Unnecessary complexity in word processing

One of my first experiences with a graphical/WYSIWYG word processor was with ClarisWorks. [Aside: I don't know if it is just me, but I love typing out WYSIWYG. It is an acronym that is impossible to spell wrong because it is so fun to sound out]. Anyway, read about the history of ClarisWorks, which became AppleWorks, in this Wikipedia article.

ClarisWorks was the first software that I used that was really intuitive (the other word processing software was WordPefect 5.1, which was really not exciting to me, probably due to its jarring color scheme and apparent lack of flow). AmiPro, what I came to use on the family PC during most of high school, was a usable, if clunkier feeling, version of ClarisWorks. In ClarisWorks, it was inherently obvious what the buttons and icons did, and how the page layout would look. And there were not a large number of commands that a user could execute. So there was not a lot of messing around with things.

Of course I contrast this with what eventually became the modern default word processor of humanity, Microsoft Word, which added a great deal of complexity to the word processing experience. And this complexity is not masked by elegant design, or by making choices to restrict user options. No, this software follows the paradigm of allowing maximum flexibility to the user, at the expense of, in my opinion, the user experience. In fact, the computer that I am using for this website is the first computer I have had in many years that does not have Microsoft Office installed, not because I do not have a spare license, but because I do not want it on my computer.

And the best part is, I do not need it on my computer. For my writing at least, and I think for many others, the concept of writing has been split back out of the concept of publishing, as it should. Way back when, when Word was in its heyday, the primary way of sharing work was through printing. So it was very important that the screen would match the page, so that when the user was done typing, the document was ready to print. In today's world, and for the foreseeable future, that is no longer the case. A block of text should be easily published for the web, for a PDF on an iPad, delivered to a Word Processor of choice, pasted into an email, etc. The fact is that the publishing methods.

This is great news. The explosion in text editing options over the past few years have been primarily in response to the desire for users of mobile devices to use unified formats. Thanks to Dropbox this has become a reality. And using plaintext, especially with markdown, does have somewhat of a feeling of WordPerfect 5.1. But coupled with modern design, greyed out formatting, in modern word processors such as Byword manage to blend a bit of early, simple word processing with the fun of old-school html editing and the universal compatibility and readability of text and markdown. Also, applications such as Scrivener just concentrate on being able to write and organize large documents, such as dissertations and books, with unlimited options for output formats that can be determined after the hard part, the writing, is done. In fact, I cannot think of a single reason that I would be using a complicated modern word processor like Word unless it was a customer specific requirement. In that case, I have had much better luck over the past several years using Apple's Pages, and exporting to Word for final tweaks, or preferable, going straight to PDF. [Aside: How about a Go directly to PDF, do not pass DOC shirt?]. Show me a time-critical proposal that is written in Word and I will show you a document that refuses to print or to save or something else at the worst possible moment.

Back to the point, the new paradigms of word processing that I have come to embrace has produced a very low friction environment, where different levels of complexity can be applied as needed, without slowing the process down, or throwing up more barriers between the words and the screen. Low friction equals more content. I want a Ferrari and I want a good word processing experience, but I do not want a Ferrari word processor.

Ferrari outside George's at the Cove (La Jolla, CA 2011)