Chris Pratley’s history lesson

If you haven't read it yet, check out Chris Pratley's voluminous discourse on various aspects of the history of Word. It packs more history into one entry than I do all year.

And that was a sequel! You can read the first half, too.

In fact, the good stuff keeps on coming. just read it all.

Comments (9)
  1. B.Y. says:

    I’d like to know the history of file manager. I had a collegue who ignored explorer and used FM till the end.

  2. Mike Hearn says:

    Fascinating stuff. He’s a bit harsh on the OpenOffice guys though. I think he doesn’t really have any idea the lengths they have to go to in order to remain "backwards compatible" with Word. They even have to keep subtle things like layout/reflow semantics the same otherwise imports screw up. Being able to import Word docs 100% effectively does entail being quite similar to Word, not much way around that.

    As for the UI design, I think the original goal of the StarOffice guys was a drop-in replacement with no retraining necessary. Good or bad, intellectual or not, it’s up to you, but in terms of meeting their goals they seem to have got pretty close.

  3. If it’s harsh to hear someone’s honest opinion, then they need to get used to a little critiquing. As I said about 5 different times in various posts in that series, I am talking about originality and creativity of design (not anything else), and instead of great examples of that to prove me wrong, I get a lot of flak – meaning there isn’t a lot of creative design going on in the UI there – so better just attack me…

    I can imagine how hard their task is – we have the same task in remaining backwards compatible, as over the years we have replaced or rewritten much of our layout code while remaining backwards compatible, and Word is held to a much higher standard than other apps are in this area since any shift is considered inexcusable. This is not related to the UI though so it is not a reason why an app cannot look good and be designed in an interesting and innovative way. Also, to say they can’t be original in design because they want to be a drop-in replacement is also a weak cover IMHO – why not have some exciting new things in addition to the cloning? And then there are the OOo people who claim their goal is not to clone or be a drop-in replacement – so which is it? I don’t really care much about OOo to be honest – but it does seem to have a vociferous support network.

  4. Cooney says:

    why not have some exciting new things in addition to the cloning?

    Because they will then send those files off to somebody using Word and, if it doesn’t work exactly right, then it’s the fault of OpenOffice. If Word did something like that, then it would just be another version compatibility bug, and you’d tell the other guy to upgrade.

  5. Andreas Häber says:


    If I haven’t misread what Chris has written then Word have used the same document format since Word97. Even so, they’ve added lot’s of new things to Word since then.

  6. Cooney, you can innovate in UI without changing the file format, or any of the data that is stored in it. Are you telling me that you can’t imagine e.g. two different UIs that generate the same table or chart as an end result? Is there a reason the UI for OOo has to be so uninteresting that is related to file compatibility? Not that I can see…

  7. Cooney says:

    The main problem that I see is that, given the status of OO, any failure to be compatible on either side will be blamed on OO. So, if OO makes a table that tickles a bug in version X of Word, or it interprets complex style info the wrong way, people view it as a problem with OO.

  8. Cooney,

    Do you have any indications of this happening? This IS a new variation of the claim – I interpret it as saying "OO is visually identical to Word because the OO developers are so convinced that any changes they make will stumble into Word bugs that they’re not willing to even try".

    I know about being conservative with compatability (I’m known as somewhat of a Cassandra in my group for all my whining about breaking compatibility).

    But is Word REALLY as fragile as you’re claiming it is?

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