Word 5.1 Plus

Word 5.1 Plus

I got wired
yesterday with a refrain I hear often: Word 5.1 was the epitome of word
processing on the Macintosh. And, I have to say, it’s not as though this isn’t
something we’ve considered over the years. We’ve even mocked up a couple of
versions of Word to play around with.

But, here’s the rub. If you sit down with a bunch of people and ask them
what they want in a word processor, they start from Word 5.1 as the baseline,
but they’ll, almost always, want something more. Maybe it’s Word 5.1 plus
background spell checking. Maybe it’s Word 5.1 plus scriptability. Maybe it’s
Word 5.1 plus Unicode support. Maybe it’s Word 5.1 plus AutoText. For others
still, it’s Word 5.1, but, by the way, we’d also like you to support Win Word’s
file format natively—including nested tables. And, gosh, when I get a
document from Win Word users, it’d be nice if you got the line breaks and the
page breaks the same.

What the vast majority of people want is Word 5.1 Plus. And, by the time
you add up all the “Plus’s” you come to something that’s not all that far away
from Word 2004, which is how we got here in the first place. I can still hear
the refrains from 1991 that went something like, “When are we going to get
[fill in your favorite feature here]?” You’d have a hard time convincing me
that, had we stopped at Word 5.1, someone else wouldn’t have eaten our lunch a
long time ago.

Of course it is possible to find some folks who still prefer just Word 5.1,
and I wouldn’t even be surprised to find that this group numbers in the
thousands—which is pretty close to the number of copies of Word 2004 that
we sold, in various configurations, on the first day that it was available for



Comments (22)

  1. un says:

    To me that article, and the linked comments at MacInTouch reflected those people’s nostalgia more than anything. Their memories of the older product are suffused with a rosy glow, kind of like the people who fondly remember a time when it was safe to walk the streets, children were respectful of their elders and so on, none of it is true but the rosy glow keeps the bad things out of focus.

    Now if you ask me, I’d like to see the Computer Concepts product Impression Style as the basis of future Word Processors 😉

  2. Monkey says:

    Never used Word 5.1 on the Mac, but WordPerfect 5.1 on the PC was the nuts. Much better than anything Microsoft has ever come up with. Course, back then word processing was a skill, but the results were always immaculate. 100% control over documents and you never had to fight the PC to format things the way you wanted. WYSIWYG is fine in theory, but no one has been able to implement it without restricting the user. Is it so hard to flush left, hold centre and flush right on the same line? Don’t even mention text boxes…

  3. reflector says:

    word 5.1 is the bomb. whats the point of upgrading? MS is going down.

  4. foo says:

    I think a large problem is the size of Word now. It’s gigantic and takes tons of memory when compared to Word 5.1.

    I think those people want Word 5.1, + make it modern (Unicode, background spell checking, decent typography/modern font control, etc) I can’t really imagine how big that kind of project would be (it’s been ages since I’ve used Word 5.1), but I doubt it’s the size of the current Word.

    I’m sure most people don’t use 90% of the features Word has. I was kind of pissed several years ago when I told some other people in a Univ. course project to use stylesheets so I could format their documents properly (merging them) without going nuts. They didn’t know what style sheets were. Then why the heck were they using Word?

    Some people just see it as a glorified typewriter. And I think that’s why so many people disagree with the current Word; it doesn’t focus on one type of use, but instead lets anyone with their own expectations use it how they want to; whether they’re typing an essay, writing a book, writing one of many articles for a magazine, or (ugh) creating graphics.

  5. I was quoted in that article (I responded to a usenet posting looking for comments from people who still used Word 5.1a). They didn’t run my ONE wish for an upgrade from 5.1a: the ability to zoom in on text as we can in later version of Word. I also love the ease of stamping formatting in a Find/Replace box without going through nested dialog boxes.

    Rick’s main point is extremely well taken, and I am in fact already using Word 2004 for some work (we got it 10 days ago from the university distribution system) because the new feature I value, Unicode support and compatibility with PC docs, is more important to me than the stuff I don’t like. I do NOT like that saving down into Word 5 format has been removed from this version (saving into .rtf is NOT equivalent, since Word 5 doesn’t correctly process footnote references when opening .rtf from higher versions of Word.

    On the other hand, one could imagine a modular word processor in which there were core functions and you could load additional plug-in modules, such as drawing, robust tables, correction features, revision tracking, and so forth. The core might look like Word 5.1a. This would probably be a really lean word processor, with the typical Microsoftian bloat required only for the highest-end use, not for everyday docs.

    I’m no programmer, so I can’t even guess if this might be possible on the basis of existing MS code. Probably much more complicated than I could imagine. But it’s a fine dream!

    George Fowler

    gfowler AT indiana DOT edu

  6. Frank Myers says:

    The short live OpenDoc applications offered the building block concept of customizing your word processor. If IBM would have done its part to offer OpenDoc for Windows then it may have gained some traction. Then again Jobs didn’t like it for some reason and killed it at Apple.

  7. plaz says:

    Close but not quite, Word 4.0e was the best. The revision "e" was what let it work on Quadras & PowerPCs. Word 5.1 was slower and had lots of stupid menus (like Windows has) added that wasted lots of screen space – something that mattered back in the day when a 13" RGB was considered a decent sized display. Word 4.0e also fit on one 800k floppy. By comparison, 5.1 was bloated and fit on 5 or 6 1.4 MB HD floppys. I consider it a transition to the worst Word of all, Word 6.

    It was the beginning of the bloat.

    There was nothing added to Word 5.1 that enabled anything that I couldn’t do already with Word 4.0.


  8. steven vore says:

    >I’m sure most people don’t use 90% of the features Word has.

    The oft-quoted figure is closer to 80%, but when researchers actually check they find that it’s never *the same* 80%. I may only find 20% important, and so may you, but yours and mine very likely don’t overlap much. So now maybe 30% is "important." Keep adding people and the "what’s important" scope grows.

  9. Chao says:

    I’m sure one of the reasons Word 5.1 is remembered so fondly is because of how jaw droppingly bad Word 6 was…

  10. Jimmy says:

    I won’t really gripe about the size of the current package, since to even a G4 it loads pretty fast. I will say, however, that the day I left the law office I’d worked at for six years with Word 5.1, I had an iMac 400 on my desk and it booted Word 5.1 in about 3 seconds.

    I did everything we needed. We had multi-part, multi-section legal documents which required rigorous formatting.

    Word 6 came out while I was at that office. Based upon a short trial which showed a) horrendous slowness and b) Word doing too many things for me that I’d rather do manually, I recommended against an upgrade.

    I keep in touch with them still. They finally updated to Office v.X last year.

    Currently, I use a G4 MDD at the office, a G5 at home and a TiBook 400 in between. WP of choice?


    I can still make Word 5.1 sit up, roll over, beg and jump, but then I’d have to load Classic. Word 5.1, as it was, would be all I’d need if it were able to run in Mac OS X.

    …and I still don’t get why these things are so big. What is it that’s fundamentally different from "Magic Desk" on my C64?

  11. Pete Walton says:

    I’ve used Word over the years, but its constant second-guessing of what I’m trying to do regarding the format of my documents drives me nuts … Then there was the paper clip thing on my sister’s laptop – talk about a hindrance! … and I just love Word on XP at work – it freezes for no apparent reason on opening. Occasionally I get to change the Font and type three words before it stops responding … I’ve lost count of the error reports I’ve sent to Microsoft, but I do it as a matter of principle these days. I live in hope that a future version will be workable because I’ve got a backlog of letters to write …

  12. jyc says:

    Word 6 was extremely bad, but one important thing for us to remember as Microsoft’s customers is the powerful MS reality distortion field which caused them to insist that there were no problems with Word 6 when it came out. Instead, we got treated to a spiel about the greatness of "core code" and how the Windowsness of Word 6 was really a feature.

    The company is quite similar to Quark in its attitude towards customers.

  13. It’s not as though there is a complete shortage of alternatives. If you like the simplicity of earlier versions of Word, then TextEdit or Mariner Write or Nisus Writer Express or AppleWorks will do the job nicely. If you just care about the text and not the formatting, BBEdit is wonderful.

    SubEthaEdit is a fascinating way to collaborate. So is a Wiki if you work online. If you write mostly e-mail, Entourage or Mailsmith or Eudora gives you a pretty powerful way of working with things. For really long, complex documents, you might need to invest in FrameMaker, but if you’re doing other sorts of layout, InDesign or QuarkXPress may be your best option.

    But why do so many of us stick with Word? Because it does so many things for so many people, and others expect us to use it. Because it really is pretty effective at some things. We’re only annoyed because we know and use it so well, perhaps, and because Microsoft is Microsoft. Do thousands of people complain about bugs in Nisus Writer? No, but the bugs are still there.

    I probably think I want an OS X-native version of Word 5.1. But I bet if I got one, I’d be missing things about Word v.X within a few minutes. As Rick noted, where do you draw the line?

  14. old fart says:

    Manufacturers should listen.

    I know that they have to make money by adding new features each year so that that can resell an upgrade – but it is making for obese and overly complex applications.

    Remember, despite your drowning in IT for all of youl life, there are folks that are still coming to use a computer for the first time. What are they meant to make of all this … and the expense of buying what they dont need and will never use. Like being sat at the controls of a 747 and told to go to Chicago when all you have done is ridden a bike.

    It is little better than a Microsoft Tax – without representation – on entering into the comercial world. " You wanna do business on our block … you gotta pay for a license ". But I dont need all of that …

    Give us a " Word Lite ". So we can read anything we get sent and write straight letters and essays etc.

    I ought to go trademark that.

    Actually, it was Clarisworks 2.1 that did it for me … far prettier than Word 4/5, cleaner interface and *again* still does all I need – and 95% of the people 95% of the time.

    And Simpletext walks over TextEdit for doing simple things like edit html pages withough having to think twice. Why did they bother removing the simple text factor of it !?!

    I actually bought AppleWorks 6 – and then it sent back with a note to the national director saying how awful it was. 5 was fine enough, 6 went down the chute as some overweight middle america " mom and pops " wash out. The box was onbviously designed by a different team that did software / templates. I thought it was for business productivity.

    Now what has Stevie so much against Appleworks that its development be starved to death? No body bought it? No wonder. And what did those icons mean anyway?

    There is this funny problem with a certain division of Apple that keeps wanting to aim products as the lower end mass market – who are basically not interested really because Macs are too expensive, " there is no software for them " and none of their friends have them – when most of its users would like to think that they are upscale eclectic pro users.

    And I miss Notepad too. I don’t want doodahs, I don’t want weird quirks, I don’t want to wait. I want something light to launch immediately and work.

    You would have thought that with all the bloat in OS X – and ubiquitous nature of words – that they could have had a text editor built into the Finder and just present at all times.


  15. Most folks can’t come to grips with the fact that Microsoft Word is a high-end product. Many would probably be much happier with a low-end product, but they are too proud to use one, such as Mariner Write.

    I think that Microsoft ought to provide a low-end version of Word, possibly one identical to Word 5.1. They should also offer an upgrade path, which I think will be followed by a huge number of purchasers of the low-end product.

    I suspect that most users of the low-end version of Word will find that there are three or four features in the full version that they can’t live without. And I don’t think that those few features will be the same for all folks, as was noted here.

    I also think that providing a low-end version of Word will help all of those folks who say that they don’t like Word when their real problem is that they really don’t know how to use it and they aren’t willing to do what is necessary to learn. A low-end version will allow folks to learn that version, and then progress to the full version once they learn the basics.

    It seems to me that offering a low-end version of Word would, in time, hugely boost sales for the full version.

  16. "I want Word 5.1, plus my ten favourite features … "

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