  142. Chris, THANK YOU for sharing this. This inside account fills in a lot of holes in my own knowledge, and yes, I’ve used Word since version 1.1 (couldn’t afford the original 1.0).

  143. teenwolf says:

    "It’s funny that those net thugs knew they were actually net thugs and identified themselves so readily. Here we have an intelligent and eloquent blog entry assaulted by the mindless Slashdot gangsters. I mean look at that little turd (Amante) who pasted the long string to sabotage the discussion." – Linux fanatics/Slashdot thugs: YOU STINK! 4/28/2004 12:03 AM I_abhor_net_thugs

    um, he specifically mentioned some vague group of "net thugs" who went around making "outrageous claims about Microsoft and its behavior, motives, etc in every public forum they find", when it was mentioned that the story hit slashdot, posters here portrayed anyone coming from slashdot as the "net thugs" previously mentioned. The only reason people kept putting references to it in their posts was because it was obviously a slur directed at anyone from slashdot who might have criticism about MS. No one identified themselves as a "net thug" before the label was pre-emptively slapped on them. Your attempt to portray the situation otherwise is pathetically inane and baseless.

    And I do love your oh so "logical" assumptive slur referring to people here as "mindless Slashdot gangsters". The large majority of people who stated they were from slashdot posted rational posts, most with disparaging and or critical things to say about Microsoft, but since when does that inherently relegate posters and their comments to being "mindless"?? And how exactly are people from slashdot "gangsters"?? The large majority of the slashdot posters, including myself, refrained from using childish slurs to denigrate other posters or views, the critical experiences and facts that were posted spoke for themselves.

    Quite frankly, you come off as an illogical fool with an axe to grind, the "funny" thing is that you berate others as so called "rude savages" while behaving like one yourself, and without any hint of irony…

  144. gamewhore says:

    Chris Pratley has put together a very interesting history of Word, from the original DOS version up to WordXP. He’s been intimately involved with Office/Word since 1995 and for Word 2k3 he served as group program manager, i.e. the overseer….

  145. Superguest says:


    You seem to hold very vague notions regarding the topics of monopoly, abuse of power, and the role of government in both.

    First, it’s irresponsible and illogical to use government verdicts as a benchmark for truth; the government is made up of people no better than those at Microsoft or any other company. Do you think they’re just going to flush that $600 million, that it was purely punitive action taken against MS? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the power to simply fine a company for practices that offend the sensibilities of plenty of people like you, at the same time swiftly pocketing over half a billion dollars?

    If you have no notion of what’s right outside of what government tells you is right, then what’s your barometer to determine whether government is in the right or not?

    Oh, and if you really do want to use government as a metric, let’s count up all the countries who HAVEN’T sued MS, and have therefore NOT deemed MS to be a dangerous monopoly. I’d have you beat over 10-1, guaranteed. But pointing to government as your proof is like equating them with God — "See! The almighty one has revealed the truth! I knew it all along!" Get with the program and start regarding government decisions with WAAAAY more skepticism than ANY company’s, because the gov’s decisions are forced on us all.

    So MS used their OS leverage to…uhh…hype up their Office products. MAN! WHAT A CRIME! They made Office look like a good thing, and all those poor people were forced to buy it, because it was released on the same date as Windows 95. That’s horrible! I hardly even know how to respond to such illogic.

    Oh, hey, guess what I didn’t buy when Windows 95 came out — Office! Man, looks like I had a choice and made it. What are you complaining about? How is their advertising abusing monopoly power in any way at all? Pity not the person who blindly believes advertising in this day and age — he’s a fool. Pick up a magazine, read a blog, look at the competitor’s software, and make a decision. Please do tell me how they’re abusing power.

    Hahaha, sorry, I just can’t get over this statement:

    "Even in this story there is evidence of the microsoft monopoly abuse when competing with OS using software products. Word was released along side the behemoth windows 95, leveraging its marketing budget and strategies."

    They used their money too efficiently! How unfair! You’re right — we should ruthlessly PUNISH the companies who get too successful! If everyone knows that’s what lies ahead, it’ll really boost entrepreneurship!

    Pick up an economics book sometime.

  146. Word sucks says:

    I can’t believe how trusting people are! The amount of people who seem to accept this “blog” as Gospel is stunning. For a start, I don’t believe that Microsoft would allow its staff to “blog” like this on company time (especially not the essay that this blog is), and as I can’t imagine anyone would write an epic like this on their spare time, the only reason I can accept for this blog existing is b/c MS wants to spread more FUD.

    Of all the programs I’ve ever used, Microsoft Word is the only one that made me want to throw my PC out the window. I don’t believe for a second that MS won market share b/c it was/is a better product than WordPerfect. MAYBE when Windows was first released and WP for Windows first came onto it, WP was rubbishy. But the fault was not solely WP Corp’s fault. MS committed to OS2 and then reneged at the last minute, leaving IBM and WP Corp with no other option than to rush products for Windows. Oh, how coincidental that MS just happened to have a stable version of Word available—especially when it had committed to OS2!

    [quote]won some reviews against DOS WordPerfect, especially in things like ease of use and WYSIWYG editing[/quote]

    Hello? WYSIWYG in Word? Please. Even Word 2003 isn’t WYSIWYG. If it were, there wouldn’t be Print Preview, as anyone who’s ever put a page border in Word (only to see the bottom disappear when printed) can attest. Word is NOT WYSIWYG. And you work for MS and [i]with[/i] Word?

    The bottom line is that Word never has—and never will be—the best word-processor on the market. Between its hellish Tables, its stupid ‘Breaks’, its lack of stream formatting, its file size limits, its lack of Reveal Codes, and its non-WYSIWYG environment, it’s just not in the league of WordPerfect.

    It’s sad that you worked on Tables—Word’s worst feature. I know people who have left our company and after a few weeks of working with Tables in Word, they’ve gone out and bought WordPerfect—JUST so they don’t have to work with Tables in Word!

    As you can glean, our Office uses WordPerfect (9). We’ve just finished trialing Word 2003. Our Team Administrators spent months comparing it to WordPerfect. Nearly all of these Team Administrators come from a Word background and have often wanted us to switch to Word, but after 2 years of using WordPerfect, NONE of them wants to go back to Word! All of them now say the same thing: “I LOVE WordPerfect. I don’t want to switch”—even thought it means they have to have 2 copies of many documents. In fact, I don’t know any ‘power user’ who prefers Word! Even the students who use Word at their colleges all fall in love with WordPerfect. I myself am from a Word background. I used it from 1991-1996, and now I wouldn’t switch to Word for love nor money. WordPerfect is simply a vastly superior product—it always has been, and it always will be, even if Corel goes bankrupt, I’ll run WordPerfect until it won’t run any more.

    What’s this leading up to? WordPerfect is such an awesome program that there is no way in h*ll that Word won market share because it’s the better program; it won market share because MS used illegal practices, whether those were blackmailing manufacturers to ship MSO with Windows; reneging on OS2; bribing Reviewers; giving Word away for free; telling their Techies to uninstall WordPerfect if they went to customers who were have IT problems . . . whatever. Word is where it is today for no other reason than MS did what it took to take WP down. If it had been a fair fight, WP would have won hands down.

    If MS really wants a great word-processor, just buy WP from Corel and scrap Word.

    P.S. To all the MAC lovers . . . it sucks! Until the day MACs maximize Windows (why should I have to drag every, single Window to get it to fill the screen), I’ll NEVER switch to a MAC!

  147. teenwolf wrote:

    > um, he specifically mentioned some vague

    > group of "net thugs" who went around

    > making "outrageous claims about Microsoft

    > and its behavior, motives, etc in every

    > public forum they find", when it was

    > mentioned that the story hit slashdot,

    > posters here portrayed anyone coming from

    > slashdot as the "net thugs" previously

    > mentioned. The only reason people kept

    > putting references to it in their posts was

    > because it was obviously a slur directed at

    > anyone from slashdot who might have

    > criticism about MS. No one identified

    > themselves as a "net thug" before the label

    > was pre-emptively slapped on them. Your

    > attempt to portray the situation otherwise

    > is pathetically inane and baseless.

    Hmmm… I read Slashdot all the time (Karma: Excellent, in fact), and probably have a lower UID than you…

    … but for some odd reason, I didn’t identify myself as a "net thug" the way that you appear to have.

    How odd.

  148. Brett says:



    You seem to hold very vague notions regarding the topics of monopoly, abuse of power, and the role of government in both.


    Just as you hold vague notions of what the anti-trust cases were about. Do I take the word of governments and judges, or your own words?

    "First, it’s irresponsible and illogical to use government verdicts as a benchmark for truth; the government is made up of people no better than those at Microsoft or any other company."

    I will take our courts judgements more often than, say, some guy on a blog forum 😉

    "If you have no notion of what’s right outside of what government tells you is right, then what’s your barometer to determine whether government is in the right or not? "

    I don’t know where you got that idea. I have plenty of notion about what’s right. On one hand, microsoft is just a company delivering coupled products. Nothing new there, and companies do it all the time. On the other hand, microsoft have built up a platform on which other companies stake their livelyhood by delivering software products that run on that system. When microsoft abuse their operating system strong-hold to stomp on those companies, I see something very wrong with that.

    It’s also the degree to which the wrongness happens. With microsoft it has become very frequent.

    It’s like email spam versus snail mail spam. In australia it’s legal to send unsolicited snail mail spam, but illegal to send unsolicited email spam. Why? It all boils down to the degree at which it happens. Snail-mail spamming is expensive, so it is self-regulating. Email-spam is dirt-cheap, so the self-regulating isn’t enough and we need governments to step-in and put enforcements in place.

    Sorry, but the bulk of your comments I read as flamebait.


  149. Word Sucks wrote:


    I can’t believe how trusting people are! The amount of people who seem to accept this “blog” as Gospel is stunning. For a start, I don’t believe that Microsoft would allow its staff to “blog” like this on company time (especially not the essay that this blog is), and as I can’t imagine anyone would write an epic like this on their spare time, the only reason I can accept for this blog existing is b/c MS wants to spread more FUD.


    That’s pretty pathetic. You wrote a pretty long post yourself. How long did it take you? A few minutes? 10?

    My guess would be that the blog post that Chris wrote took maybe 30 minutes to write. Possibly an hour if he was careful over it.

    As for why he’s writing it?

    When I left Microsoft in 1999, I wrote an 8 page letter to the high ups (Bill Gates and Steve Balmer included) which detailed what I saw as wrong with Microsoft. One of the things that I pointed out as being completely and utterly insane was the way that nearly ALL corporate communications with end users, developers and customers was from trained PR people.

    I said that blogging and a more open line of communications should be encouraged. Not only should MS employees in the trenches get out to meet their customers, but they should participate on Usenet, talk to people by email – all that good stuff that lets people know that a friendly face is there.


    Because it shows that Microsoft employees are passionate about what they do, and it closes the loop with feedback from the people who will be using the stuff – it stops mistakes from happening which make people like you jump up and down and shout "Conspiracy!" or "Redmond Bastards!".

    I feel really sorry for you if you think that writing a post like his took an inordinate amount of time. If you’re passionate about a subject, it doesn’t take that long. And he’s very obviously passionate about his material.

  150. Superguest says:


    I understand your gut reaction of believing the courts vs. some guy on a blog — sure. But the primary freedom I have from the situation is that I am not receiving $600 million for making my case. Unlike all the outspoken politicians, I have no letters of complaint from constituents and competitors who feel MS is being unfair. This is just an off-the-cuff response based on the tenets of an open market. In the end, the only "opinion" you should accept whole-heartedly is your own, after balancing all the arguments (with no emotion!)…but don’t weight those arguments based purely on who said them (and if you do, I hope you know all their motivations for saying them).

    I have no connection to MS. I like some of their software…it’s good. Some other stuff I hate. But what of theirs have I bought? MS Money. MS Windows, with a computer (and could’ve chosen not to). Actually, I think that’s it. So when you complain about so-called abuses of power that amount to no more than MS using their vast resources to advertise and strategically launch their products, I fail to have any sympathy. In the end, ever single consumer and business has the choice to buy MS, and not to buy MS. What they decide is based on a number of factors, but it’s their decision. Please tell me how this choice is an abuse of power.

    In every single market, MS has competitors. Also, please tell me how this amounts to a monopoly.

    And when you say things like MS abused its monopoly power with Office at the time of the Windows 95 launch, to outmaneuver their competitors, it’s patently foolish. If they HAD competitors to outmaneuver, they weren’t a monopoly, and therefore had no monopoly power. A statement like that contradicts itself.

    Finally, it’s not the government decision that matters. You brushed aside my urging to look at the economic definition of monopoly earlier, which is the sole objective source goverment should be using to determine that monopolies are bad in the first place and need action taken against them. If a company doesn’t meet the economic criteria for monopoly, the gov shouldn’t persecute them as such, period. To do so reflects a separation from the facts, the research, and foundations of a free market.

    You not liking a company, and you wishing people weren’t buying their stuff so much compared to competitors, does not a monopoly or a crime make. Weigh your decisions with the logic that free-market economists have laid out for decades.

  151. rjw says:

    Interesting history. Care toi consider the secrecy with which Windows was developed and the OS/2 "partnership" between MS and IBM that MS pulled out of at the last moment when it used the DOS licensing process to force Win 3.1 onto machines?

  152. A fun comparison. Joel Spolsky:


    "When I was an Israeli paratrooper a general stopped by to give us a little speech about strategy. In infantry battles, he told us, there is only one strategy: Fire and Motion. You move towards the enemy while firing your weapon. The firing forces him to keep his head down so he can’t fire at you. […] The motion allows you to conquer territory and get closer to your enemy, where your shots are much more likely to hit their target. If you’re not moving, the enemy gets to decide what happens, which is not a good thing.

    […] "The companies who stumble are the ones who spend too much time reading tea leaves to figure out the future direction of Microsoft. People get worried about .NET and decide to rewrite their whole architecture for .NET because they think they have to. Microsoft is shooting at you, and it’s just cover fire so that they can move forward and you can’t, because this is how the game is played, Bubby."

    And Chris Pratley, here:


    "Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback. That puts the competition into reaction mode. And of course it helps if they also make a strategic error because they are under so much pressure."

  153. CheeseMan says:

    I haven’t followed the entire list of posts, so excuse me if someone has made this comment already…

    IMHO, MS won the WP wars by having both a) focus on getting the minimal acceptable features into customer hands as quickly as possible, and b) leveraging their market position across products. Simple as that. Owning the OS was a part of that early on, and owning the de facto standard word processor file format is part of that now.

    Surely this is just good business, from Microsoft’s point of view – It’s just "Business 101": you build a defensible market position and leverage it into adjacent markets. Anti-trust laws are there to step in when what is beneficial to the company becomes detrimental to the customer.

  154. teenwolf says:

    Simon Cooke [exMSFT]


    Hmmm… I read Slashdot all the time (Karma: Excellent, in fact), and probably have a lower UID than you…

    … but for some odd reason, I didn’t identify myself as a "net thug" the way that you appear to have.

    How odd.


    OMGOMG WOW, your Karma is excellent and your UID is lower than mine?!?!… This would mean what to me exactly? oh wait, I guess I should be putting undue weight on my opinion of the intellectual worth of you and your argument now that I know that you are GASP a better user of slashdot than I am. Especially since that point was so readily "proven" by yourself too, thanks for the heads up man! cough

    Try reading what I said again, I thought the point I was trying to make would have been quite clear to anyone. "The only reason people kept putting references to it in their posts was because it was obviously a slur directed at anyone from slashdot who might have criticism about MS. No one identified themselves as a "net thug" before the label was pre-emptively slapped on them.".

    4/27/2004 1:50 PM RoseColoredGlasses

    4/27/2004 2:26 PM mike

    4/27/2004 3:53 PM xfury

    4/27/2004 5:13 PM Anonymous Coward

    4/27/2004 8:03 PM Rustin Wright

    4/27/2004 9:49 PM Anonymous Coward

    These are some of the people who "identified" themselves as "net thugs". And by "indentified" I of course meant, made some kind of comment that assumed the slur referred to them because they had something critical to say about MS or because they came from slashdot…

  155. Word sucks says:

    Simon Cooke

    Really? 30 minutes to type 4000 words? Gee, I wish I could type 120 words a minute. Try an hour to compose, and if he were careful, 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours.

    Yeah, that really compares to the 10 minutes it took to write a reply.

    Maybe you used Word’s ‘Word Count’ Feature, and that’s why you were so far off with your estimates?

  156. Brett says:


    "In every single market, MS has competitors. Also, please tell me how this amounts to a monopoly.

    And when you say things like MS abused its monopoly power with Office at the time of the Windows 95 launch, to outmaneuver their competitors, it’s patently foolish. If they HAD competitors to outmaneuver, they weren’t a monopoly, and therefore had no monopoly power. A statement like that contradicts itself. "

    It looks like you’re taking missing the point (or twisting a point) to an art-form. Microsoft had competitors to outmaneuver with their office product. The did so by leveraging their OS product. That is not an even playing field. They got worse as well. Forcing resellers into contracts to ship with their products instead of the competitors — again, using their operating system to eliminate competetion in non OS products.

    I said it here, which you seemed to ignore:


    I don’t know where you got that idea. I have plenty of notion about what’s right. On one hand, microsoft is just a company delivering coupled products. Nothing new there, and companies do it all the time. On the other hand, microsoft have built up a platform on which other companies stake their livelyhood by delivering software products that run on that system. When microsoft abuse their operating system strong-hold to stomp on those companies, I see something very wrong with that.


    I accept that you don’t accept it. However most people do, including governments and courts.


  157. Just a nit: where Chris refers to timing a Word release to coincide with a Windows release is NOT (!) an example of exercising Monopoly power.

    ANY third party company can and many do enjoy the same advantage, timing their releases to coincide with Windows releases to maximize the free publicity.

    Microsoft actively and openly assists interested 3rd party vendors in this regard with Logo programs, disclosure about key announcement dates, etc. Most serious 3rd parties are part of the OS beta program and have a year’s (or more) experience with the new OS precisely so that they can, if they wish, be in a position to ship the same time as Windows.

    Yes, piggy-backing your release with Windows is highly beneficial but it’s not a special privilege available exclusively for MS program managers. MS allows and expressly encourages “everybody” to get in on the act.

  158. Word Sucks wrote:


    Really? 30 minutes to type 4000 words? Gee, I wish I could type 120 words a minute. Try an hour to compose, and if he were careful, 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours.


    I can type 120 words a minute. It’s not that hard. And I can write articles at that speed too – particularly if they’re going to end up on a blog, and not in a magazine.

    It’s why I used to do rather well out of being a freelance writer.

  159. I wonder if everyone wouldn’t mind please refraining from the ad hominem attacks here. I don’t want to have to start deleting comments, but I will if they are just attacks without relevant content.

    I also want to clear up some implications here that people from slashdot were unfairly targeted. Actually, I never mentioned slashdot in this post or previous posts – go back and check. I defined net thugs as people who show up and make baseless attacks in order to bring reasoned debate to standstill, possibly because they think this is entertaining, or maybe they have another reason. Some people who arrived after my blog was posted on slashdot referred to themselves as net thugs, and some of them actually proceeded to act as such (others just disagreed with me, which is fine). I don’t know if those people were from slashdot or not, but some other commentators claimed they were. I have no problem with people from slashdot participating here – I just want to keep the debate fact-based, civil and not personal.

    Thank you for understanding.

  160. BL says:

    I gotta agree with ‘Word sucks’. I’ve only ever met one person in my life who could top 100 words a minute, and she was considered exceptional. When she took typing tests, most people proclaimed "We can’t believe the speed you just scored". And SHE was a typist.

    The average speed is below 40 wpm, and 60 wpm is considered good. Above 100 is less than 1% of the population. Somehow, it’s hard to believe that both you and this author are in the top 1% of typists in the world.

    Check out the following URL for Typing Speed results:


  161. Well, my speed (just measured) is 83wpm on material I entering on an official test – I’m usually much faster than that when I’m writing my own material, because I don’t make transcription errors.

  162. My typing speed is about 25-30wpm, with a lot of typos. That’s why it took me 3+ hours to write this post, and another 30 min to review it and make sure I liked it. (see http://weblogs.asp.net/chris_pratley/archive/2004/04/29/123619.aspx for details)

  163. MDias says:

    This was insightful reading… I feel like I can confirm most of the (official) story, just because I happen to live in a somewhat computer time-shifted country of southern Europe.

    Although I arrived relatively late to computers, (c. 1990) I was a very eager newbie (I fact I got a job as "computer operator" that same year). I used Lotus 123 and DBase III ‘ab initio’, but I still remember how I’d mess with DOS edit or Windows Write (IMHO, the first windows killer app) rather than meddle with the then still omnipresent Wordstar. I really found it icky!

    In November-December of the same year I went for an internship in Denmark, where I had a real epiphany about wordprocessing: the company where I worked had WP 5.1 for DOS in every computer and a LAN with laser printers. I rapidly came out of my stupor and started churning perfectly edited documents (did I mention my duty as a serviceman was to type?). The code approach, the codeview window and a template for your keyboard function keys extracted from the help system (WP was the first program I knew with a true help) permitted you to do magic with very little effort (and please remeber that english is not my native language).

    Meanwhile, I got acquainted with PC-Word — un-intuitive and very, very limited — and Word 2 — as it imported WP DOS documents fairly well, it was good when you really needed WYSIWYG, but it was buggy and with large documents could drive you nuts; WP, on the other hand, given the appropriate (nimble) resources could handle 300 pages flawlessly.

    WP saw me through university with a rather convoluted infra-structure: I had an Olivetti Quaderno notebook who loked like a large calculator; as it was an XT clone with a 10 MB hard-disk, no floppy and a 16 shades of grey display, it couldn’t really do Windows, but its ROM based DOS 5 permited WP to soar through my term papers. For printing, I used the student’s guild’s Apple laser printer, but had to connect via the serial port. WP emulated the printer and made it work! You could say those were heroic days.

    After finishing my degree (1995), I switched to Word 6, superseded shortly after by Word 95, since by then it was everywhere.

    Just some context, to support my two cents: Microsoft really excel’s (pardon my pun;) on focusing on consumers; hype and greed is what defeats it. A software house doesn’t have to be a media empire to make good products and, although I am no MS basher, I have come across episodes where MS actions did stifle the competition — remember Netscape? Just one example. I think that diversity is a valuable, in nature or in society. It let me use WP when everybody around me was using Wordstar, and keep on using it while other were fighting with Windows 3.x application tantruns.

    Just a view from the other side 🙂 (Portugal)

  164. ISC Staff says:

    A fresh MS3.1 or MS3.11 worked but messin’ and crashin’ go together! I was happy with Write and Works most of the time. I developed loyalty to Word/Excel when MS gave free copies to non-profits. I now own Office 2000 and Office XP. I settled on a multiligual W2K for my OS. I particularly like the interoperability. It does work.

  165. Robert Nagle says:

    This is an interesting piece on the history of word processing. One quibble: I understand the point being made about reviewers fussing about features that don’t really matter to end users (read the recent book Paradox of Choice about how "maximalizers" tend to look for the maximum amount of features to get the "best deal"). But word count is a big deal and a very commonly used function (esp in MS Word). I used it all the time as a secretary/typist and still do as a technical writer.

  166. Word sucks wrote: "I can’t imagine anyone would write an epic like this on their spare time"

    I think that says more about your imagination than it says about the piece.

  167. R. Wright says:

    Thanks for some great history! I well remember WP5.1 – what a crock. The company declared it a standard, as they did Lotus 1-2-3, and I tried both. I couldn’t erase them fast enough, and refused to require my group to use them. One product I was surprised to see die was Epson’s Valdocs, which shipped with their QX10/16 microcomputers and ran on an enhanced CP/M. It did everything modern Microsoft Works does now, but for reasons unknown to me it never made the transition to DOS and the Intel-based PC.

  168. bcaulf says:

    Peterson has made the text of his WordPerfect history book "Almost Perfect" available for free reading at http://www.fitnesoft.com/AlmostPerfect/

  169. The history of Word.

  170. bcaulf, thanks for the link to "Almost Perfect".

    Chapter 10 mentions Bill Gates extolling Windows (not OS/2) as the next great thing as early as 1989, although other parts of MS were still fulfilling the contract with IBM to co-promote OS/2.

    Chapter 12 is the most relevant to this blog entry, and seems to more or less corroborate what I have been writing, although of course with a WordPerfect point of view. This passage seemed particularly relevant, as it describes their inability to bring themselves to look at Windows as a platform they should develop on, which cost them a lot in the market:

    "In January Microsoft offered to make us a beta test site for Windows 3.0. We accepted their generous offer, but did little more than look Windows over. In hindsight, it is easy to see we should have done much more right away. At the time, we could justify not doing a Windows 2.0 version in favor of completing WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, but it is now difficult to defend our further delays [once we had the Win 3.0 beta – Chris]. Unfortunately, we did not have any experienced Windows programmers inside the company to form a development team, and there were not many outside the company to recruit.

    Some of us were ready to postpone OS/2 in favor of Windows, but the programmers in the OS/2 group, who had also been given the assignment of eventually creating the Windows version, were not ready to give up on OS/2. They were making good progress and hated the idea of starting over or splitting their development team into two groups. They wanted to believe in IBM, as did the rest of us. The failure of OS/2 meant having to play on a field owned and operated by Microsoft, with Microsoft making the rules."

  171. TomW says:

    Ok, here’s something that’s bugged me from Word 2 to Word 2000 (not tried 2003 yet). At the top of my document, I want to put the date on the left, the title in the centre, and my name on the right (for instance). So, I want to have left, centre and right-justified text all on the same line. Not possible. It seems like a natural thing to want to do to me, and a natural analogue of what one does when writing by hand on A4.

  172. Jules Stoop says:

    Build a template with text boxes at the appropriate locations?

  173. Tom, try using different types of tabs. You can have a tab that is left align (what you are used to), center align, and right align.

    Or, just double-click in the empty space where you want to put the text and Word will insert the right type of tab for you (this is new from Word2000)

  174. Sam says:

    On word 2002

    just double click when the cursors displays the justification and then type

    (sort of what chris said)

  175. Ant says:

    Anon, it is not the job of a tester to figure out the cause of a problem, and certainly not to suggest a solution. Testers are supposed to thoroughly test and report problems along with how to replicate them. It is the coder’s responsibility to locate the source of the problem and fix it. Testers having some knowledge of code is helpful to their understanding and interaction with coders, but that is it.

  176. Crande says:

    to Jeremy P: The public is entitled to the information because it is a major, important file format, not least because numerous public service generated documents are in this format and no such documents should ever be allowed to be in a locked format (and that naturally applies to all companies, not just Microsoft).

    If Microsoft relies on selling a quality product then they have no reason to have a secret file format. Secret file formats exist to lock customers into your product regardless of its quality.

    to RoseColoredGlasses: Patents do not prevent reverse-engineering if the intent is to create compatible products. The system is being abused by companies today to keep out competitors and real innovation.

  177. Dan says:

    Monopoly isn’t really the right term, but it is a fact that Microsoft controls the main portion of the PC OS market and they gained that position by strong-arming OEMs into putting their OS and software onto new PCs. Because of their contracts and tactics even if I refused the installation of Windows on a new PC I was still charged for it and Microsoft still made their money.

    It can quite rightly be referred to as extortion and racketeering.

  178. crande: As I have said several times, our file format documentation is available to gov’ts and public services to alleviate concerns that somehow the files might not be readable (unlikely). I don’t think there is a requirement that the "public" have the format by your argument, simply that the files be assuredly accessible if there is a problem. That said, one reason we developed the WordML format was to enable what you are saying, in case a gov’t wants a publicly documented format on principle.

    To your other point, we can rely on a quality product *and* trade secrets as we perceive is the best balance of business and customer interests. Having a competitive quality product does not mean that we have to give up other assets.

    Dan: you leave out an important facet of the situation, which was that many PC makers were claiming that PCs were shipped without an OS and were in fact shipping Windows and not paying MS for it. Those contracts were made to recognize the reality at the time – more or less every PC being shipped had Windows on it. As a compromise, PC makers got a lower price per unit (to make up for any units that didn’t ship with Windows) if they agreed to simplify the accounting and just pay per processor which was hard to fudge. Later it was recognized in court that particular solution to the piracy issue was not acceptable, and the contracts were changed.

  179. Lloyd Wood says:

    Hi Chris,

    I read:


    with great interest. Thanks to the near-coincidence of a corporate

    laptop update and deploying Office-2003-with-Outlook-2003, I’ve now

    used three different versions of Word (2000, 2002, 2003) in three

    weeks. So most recently I’ve been trying and failing to get familiar

    with Microsoft Word 2003, on the grounds that if I didn’t I’d just

    have to get familiar with Word 2002 instead.

    I thought I was reasonably familiar with Word – I’ve written various

    hundreds-of-pages complex-document theses in Mac Word 4.0 (okay), 5.1a

    (good, even when using Apple’s publish and subscribe mechanism) 6.0

    (joke), Windows Word 95 (solid), 98 (flaky; corrupted my PhD thesis a

    couple of times) and 2000 (not quite as solid as 95, but with far

    better previewing). I learned not to use Master Document, because that

    would mess up large documents; I did fairly complex things with

    updating styles in the outliner, and often got called in to fix

    others’ documents that didn’t make sense as outlines once

    contributions had been cobbled together.

    But Word 2003 is different; its interface has changed significantly.

    One example.

    In Word 2003, propagating paragraph style changes to all affected text

    of the same paragraph style in the outliner appears to be broken by

    default, and the ‘Autocorrect… -> autoformat as you type -> define

    styles based on your formatting’ checkbox that help hints at as the

    obvious solution is useless, too. (okay, style handling in the

    outliner was partially broken in 2000; you couldn’t just select the

    current style for the outline paragraph from the dropdown and answer

    ‘keep or replace?’ to change the style globally or discard your

    changes as I’ve been doing since Word 5.1, though, oddly, this often

    worked fine in normal mode.).


    effectively recommends avoiding styles entirely, and suggest using

    macros. But then, he doesn’t live in outline mode in big documents,

    where macros don’t work. And all you need to do to use styles across

    all text of that paragraph type in the outliner in Word 2003 is to

    bring up the Styles and Formatting sidebar (from the AA symbol at left

    end of the Formatting toolbar), then right-click on the style that

    gets highlighted for the outline text you have clicked on, then select

    ‘Modify…’ then in the dialog that comes up, turn on ‘Automatically

    update’. Obvious, really.

    So, to approximate the old ‘keep this paragraph style change or

    revert?’ behaviour from changing an outline paragraph style to itself

    back in older versions of Word, I first need to manually turn on this

    ‘automatically update’ for every style in a document, including all

    the headings, where you might expect it to be on by default for

    internal document consistency, or to remember to do that (or at least

    check it) before making a style change. Deep joy. I’ve also had the

    joy of opening documents from previous versions of Word and seeing

    binary crud onscreen as internal translators fail (Double-clicking a

    file producing different behaviour from ‘File -> open’). And I haven’t

    even gotten started on learning the revisions to the revisions tools,

    or how to make section header/footer daisychaining work this time


    Word 2003 is completely stuffed. And the glitzy menus and toolbars are

    stuffed, too. I have over a decade of experience of using Word and

    that experience is now not useful to me. In fact, it’s positively

    detrimental. I can barely format documents in the outliner (something

    as simple as running two separate outline bullets together to form one

    has become a tricky task), and I can’t find a ‘mono toolbars’ checkbox

    to save my eyes from the appalling XP kid-with-crayon interface

    inflicted on me; whatever you do, do not click the "View -> Toolbar ->

    Customize… Options dialog’s ‘Large icons’" checkbox without

    carefully noting how to find it again, or you’ll be stuffed.

    Office productivity? Ha.

    Thanks for reading. I’ve just read


    and endorse the sentiment wholeheartedly. I miss Word 5.1.


  180. Lloyd: well, I know the feeling – I really loved MacWord 5.1a back then. I haven’t really felt the same emotional connection to Word as a user since then (it is hard, when I am so close to it since I see more flaws than any user by far).

    But I couldn’t go back to it. I need red squiggles. I need speller-based autocorrect. I need Unicode support (for Japanese). I need the translation capabilities in the research pane. I need to paste HTML into Word. I need to save as HTML (and now XML) for specs at work. I need IRM (Information Rights Management) at work. This list goes on and on.

    It is easy to be nostalgic, but most people actually do not want to go back once they are faced with what they have ot give up as a result – they just like to remember the "good ol’ days". That said, many of the things you are concerned about concern us too, and we hope to make some progress on them in the future. If you don’t like the look of the UI on 2003, try another theme (e.g. silver) or switch WindowsXP to "Classic" mode – Office will follow.

  181. DanielG says:

    Not mentioned here was WordPerfect2.1 (IIRC) on the Mac, around 1993.

    I remember effortlessly moving a bunch of standalone-DOS-WP5.1 users onto networked Macs, thanks to such well-thought-out, and long-lost features like being able to configure a default directory where every ‘Open’ or ‘Save As’ command would start.

    Of course, the M$ ‘improvement’ is placing us in ‘Start Menu’ every time we call up Windows Exloper. Duh! If I wanted to play with the start menu, I’d go via ‘Settings->Taskbar->Advanced->Advanced’.

    Thanks to Word’s improvements, I’ve also got no clue how to set up an ‘old-fashioned’ macro – ie. convery CTRL-G into ‘Goodbye.", for example. Once upon a time, this was a no-brainer, but last time I tried (in 1999?), I got thrown straight into VB. Ugh! These days, I’m too old to learn a new programming language for fun.

  182. DanielG: for Word, Tools/Options/File locations has some settings that let you control where Word assumes documents are.

    Your comment about being placed in the Start menu when you call up Windows Explorer confuses me. The Start menu is not accessed when Explorer is opened – you click on the Start button for that. This also has nothing to do with Word…

    For inserting blocks of text, look at the Autotext feature. Create a new autotext with "Goodbye." in it (select what you wan tot create an autotext of, then Alt-F3, or use the menus). Name it "G". Now when you are typing, type "G" then F3. Voila. Works for any selection in Word (not just stuff you type), and you can flexibly name the entries – just use F3 to trigger it.

  183. Jason says:

    Boy, is this an Microsoft basher magnet or what?

    The critisism would perhaps be interesting to read if all lies and rumours are filtered out…

  184. James Cameron (not _that_ one) says:

    NIce to see that the sane balanced mindset, which is the hallmark of the /. crowd is alive and well…

  185. nikster says:

    Companies are still doing that. Being completely out of touch with customers, that is.

    Several big cell phone operators in europe are trying to sell 3G phone services "for Video-conferencing". That is their biggest selling point vs a regular phone (with which you can’t videoconference, but which is cheaper, smaller, and more stylish).

    Not a single person i know or ever heard of wants to have video conferencing on their cell phone. Especially not for the $1 / minute or more that the phone company charges for it, and the terrible quality.

    Video conferencing is a niche app, and on cell phones certainly an entertaining novelty. But useful … it’s not.

  186. WordPerfect 12 looks better than MS Word 2003. I really like the blue interface that WordPerfect provides. (WordPerfect 12 provides 3 different interfaces.)

  187. Kelly says:

    I came across this article by accident while running a search for info on MS Word macros, but I decided to get comfy and stay a while and read the whole thing through.

    What an interesting article. You know, compared to the rest of my family, I’m the "computer savvy" one, yet reading all this history made me realize I am little tiny computer baby in terms of the history of all this. I guess I’m part of the generation that can’t remember life without the Internet.

    My favorite parts of the article:

    1. Excel was called Multiplan???

    —Yuck! multiplan… what a horrible name. good thing they changed it.

    2. wa-do purosessa

    —I know it is childish to laugh at the sound of a foreign language (especially since I have a BA in Linguistics!!! God forgive me), but I just love the way the Japanese pronounce English words. Up until today, my favorite was "macadonaludo," but now my new favorite is "wado purosessa"

    3. elephant in the room

    —this is my own little "insider" thing. I hafta go show this article to a friend of mine now, because just the other day I was trying to convince her that there is a saying in English about "the elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about," and my friend tried to make me think I’m crazy, that there is no such saying and that it sounds ridiculous.

    Thanks for the 20 minutes of education and enjoyment!

  188. Customers swapping mainly primaryly with people using +/- the same office version, will properly never experience any problems ever.

    Properly not the smallest customers you honour with a visit like that or?

    Well the formats are going public sooner or later, from the fact that opensource software will reverse engineer them.

    I guess they are ~90% public now.

  189. Word Remember the past As on writer put it: "Before the development of personal computers and word processing software, documents were produced on typewriters." Chris Pratley, a Microsoft Program Manager, started with the Excel team in 1994 and then worke

  190. Uriel says:

    My "A Tool for Thought Declines," at http://www.urielw.com/word.htm , discusses Word 2003’s sad deterioration.



  191. Great Story

    "they prioritized what they thought was important (why on earth was "word count" such a big deal?"

    Agree 100%. It is a narrow niche of translators, writers, and medical transcriptionists, and MS should not have cared about satisfying everyone but instead should have concentrated on improving main features. Other features may be dealt with efficiently by plugins from third parties.

  192. Yousaf says:

    by the way in which language MS-WORD is written ?

  193. Yousaf: Word2003 and prior versions were written in C. Word2007 uses C++. Most other parts of Office 2007 including the large amount of code shared between applications uses C++ too.

  194. Chad Schieken says:

    I’m curious, how much effort has been put into the grammar checker? I’m finding that it doesn’t find alot of things that I wish it did find.

  195. This is the second part in my weekly series of entries in which I outline some of the reasons we decided…

  196. Chad, the grammar checker is under active development. Because natural language processing is such a difficult computer science problem it has much longer cycles than the products do. And it gets harder after you do the "easy" stuff (actually not easy). In 2007, you’ll see improvements in contextual analysis that flag incorrect word usage. For example, we can now detect errors like "this is a loosing proposition".

  197. Stephanie Trapasso says:


    I wrote about 200 papers on DOS 5.0 and MS Word 5.0 for DOS.  Many of these papers included extensive formatting with footnotes, indexes, etc. My objective is to read and edit these papers with XP Pro. I have the DOS programs loaded on a separate hard drive in a modern PC. Can you advise me as to the safest and most precise manner in which to recover these files for normal use on my modern PC? I will very much appreciate any advice you would give me.

    Many Thanks,


  198. Stephanie, you can call Product Support and ask for the PC Word import converter (reference knowledge base article 822346). Product support info for the US: http://support.microsoft.com/oas/default.aspx?&c1=505&gprid=2530&amp;

  199. Fred Huggins says:

    I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that Bill Gates is devoting the rest of his life to charitable giving rather than fixing the problems with Word.

    I have used WP since 1985;  I have never had any problems with it.  Long documents are not a problem with WP which is why lawyers like it.

    At work since last October I have been forced to use Word.  I have problems every day with it.  WP was written by typists for typists while Word was obviously written by people who do not like to type or not do too much of it.  

    I don’t want Word to decide what I want to do – I like to do it myself.

  200. Fred, generally when people are forced to do something its understandable that they resent it. I’m sorry Word isn’t working out for you. FWIW, Bill wouldn’t have been the one pushing us to change Word in the ways you suggest – he typically has bigger things on his mind. Besides it is hardly the case that he tells everyone what to do.

    FWIW, you don’t say what version of Word you are using or what specific behaviors are a problem, but we have made a number of changes to fundamentals in Word 2007 – it is worth taking a look to see if we have addressed some of your peeves (such as better stability and performance with long documents, bullets and numbering fixes, legal blackline document comparison, word count). We’ve also had a specific focus on helping people in the legal profession be happier with Word. I have hosted several legal roundtables with top law firms to find out about and prioritize their concerns.

    With Office Xp and later you also get a lot more obvious control over "auto" behaviors – be sure to look for the little button that pops up if Word does something automatic you do not like – it gives you controls for modifying or suppressing that behavior.

  201. Imagine caminar por las calles o en los monumentos hist&#243;ricos encontrar etiquetas que refieran al

  202. Bit-cycling says:

    Some years ago Chris Pratley, an Office GPM, wrote an interesting article that talks about some of the

  203. Some years ago Chris Pratley, an Office GPM, wrote an interesting article that talks about some of the

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