My adventures with Microsoft Word

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This post is all about how I, and honestly no one else I know, needs Microsoft Word anymore. It’s going to be a long one, so get comfortable. First off – let’s get something straight. Microsoft Word is the best word processing program out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a Mac or PC it just is. Yet, I don’t recommend it for anyone. Confused? Yeah, well it will get clearer.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was a freshmen in university and had scrounged together the $180 (that was the education discount) to purchase the first Microsoft Office which included Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. Word immediately became the most important program on my computer. It had spellcheck, tons of formatting features and it just worked better than anything I had used.

So I used Word for years and years. I mean what else was out there? Whether I was taking a class or teaching this was my go to program. It was like my best friend. It taught me to save early and often, it was just a solid program. It allowed me to create my own worksheets for my students, poster for events and nicely formatted reports. What else would I need?

Then in 2008, I switched to Mac. My first Mac of course did not have Microsoft Office. For a while I was a little lost. There were no good online word processing programs at the time and even though I loved my Mac I felt a little cheated. How could a computer that was so awesome have no real word processing option? I decided just to go out and buy a Microsoft Office for Mac 2008.

I installed it and . . . hated it. The Mac version was woefully flawed. It jammed everything into a “toolbox” that floated on top of the document. It kept getting in the way, was not that stable and sloooooow.

Before I looked forward to firing up Word, now I loathed it. I had no idea what I was getting into? Would it work fine, would I be able to find the options I need, would it freeze and shut down? When considering using a word processing program I shouldn’t be asking those questions. It just shouldn’t. Then a friend of mine installed Apple’s iWork ’07 on my computer which comes with Pages.

It took a little to get used to of course, but I had found my replacement. It had less features but at the time I was doing a lot of guides for teachers and needed a program that would help me do more advanced layouts. Word (even on the PC) was not suited for this type of work and I found Publisher to be overly complicated and I thought it just sucked. Pages, on the other hand, served all these needs and served them well. Sure there were tiny annoyances with the program, but it was quick, didn’t crash and it did pretty much what I wanted. I had found my replacement.

However, I ran into one big problem. Opening files from other programs – namely Word files was problematic. If it was straight up word processing, Pages did a fine job. If there was some formatting on the Word document you had no idea what you would get. Sometimes it would convert just fine – other times it would be an unusable mess that need to be recreated in Pages or forced me back to Microsoft Word. Going the other way was just as unpredictable. Pages has an option to save it as a Microsoft Word file, but with heavy formatting it will just look terrible.

So basically I wanted to move on from Word but was kind of a slave to it. It was this way for a while and I tried lots of different programs. NeoOffice, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Mellel, Mariner Write, OmmWriter (which I’m using right now by the way), WriteRoom and iAwriter. If you have any questions about those programs feel free to email me at patrickcauley@thetechjonsey.com.

Most I tried for at least a month, some longer like NeoOffice and LibreOffice, but they all fell short or were niche programs like OmmWriter which focuses on distraction free writing. I liked Pages but not enough people used it which kept me off of it. The others were OK but they really didn’t have the power or ease of use that Word does and the features were often squirreled away under mountains of menu bars or in odd places that didn’t seem to make sense. Eventually I settled on LibreOffice and used that for over a year.

Then in 2011 the best version of Microsoft Office for Mac was released. I bought it almost immediately and felt complete again. It still did not offer layout options as good as pages but for everything else it worked great and even though there were few and small inconsistencies from opening a PC Word file on my Mac it still worked better than anything I had ever used. I thought I was golden. I thought I had finally found what I was looking for during the past three years. I felt that my Mac was now complete.

It was awesome . . . for a while. Then my hard drive crashed. I had it replaced and then used a Time Machine backup to restore my computer and everything was there including Word. However, Word had somehow picked up some fatal flaw. It was so unstable that it was unusable. Sometimes it just refused to open, other times it work for a few minutes and then crash. A few rare occasions it seemed to work just fine, but those moment seemed to be once every other month. I contacted Microsoft and for two weeks worked with them to get it up and running but it nothing worked. What was weird was that Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook worked fine. No problems – it was stragne but I was finally done with Word. That was it – I have given Word 16 years of my life but this incident made it very clear that it was time for me to move on. The question was, could I?

Would it be like before were I would be pulled back into Word’s bosom bceause everyone around me was on it? The short answer was no. After Word, failed I reverted back to LibreOffice and all my old gripes came back to me like unhealed wounds. Options buried deep in menus, bullet points from Word documents looked ridiculous and doing serious formatting was a pain, but I had no choice that was all I had left to work with.

Right about this time our school switched to Macs but the school did not purchase Office for Mac. Instead we were urged to use Pages (which few people did) or LibreOffice. Most tried LibreOffice but hated it. I’m talking about some real deep-seated hatred and rage for LibreOffice. Most really didn’t give it a chance and to be fair it’s tough to adjust to a new program. Especially one you’ve been using for over a decade or more.

Teachers eventually had enough and purchased their own copies of Microsoft Office for Mac, but for me, I just smiled. I was smiling not out of some sick, sadistic glee but because my tech director told me that we were going Google next year.

Yep, Google Docs – online word processing. I tried it way back in 2007 and it sucked. It was slow, crashed, didn’t always save and had next to no formatting features. However, in 2012 this was a different beast all together. It had more than enough formatting option, was fluid, stable, could work offline and the collaboration features made it incredibly attractive to people who work in teams (like teachers).

Another huge plus was that it was the same regardless of your operating system. Windows Vista, Snow Leopard, Tiger, Linux, who gives a crap it’ll look the same. I was completely overwhelmed with how much I liked it. I even started converting all my important Word documents into Google Docs. I rarely tried Word, Pages or LibreOffice after that.

I started using Google Docs almost exclusively. I never looked back.

Now, that we are in our first year of Google Apps for Education – people are still using Microsoft Office but it will change. It will be slow but it will change. Here’s why. Students will save their stuff on a flash drive and lose it. Students will save it on their computer and lose it. This almost never happens with Google Docs. People working in groups will get confused emailing it back and forth to one another and just switch to Google Docs.

Here is another reason. Microsoft Office 365 (Microsoft’s online office suite) is nowhere near as good as Google Docs. Not even close and though they make lots of claims of improving it, those improvements seem to come few and far between where as Google Docs seem to update all the time. They’re just little updates but when you start stacking them up they make a mountian.

Make no bones about it people Microsoft wants you to use both Microsoft Office on the computer and Microsoft Office Live online, but if you have to chose one or the other Microsoft wants you in the cloud. They would prefer you purchase a Office 365 subscription. Don’t believe me? Check out the pricing below.

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Now the physical Office program is only good for 1 computer. Keep that in mind. Office 365 on the other hand is good for 5. Google Docs is free and even if you work for a business it is only $50/user/year and it gives you access to all of Google’s features not just Google Docs.

The shift has begun. I didn’t always think this way. Hell, I even wrote a post about it on IT Babble. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Word is the best word processing program period. No need to argue, but is it worth the price? I’m not just talking money here. I’m talking about the price of giving up working in the cloud, giving up the collaborative features, giving up easily sharing files. Giving up having your files saved in the cloud and accessible from any computer with an Internet connection? Is it worth all that?

No.

My predecesor, Tony saw this a while back. I didn’t get it then but I get it now and here’s the thing my good reader. I am patient. I am tolerant. I will simply sit back, smile and watch as more and more people come over to Google Docs. I smile because I know this is the way that people want to work whether they realize it or not. This is way that people are going to start working, not just in schools but everywhere.

Word may be the best on a computer, but Google Docs is the best online and let’s face it. That’s where the world is and that’s where I want to work.

What about you?

Patrick Cauley
http://www.thetechjonsey.com

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About Patrick Cauley

I teach middle school technology and love to play around with tech and teach students and colleagues alike. You can read my blog at www.itbabble.com
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