Sunday, March 22, 2009

Quarter century of Word

Sunday, March 22, 2009 |

The Malaysia Star, Malaysia

Quarter century of Word
Tuesday March 10, 2009

Extract ""Functionalities like the new 'Save As Daisy XML' feature within Microsoft Word can reduce
the expense and increase the ease of delivering accessible content to users who require it,"
Kulasegaran said."

Arguably almost ­everyone who has used a PC before has used Microsoft's venerable Word
wordprocessor. Here we take a brief look at its 25-year ­history.

THE question must be asked, is there a conflict of interest in writing a feature piece about a
program while using that same program to draft its story?
More than 25 years since the birth of the extraordinarily popular Microsoft Word, this
wordprocessing program has quite literally changed the computing world with a history older than
this possibly biased journalist.
Such is the enormity of its success, there are only perhaps rural Amazonian tribesmen who have not
heard of or used it at some point in their lives.
However, the story of this program, commonly referred to as Word, has not always been a prosperous
one. Here we take a look at the journey of this digital icon from its birth to where it stands

Birth pangs

Word got off to a tumultuous start in late 1983. It was the brainchild of one Charles Simonyi and
his team of programmers who were recruited by Bill Gates at the time. In a time when PCs were
considered luxury items, the potential of such a program was not truly appreciated by the general

CAPTION: THE BEGINNING: Word for Windows 1.0 released in 1989.

It was not the first player in the relatively small world of wordprocessors in the early 1980s.
Software such as WordStar and WordPerfect were character based (DOS) programs that already existed
at that time.
Word, however, was the first graphical user interface processor and fully utilised the mouse —
highly unusual at that time. Despite this innovation designed to give increased flexibility to
wordprocessing, sales of Word lagged behind its rivals and the future looked bleak for Bill Gates
and his Microsoft team.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, sales of Word increased exponentially and it soon established
itself as the market leader with the release of Word 1.0 for Windows, ­according to Microsoft. Soon,
its benefits were recognised by the masses.
Word 1.0 for Windows was fully mouse-driven with drop down menus and WYSIWYG display which,
according to Microsoft, played a big part in its success.
WYSIWYG or what You See Is What You Get, means that the content displayed during editing appears
very similar to the final output.

Conceptually speaking

Senior product marketing manager for Microsoft's Office System division Anabelle Co believes that
the inspiration behind Word came from a very old fashioned idea.
 CO: 'We believe that Office 2007 offers those who place a high value on their files the reliability
and security they need.'
"People have always had the need to write," said Co. "When I was young, we had typewriters and we
would learn how to use them in school. Obviously if you make a mistake, it was almost impossible to
correct. How many trees would I have killed just trying to type my book report?"
Co went on to say that once computers became commonplace is schools, the students were taught how to
use Word to write out their projects.
"This was simply amazing to us. Being able to edit our work to such a degree and having the option
of 'bolding' and 'italicising' words was a godsend," said Co.
"It was intimidating at first but, as newer versions of Word came out, it became easier to use and
subsequently gained popularity and recognition."

Clippy controversy

As more features were added onto Word, Microsoft felt that some new users would appreciate an
interactive assistant to guide them through their initial confusion. Hence, the infamous Clippy was
Clippy, the official Microsoft Office Assistant, first appeared in 1997 in Microsoft Office for
Windows. The well-meaning paper clip riding a piece of paper offering his ­services was generally
not well received.
Clippy's intrusiveness and know-it-all attitude caused him to be parodied by the Net generation and
was ultimately phased out by Microsoft in the following years.
However, Microsoft has not gotten rid of Office Assistants altogether. New characters have come out
since Clippy and they still exist in limited and less intrusive capacities within the Microsoft
Office structure.

Present day

Today, Word is under the banner of Microsoft Office consisting of other recently popular programs
such as Excel and PowerPoint. The latest version is Microsoft Office 2007.
Recently, the dominance of this product has been challenged by other wordprocessing programs such as
Open Office, a free ­open-source program by Sun Microsystems and Google Docs, a web-based
wordprocessor from Google.
Although theses alternatives are gaining acceptance, Microsoft believes that it still has the
competitive edge over its rivals.
For example, Office 2007 has a redesigned table of "ribbons" (horizontal list of ­applications at
top of the text) to make it more accessible and user friendly, according to Microsoft's website. The
revamped user interface includes a mini-toolbar allowing you to keep your most used applications in
a separate moveable bar.
"We have also added new features such as Smart Art which is a graphical instrument that allows you
to create and edit charts and graphs with ease," Co explained.
"There are dozens of pre-saved graphical templates for all sorts of situations. This is particularly
useful in the professional world."
Another add-on that is available for Microsoft Word is Daisy XML developed by Microsoft and the
Digital Accessible Information System (Daisy) consortium.
This program, launched last year, is designed to allow the visually impaired to "hear" the text
documents written in a Word file through a text-to-speech synthesizer.
President of The National Council for the Blind in Malaysia (NCBM) Datuk S. Kulasegaran praised the
add-on as timely and necessary.
"Functionalities like the new 'Save As Daisy XML' feature within Microsoft Word can reduce the
expense and increase the ease of delivering accessible content to users who require it," Kulasegaran
The future
As far as the future is concerned, Microsoft believes it can set itself apart from the ­creeping
threat of its freeware rivals.
"Of course, people are spoilt for choice these days. We believe that Microsoft Office 2007 offers
those who place a high value on their files the reliability and security they need," Co said.
"We are constantly working on improving our product and our new version of Office will be released
around 2010."
She added that as it is still in the development stages, Microsoft is unable to comment on new
applications or other features at this time.


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