Microsoft Word: I still use it, but it's no longer my go-to program for all things written anymore.
It used to be that Word was the last word in words. That changed when the world's dominant publishing environment became an endless forest of glowing screens, found everywhere simultaneously. Instead of Word's proprietary formatting rules invisibly structuring language behind the scenes, minimally formatted text made lots more sense.
Or, said differently, minimally formatted text up front makes more sense when it's likely that millions of scriveners like myself will shortly mark-up their words with their own hypertext of some sort. Meta-textual hooks are a pain in the neck when the program holding those words already has an architecture underneath.
Let me simplify my frustration: I can't stand it when my word processor hijacks my tab settings. Someone out there knows why it gets screwed up, but it drives me crazy, and it takes me mentally out of what I'm doing. Using Word makes me an endless software manager, distracting me from being a writer.
What you're reading now I'm writing this in a program that I dismissed for more than a decade: Apple's TextEdit. It's strange. With almost no formatting information at all, my scribblings here cut and paste comfortably into the WordPress engine I'm using to power this site. Markup's a breeze, and because my blog posts are usually short, the tools are great for fast, easily navigable texts. It's simple, it launches quickly, and the files are small. What's not to like? Besides, the bloated behemoth that underpins the Office suite just rankles philosophically. As a child it was always fun to have infinite options, in the event that someday….SOMEDAY… I just MIGHT want to do some obscure mail merge with an integrated Excel spreadsheet. But seriously? I think I've used about ten percent of the Office tools available, and I'm not likely to sink the precious time to learn tools that have precisely zero percent chance of ever being needed. That bloat don't float!
But I'm being honest here. I must admit that I…do…still…use…Word. I must. for longer pieces, or carefully laid-out, artfully designed document formatting I still find it indispensable. Finding text strings across big documents is simply easier; major formatting tools are profoundly more powerful; organization tools do what I need them to do. (Yes, I'm actively messing around with Apple's Pages, but it's not quite in the fingers yet…) Word is also still the keeper of an all important network-effect, that because it's the standard program in the world, it remains as such. But that hold on everyone's phalanges is beginning to weaken.
But these days, when I use Word I have to know that I'm "going in", that I'll be in Microsoft-land for a while. Imposed formats change the ways we interact with our ideas. Tools shape art. When I have to move a mountain, I drive a bulldozer. But I've been playing more and more with minimal approaches to what I always assumed would be imperturbably solutions for daily tasks. My bulldozer gathers more dust these days. Lately my words just want to be free, and keeping the Microsoft keys on the counter has been a revelation. These days I move mountains more often simply by asking them to move. Such is the power of words set free.
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