So, the Uyseʔ grammar is up.  While doing this, I tried to be all 21st century and produce the HTML directly from a Word docx file.

It was awfully pretty… also awfully bloated… 1.1M.  I redid it the creaky old 20th century way; it’s about 200K.  Word’s HTML is full of crap, things like references to every font in your system, plus lots of information that is presumably there if you want to re-import it as a Word file.  Why, after all these years, isn’t there a “slim export” feature?

I still do most of my writing in Mac Word 5.1, dated 1992.  Partly this is because I’m so used to it I don’t have to think about most functions, but also because it’s blindingly fast.  Some of the newer Words were unusably slow.

I got Mac Word 2008 so I could write the LCK using Unicode.  On the whole it’s really good– it does such good PDF outputting that I didn’t need Acrobat; its indexing and cross-reference functions were a great time-saver; it can read Illustrator files; zooming in is very valuable.

At the same time, it’s a few steps forward, a few steps back.  The fact that it crashes occasionally is worrying.  It’s also slow, especially once you start using a lot of those advanced features.  And it just has a number of perverse features:

  • an “element gallery” bar you can’t turn off (my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I want to see a whole page as big as I can get it)
  • no overstrike mode that I could find (Word 5.1 had this)
  • Unusual Unicode characters appear in some random font; there seems to be no way to say “always use Gentium”, much less “if I insert a Gentium character ‘cos the default font doesn’t support it, that doesn’t mean I’m switching to Gentium throughout”
  • No options to nudge a picture; in general picture handling is clumsy (e.g. just getting one centered is tricky since when the cursor is in a picture it replaces the entire formatting pane, including the “center” control)
  • Word can’t do incremental saves any more, so saving a large document is slow

There’s a lesson here for software developers, but it’s probably so narrow that it doesn’t apply to much beyond Word.  Where do you go with a word processor?  Maybe every few years someone comes up with a killer feature you really want to add, but that’s not enough to get the masses to shell out $125 every three years.  So they have to keep redoing it anyway, changing the interface, adding stuff most people don’t need.  And along the way stuff that used to work just fine gets lost or broken.

(This probably doesn’t apply to most systems because there are always too many real features to add.  Though the point is similar to Joel Spolsky’s advice not to rewrite all your code as you’re dying to.)

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