Mac Word 6.0

Mom always said, “The only good thing about beating your head against the wall is that it feels good when you stop.”  Well, sorry Mom, but that’s not fully true.  While you’re sitting on the couch buried beneath an ice pack, you tend to come up with a few ways to mind your head.

Shipping a crappy product is a lot like beating your head against the wall.  It really does feel good when you ship a great product as a follow-up, and it really does motivate you to spend some time trying to figure out how not to ship a crappy product again.

Mac Word 6.0 was a crappy product.  And, we spent some time trying to figure out how not to do that again.  In the process, we learned a few things, not the least of which was the meaning of the term “Mac-like.”

In order to understand why Mac Word 6.0 was a crappy product, we need to understand both the historical background that led to some key decisions, and we need to understand some of the technical problems that resulted from those decisions.

Mac Word 5 and Pyramid

On October 5, 1991, we shipped Mac Word 5.0.  The reviews were glowing.  For the effort, we received the Mac software equivalent of a Tony award: the Mac World Eddy.  Even today, there are people who say that Mac Word 5.0/5.1 comprise the best version of Mac Word we’ve ever shipped.

While Mac Word 5 was a great product, there was one problem with it: Win Word 2.  They both shipped at about the same time, but Win Word 2 had more features (most notably a macro language, but there were a few others).  This was a major sore point for Mac Word users.  They wanted feature parity, and they wanted it now!  The longer they had to wait for feature parity between Win Word and Mac Word, the more we got raked over the coals.

But we had a problem.  Actually, we had a couple problems, the first being that Win Word and Mac Word were built from separate code bases.  The other problem was Word Perfect.  At that time, it still represented a major competitor on Windows, and we still had some catch-up work to do in order to get better than Word Perfect.  If we had continued to develop Mac Word and Win Word from separate code bases, Mac Word would never have caught up to Win Word in terms of feature parity.

As of October of 1991, we already had a plan to address the first problem: the Pyramid project.  It was a complete rewrite of Word intended both to address some nagging issues with what had, by that time, become somewhat of a crusty code base and to address the separate code base problem.  Both Win Word and Mac Word would be built from that same code base.

Exit Jeff Raikes, Enter Chris Peters

Feature parity problem solved.  Well, not quite.  At the same time, Jeff Raikes was promoted from Word business unit manager to some other position in Microsoft (I forget exactly which), and Chris Peters was promoted to fill Jeff Raikes’ position.  Most everyone knows about Jeff Raikes these days.  Chris Peters, however, had been the development manager for Excel before moving to Word.  His favorite pastime is bowling, and he was known for having huge stacks of empty Coke cans in his office.

While Jeff Raikes thought the Pyramid project as a good idea, Chris Peters looked at the Word Perfect problem and decided that Pyramid was a bad way to solve the feature parity problem.  A complete code rewrite is risky.  The whole point of a complete rewrite is to take a few steps backward in the short-run in order to be able to make some greater strides in the long-run.  Chris Peters decided that we couldn’t afford to take the short-run hit that Pyramid required.

So, Chris Peters killed Pyramid.  At that point, the only way to solve the feature parity issue is to start both Mac Word and Win Word from the Win Word 2.0 code base, which is exactly what we did.

But, that’s not the full effect of Chris Peters’ decision.  At the time Chris Mason was the development manager for Word, and he strongly disagreed with Chris Peters’ decision.  As a result, Chris Mason left the Word group to work on other things at Microsoft.  Chris Mason understood the Mac, and had been a Word developer going back to Mac Word 3.0.  Chris Mason was replaced by Ed Fries, who was far less of a Mac person than Chris Mason was, so we lost a good bit of Mac understanding in the higher-level management of the Word group.  While it’s impossible to say exactly what effect this had, there’s a high probability that some of the trade-offs we made with Mac Word 6.0 would have gone in a different direction.

Technical Hurdles

Starting from the Win Word 2.0 code base presented a couple of technical problems for those of us on the Mac side.  The first was that it was written to the Windows APIs.  Solving this problem isn’t simply a matter of writing a layer that emulates the Windows APIs on the Mac.  The way the two systems handle windows are fundamentally different, though it’s interesting to note that the new Carbon APIs are far more similar to the way Windows does things.  The biggest problem is that Windows has the concept of child windows, while the Mac does not.  The other is that, on Windows, everything is a subclass of the Window object.  Even controls are Windows.

The other problem was a limitation in the Mac OS.  While 68K Classic Mac OS was a nice operating system, it had one very glaring flaw.  It didn’t do memory management very well.  In fact, it barely did any memory management at all.  Users had to tell the OS how much memory a program needed in order to run, and that’s how much memory the program got regardless of what the program might need at any given time during execution.

The memory problem was worse on 68K machines, because the memory given to a program, regardless of the virtual memory settings, was what the program got to use for both code and data.  Under 68K, code was contained in something called a “Code Resource”.  Now, you could swap these code resources in and out of memory as needed, which meant that the actual memory needs of your program could change drastically depending on what the user wanted to do.

For example, consider a grammar checker.  The user isn’t going to want to check grammar all the time, so the grammar checker doesn’t need to be loaded into memory all the time.  But a grammar checker isn’t a simple piece of code.  It’s a memory pig.  The way 68K Classic Mac OS handled memory meant that you had to set a minimum amount of memory for your application such that you could load that memory pig of a grammar checker.

I’m making a distinction between 68K Classic Mac OS and PowerPC Classic Mac OS, because Apple changed how code was stored, loaded and executed on the PowerPC.  For those of you who remember, when you did Get Info on an application, it would show you two different memory requirements: one with virtual memory turned on and one with virtual memory turned off.  With virtual memory turned on, the application’s code could be handled through something called “demand paged” virtual memory, so the code no longer had to fit in the application’s memory partition.  That notorious grammar checker didn’t have to be given account when trying to figure out the application’s minimum memory requirements.

I want to be careful, here, not to lay blame for this at Apple’s feet.  Doing true virtual memory requires hardware support.  Microprocessors in 1984 didn’t have the full functionality required to support full demand paged virtual memory, so designing it into the original Mac OS would have been a waste of time.  We often make design decisions that make perfect sense in light of current system limitations, only to have those design decisions come back to haunt us when Moore’s Law makes those systems orders of magnitude more powerful.  There’s a reason Apple scrapped the Motorola 68K line of processors in favor of the PowerPC, not the least of which is the fact that it afforded them an opportunity to revisit some of those early design decisions.

Technical Achievement

Having reaped the benefits of a decade’s worth of Moore’s Law, we who now think very little of putting 128 MB or even a half a GB of memory into a laptop computer might find it difficult to grasp just how much of a problem the 68K memory wall presented for Mac Word 6.0.  But we were trying to get the whole thing to run in 4 MB of memory—that’s total system memory, not just the application partition.

This was no small matter.  Word 6 was getting a bevy of new features over and above Win Word 2.0.  Relative to Mac Word 5.0, this was two major releases worth of feature changes.  OLE, the built-in lexical analyzer and rule-based inference engine required for AutoCorrect/AutoFormat and a grammar checker that included state-of-the-art natural language processing technology (which made the grammar checker even more of a memory pig) combined with things like a full-blown macro language (WordBasic) to make Mac Word 6.0 huge relative to common Mac systems of that time.

Please note the “relative” qualifier to the word “huge” back there.  To see this in perspective, fire up BBEdit on your Mac OS X machine, open the Terminal window, and type “top” at the command line.  Now read the values in the RSIZE and VSIZE columns.  When I open my .tcshrc file in BBEdit, those values are 12.1 MB and 164 MB respectively.  As I type this document into my most recent build of Word 2004, those values are 36.6 MB and 222 MB respectively—and Word’s a full-blown word processor.

The amazing thing is that we actually managed to get Word 6.0 to run on systems that had only 4 MB of memory (well, “walk” might be a better word than “run,” but you get the point).  To fully grasp the extent of this achievement, we need to understand a little bit about how programs are written and how they execute.  What follows is my attempt to explain a fairly technical issue in lay terms.  If your eyes start rolling into the back of your head, feel free to jump ahead to the next section.

Programs are written in relatively small chunks of code called “functions.”  Each function represents a single, functional aspect of the program.  Functions can represent high-level concepts (e.g. layout a page of text) or low-level concepts (format a single line of text within a page).  Higher-level functions perform their work by calling lower-level functions, and there’s a protocol that helps the computer to know how to return from a low-level function back to the high-level function that called it.  This protocol is known as “procedure prologue and epilogue” and it involves something known as a “call stack.”  While the lower-level code is running, the higher-level code that called it is said to be “on the call stack.”

Trying to get a body of code to run in a memory space that’s smaller than the code itself involves something called code swapping.  This is generally very easy to do if the code that you’re swapping out doesn’t cross these high-level to low-level boundaries.  Our grammar checker is a good example.  It represents a distinct functional unit, so we can swap the grammar checker’s code out of memory if we no longer need that code around without having to worry about swapping it back in when we’re done executing the current chunk of code.

But, we can group code at a level of granularity that crosses high-level to low-level functional boundaries.  For example, the code that lays out a page of text can be in one module (or code segment), while the code that formats a single line of text can be in another module.  When you’re laying out a single line of text, you really don’t need the code that lays out the whole page in memory.  Conceptually, at least, you can swap out the page layout code while running the format line code.

There’s a problem with this idea: the page layout code calls the format line code, which means that the page layout code is still on the call stack.  When the format line code is finished, the protocol that allows computer to know how to return execution back to the page layout code needs to know that the page layout code is no longer in memory.  This is such a difficult problem that Apple’s documentation claimed that it was simply not possible to swap out code that was still on the call stack.  Yet, this is exactly what we were able to do with Word 6.0

There is an unfortunate downside to being able to swap out code that’s on the call stack.  It leads to something called thrashing.  Consider our page layout/format line example.  Page layout works by calling format line for each line of text on the page.  Every time we cross the boundary between the page layout code and the format line code, we need to stop and load a chunk of code into memory, which will, in turn, require removing another chunk of code from memory.

Now, I’ve grossly oversimplified the whole process in order to explain what was going in.  The swapping algorithm is a bit smarter about deciding what parts of the program to swap out of memory in order to be able to swap in a piece of code that’s needed immediately.  In practice, then, it’s highly unlikely that page layout and format line would ever thrash by themselves.  Nonetheless, thrashing does occur when the available memory is small enough.  When the system thrashes like this, performance goes down the toilet.

Learning the Meaning of “Mac-Like”

OK, so Mac Word 6.0 was big and slow relative to the memory that most computers had available at the time we shipped it, but that’s not the reason why Mac Word 6.0 was such a crappy product, or at least not directly.  Not long after Word 6.0 shipped, people could afford to add more memory to accommodate the added features of Mac Word 6.0.  Those people who found those features to be very useful, and you’ll run into a few of them even today, felt that the cost of the added memory was worth the work-savings that those features afforded them.  Moore’s Law, and the PowerPC, would have solved the memory problem in due time.

Moreover, while people complained about the performance, the biggest complaint we kept hearing about Mac Word 6.0 was that it wasn’t “Mac-like.”  So, we spent a lot of time drilling down into what people meant when they said it wasn’t “Mac-like.”  We did focus groups.  Some of us hung out in various Usenet newsgroups.  We talked to product reviewers.  We talked to friends who used the product.  It turns out that “Mac-like” meant Mac Word 5.0.

We spent so much time, and put so much effort into, solving all the technical problems of Mac Word 6.0 that we failed to make the UI of Mac Word 6.0 behave like Mac Word 5.0.  As a result there were many differences, some little, some huge and even some that were simply gratuitous, between the way Mac Word 6.0 did things and the way Mac Word 5.0 did things.  The end result was a UI that could only be described as clunky relative to Mac Word 5.0’s elegance.  More importantly, Mac Word users had to unlearn all the ways they had come to do certain things, and relearn the Word 6.0 way of doing them.

My favorite example of this is they way you defined styles.  In Mac Word 5.0, style definition was a semi-modal task.  You defined or modified a style the same way you changed the font or paragraph properties in the document itself.  In Mac Word 6.0, the task was completely modal.  The entire array of menus and toolbar buttons that you could use in Mac Word 5.0 (and with which you were quite familiar as a user) was replaced by a single drop-down menu in the New/Modify style dialog box.  Even today, you can’t use the Formatting Palette to change the font or paragraph information in a style in Word 2001 or Word X, and this remains one of the things I want to fix in Word before I leave MacBU.

The other thing we figured out as a result of coming to understand what “Mac-like” meant was that we weren’t going to be able to deliver “Mac-like” products if Office remained a singular product from which both the Win and Mac versions were built.  The mere fact that “Mac-like” was an issue at all meant that there were some fundamental differences between the Win Word market and the Mac Word market.  If we were to understand both those markets, then our Mac products and Win products needed separate marketing and PGM organizations.  The lessons we learned from Mac Word 6.0 are some of the reasons that Mac BU exists today.

We still bang our heads against the wall from time to time.  Understanding users isn’t an exact science.  But, we do it far less often than we used to.  And it really does feel much better.  In a future post, I’ll describe in more detail how we go about trying to understand both our current users and potential new users.

As for my own role in Mac Word 6.0, I was responsible for the PowerPC port.  But that’s also a story for another post.

Lastly, as for how I felt about the demise of Pyramid, all during the Word 97 project, I kept six empty Mac Word 6.0 boxes stacked in a vertical triangle next to my desk.  I called it a slice out of a pyramid.  A few people got the point.  And the boxes when into recycling as soon as Mac BU was formed and we started work on Word 98.




Comments (89)
  1. Ajay Juneja says:

    Very helpful post!!!

  2. Don says:

    It’s interesting to hear what a developer’s recollection of Word 6.0 is. I experienced Word 6.0 as a customer (on a Mac, no less), and have a very different memory of it.

    Of all the software I’ve owned, Word 6.0 is the only specific version of any software title that has really stuck in my memory. To this day, I still say "Word 6.0 had all the functionality I’ll ever need in a word processor." I felt that way when Word 6.0 was new, and I still feel that way.


  3. Christoffer Lernö says:

    Thanks for that story, it was great!

  4. PAT says:

    I remember all too well going from Word 5.1a to version 6, only to erase any trace of Word 6 not too long after and reverting to 5.1 (which kept running fine up until MacOS 9.22).

    Word 6 is for many Mac heads with some experience one of the worst versions, if not the all-time worst version, of any major software product on the Mac.

    For many, Word 5.1a remains unequalled to this day (despite the avalanche of featrures in Word X). In fact, if M$ would port the old 5.1a code to Cocoa, they would probably have a killer standalone word processsor that’s sleek, agile, and so close to being full-featured that few users would ever notice the difference.

  5. Lee Joramo says:

    Thanks for this history.

    I am a long time Word user, back to the MS Word 1.0 for DOS days. I continued to use Word for DOS up till about verison 5, when I switched to the Mac in the the early 1990’s. To this day, I feel that MS Word 5.1 for Mac is the most wonderful and elegant word processor ever created. In fact, I continued to use it up to moving to Mac OS X Beta. I would still love to use a program like Word 5, if it was updated to Carbon or Cocoa. About the only feature that I ever wished for was for Word 5 to be fully AppleScriptable.

    Microsoft has done an excellent job of Word (and the rest of Office) since Office 98. The programs ARE Mac like.

    Alas, while I use Excel extensively, I find that I seldom do more than use Word as a document viewer. The reasons for this are two fold.

    1) Word has become increasingly bloated with features that I don’t need. know that this is not Microsoft’s fault. What I consider feature bloat is mostly dictated by the demands of the market. I do know how to turn off the features that I don’t need, and how to customize Word to meet my needs. But . . .

    2) I find that I seldom need a word processor these days. Most of my writing is for the web or email for which I use BBedit or an email program. If I do need to create a formated document, I typically hand my text to a graphics designer who uses Quark or InDesign to build a finished document.

    The one area where I do use Word is when collaborating on a document. Word’s revision control tools rock.

  6. Steve says:

    It’s interesting to hear someone from MBU say Word 6 was a crappy product. I brought a copy with my own cash to run on the first Mac I purchased. Largely because I used Word for Windows at work.

    As you say it was pants. Subsequent versions came, but after v6 I didn’t trust MS to do a decent job and risk further wasted cash. Now there is an interesting situation. Office X is good, but MS will only let you upgrade from the most recent versions. I heard the comments from MS that they were disappointed with Office X sales. I won’t open the can of worms that is Office pricing, but I wonder how many people they have lost to earlier versions and in particular the dogs dinner that was v6. People like me.

    Personally I would love to see MS loosen up their upgrade criteria and allow upgrades from earlier releases. It certainly ought to push up sales. If they did I would bring Word in line with all the great apps like Photoshop that I have upgraded down through the years.

  7. Add my voice to the "it’s great to hear the inside view" bit! And Rick, I’d love to hear about trying to understand the users better – us programmers are, generally speaking, notoriously useless at understanding normal people, who just don’t care about how clever or interesting the code is – they just want it to work, and work the way they expect it to work.

  8. Chris Hanson says:

    I’m surprised it was that hard for Microsoft to discover what "Mac-like" meant. It goes to show just how insular Microsoft is.

    When Mac users say they want software that’s Mac-like, they typically mean they want software that uses the human interface controls provided by the Toolbox in the fashion specified in the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines.

    Word 6 looked and felt like a Windows product that happened to run on the Mac. That’s the single biggest reason all the users I knew who used it hated it, and why all the users I knew who used Word 5 refused to upgrade. It was also something that demonstrated to me as a Mac developer what I shouldn’t do to my users.

    I occasionally have potential clients who want me to implement non-standard interfaces without a good reason. Word 6 is one of the chief examples I bring up when explaining how that doesn’t work in the Mac market.

  9. Rick,

    Thanks for the background. I haven’t done any programming since learning BASIC years ago, but I appreciate the story, and the problem-solving challenges you faced.

    The number one complaint I have about Word.X is that it uses its own spell-checker rather than the OS X system spell-checker used by, TextEdit, etc. (If I’ve already created a custom dictionary by making additions in the e-mail; why should I have to do it again for the word processor?)

    Likewise, I’d like to see the system Address Book data linked to Word.X for mail merge. Is this going to change in the next version?

  10. Rick Schaut of Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit explains what went wrong with version 6 of Word for Mac:In order to understand why Mac Word 6.0 was a crappy product, we need to understand both the historical background that led to…

  11. I think Jeff Raikes was promoted from Word business unit manager to VP & GM for SMSD (sales marketing and service division). I was working for MS at the time and if memory serves me, our group re-org’d and my boss began working for him after we left Word.

  12. Rick Schaut says:

    Wow, you’ve all left me with a lot to catch up on. To all of you who have expressed gratitude, you’re welcome.

    Todd, I think you’re correct, but that was so long ago. And I was such a green little pup, that anything that happened three management levels above me was just off my radar screen.

    Sandy, to be perfectly honest, it would be a serious amount of work to try to use the system spelling checker in Word. One reason is that Word’s spell checking is tied in with grammar checking. However, there might be a way that we can grab the list of custom words from the system dictionaries. I’ll pass the idea on to our proofing tools people.

    Chris, I’m having difficulty grasping how one might infer from a single instance of mixed-up priorities in one product group 12 years ago that all of Microsoft is "insular" in the present tense. And "insular" strikes me as being too strong a word. It’s not that we didn’t even bother to try to listen. It was more a case of not hearing very well. Also, Apple’s HIG really had little do with what "Mac-like" meant for a majority of our users. Show me, for example, where Apple’s HIG have any bearing on how Mac Word 5.x did styles.

    Brendan, I’ll get to it. It took me a few days to write the Word 6.0 post. I only get to do this in my spare time, and we’re currently in ship mode with Office 2004. But you are oh so right. It’s geeky cool to solve the really hard technical problems, but the users really don’t care.

    Steve and Lee, I don’t set the prices. I just write the code. Sorry. But, thanks for the compliment, Lee.

    Pat, whew. Retool Mac Word 5.x for Mac OS X. That sounds so simple when you say it, but it really ends up being a serious amount of work when you start looking at the details.

  13. Chas Redmond says:

    That was a tremendous recounting. I’ve been a user of Word since the 1.0 days. I upgraded to 6.0 but never really used it and I had an upgraded Quadra 650 with the PPC card and extra memory. However, when Office 98 came out I upgraded and thought the entire suite was quite something. It was better to me than Word 5 because I did use the other programs and OLE was a dream. I was amazed that you guys could get Visual Basic and the other MS stuff ported to the Mac architecture. I upgraded to Office X when it came out becaue by then I had upgraded my systems and had OS X running. I’m a real fan of Office X – and despite the contrary comments of some about it’s non-use of OS X native components, I still feel Office X "feels" very Mac like. I’m one of those Mac original 128-and-up users who feels that Microsoft gets under-rated a lot because an awful lot of what is done, especially since the MacBU, is done with a very perceptive Mac-like approach. It shows and I’m appreciative and will continue to support the MacBU products. Thanks for taking the time to give us an explanation of why Word 6 was so bad – it really was and a lot of us were wondering how it happened that way given the previous great products.

  14. Steve Stone says:

    Rick wrote, " Retool Mac Word 5.x for Mac OS X. That sounds so simple when you say it, but it really ends up being a serious amount of work when you start looking at the details."

    True enough, but if MS were to do such a thing it would result in a serious amount of cash flow for MS.

    Some of it from me.

  15. Korn says:

    Even in Word X, the keyboard commands for moving the cursor still do not follow Mac standards. For example, the Mac keyboard command to move the cursor to the beginning of a line is Command-left arrow. To move the cursor to the end, it’s Command-right arrow. Moving between words is Option-left/right arrow.

    But these commands don’t work correctly in Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

  16. Bill Timberman says:

    Thanks for the insight into real-world development issues. I’ve been a Mac user since 1984, and bought every version of Word for the Mac from the beginning through version 5, and loved them all (except for 3.0, which was initially a buggy mess. Fortunately, it was very quickly fixed.)

    I used version 6 briefly, couldn’t believe what had happened to one of the best pieces of Mac sofware ever written by anybody, and stopped buying MS products for the Mac altogether until I saw Office 98 in action. I eventually wound up buying Office 2001, and Office v.X, and have been very happy with both.

    My point is that bad stuff *does* drive customers away, but good stuff will bring them back eventually. MS takes a lot of risks, so I reckon it’s inevitable that they lose a big one now and then. What put the company where it is today, though, is the energy to re-think and try again, the MacBU being a case in point. To say I’m as happy with Word v.X as I was with 5.1a would be an understatement. It’s amazingly good, a real Swiss army knife of a program. It must be very gratifying to have been part of the team that delivered it.

  17. Ever since Word became the worldwide de facto standard for word processors in the 1990s, everybody has tried to do everything with it, including memos, letters, manuals, books, layout, collaboration, outlining, even e-mail.

    And that’s the problem with what Word has become, for both Windows and Mac. It tries to be everything to everybody. It has to. Sure, others (and even Microsoft) have tried simplified or more specialized word processors, whether with MS Works, AppleWorks, Nisus Writer, Mariner Write, or any number of other long-gone alternatives. But people buy (or pirate) Word, because that’s what everyone else uses.

    I’m an editor and technical writer, and I use Word’s updateable fields, bookmarks, tables, auto-generation of tables of contents, styles, spell checking, track changes (grudgingly, but it does work), and even HTML import all the time. I never use the grammar checker, Word Art, outliner, indexer, hyperlinks, HTML export (ugh), VBA, or the Office Assistant. I turn off nearly every automatic feature there is, from conversion of hyphens to appropriate dashes, to AutoCorrect and AutoFormat. But I let Word automatically make curly quotes.

    There are some bugs and design problems that have long annoyed me, but which have not changed since version 6.0 or before because other features have taken precedence. Different people — and even different editors and technical writers — would have a different matrix of features they use or don’t use, and bugs or design issues they’d highlight. I’d gladly give up translucent charts in Excel if I could save files with more than 31 characters in their names in Word. Others would not.

    Word 5.1a with the addition of inline spell checking (the squiggly red underlines) would cover almost everything I really _need_ to do. Yet I could never expect anyone to produce a program like that, because too many other people need different things. Word 6 was one of the earliest, and the most drastic, results of trying to keep up with the endless demands of feature creep.

    Word v. X is a nice program. It does lots of stuff. But for all its improvements over version 6, it lacks much of the elegance of Word 5. And you know what? Mac OS X, for all its lovely lickability and stability, lacks some of the elegance (oh-so-especially in the Finder) of Mac System 7. Maybe those sorts of tradeoffs aren’t necessary in theory, but they seem to be the pragmatic reality for Microsoft and Apple.

    Oh, and if anyone wants to see what happens when someone plays an April Fool’s joke that Microsoft _is_ porting Word 5 to Mac OS X, check out: <;. (The beginning of the same issue touted "VisiCalc for Mac OS X" as one of its sponsors.) The Word joke started a big discussion: <;.

    It says something — about Word, about word processors in general, and about the rise of the Internet — that I do most of my writing in BBEdit or Microsoft’s own Entourage e-mail client today, however.

  18. As a Windows-only person, it’s interesting to see a strange UI going towards the Mac. Companies going towards PCs mess up their UIs too. Look at the QuickTime (yuck) player for Windows. Even current versions feel strange on Windows — as if they couldn’t figure out how to write a normal Windows app (the menus). Also notice how Adobe and Apple use drop-down menus in their options/preferences dialogs instead of tabbed displays.

  19. For anyone who has trouble remembering what the initial "beta" of Word 6.0 was like, a local reporter chronicled my experiences here:

    To the best of my knowledge, Microsoft used extensive input from me to solve many of the problems they had with this program, which I still consider to be the worst word processing program in the history of ever.

    I was the lucky guy who discovered that the type-ahead buffer maxed out somewhere around 45 words per minute (didn’t catch many MS programmers with that one, but it was quite noticeable to those of us who typed for a living). When I talked to the reporter, I didn’t exaggerate in the slightest. After a couple of weeks on Word 6.0 I had an involuntary twitch in my left eye and ended up being hospitalized with cardiac arrythmia.

    Saying Word 6 was bad software is like calling George Bush a bad president. In both cases, "bad" doesn’t begin to tell the story.

    If Microsoft really wanted to serve the public, they could still cash in big time with a release of "Classic Word 5.1.a" for Win and OS X. It’s still the best word processing software of all time, and jettisoning it for all the subsequent incarnations of Word was a near-criminal act of monopolistic aggression (i.e., forced upgrades).

    BTW, one of my friends was a cameraman for many of those focus groups. I never quite understood why interviewing purchasing managers was instructive to designing word processing software. You would have done much better to have talked to frontline secretaries, or maybe even a resume writer like me. I’ve got 50,000 Word documents on file going back to 1990, and I can say with tremendous authority that Microsoft has failed to support previous Word iterations on a regular basis. I have given up using Adobe fonts or elaborate formatting simply because I have no assurance the next upgrade of Word will support them.

    Word for OS X is OK, but it’s not Word 5.

  20. DorkStar says:

    Interesting stuff. The one thing that still, to this day, is making Word un-Mac to me is the fact that there is no keyboard shortcut for Save As‚Ķ I just don’t get it!


  21. Rick Schaut: In order to understand why Mac Word 6.0 was a crappy product, we need to understand both the historical background that led to some key decisions, and we need to understand some of the technical problems that resulted from those decisions. Schaut was there. I&rsquo;m not sure what to make of his comments that Microsoft had to do focus groups to determine why people thought Word 6 wasn&rsquo;t Mac-like, and that the answer was that it wasn&rsquo;t Word 5. First, it should at least have been obvious that Word 6 didn&rsquo;t look right. Second, in its day,…

  22. Andrew says:

    I remember Word 6 rather well, though I actually liked the program. Of course, my reasons weren’t normal as I was a "switcher", having just switched from a 386 PC running Windows 3.1 (and Word 2.0) to a Macintosh PowerBook 145b with 8MB of ram.

    I never had Word 5, and Word 6 behaved exactly like Word 2 for Windows, a program I was very familiar with, while adding useful features and improving the arcane steps required for customization. I still consider Word 6 as the first modern word processor as its multiple undo (first seen in Nisus) and autocorrect features are completely ingrained in the way I work.

    I went back to Windows in 1998, and just recently switched back to Macintosh and have Office v.X. v.X is nice and Word X is a delight (my complaints are all with Entourage’s inability to import from the Windows version of Outlook).

    As for Mac-like, it is a look and feel, that is more important to some people than others. I like the simple appearance of old Mac programs and updated versions like AppleWorks. Word X has that look and feel despite its complexity, and so I would consider it a very Mac-like program as well. Not sure I’ll bother with Office 2004, but if it imports directly from Outlook 2004, I just might, as I still have stuff in my old PC that hasn’t made it to my Mac.

  23. Leslie Smith says:

    I have Office:mac v.X and I have NEVER been able to make the *&^^%y thing work. I tried the updates – they don’t work. They won’t do the update – they fail to update. I think I am doing it in the right order.

    I am pretty &**^%’d off with the whole Word for Mac X stuff. It runs for a few seconds then crashes.

    I think the aim has been to make MacOSX users defect to XP.

    –Leslie Smith

  24. Cool post. I’ve had my problems with some versions of Office in the past, including the current- but I know you guys have one hella hard job in front of you and are often pulled in several directions, and beat up on from several directions. Keep it up, and <a href="">ignore the asshats</a>.

  25. Daniel Woods says:

    The first WP I used extensively was WordPerfect5.1 for DOS, I used to type my documents with a split Window so I could observe my Formatting Codes and ensure my Documents were well structured.

    When I got my own computer and had to purchase my own software, headed straight to WordPerfect7… IMO the best WordProcessor for Win32. I continued using WP7 and WP8 for all my documents, until I attended a Course which required Documents to be submitted electronically in the Word6.0 Format. I was forced to print a Proof of the finished product in WordPerfect, export from WordPerfect to Plain Text, and then MarkUp the document on the schools Win3.1 Machines running Word6.0

    Nowadays, after Upgrading to a Mac, short documents are written in Plain Text, or RTF using TextEdit. Occasionally, If I have a Large Document which requires a Consistant Structure, I’ll use DocBook. I publish documents using PDF.

    I would love to see a "Document Processor" which concentrates on Document Structure, rather than Appearance.

  26. Dave says:

    As long as we’re at it, let’s talk about v.X.

    Excel seems to have dropped most of its key commands, and they are not customizable.

    Word is quite sluggish on average machines, though the current crop of dual G4s and G5s seem to work well with it.

    There are a number of key missing "features" which I personally can live without, but I think we’re all concerned about what will happen when Office 2004 comes out – will it support the document security "features" of Office for Windows?

    Rick, if you’re reading this, … how about Access? I don’t know anyone who actually LIKES it, but I know lots of people who NEED it.

  27. Marc Bizer says:

    One of the big problems with Word 6 was that it was basically IDENTICAL to Word for Windows 2, UI and all. It’s a bit disingenous to imply that no one could agree about what made Word 6 "un-Mac like." What made it un-Mac like was the fact that it had an identical UI to the Windows app that had inspired it. To be specific, reviews of Word 6 pointed out, for example, that dialog boxes had "OK" and "Cancel" exactly reversed compared to the way they were in virtually every other Mac application — because that was the convention under Windows. And I distinctly remember someone from MacBU pointing out that for Word98, someone had to go through 700 dialog boxes and change the button order back to what it had been.

  28. Andrew says:

    Is Office 2004 still Carbon, or will it be Cocoa? Going to Cocoa is really the only way I can justify another $150 (Student and Teacher) for the new version.

  29. Rick Schaut says:

    Andrew, read my "Carbon vs. Cocoa" post.

  30. Thanks for the post! I also use the example of style definition to explain why Word 6 on the Mac sucked so much, and am really glad to know that it’s similarly appreciated inside Microsoft. The whole menu-coming-out-of-a-button thing… yuck, and to think Apple made it a standard control in OS X (see the font panel).

    I don’t know if you ever tried to use Word 6 on a PowerPC Mac with 8 MB RAM – I had to do this for a summer, on a Power Mac 7200 with System 7.5.3, and it was sheer pain; I ended up bringing in my PowerBook 540, which while a lot slower in the processor department had 12 MB RAM, and that made all the difference.

    Another obvious way in which Word 6 was a step backwards were the keyboard equivalents. I loved the way Word 5’s keyboard usage was so standard: command-shift-X for text formatting; command-option-X for commands, and the most common commands got command-X shortcuts (I still remember command-D for "Character" and command-M for "Paragraph"). Perhaps because Windows was missing the Mac’s option modifier, the Word 6 keyboard layout was a mess in comparison.

  31. David Phillip Oster says:

    What about Visual Studio C++ for Macintosh? Right around the time that Word 6 for Mac was released, Microsoft also released a version of their C++ development environment that contained a library that would implement the Windows API but run on a Mac. The library was huge and caused any program using it to look like a Windows program on a Mac, to feel un-Mac-like, and to run slow. Was this technology using in Word 6? It sure felt like it.

  32. Rick Schaut says:

    David, yes, Word 6.0 used WLM, though the size relative to Word wasn’t all that large. Nor, for that matter, could one reasonably say that WLM was the primary reason Word 6.0 was slow. Also, using WLM didn’t mean you couldn’t make a program far more Mac-like, but you had to do far more work than simply retargetting the compiler to use the PPC version of VC.

  33. darukaru says:

    An excellent story. Thanks.

  34. leighton says:

    As someone who has used Word since version 1.0 it’s been most interesting to read some of the thinking behind Word 5->6->98 migration.

    Word 6 was as bad as Word 5 was good. When it came out I was a student at Princeton doing computer support and the number of calls for help started quadrupling… one night after 20 or 30 Word 6 based calls. I and the other techs went out and deleted Word 6 from over 200 public computers and replaced it with an old copy of Word 5 and the extension to open word 6 documents. Our call rate for word went back down to 1 or 2 a day . For years they kept Word 5 running.. improving it through 3rd party apps like Smart Scroll that gave it live scrolling and open dialog box enhancers that allowed for advanced file searches. To this day there are many people happily using Word 5 to produce major papers and manuscripts. (Now most of the public computer rooms are gone but those that have macs have Office X installed)

    Now as a CS professor I use Word 6 to demonstrate bad HI. I never fail to get laughs when showing it with it’s full compliment of toolbars out.

    The turnaround between Word 6 and Office 98/Explorer 5 was amazing. It was as if a lobotomization had been reversed and MS suddenly "got it", Both were excellent products and both were HI-wise (but not performance wise) better than their Windows counterparts. As far as being good computer citizens the best thing MS did during this transition was standardize the word and excel document formats and make them platform agnostic.

    We received Office 2004 last week and I was happy that Word had been polished (less flakey crashes and problems with fonts), but was otherwise unimpressed with the upgrade. I would have liked to have seen conceptual leaps that both simplify the program and make it more powerful (obviously easier said than done, but one can hope…). I was disappointed that long-standing issues (font families not being grouped for example or over eager auto-text) were not addressed and that obvious innovations (an "instant search" box) were not added, still improvements in other part of the suite show that the Mac BU still can produce great software. I hope to someday see something other than Office and Virtual PC come out of the BU. The thing about Mac users is that we buy lots of software. We’re good consumers.

  35. Terrific blog, I discovered it via the link the the open file resolution entry, which was very informative. I understand there is no route back to 5.1a, which I still use under Classic. (The only feature I miss is zoom.) Word 5 is getting worse now in Classic, and its days are numbered. So I have high hopes for Word 2004. One irritation to someone like me, who uses 5.1a unless he needs a feature available only in higher versions of Word (like robust tables, wider range of graphic insert formats, etc.): the Save down to 5.1a seems to have been removed and only .rtf is available as a "Save down" format. This has some issues if you want to open a doc in 5.1a, as I often do. For example, docs with superscript footnote reference numbers often lose their superscripting, and there is no way to get it back globally via Find/Replace (or I guess it is called Change in 5.1a). But if you do a Save down from 2001 or X, they are preserved.

  36. rj says:

    Just read this thru a link from Wired. Very interesting article (I even enjoyed the ‘technical’ part about swapping functions in and out of memory)! FYI, I recently helped an independent writer/publisher upgrade his machine from a 12-year-old Centris to a DP G4 running Panther. He went ahead and purchased the latest version of Word and payed someone to come in a train him (I don’t do word processors). He called me shortly after that and asked if it was possible for him to trash that new version of Word and put his old 5.1 copy on the new machine! He knew how it worked and could get it to do what he wanted without fighting it which he felt he was doing with Word X. Maybe a Word-Lite with a simpler interface and not so many options would be more appealing for people like that?

  37. Larry Kollar says:

    Like rj, I found your article through a Wired link. I’m another long-time Mac person, started with Word 1.05 on a 512K Fat Mac, yadda yadda.

    Anyway, can you comment on the performance issues in 6.0 that were fixed in 6.0.1? I remember a *huge* number of primal screams coming from the Mac newsgroups in those days over how slow 6.0 was. We wound up with a copy at work; I gave it a try and found it unusable on the 68030 IIci boxes that were typical for the time. The PPC version was even worse — I remember one net’er saying he had VirtualPC and the Windows version actually ran faster under VPC than the native version!

    When Mac users began defecting to Word Perfect in droves, Microsoft rushed out 6.0.1 to cure the worst problems. It was still slow, but usable. Microsoft was so eager to get that patch out, that a polite emailed bug report got me a free copy. (And I still have that stack of floppies somewhere. ūüôā As a technical writer, Word 6.0.1 — or maybe Word 7/95 on PCs — was the last version of Word that I’ve found usable for serious documentation.

    But, if you have the time and opportunity, I’d like to hear what caused the horrid performance and what had to be done in the 6.0.1 version to fix it?

  38. Ian says:

    I was probably 8 years old when my family upgraded to version 6, and I remember it vividly. I’m not sure how much RAM we had, but I remember constantly sitting in front of our Mac with a stopwatch in disbelief (yes, I actually did this). We paid for the upgrade to 6.0.1, and I feel strongly that this was my life’s first experience with extortion. Microsoft lost my loyalty with that upgrade.

  39. Paul says:

    One more strike against Word 6 from Word 5.1: with it came the Word macro virus invasion. Within a month of us installing Word 6, we were infected company-wide with macro viruses.

  40. Russell says:

    To this day my father uses Word 5.1a (on MacOS 9.2). Every release of a new version of Word would be met with a brief period of wondering "should I upgrade?", which soon passed given the prospect of losing the formatting (or even something as small as the Print Setup settings) on hundreds, and then later thousands of files.

  41. Johannes Rexx says:

    Yes indeed, Word 5.1a represents a time when Microsoft was a much better company than it is today. Word 5.1a still runs fine today on my DP 2Ghz G5 under Classic mode.

    MS wrote great code back then. And it was not the corporate nuicance it is today.

    – Johannes Rexx

  42. grad student says:

    I used MS Word 5.1 throughout high school and college. When I finally saw the "new" Words running on computer lab machines, I thought it was a joke. Just feature piled on feature for no apparent reason except, of course, to be able to charge people more money for upgrades.

    That A WORD PROCESSOR ran slowly on a spanking new machine while 5.1 cooked away on a 030 seemed to me to be the height of stupidity. Aren’t programmers ashamed at stuff like that? What ever happened to the notion of elegance, and doing more with less?

    Macros? The only way I discovered them was when a roommate’s machine was infected with a macro virus.

    When Word finally disappeared from my machine — somewhere along the line I must have had a hard drive failure or not enough time to transfer over all my files — there was no question that I wouldn’t go to the new "Office." I ran Nisus Writer on OS 8, and when I got OS X, switched over to Mellel. Both are great pieces of software.

  43. Chef Rufus says:

    Thanks for an enlightening post. I hung on to Mac Word 5.1a right up to the day we trashed our last Mac. I’m glad to see you mention the styles issue. This still sticks in my craw as the worst thing to ever happen to Word. The second worst seems to be a day-one design flaw in the Word code base: the way that bulleted and numbered lists are handled.

  44. John Allen says:

    To a comment further back about keyboard command for Save As, it is F12.

    Comment above about current top flaws in Word are correct:

    Number 1- defining styles

    Number 2- bulleted and numbered lists, a real pain, trying to be too clever. Cannot figure out how to turn them off, or to get them to come up with tabs where I define them.

    It beggars belief these can’t be fixed now.

  45. JD says:

    Great post — I found it while searching for Word X newsgroups. First off, I loved all the background, even the geeky stuff. And, as a longtime tech comm person, I’ve got to second all of Derek Miller’s comments about feature use (except the VB, which I use a lot for cleaning up docs b4 porting to FrameMaker [no I’m NOT going to start that macintosh sob story] and robohelp. But I really appreaciate seeing your comments about the style formatting issues.

    This is my biggest complaint about the advanced features of Word. Styles are critical to consistent document construction and Word has _never_ gotten the interface right in Windows or on the Mac. Absolutely critically important for anyone attempting to get close to a structured document in Word needs to have the option to show a formatting palette that _splits_ the paragraph style and the character style attributes into two, separate, visible pulldowns.

    In order to get around the opacity of having the things show up in the same menu, I wind up having to add to my user’s keystroke agony by adding a "char" or "par" attribute to the style name, just so they can see it in the window (without actually opening the full pulldown. It should not have to be this way. The style palette should separate the two into separate menus and there should be an option of turning on a "character highlight" across the entire doc so folks can check to see if their char styles are really where they want them. In these days of single-source docs, a Word doc may find itself being ported to/transformed/parsed into a wide variety of new renditions (an xml doc, an online help doc, bits in a database table, etc.) This kind of control would greatly aid in this process.

    It would also be nice if the tabbing/primacy issues of the input areas in the Format.Style>New… dialog were fixed so that a verbal command (many of us power users also have rsi issues, and use that feature of X extensively…) of paste would actually land in the Name of style entry area rather than just causing a "blink" in the Style for Following Para pulldown

  46. Andy Dent says:

    As a cross-platform programmer for many years, the story I remember hearing is that Word 6.0 had to be compiled with the optimisation settings on the cross-compiler turned off, or way down, because high optimisation was too buggy. They were effectively using a beta version of the cross-compilation product.

    (This kind of problem was not unique to Microsoft – C++ compilers for many years have typically suffered from this problem, and particularly Microsoft compilers, although much less frequently since Visual Studio v5).

    By the time 6.01 was released, the compiler was up to scratch and full optimisation could be enabled.

  47. Bloggable says:

    Wes Meltzer is pining for some reader response—anything to break up the onslaught of spam he receives. As fodder for some comments, this month’s Mac blogosphere scouring has turned up a lot of discussion about Microsoft Word’s downward spiral that started with version 6. Additional blogosphere topics include wishing for a modern Mac Portable, CUPS, the value of AppleCare, and three unusual iPod stories.

  48. One of the most enlightening experiences I’ve had in my 5+ years at Yahoo was sitting in on some usability tests. Being on the &quot;watching&quot; side of the one way glass is fun. But it can be particularly frustrating when the application or service users are attempting to use is your own. Back in 2000 or 2001, I watched a few such tests on specific areas of the Yahoo! Finance site, which I worked on at the time. I walked…

  49. John Gruber makes an appearance in the soon to be released book The Best Software Writing I which was put together by Joel Spolsky .

  50. Archipelagos says:

    I have just finished reading a book compiled, edited and introduced by Joel Spolsky and released by Apress. &amp;quot;The Best Software Writing I&amp;quot; is a collection of some of the best articles on software development, and management written on various w

  51. Mac Mojo says:

    Before I get started, I suppose some sort of introduction is appropriate for readers who have only recently

  52. Mac Mojo says:

    Before I get started, I suppose some sort of introduction is appropriate for readers who have only recently

  53. MacWorld always has its surprises, but some of them are quite personal. For me, the surprise was the

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