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An Almost Final Farewell to Desktop Word Processing
2007, Q1 (July 12, 2007)
By Bill Albing, Carolina Chapter Past President

Bill Albing
Bill Albing, recovering Word addict
I remember the first time I used Microsoft Word and how powerful it felt having grown up with typewriters. But alas, the era of desktop publishing is over, and I must bid Microsoft Word and several other desktop applications good-bye. In case you think I'm singling out Microsoft, it's not just MS Word, but also OpenOffice, GoogleOffice, or any application that makes what we used to call "documents". Nowadays, I'm simply using a wiki for collaborative information sharing and a blog for online reporting. I'm getting closer to that social network we all keep hearing about. (As a case in point, I did not use a word processor in the development of this article.) But before I can say a good-bye forever, there are a few loose ends.

You see, I still use Microsoft Word — I admit it — for some things. I don't use it anymore for word processing in the traditional sense of document development. In fact, I can't remember the last time I created a document. There is so much information flowing and there is such an urgency to speed the flow of that information, that there is pressure to eliminate any delay caused by containerizing it in a document. For my work, I create user assistance and marketing content, but most of it is either web-based or online in some form. We don't produce hard copy of anything, practically. That's why blogs, wikis, and web searching are my tools of choice today. And if I had to buy MS Word now, I wouldn't; but I still have it on my desktop and so I use it for a few remaining tasks.

And this is what's interesting. I still use Microsoft Word to do word processing in the data processing sense. In a way, these are the seven not-so-deadly sins that keep me coming back to this old office application, if only until these are available for free on the web, which I suspect they will be before not too long.

1. Macros for Finding and Replacing
If you are like me, there are places where macros have saved you time by doing repetitive tasks that we are too lazy to write an XSLT for — editing and rearranging text that is routine and predictable. It's only a matter of time before I use scripts or transforms to handle these, but for now this is so easy.

2. Spell Checking and Grammar Checking
Well, I guess there are other online spell checkers and grammar checkers, but old habits die hard. While I've given up writing documents in Word, I still haven't given up using these features for stuff I write elsewhere and paste in Word to run the checking. It's simple and quick — we all make mistakes and you can't check your content too many times.

3. Word Count and Difficulty Index
One of the handy features is the word count. Who of us doesn't on occasion have to write an article that must be a certain length or have to write content that will only fit in a limited space. I use this all the time. It would be great to have a web site that counts words, sentences, paragraphs, and gives an indication (however unscientific) that shows me the difficulty level of the content. Even if it is nothing more than a first order indicator that says whether you are in the ball park, this would be useful. Perhaps with the Internet, where there doesn't seem to be any boundaries about length of content these tools may not be needed in the future. But I like them.

4. Converting Tables to Text and Text to Tables
When faced with the task of converting content in tables into readable prose, the first step is a simple table-to-text conversion. This has always been partly enjoyable and partly annoying. On those occasions when I need to go from one to the other, sometimes as only part of a process (not its final outcome), it sure is easy to use this feature of MS Word.

5. Sorting a List of Text Items
What's easier than pasting a list of items in MS Word, getting MS Word to arrange them in alphabetical (or any) order, and them copying them back to where I need them. This is one of the most commonly used features that I will find hard to give up, but will do so easily as soon as this capability exists with a web interface. It is not at all hard to do.

6. Making a PDF Quickly
Of course in the old days you used to have to print to a specific printer driver — then when you bought Adobe Acrobat, it was easy because they added a menu option to MS Word so you could print directly to a PDF. Now you can do it on the web. I guess I've already given up on MS Word to do this, but I thought I would mention it because it is a handy feature if you have not found the places to do this on the web.

7. Generating a Quick Outline
When I have a bunch of text and the headings stand out, I set the headings to Heading format, then I quickly generate a Table of Contents (TOC) that serves as an outline. I can then copy and paste that outline (or TOC) where I need it. Maybe this is the wrong way of using this feature, but we all have quirky habits and uses of our tools. This one is my quirky way of working.

I invite other users to post on this wiki any thoughts they have about tools that would help me completely eliminate my addiction to MS Word. If you have any similar uses that make it hard for you to let go, let me know about it. We are in a time of transition from the old desktop-based tools to a completely web-serviced tool set. Some of us old timers take a little longer making the transition. But we are getting there.

(cc) Creative commons license 2007 Bill Albing. Some rights reserved.

Bill can be reached at Bill dot Albing at KeyContent dot org, until he gives up email, too, in favor of web-based news feeds and blog comment posts. End of article.

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