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All Word Processors Suck

By Shamus
on Sunday May 29, 2011
Filed under:


Maybe you’ve heard about it already, but I’ve been working on a book. I began working in Google Docs. I use Docs for my weekly column. It has what I need from a word processor: It loads quickly, gives word count & page number, has spell-checking, and doesn’t try to do my thinking for me. I plodded away on the book for about three months using Docs, before I discovered that it has a size limit. At 90k words, Google Docs told me my document was too large. Fair enough. It’s called “Google Docs” not “Google Great Big Honkin’ Books”.

I could have split it into two documents, but I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to move to a standard word processor. I have proof readers lined up. Professionals, who know their way around a rough draft of a book. And the thing I’ve learned is that the business more or less orbits around Microsoft Word. Sure, you can submit in other formats, but the most convenient way to share is to simply use what everyone else is using. You know how it goes.

Of course, buying Microsoft Word myself is out of the question. Aside from the expense, it really is horrible software. I had a copy of it about five or six years ago and I gave it away, vowing I’d never use it again. It’s a stupid, buggy, pushy, ugly, bloated, nagging, resource pig. It’s like one of those novelty swiss army knives with too many features. Attached to a brick. With a serrated handle.


Yeah, maybe I MIGHT need a spoon someday. But maybe I won’t want to eat with a spoon that folds in next to the knife I used to gut fish. And this saw blade might come in useful, provided I don’t need a blade longer than 2 inches and it doesn’t fold up on my fingers while I’m cutting. Oops, I folded the scissors away improperly and now the screwdriver is bent. And the whole thing is too large to fit in my pocket, which sort of defeats the purpose of joining the tools together in the first place.

Eventually I decided to jump to Libre Office, which is a fork of the open-source project Open Office, which was created as a alternative to Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, it also adopted Word’s kitchen-sink approach to features, which means it propagated a great many of the sins of Microsoft. Oh, it’s not as clunky and slow, and it doesn’t spam my desktop with useless launchers and notification windows. But it still does fifty things poorly, instead of doing five things well.

Great. My word processor can make tables, integrate with power point, display spreadsheets, use databases, do graphic-arts style page layout, embed media files, mail merge, and comes with its own security-hazard macro system. What about a feature the lets me type words? Which of these ten thousand buttons lets me do that?

Here is how it went:

  1. I figured that since I was using a “full featured” word processor now, I might as well use some of the features. Having a nice chapter index would let my jump around the book faster. So I decided to stop for a few minutes and add chapters.

    Adding chapters took four hours.

    Paragraphs were turned into chapter titles for no reason. It numbered every chapter #1. And made the number part of the name. And if I removed the number, it stopped being a chapter. And sometimes chapter headings would appear in random fonts. Or abruptly change fonts during editing. Or clicking on the chapter would take me to the wrong part of the document.

  2. I spotted an option to justify the text. I tried it out. Looked kind of nice. I left it in. I did a bunch of editing, and then I noticed that about twenty pages were completely hosed. Justify is supposed to make every line of a paragraph be the same width… except the last one. For some reason, these twenty pages didn’t work that way, and the paragraphs ended up looking like this:
    The  quick  sly  fox
    jumped over the lazy
    brown           dog.

    Nothing could fix this. I had to go through all of those pages and delete the line breaks between the paragraphs, and then add them in again to correct this. This was a mind-numbing twenty minutes. Aren’t these programs supposed to be labor saving devices?

  3. I decided to add page headings so I could see what chapter I was working on. Took twenty minutes of Google to find out how to do it. I did. I made a heading style, and explicitly said to apply the style to ALL pages.

    Sometime later I noticed that it had left a bunch of them out. Every chapter started off with the proper headers on every page, but then dropped them at the first hard page break. I did the “apply this style to ALL PAGES” again, with the same result. Solution: Go through, find all of the sections with missing headers, and add them manually.

    Once again, the software is outsmarting itself and guessing at what I want instead of doing what it’s told.

  4. The crowning moment:

    Hey, what’s this screwy little doodad in the left margin? Looks like a formatting control. Maybe for margins? Let’s see what it does. *click* Whoa! That’s not what I want. I’ll just hit undo…

    Hi! This is Libre Office! Looks like I’ve crashed.


    Don’t worry, though! I’m saving your document for you before I die.

    Er. Okay? But you’ve been auto-saving every five minutes, so I don’t imagine I’ve lost much work. But since this dialog only has an “ok” button, I guess you’re not really asking, are you?

    No sweat! I saved your work. It’s all good.

    Grumble. Let’s restart and get back to work.

    Hey! Looks like I crashed last time. I’ve got a saved document ready for recovery! Do you want to recover it now?

    Er. Fine. I guess. Whatever.

    Huff. Huff. Huff. Okay. I’m recovering. It’s really hard.

    A progress bar? What are you doing? You saved a document, and now you’re acting like you’re importing something exotic. This isn’t some foreign thing. This is just loading an autosave. What the hell?

    Done! Your file was recovered! I’m such a hero!


    What is this? How old IS this document? Is this… three days ago? What happened to all of those times I hit “save”? What was that “autosave” you were doing every N minutes? Where were those going? Where is all my work?

    I SAVED MY WORK, and it’s STILL NOT SAVED. WTF?!?!?!


    I was just short of 100,000 words. After the crash, I was down to 97,000. Three thousand words is a lot, but the real loss was the many, many, many edits I’d done to early sections of the document. I’d renamed things, added a paragraph here or there to clear things up. Re-worded things. Added a bit of dialog here or there to foreshadow / set up bits later in the book. The edits I’d done represented a lot more than just three thousand words. If this was just a single section to re-write it would be one thing, but I can’t even remember all of the edits I’d done. Days of work. Gone.

    I Googled around. It turns out the auto-saves are put into a backup directory. The backup directory is purged in the event of a crash.

Every. Single. Feature. Ended up damaging my document or eating time. And so:

  • Screw Open Office for copying everything that sucked about Word.
  • Screw MS Word for making such a mess out of word processing to begin with.
  • Screw Microsoft for poisoning the well by making the .doc an industry standard and then making it an incomprehensible mess of obfuscation that perpetuated the use of Word in spite of its horribleness.
  • Screw this industry which is built around this horrible software.
  • Screw the stupids who invited this mess by complaining that their word processors should do their thinking for them.
  • Screw the people who hired those dolts.
  • And finally, to hell with Libre Office for destroying my work through a devious synergy of bugs and bad interface choices.

I would have been happy to see to my own backups if I didn’t see that “Saving” message every five minutes, lulling me into a perilous false sense of security. If it wasn’t for auto-“recover”, I would have reverted to the last time I manually smacked the save button, which would have been a couple of hours at most. I still don’t understand what recovery did, or what it was trying to do.

(Deep breath.)

This happened a few days ago. I haven’t been able to go back to my book since then. I’m still mad and sulking.

Some people suggested LaTaX, but that’s the OPPOSITE of what I want. (At least right now. It might be good once the book is done. I don’t know.) I don’t want to worry about formatting and layout and fonts and spacing and margins an markups. I want a nice, clear, easy-to-read environment in which to put the words next to each other. Even the headings and chapter divisions I set up in Libre Office were silly. I did those because I was curious and wanting to get to know the software. (And because I foolishly believed they would work properly.) I should add that stuff AFTER I type “The End”, just before I send it to my proofreaders.

I guess what I really want is a local version of Google Docs, which was exactly as much word processor as I needed, with nothing extra. The only problem with Docs is that, being a web-based application, it’s pretty slow when dealing with huge documents.

I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but I’m taking a few days off from the book to let my head clear.

Comments (413)

  1. Zukhramm says:

    “I Googled around. It turns out the auto-saves are put into a backup directory. The backup directory is purged in the event of a crash.”

    No. You’re joking right? Or I’m dreaming. Why does it do that? How does that make any sense?! It’s like a car the disable the breaks when at high speeds. That’s when you need them!

    • Eärlindor says:

      No. You're joking right? Or I'm dreaming. Why does it do that? How does that make any sense?!

      Same thought went through my head, along with my face looking something like this: 0.0

    • Richard says:

      When Office 2007 came out, I was extremely upset that they had changed how all of the menus worked, and I hated the ribbon, because it wasn’t what I was used to and there was no “classic menu” option.

      But over the years, I’ve come to grudgingly admit that it’s organized a lot more intelligently. And I don’t think I’ve had any of the crashes that plagued the older versions.

      I guess the price is still an issue for you, though, which sort of makes this whole discussion a moot point.

    • guy says:

      Yeah, seriously?

      I personally use Microsoft Word, and can assure you that it’s not THAT terrible. Actually, it’s never crashed on me since we cleared the dark days of before WinXP. But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t do anything that incredibly stupid if it did.

      • Zombie Pete says:

        I have to agree. I’m not a Microsoft apologist by any means, but it’s pretty unfair to compare Word to some buggy, open-source thing you picked up for free off the internet. Word works. Period. You can use as much or as little of it as you want, and it will remain stable. I’ve written three books using it with no problems.

        But the most important factor is that it’s the industry standard. If you want to be a professional writer (and you are), you need to have the right tools. You wouldn’t entrust your car to a mechanic that used some rusty, old, mismatched tools he happened to find in a ditch alongside the road, would you?

        • ps238principal says:

          Not to mention it’s a bit perkier if you disable or don’t install Microsoft Groove. It’s a think that all suites are adopting these days (hi, Adobe) that allow you to share documents across a network and collaborate with other users. If you’re just by your lonesome, getting rid of it keeps MS software from running up the ol’ memory bill.

          By the by, the two biggest resource hogs I run into are Minecraft (no surprise there) and Firefox, which seems to be returning to the bad ol’ days of enough memory leaks to water a golf course in high summer.

          Oh, and I also use Google Docs, but mostly for first drafts or for temp documents that I might need to have access to on the road. I do find it odd that it red-underlines contractions most of the time, and I know you don’t like it when a word processor gets ‘pushy,’ but I miss autocorrect for some of the simpler stuff (getting the i-e order wrong, etc.). You can also disable a lot of the features you don’t like, but it’s your document…

        • FuzzyGhost says:

          The only reason that Microsoft’s tools are industry standard is due to their aggressive business tactics, not because their product is of a higher quality.

          I will say that I have used some free products that were either poorly produced, but too say that all of the free, Open Source products are rusty pieces of junk is just plain ignorance. Blender is one application that comes to mind that works well, is free, and Open Source.

          As far as Word, while I can’t share any stories of it crashing, and losing hours of work, I think it could use quite a bit of work. Word also uses an auto-save feature that I could not figure out how to disable (or lengthen the amount of time between auto-saves), and takes up to a minute to finish (for that time, you can’t edit or do anything with the document).

          • Rick C says:

            I realize I’m coming in to this thread late, but in Word 2003, you go to Options|Save, and it’s RIGHT THERE (auto save time period.) Same thing for 2010. I’m not a big Word fan, but it’s pretty much the first place I looked.

            • ps238principal says:

              This. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “OOOH, I HATE MICROSOFT [Insert software here] BECAUSE IT WON’T DO X! I’M INSTALLING SOMETHING ELSE!” After showing them “it does do X, go to this menu and click this. Simple,” it’s about 50/50 whether or not their pride will allow them to stick with what they’ve got or they’ll put something that doesn’t work as well (but has that feature they were looking for displayed more prominently) in its place.

          • ps238principal says:

            Open source doesn’t mean a panacea. I love VLC media player. However, many users have been clamoring for some kind of bookmarking feature or for the program to remember where you were in a given video track, audio track, or playlist when you close it. The response has been “If you want it so badly, code it yourself.”

            • Eugene says:

              “”If you want it so badly, code it yourself.”
              er…that’s sort of the *point* of Open Source, isn’t it? You want something badly, so you code it yourself?

              • Joseph Donofry says:

                That’s not entirely the point… In my opinion, the point of Open Source software is this:

                1. Your development and code are open. This lets anyone who wants to look through your code have the ability to look through it. They can find bugs for you and even fix them if they so choose. This brings me to

                2. When people make improvements, they can be merged with the main code. This allows for a potentially large user base to make the application better, so long as there’s some review process.

                3. Other developers can use the code to help them with their projects, or if they really want to, they can fork it and make something different or better.

                4. In the case of formats such as .doc, open source allows developers to very easily implement support for the open formats in their own applications.

                I do realize that you probably won’t ever read this, but if you or anyone else does, I hope it’s at the very least interesting.

            • WJS says:

              “If you want it so badly, code it yourself”
              You mean as opposed to the closed-source answer?
              “If you want it so badly, code it yourself… oh wait, you can’t! Hahaha!
              Seriously, you really think that open-source developers are there to be your personal code-monkeys? Or that response to feature-requests is that much better with closed-source projects?

        • I’d disagree in general. Office has had famous reliability and bloat problems. But recent versions have improved a lot, almost as if they realized that it was bad news that an open source project was offering virtually the same functional.

    • Jericho says:

      I suppose the theory is if the root cause of the crash is “backed up”, then you would never recover, and the crash would propagate down the chain of backups.

      Obviously, the solution would be to have auto-saves NOT in the backup directory, so this is still a stupid solution.

    • James Schend says:

      OpenOffice is made by open source geeks and Oracle. (I guess I should clarify: most open source software has really bone-headed bugs like this, and all Oracle software is disastrously terrible. Point is, that combination can never, ever produce good software. Saying Oracle is involved in the software development is like saying “it runs on Lotus Notes”, once you hear that, turn the other direction and run, run your ass off.) If you wanted a non-Microsoft product, you could have gone with WordPerfect or Scrivener or something.

      The real shame is that Word 2007 and 2010 have fixed basically all the complaints about previous versions. The reason OpenOffice still sucks is that they’re still ripping-off Word 2003, which even Microsoft thought sucked.

      • Dys says:

        Actually, Libre Office is the hived off version of OpenOffice which spawned when Oracle was threatening to shut the project down. I forget the details, perhaps they were involved in the development before the split, I don’t know.

        At the current time however, LO is unconnected to Oracle as far as I can tell. As for it being open source, I haven’t enough experience with os software to have an opinion on the usefulness of such a development method.

        Whenever I try writing, I use Notepad. It puts words next to each other.

        • anna says:

          Dys is correct – LibreOffice forked from OpenOffice after Oracle bought Sun (which originated OpenOffice as the community edition of StarOffice). Oracle *does* have a lovely tendency to ruin everything they touch.

          As for us open source geeks being involved in making it crappy, I must disagree with you there. As a development model, Open Source software is tremendously powerful, and can create some really fine products (Linux being the canonical example, of course). The thing that often makes Open Source software appear less impressive is that the design process is transparent; you basically get to see the software in development instead of only getting the final project.

          For perspective, two of the 4 top web browsers (Firefox and Chrome) are open source, and both have vibrant development communities and pretty decent, bug-free UIs.

          No, Libre/Open/StarOffice’s problem is exactly what Shamus suggests – it has copied too much of Word’s bloated approach to software design.

          And Shamus – for what it is worth, I tend to use LaTeX like so:

          1. Write document in a plain ‘ole text editor

          2. Add LaTeX markup after the fact

          Of course, I’ve never tried to write a *book* in it, but I know that a large number of college textbooks (especially math & science textbooks) are written in LaTeX. Not saying it’s the approach you should use, especially since you can’t really render LaTeX files into a .doc as far as I know; just a workflow you may not have considered :)

        • blue_painted says:

          I agree … notepad with a separate file for each section/chapter.

          • Timelady says:

            Thirded. Notepad for the basics, Wordpad if you want fancy stuff like italics and actual fonts. That’s what I usually use for my fiction, although I admit I’ve never tried anything for the length of an entire book.

            My personal favorite is Microsoft Works’ word processor, though. It’s like a stripped down Word that actually listens and makes sense.

        • Wireball says:

          Beware – notepad deletes the original file and writes to disk from memory when you save. If the machine crashes after it’s deleted the original, but before it writes from memory, you’re out of luck. I have a horrible suspicion that it’s not the only program that does this.

      • wootage says:

        Notepad ++ > Notepad. I recommend the portable version.

        I have tremenjous sympathy for your problems Shamus. I started using MS Word 95 as a technical writer back when and just finished a contract using Word 2007 to create P&Ps. Even after 12 years of trying, they still couldn’t produce a word processor that could get past 20 pages OR have tables without losing its friggin mind on the formatting and/or crashing randomly.

        And I totally have a “Certified in MS Word” certificate. And a freshly imaged work computer. And a personal work computer I personally specced, custom-tuned and installed an SSD in so I would never be slowed by my computer while I was working. None of that helps when you are under the curse of working with something built by people who do not use it for their livelihoods.

      • Sam says:

        I agree.
        3 versions of VirtualBox caused BSOD’s the SECOND you launched any virtual machine…and the point of that software was?

    • Alex says:

      I physically dropped my pen when I read this.
      That’s so stupid that I can’t even come up with an analogy.
      That’s deliberate. It has to be. There is no one who, when coding, would think that purging backups is a good idea, ever.
      Seriously, someone had to put that in to destroy people.

    • mixmastermind says:

      That is a monstrously stupid thing for a system to do.

  2. Lanthanide says:

    I honestly, truly believe, that if you’d gone with Office 2007, you wouldn’t have had these problems.

    Whatever issues you’ve had with office in the past, aren’t likely to exist in 2007. It really is a very well designed piece of software.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’ve got to agree on this one. MS Word 07′ actually works well with bigger documents. Out of all the instances where I have been writing my position papers and extended essays (which average about 4K a pop), I have not had a single crash.

      Of course, the moment I manage to pull off a near 100K manuscript, I’ll tell you.

      • Lanthanide says:

        My boyfriend’s thesis is 300 odd pages in Word 2007. Hasn’t had any problems of note. He has multiple charts, images, tables, mathematical formulas, chapters, appendices, references, you name it, he’s done it.

        He’s much less computer savvy than me (he did a Phd in Mechanical Engineering, I work as a software engineer) but definitely a pro a using Word. Now.

    • Jeremiah says:

      I’m seconding this. I’d never been a fan of MS Office, but it’s become the standard and it’s what I’m stuck with at work. I tried Open Office at home for a while and that… did not last long at all. I was really surprised to find myself greatly preferring MS to Open.

      Anyhow, my employer switched to Office 2007 a while ago. Learning my way around the ribbon interface took a bit, but having had time to use it and get used to it, I really think it’s a lot better than earlier versions.

      Granted, I rarely do anything more difficult than a little basic formatting. But I have messed with headers/footers and the chaptering functionality and I’ve never had issues with any of them. In fact, I was really surprised by how easy setting up titles & chapters were and getting it to auto-generate a table of contents for me.

      • I think there’s a distinction to be drawn between
        1) The features and bugs sucking, and
        2) The ribbon interface sucking

        Word 2007 has cleaned up many sucky bugs, certainly. The features–well, still a bit annoying IMO, but no doubt improved. OpenOffice and/or LibreOffice probably has distinctly more sucky bugs at this point in time. I’ve had terrible troubles with sections, for instance.

        The ribbon interface, however, does in fact suck. I’m used to it, I can use it, but it is fundamentally more annoying and slower to use than the old drop-down-menus-plus-toolbars interface for a number of reasons. One of them is that it only lets you do one kind of thing at a time, so you have to switch back and forth all the time. So for instance, say I want to mess with tables, or I’m in a spreadsheet and I want to do some sorting. But, I’m going to want to do some basic formatting with this stuff as well. With old interfaces or the Open/LibreOffice interface, I can use my table stuff or sorting stuff dropdown menu, or in the case of OpenOffice I’ve maybe got a little floating toolbar for it. But my normal stuff toolbar is still showing, so I can fiddle with it and then format it (set whether it’s showing as dollars or euros, how many decimal points, center a heading, whatever) and then fiddle with it some more. With the ribbon, every time I do a different thing I have to switch back and forth, because with the ribbon it’s basically like wiping out your toolbar and replacing it with a different one every time you do something different. Another problem is that for a lot of things to do with processing words, I actually prefer thinking in terms of words to thinking in terms of fairly arbitrary little pictures–go figure. So making it necessary to pick my actions from a large spread of icons, even with a mouse-over so that if I hover over each icon I will eventually probably figure out what I need, does not make me enthused–I’d rather have the option of a relatively short list of words in a dropdown menu, even if it means that menu might have to nest an extra level. The ribbon in lots of ways really is a step down in interface design.
        They’re making up for that by making it less sucky software in other ways, but it doesn’t make the ribbon stop being a mistake.

        As for what to try, well, there’s Word which is perfectly usable even if the ribbon sucks. There’s Abiword which is pretty lightweight, only a word processor, and I’ve never had problems with it dying on big documents although it’s been a while since I’ve used it seriously so I don’t know how it’s doing for stability these days. And there’s Lyx, which is designed primarily for writing books and scholarly articles; it produces Latex but is supposed to clear the problems with messing with Latex out of the way. I’ve always liked the idea of Lyx in theory but never had anything really worth using it for.

        • Thomas says:

          I think the Ribbon interface is a lot more accessible for less skilled people though. The old toolbar interface looked pretty darn frightening and if you were afraid of compulsively clicking every button to see what it does, then some people would never discover how it worked.

          Since a large part of MS’ user base probably struggle with computers, and the fact that the ribbon is still usable if a bit irritating for people who aren’t technophobes, I prefer it this way. Better that everyone can use something than having most people use it better but leaving some out entirely

    • Heron says:

      I’ll third (or fourth, or whatever) this. I hated MS Office, and therefore the absolutely horrendous interface OpenOffice copied from it.

      Then Office 2007 came out, and I bought a copy for my wife because she needed Excel for work-related stuff. She complained that the interface was different, and that — get this — everything was gone. What, MS simplified an interface? It was rather mind-boggling.

      Anyway I’ve been using it for work, and I prefer it over OpenOffice now. Things are pretty intuitive and clean.

      That said, I write my stories in a plain text editor, when I’m on the computer, and in a simple note-taking application (which supports splitting into books and chapters) when I’m on my iPad…

    • lowlymarine says:

      I’ll fifth (or whatever we’re on) this, and go one further by suggesting Office 2010. It’s exactly like 2007, but loads faster and just generally seems more polished.

      Also, what used to be called “Student and Teacher” is now “Home and Student” and legitimately licensed for non-academic home users (assuming you cared about such things). At $130 or so it’s still not exactly cheap, but certainly a lot more palatable than the $300 “Standard” edition.

      • Michael says:

        It may have just been hardware synergy, but I found the Home and Student version really useful in working up setting material on my projects because of One Note. Now, granted I was still in class when I was using it last, and One Note has a lot of issues, but it was a quick way to slap up character information fragments and move on before turning around and trying to write out a coherent narrative.

        EDIT: The hardware synergy was that my phone would sync with One Note… so I could (in theory) type crap up on my phone, and it would get deposited someplace in One Note for later use. I only did this a couple times though.

    • Kyte says:

      I was gonna say this, but got beaten to the punch. I honestly believe MS Word to be a good product (and yes, I’ve tried 97, 2000, 2003 and 2007). Maybe pricey (I wouldn’t know, mom’s OEM copy came with a 3-machine license (!) and install CD (!!)), but certainly worth it.
      Go give it a try, I think you might like it.
      Plus, I’ve had Word successfully recover (both last-save and last-autosave versions of) my documents after hibernation failures, system crashes, blackouts and other similar system-killing stuff. Dunno about application crashes, I’ve never had one of those. Give it a try.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Yeah, but it is a moot point;
      Shamus is living in 2006 or so, where XP is the only MS operating system, and everything is only as it was around that year – sure, you can say that win7 and 2007/2010 office has changed, but he is not willing to move over.

      Plus, you know, it does cost quite a bit – that is a genuine issue.

    • Raygereio says:

      Well let’s be honest here, office 2007 will also take a big crap on your work from time to time. Thought, to be fair it won’t outright delete your work; in the worst case scenarios it’ll leave a corrupted file – one which you can restore.

      • James Schend says:

        That’s true of every piece of software, it’s why you make backups.

        That said, I think the odds of it happening in Word 2007/2010 are significantly lower than almost any other complex software you’ll use. I’ve had Photoshop and Flash write corrupted save files on me, and when that happens you’re pretty much sunk.

    • Ian says:

      My work decided to save some money by not buying MS Office for new starters and getting us all to migrate over to Open Office instead.

      The whole procedure has been nothing but pain. While it supposedly is totally compatible with Word and Excel it simply isn’t and weird formatting along with occasional differences in spreadsheet calculations abound.

      Getting an educational license is normally my only way around the insanely high cost. Not been able to do that for a few years.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        Alternatively, Microsoft sells it so high *because* it solves all those pains everyone else gives by trying to give Open Office a try.

        Why doesn’t anyone actually try to sell a word processor that’s less mind-numbingly annoying as Open Office and cheaper than Word? They’d probably make a LOT of money, regardless of how hard it is…

        • Thomas says:

          As much as I love to be peverse and defend what ever is on the menu of hate today, MS would find a way to shut it down. They do charge to much and they can do that because they have a monopoly on the market. It’d need to be completely compatible with Word, and MS would make that awkward and point at Open Office if people complain.

          It’s like that thing where they started producing a Word for Macs but deliberately kept it buggy and outdated so there would be reason to prefer Windows.

          They do a ton of cool stuff and they’re getting good at reaching out to the people who find tech difficult, but they can definitely fall on the ruthless side in terms of business

      • Soylent Dave says:

        I managed to get Office 10 really quite cheaply; I think part of it was Amazon discounting it, and partly because I was spreading the cost over a couple of licenses (for me and my son).

        It worked out at under £30 each, anyway.

    • PAK says:

      I’ll jump on the Word 2007 bandwagon too. MS totally redesigned the interface for usability, and the performance speed seems quite adequate, even on the rather old-ish desktop I use at work.

      Speaking more generally, I want to take a moment to defend the “kitchen sink” features complaint that you have, Shamus. I COMPLETELY agree that that may make Word not always the optimal choice for what you need it for as an author, but it helps to remember that Word is primarily business software. I’ve worked as a technical writer for a few years, and now work as a sort of admin-assistant-slash-technical-support guy for a multiple listing service, and let me tell you, you NEED all those features. The ability to use pictures, tables, and spreadsheet integration is exactly what makes Word a great product within certain business solutions.

    • Dev Null says:

      I’d have to disagree… with the “well-designed” comment. I think its terribly designed, and has way too many useless features crufted on over the years with no organising principle behind them, _but_ it is much less likely to crash than it used to be. Being more reliable doesn’t make it better designed though. I wrote a 200 page thesis in Word and it was mostly stable throughout that process, but it _did_ constantly try to do what it thought I meant instead of what I told it to do, usually with disastrous results.

      BTW, a decade or so ago Word had a backup problem that was just as bad; it automatically turned on the autosave function, and periodically froze up your machine with a “saving” message, but if you hadn’t delved into the options to set the auto-save directory – which was blank by default! – it wasn’t actually saving those autosaves anywhere. Which of course you never discover until you go to try to restore something…

  3. Brandon says:

    Back when WordPerfect still had some market share, academics loved it because it made editing and working with Very Large Documents apparently relatively easy, thanks to a number of keyboard shortcuts designed with moving about the document in mind. Many books by academic authors were created in WordPerfect. I do not know how the latest versions of this word processor stack up, but it might be worth investigating. It does cost money, but I bet you could get it for not an awful lot. If older versions will work in newer versions of Windows decently well, that might also be a way to go. I’m sure you know someone with an old CD of version 6 or 8 tucked away somewhere. I think I have a copy of WordPerfect 8 somewhere. If you’re interested in giving it a try let me know and I’ll mail it to you. I’ve not installed it even once.

    • Henebry says:

      My impression is that WordPerfect is abandonware. And it’s a pain to convert word perfect files into Word files, which is an issue since Word files are now standard.

      The key thing for editing is the Comment feature.

      • Shamus used to use Wordperfect a long time ago. In fact I remember him writing in it (can’t remember what he was writing) back when we were dating. We also used Ace for a long time (same people who made acehtml). Loved that software. It was neat, simple, easy to use and made me happy. Now that I use Ubuntu I prefer Textpad until I HAVE to edit formatting.

      • Klay F. says:

        Actually its far from abandonware. Corel just put out a new version last year.

        And yes, Word Perfect is superior to anything Microsoft could possibly dream up.

        • /sigh

          I’ve often had installations of both Word and Wordperfect running on the same computer. Yes, I’ve hated many an iteration of Word. Yes, I rather liked Lotus Write (simple, direct, every secretary in the office loved it) and was a wordstar fan for a very long time.

          Checking Amazon:

          WordPerfect Office X5 Home and Student – Windows 7 / Vista / XP
          Buy new: $99.99 $69.94

          30 new from $65.75

          X4 is about forty dollars, new.

          and …

          Corel WordPerfect Suite 8 – Windows
          Buy new: $13.11

          5 new from $13.11 11 used from $13.88
          Only 8 left in stock – order soon.


          iWork ’09 – Mac, Mac OS X, PowerMac
          Buy new: $79.00 $68.89
          16 new from $50.45
          6 used from $41.99
          Only 4 left in stock – order soon.

    • hevis says:

      I had to use Word Perfect in school back in 2004 or something. It was terrible. The thing crashed at least 3 times in an hour, haven’t had that kind of problem with MS Word. I swore I’ll never use that horrible thing again.

  4. Nostromo says:

    Come on, Shamus, don’t hold it in. Tell us what you really think!

    Joke aside, I don’t have any answer for you. I use Word of Docs like everybody else, but then, I don’t write that much, so my opinion is useless. Neither do I hang out with writers.

    Although, I wonder what Charles Stross uses as a Word Processor. He usually posts a lot of technical stuff on his blog. May be worth checking.

    • bbot says:

      Stross, like programmer-turned-authors Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge; use(s) GNU Emacs.

      • Ingvar M says:

        I have it on good words that Charlie uses vi (unsure if it’s nvi or vim, but more probably one of those than any other).

        He also uses Scrivener, it’s supposedly good at letting you take (and organise) notes on your writing and cope well with a non-linear writing style.

        • John says:

          Apparently Charlie Stross is using (was using) an iPad. No seriously, from some googling it looks like he was toying with it. And he used to use vim and makefiles to convert it. But now he uses Word.

          Update: I’m wrong. Made the mistake of confusing an article about him for and article by him in first person. Sounds like he’s still looking for the right tool.

  5. TheAngryMongoose says:

    TextEdit (Or notepad)? I mean, it’s difficult to see how crappy features could get you there.

  6. potemkin.hr says:

    Great. I see the best course of action is to write my thesis in WordPad, and then copy it in MS Word for formatting when it’s finished. Screw auto-save…

    • Brandon says:

      I just did a quick search and apparently WordPad has no file size limit. I’m sure there is a limit somewhere, but apparently several MB of text is not a problem in the least.

      • Traagen says:

        I’ve actually opened 64MB files in both NotePad and WordPad, so if there is a limit, it’s pretty high.

        • Taellosse says:

          I haven’t tried to open a big text file in Notepad in a while, but it used to be that it had a size limit, and Windows would make you open such files in Wordpad if the file exceeded it. I don’t remember what the size limit was, but I’d imagine 100k words has a good chance of exceeding it.

          • Brandon says:

            100k works and some simple RTF-style formatting is not going to exceed file size limits on something that can open multiple MB files. Text squeezes down nicely in size.

        • Heron says:

          Neither Notepad nor Wordpad has a size limit. *HOWEVER*, they both try to load the entire file into memory. As you can imagine, this can take a while if you accidentally open a 2GB file in Notepad. I may possibly know this from experience.

          • Shamus says:

            Same. Years ago, when I was debugging at my day job I’d sometimes have to sort through enormous log files. If I happened to open one without making sure I had a good raw text editor (I use ConTEXT) installed, it would open in whatever the default was in Windows 98, and then it was lockup city.

            • Skip says:

              I’m fairly certain that Notepad is just a wrapper around a multiline textedit control, so it inherits the underlying limitations of the OS. Under Win16, it was something south of 32k (I think around 30k), and it may have been extended to 64k towards the end, I’m not sure. Under Win32 it’s a hair under 4g (though I wouldn’t recommend it). I suspect on current machines for Win64 it’s limited by memory/pagefile available. But it’s not going to do any sort of paging other than that done by the base OS, so it’ll have to read the whole thing in up front, which very well may cause excessive OS paging if your machine doesn’t have enough physical memory.

              • Michael says:

                I’m not 100% sure that’s true of notepad, but I do remember programing exercises back in school that had me cooking up programs that operated exactly this way. So that’s a very reasonable guess.

              • Random visitor says:

                I know that Notepad had a size limit (64k) in the past, but I think they fixed it with Windows XP (or possibly not until Vista). There is probably a limit (2GB perhaps?), but nothing a writer needs to worry about

          • Deadfast says:

            I once accidentally opened a ~500MB log with Windows 7’s notepad.exe. It allocated nearly 4GB of memory, then it kicked out a message box telling me the file is too large.

    • Lanthanide says:

      Prior to Office 2007, the university advised people not to use Word or Office for writing their thesis. But since 2007, they advise that it is the best program for the job (unless you want to wrestle with LaTeX).

      • Sean says:

        Wrestle with LaTeX? Sure, it has a ton of really advanced text layout stuff if you want to get into it, but if all you want is to plop text down and format later:

        Write stuff

        Which is essentially the equivalent of typing everything in notepad, like others suggest, until you hit compile and get something halfways decent looking. Or you can use something like TexMaker, which has a wizard that will do the formatting lines for you.

        EDIT: and reading down further there’s a reply that says the same thing only better, but oh, well.

        • Lanthanide says:

          When writing a thesis, there is very much more than just text.

          Next time try reading the context of the comment you’re replying to.

          • Victor D. says:

            I have to be honest: my master’s thesis was in LaTex, and so will my PhD. thesis. There is a lot of stuff to learn (it took me a while to convince it to place two image side by side properly), but I’ve had some very bad experiences with Word 2007. I can’t attest to how good LaTex will be just for raw text (no formatting), but I would still recommend it to people who expect to do any sort of serious writing. The least I would say is to look at it, if noting else.

            • Lanthanide says:

              Yeah, I agree that you should investigate it, especially if you’re going into academia, particularly computer science.

              But for most people, especially anyone doing a humanities or non-technical science (biology, psychology, geology to some extent, etc), having to learn LaTeX on top of doing your actual thesis work is a big ask if you’ve never been exposed to any sort of markup language before.

              • Murkbeard says:

                I’m a physics master’s student, and so have been using LaTeX since year 1. It really is the only way to go if you need to input mathematics and images, as you don’t have to worry about wrecking your layout by changing a chapter title somewhere.

                Since it’s a document format with a compiler, it handles even immensely huge documents very well, and is quite easy to get into if you’ve ever done any amount of HTML (Which Shamus has, obviously).

                The biggest problem to working with a LaTeX + code editor combo, as I’m doing currently, is the lack of a spellchecker and any sort of command help. Thankfully there’s now a solution to that: http://www.lyx.org/

                Lyx is a WYSIWYM editor, meaning you can work in the actual document as opposed to the raw code (Which you can still see and edit if you’d like). It combines this with full spell checking, a graphical user interface, a tutorial to get started etc. It really is just like working in Docs/Word/Writer, except you get to have all the functionality of TeX with none of the “What does this error message mean, again?”-problems.

                I’d like to stress again, that TeX is currently the most widely used layout/writing software used in science academia, and that there’s a very good reason for that.

                If you haven’t found it yet, google “lshort” and go through chapter 1 and 2. It really is all you need in order to just write some stuff, and takes all of maybe an hour to get through.

                • aragilar says:

                  For latex, I use vim, which has spell checking in v7 and there are a number plugins for latex. But LyX is awesome (especially for typing up maths notes in class)

                  Word on the other hand crashes with more than a page of equations.

                • Tizzy says:

                  A couple of remarks:

                  1. TeXShop for the Mac is awesome. On the PC (windows or linux), I never quite managed to sync up editor and compiling (and I usually did a command-line compile).

                  2. The biggest problem for people who start on TeX must be that Office’s piss-poor design leaves users doing whatever they want, at the cost of the quality of output. TeX puts its hboxes wherever it makes sense to the algorithm, and getting it to put something in a very specific place does indeed require knowing your way around the system a lot better.

                  So some silly things like a flyer with tons of clipart is undoubtedly better to do in Word. But TeX gives you consistently good page layouts plus a more robust system. Additionally, since everything is ASCII, there is never any worries of your files becoming obsolete formats.

              • Tizzy says:

                Shamus should have no problem picking up LaTeX. It’s programming. I never use anything else unless someone sends me a file in some other format that I have to edit. To type something like a novel, LaTeX is utterly trivial. It won’t slow down since it’s all ASCII editing, and splitting up chapters into different files is a piece of cake. Plus, it is really robust.


                author{Shamus Young}





                Piece of cake. All that’s left is the contents.

                Page numbering, chapter numbering, all of this is done automatically. And you can get your output as a nice PDF file if you so desire.

                Also: it would be impossible to damage the file beyond repair, get lost, or have trouble defining the chapter headings.

                Added after Posting: the backslashes were stripped. :(

          • Sean says:

            Sorry, the way I interpreted the context (of your post, and the ones around it) was some people saying just use notepad, and move it to a word processor to format later, then your university saying to use the word processor to begin with (presumably for formatting as you go). My point was simply that though LaTeX certainly has features you can wrestle with, in the context of text editor vs. word processor, writing with LaTeX is writing with a text editor, then clicking a button and viewing what you have as if it had been written in a word processor. For the people who want to get text down, worry about formatting later, this could be viable.

            I see what you mean, though, for a thesis you have figures and stuff, which is where LaTeX gets a little more annoying to work with.

    • Leonardo Herrera says:

      LaTeX is the way to go. Just having your work in a source code repository (like SVN) is priceless.

      For a book, it is just insanely easy. Type your paragraphs, tap enter twice, done.

      I know this message will probably be lost in the millions of messages already, but some years ago I actually went and typeset your entire book (*) just because trying to read it in HTML format made me cringe. I converted it from HTML just by using search & replace in a text editor, created a nice PDF file and presto.

      So, for writing a book in LaTeX you just need to learn to keep your paragraphs together and mark your chapters. That’s all. Most of the fancy macro language and esoteric invocations are for designing advanced stuff. Usually, just using the book package and Palatino does the trick.

      For typesetting nerds, here’s a really nice gallery of books: http://www.tsengbooks.com/

      (*) Free Radical – converting it took about two hours of solid work, with some editing added.

  7. ngthagg says:

    I use OpenOffice. I hate it. I think its incompatibilities with MS Word may have cost me jobs, because I use it for my resume.

    I feel your pain.

    • Brandon says:

      You can download a free Word viewer from Microsoft (if you run Windows). That’s what I did with my resume. I would create it and format it in Open Office and then, after I’d saved it as a doc file, open it in the Word viewer to see how it actually looked. I could then try and figure out how to fix what didn’t work.

    • Nick Bell says:

      In general, you shouldn’t ever be sending a resume as a Word document. Or any other easily editable format for that matter. Something static like a PDF is a far better choice. That will lock all the formatting in, and the program you created it in is completely unimportant.

      This of course assumes the person asking for your resume isn’t crazy. I have had a few places that accept ONLY Word doc files. I generally apply to those kinds of places as a last resort.

    • NonEuclideanCat says:

      Wait, seriously? Ok, I’m just going to assume that you’ve been rolling 1’s on your Spot Checks. When you hit “Save As”, there’s a drop-down bar under the box where you type in the doc’s name labeled “Save As Type”. You can select “.doc” as the file type. I’ve got Open and MS and I can open any given document in both like this.

      • Blake says:

        It’s not that it can’t save .DOC files, it’s just that they display differently, so one .DOC can look perfect in Open Office but you open it up in Word and everything is all over the place.

        They work ok when there’s no special formatting anywhere, but do anything complex and they’ll almost always display differently.

        • NonEuclideanCat says:

          Ah. Yeah, ok. I see that. It always asks to save as .ODF or some such to preserve special formatting. In my case, special formatting only comes up when I intend to save it as a at the outset PDF, so it’s not that much of an issue for me.

          My mistake.

        • WJS says:

          OP was talking about using it for his resume. What complex features would you be using there?

    • MrWhales says:

      I find this odd. At my school the only thing on the computers are Firefox and Word, the latest of it. And I use OpenOffice, works fine for me. And i use their printers because it is free and i usually need to print /giant/ documents.

  8. LegendaryTeeth says:

    Ouch, purging the autosave folder on a crash is a pretty horrid feature. You might want to look into some data recovery software. Unless the files have been actually overwritten you can probably get them back.

    • Blake says:


      I used something called something like ‘NTFS undelete’ which just worked when I needed it.
      Although since it’s been 3 days since then and you’ve likely been using the word processor at least a bit there’s a chance some of the files might’ve been overwritten.
      If you can get at least one of the last bunch of files back though you might be able to get back into shape.

      • Nope. Tried multiple recovery software– and checked the forums– apparently because of the particular style of purging ther eis no going back.

        • FatPope says:

          To me this seems absolutely nuts. Does anyone know why this is a feature? What possible benefits does it bring?

          • Lanthanide says:

            The only benefit I can think of is that if it was the backups that were causing the crashes, now they’re gone.

            • scragar says:

              So let it crash twice before deleting the backups.

              The idea that it’d erase them when you need them is insane, it’d be better to not save backups at all, then if something happened blame the user for not saving, this way is giving false security making the developers responsible for the loss.

            • guy says:

              But… the user could just not load from the backup. Anyway, unless they’re doing something monstrously stupid, it’s highly unlikely a non-corrupt backup would cause a crash without the user repeating an action. Even a corrupt file could be solved via two backups.

          • James Schend says:

            OpenOffice is written by Oracle. Of course it’s crap.

            The shocking thing to me is that people are surprised that a program written by Oracle and open source geeks does stupid things. Of course it does!

            • Cuthalion says:

              I think the Oracle bit is recent, as on older versions I didn’t notice their logo anywhere. But yeah, still open source geeks, and such software in my experience tends to be very good at a few things and breaks with everything else.

            • joe says:

              Almost all my software is free. Lyx is the way to go for writing but it takes some learning. Total Organizer which is practically orphanware is still better than 90 percent of the paid PIMs. The free version of Serif PagePlus does all I need it to do without much hassle. My problem with Microsoft programs is that one spends more time being annoyed at the program than one spends actually working. Sucks. Has sucked for the last 30 years and will continue to suck for the next 30.

              Getting back to LyX – way better referencing, way better bookmarks between files, way better outline features. Just a way better word processor – you supply the words and it does the processing. Exports to pdf with links and clickable tables of contents.

              Like many people I wasted a *hell* of a lot of time working with word, because it is proprietary to keep the competition – why OpenOffice.org writer can’t ever quite do word exactly right. Lyx is the best.

              As for word having all those features to ‘save time’ I’m almost falling off my chair laughing just to keep from crying. (bout the truckloads of time I wasted on it)

  9. Ancorehraq sis says:

    I don’t have an answer for you, but you really should’ve seen the LibreOffice disaster coming. The hint is in the name — it’s more about pointless open source wankery than useful software. It is alright for viewing MS Office documents on platforms Microsoft does not support.

    Last document I wrote was my resume. With vim. I suppose I have a dump truck of pain coming if I ever need to make something fancy.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Aaaaalllright… so you think LO is pointless wankery, and you’re rather using VIM?
      (to edit TeX files, I presume?)
      Does that even make sense?

    • Uristqwerty says:

      Tried to look at their source code: About 10GB, so no. And you need cygwin, too, and not just to compile it.

      No wonder it isn’t working, the entrance barrier is high enough that they will only get a fraction of all of the developers who could actually contribute. For comparison, compiling MinGW from source is as simple as download, extract (only one GB or so), then let it compile for a few hours. Now, MinGW is a full compiler, so there is NO way that it can be any less complex or only need 10% of the code.

      So, to the LibreOffice devs, simplify the process of someone compiling it, and you may get the new talent that you need so much! Keep it as it is, and only people who ENJOY convoluted, half-working messes will ever make it to the point where they even have the source, much less are able to compile it.

      It *should* be about making a simple, intuitive, and useful program. Make your compile process simple, intuitive, and easy, and the rest should follow.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Fun fact: That is exactly what they’re trying to do since they branched off of OpenOffice.
        Some of the biggest tasks since the branch are code cleanups, removing unnecessary comments on aobsolete code and so on. Many of the devs (that’s my interpretation of what I saw on the mailing list) were not quite content to how things were going with Sun. When Oracle bought Sun, things got worse, so … yeah, I think they’re trying to make it better now, but right now, LibreOffice is pretty much equal to OpenOffice, except for some features that previously were only add-ons.
        I’m not a “real” programmer, never touched C++, only Fortran (and Matlab, and Pascal back in the days, and C64 BASIC … but they don’t count, do they?), so I can’t really judge these things. I just tried to write a python script that used the PYUNO interface to make OO do things, and it was really horribly (and to my taste unnecessarily) complex. I sure hope these things will become simpler in the future, but we’ll have to wait.

        Anyways, as long as we don’t have the MS Office code for comparison, we can hardly draw any conclusions, can we?

  10. poiumty says:

    So, uh… notepad? I know it lacks spellcheck, but you can just ctrl+v into word or another program once you’re done. I know notepad doesn’t load big files really well, but making one txt file for each chapter should do the trick.

  11. Ben Munson says:

    Slow and bloated might be true, but almost all of Microsoft’s software nowadays is pretty rock solid in terms of of being robust. I’d definitely go with them over forks of open source software. For important things I definitely rate stability over speed.

  12. The Occupants says:

    It’s not exactly feature rich, but Jarte fits my minimal needs. I can type words, change fonts and it has a spell check. I don’t need much else.

  13. acronix says:

    I feel your pain. I`ve never had anything like a book dissapearing, but I have had my own share of MIA creative documents, but they ussually involved Word 2003 (or one of its clones), a horrible computer, trying to save something over the LAN, or the three at once. That`s why I now save three copies in three different places on different drives, just in case.

    I really don`t know what the heck those pesky word processors developers are trying to accomplish, but every single one of them is horrible (of those I`ve tried, of course).

    • LyX is a fantastic long-form writing environment, by which I mean, I have created three 50,000+ word documents with it (as opposed to “yeah, I’ve used it for a few minutes and it seems cool”) and it blows away everything else I’ve tried. It just has the things you want and makes sense.

      But the downside is that while I think you can go LyX -> RTF, it’ll be one-way trip. In my world, I’ve just paid that price, but I don’t see how this solves the professional proofreader problem, unless they’re also willing to use it.

    • Michiel says:

      Just wanted to second the suggestion of Lyx. It doesn’t get in the way, and the PDF output is professional print quality. Also, its file format is just text with markup, so it’s always accessible, you can diff it, etc.

      • Johenius says:

        I’ll third the recommendation. With LyX, you can just throw words at the screen and come back later and add formatting, markup and so on. The typesetting is really attractive (in my opinion), and it can function as a “don’t need to worry about learning an entire programming language” alternative to LaTeX.

    • Nathon says:

      I know I’m late to the party, but seconded. I did all my papers for school in it and it has a book mode. You focus on writing things and it focuses on making them pretty.

  14. Mari says:

    Abi Word. Just try it.

    • THAT’S the other one we used to use. Used to love it but there was something about it that DROVE SHAMUS NUTS. Can’t remember what. Probably some hotkey he is used to using does something different.

      • Mari says:

        It does do some of that. I’ve just learned to adapt. I learned to use a word processor first with WordPerfect 4.2. I knew EVERY hotkey. By 5.1 I didn’t need the handy dandy cheat card that you lay across the keyboard with all the nifty hotkeys. Then came Word. So I memorized new hotkeys. But Word blew chunks so I switched to StarOffice (now OpenOffice)and new hotkeys. But it got almost as krufty as Word so I switched to AbiWord. I’m hoping AbiWord will stay sleek so I can keep it around a while and not have to do new hotkeys.

    • Neko says:

      The thing I like about AbiWord is it aims to be a word processor. It doesn’t try to be a Microsoft Word, like OOo (which drove me crazy with its clunkiness)

  15. stringycustard says:

    I have felt the pain of so-called word processors (which seem to work much like food processors wood if fed books). Honestly, Latex is hard, but Lyx (http://www.lyx.org/) is Latex made simple. I don’t even know how to use the whole Latex thing but I’ve been fairly successful with Lyx.

    You tell it where a chapter or subsection goes, and it numbers it for you. At no point do you even handle the formatting – that happens right at the end, when you feed it a format template which it then applies to your whole document.

    It’s weird to get used to but wholly conducive to actually producing work. It was initially designed for academic papers, but it’s quite solid for other sorts of writing. The point of it is write it down, don’t waste time with fiddly bits like setting a type face size and changing the font around.

    If your book has a lot of stylistic formatting and layout changes all over, then maybe it isn’t for you, though. Last time I read it (years ago) the introduction document was quite upfront about what it was good for and not so good for.

    Before you go and try it out, though, be aware that the setup process is kind of… confusing, and long, and heavily dependency driven. It’s almost like compiling code.

    EDIT: I see I spent too long typing this up, and somebody mentioned it above.

    • +1

      I use it in my law essays for that very purpose. It works really well, if you use it as a writing program rather then a word processor – you ignore formatting completely, and simply select the style to use. You may, however miss the Google Docs/Libre Office/Microsoft Word quality Grammar/Spell checking – which isn’t perfect, but is a lot better then what LyX provides. I’ve also found it on occasion to be a little buggy, and for some reason, the files it exports are destroyed when they’re copied to Scribd (for instance – see http://scr.bi/mcylC2).

      In the alternative, some people continue to swear by ancient copies of WordStar or its clones for similar workflow reasons.

      Another option is AbiWord which has gone a bit of a lighter approach then Libre/OpenOffice and is exclusively a text editor. I haven’t used it too heavily though – but it may suit your needs.

      • wildweasel says:

        I can vouch for AbiWord – it starts quickly, works in a (relatively) stable fashion, and has exactly as many features as I needed. It also saves in a .doc format, though I’m not sure how “up to date” it is compared to MS Office’s. It is free, though, so you’re not set back any money for downloading it, and it’s also a fraction of the size of Libre/OpenOffice (may it die in hell).

  16. Dave says:

    Something to keep in mind – ten years old, but still true (and the reason why everyone telling you that you should have sucked it up and gone with Word is almost certainly right):

    Bloatware and the 80/20 Myth

    • Felblood says:

      URk! So.. much ..rage… *deep breath*

      While there are a lot of situations where memory usage isn’t something you need to take the time to tune, operating systems are not one of them.

      You can’t anticipate every possible combination of application and software your new OS is going to encounter, or how long it will be before a newer version replaces it. Installing a new OS on your three year old machine should not leave you with no memory to execute applications in.

      Also, the assertion, that the writer has not needed more memory, therefore nobody ever needs more memory, is myopic in the extreme.

      Anyone who has ever had to turn down the graphics settings on all their games, because of an OS update, knows what I’m talking about.

      • Tomas says:


        Horrible article. Factoids delivered with an annoyingly presumptuous tone.

        • Lanthanide says:

          It’s Joel on Software. Of course it’s presumptuous.

        • Tizzy says:

          His point seems to be: “since space is getting cheaper faster than programs are expanding, it’s not bloat”. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Extra bells and whistles are not just a space issue, they are a time issue (sure Excel is faster than in 1993, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want it to be even faster!), they make the software more bug-prone, and they lead to atrocious user interface (you have to put all these bells and whistle thingies somewhere).

          As for the person who decided that the default setting should be that Word auto-corrects you without asking for permission, that person can burn in hell.

    • krellen says:

      To add to Felblood above: as soon as that guy said there was no point in cleaning out your registry, he lost all credibility. Bloated registries are why old installations of Windows slow down; cleaning your registry is vital routine maintenance (though most people do it via re-installing the OS.)

      • Shamus says:

        I’ve known this for some time, but I’ve never trusted any “Registry Cleaners”. What do you use?

        • Raygereio says:

          Wise Registry Cleaner (there is a free version hidden on their website) and CCleaner work generally well in my experience.
          Offcourse they won’t catch anything (if you take a look in your registry then you’ll likely find a ton of old entries from programs you’ve deinstalled for instance), but they can help making Windows a bit more stable.

          Mind, as is usually the case it’s a smart idea to pay attention to exactly what the program is going to delete/alter. I once had a registry cleaner I was trying out ask me if it was okay if he go and deleted the SafeBoot registry keys just because I hadn’t used them in a while.

          • Volatar says:

            Seconding CCleaner, which is also very useful for its temporary file cleaning tools.

            • StranaMente says:

              I agree on ccleaner. It’s free, updated regularly and pretty safe. I added some rule to clean the cache of steam (following some instruction on the web), you won’t believe how much that cache can get out of hand fast.
              It also has the access to the startup program list, so you can check what’s going on, and some other things to keep your pc neat.

              Same thing with spybot search and destroy (I usually use both, even if spybot has some problem now getting the startup list for windows 7, anyway, when it works properly it can tell you from experience (user generated content) which program in your startup do what). In the past I had some problem with the automated registry cleaning function of spybot, but they must have fixed it.
              Anyway in both cases I let the program save a copy of the registry before doing anything.

              • Lalaland says:

                +1 for CCleaner, I love this tool. It salvages gigs from /Windows and it’s registry cleaner is aggressive to be useful but not so aggressive that it’s ever broken anything on me in 3 years

        • RichVR says:

          The last registry cleaner I used was called a brand new Windows 7 install on a brand new computer. My old system had Windows 95 updated to 98 updated to XP pro on it. It took 13 minutes (timed) to boot up. Some things should not be allowed to live. I nuked it from orbit and never looked back. Well, not really. I have it networked to my new system for when I need files of whatever.

          I often have to access the registry on client systems to delete particularly nasty viruses/malware. I would never trust a registry cleaner. Sometimes they just delete stuff they shouldn’t and it’s hard to figure out what. So if you’re lucky you can reinstall the backup (you made a backup of the registry before you futzed with it, right?).

        • krellen says:

          We’ve got an image at work, so what I do to clean registries is reinstall the image. After a couple years of “routine” use by non-power-users, it really helps bring the machine back to normal operation.

      • Simon Buchan says:

        Uhh. There is almost certainly no point in cleaning out your registry. There are a lot of potential reasons for “system performance degredation” as MS calls it, but I would be looking to a large number of active services and poorly optimized drivers before the registry.

        I’m not sure what the hate-on for the registry is, it’s a very high performance and reliability database. Diagnosing performance problems is near impossible for the *developer*, let alone the lay user.

        • Raygereio says:

          Unless you really abuse the poor thing, you won’t see that much of a performance decrease if you never clean the registry. I do recal having performance issues with win98, but I never saw anything resembling like this with XP.

          The biggest point to it however are stability issues. It’s far to easy for just one broken reference in the registry to cause explorer.exe to crap it’s pants.

          • MrWhales says:

            I have never cleaned any part of any computer i have ever had. Aside from deleting old files/programs i no longer needed. And I can testify that the machines slowed down and finally came to a stop, because they were old worn machines. I had a computer run for me for 10 years. If i put new fans on it, i could get it to start again.

        • krellen says:

          I don’t hate the registry, but a lot of developers abuse it, especially in that they never remove all their keys when you do an uninstall. As with any database, information bloat will slow down operation. I’ve heard some people advocate wiping it as often as every six months, but I find it doesn’t really become necessary until the machine’s been running several years (and, of course, the problems are more pronounced with non-power-users, as the more you know what you’re doing, the better you’re able to avoid many of the issues in the first place.)

        • Shamus says:

          I’ve had the Windows-slowdown-after-a-year thing a couple of times and tried to cure it. Removing / disabling services doesn’t help at all. (Or at least, not enough to make a noticeable difference.)

      • froogger says:

        Naah, is it really? Ok, I’ll grant you there’s junk leftover from clean uninstalls, and manually deleting installations is sure to result in a mess. But surely all the services and autorun programs are the main weight on the leadfoot? Particularly when they want netacess for whatever reason.

        I’ve been manually pruning my WinXP install for 6 years, and only now do I feel the need to start over from scratch (mainly because I have to clean up the filestructure anyway). Then again, I’m a fiddly geek who enjoy walking the registrytree with my arrowkeys.

        Edit: What Simon says :P

        Oh, and “The backup directory is purged in the event of a crash.” is an epic fail, no?

      • K says:

        If you are running Windows 7, hands off “registry cleaning”. You will gain absolutely nothing from it, but you can accidentally murder your system.

      • James Schend says:

        Worth noting that’s fixed in Vista and Windows 7.

        Registry cruft can still add a few kilobytes to your machine, but it’ll never be loaded into memory, and it’ll never result in a new process being loaded into memory, and so it just doesn’t matter anymore. Not even worth the effort of cleaning out. Unless you have a microscopic HD, I guess.

        If you’re running a registry cleaner (or disk defrag tool, for that matter) on Vista or Windows 7, you’re not gaining anything but placebo effect.

    • Mark says:

      Since lots of folks seem to be getting hung up on memory and registry cleaning and performance, I think the key part of Joel’s article (and the part most relevant to Shamus’ post) got lost, so I’ll just quote it here:

      “A lot of software developers are seduced by the old “80/20” rule. It seems to make a lot of sense: 80% of the people use 20% of the features. So you convince yourself that you only need to implement 20% of the features, and you can still sell 80% as many copies.

      “Unfortunately, it’s never the same 20%. Everybody uses a different set of features.”

      As much as the rest of the article may irk people, I think this insight is dead on.

  17. zob says:

    Once upon a time my hdd decided to have a critical existence failure on me and two years of personal backups (libraries I created, programs I wrote, notes I took, music, pictures etc) suddenly disappeared. In a way I understand your feelings.

    You already know this so I am saying it for the other readers. Always have backups of your important stuff at a separate media. Another computer, dvd, flashdrives, etc. You can’t trust software, you can’t trust hardware, you can’t trust your computer. I can’t say this enough always have backups.

    • Steve C says:

      A backup of a media should be in a different directory, on a different media, in a different format, in a different country, on a different continent, on a different planet. It can get a bit silly. Backups are great, the problem is thinking that you have backups when you don’t.

      “The backup directory is purged in the event of a crash.”

      Why?!? Some of you guys are software engineers. For what possible reason would a program destroy the backups in the event of a crash?!? It’s completely crazy to me.

      “Err, Huston we have a problem.”
      “We read you Apollo. We’ll execute everyone here that might have caused your problem and then get back to you.”


    • Viktor says:

      The problem is, even if he had, it likely wouldn’t have mattered. IIRC this happened Friday. He’s been quicksaving and manually saving, which go to different places with this program(apparently). Under those circumstances, doing an offsite backup weekly is reasonable, doing it daily is overkill. So even if he was backing it up elsewhere, he’d likely do it on the weekend, meaning the backup wouldn’t be any more help than the “recovery” feature.

      • Raygereio says:

        And even then it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s an odd rule, but the more computer-savy you are, the less likely it that you’ll make proper back ups.
        It’s a curious thing.

        • Chargone says:

          dunno about other people, but for me it’s mostly because backing things up is a huge pain in the arse and my past experiance with it is that any attempt to do so will result in something that no other machine will read under any circumstance… (floppy disk drives with misaligned heads are fun. as are CD drives which no longer write properly due to DRM. as are flash drives that you back stuff up on and then compleatly forget the existance of… though at least that one’s only issue is that i would then have to go Find the relevant files again…)

          • James Schend says:

            Just install Mozy or DropBox. Backup’s only a pain if you want to have total control yourself– outsource it to someone else and it becomes trivially easy.

            (Floppy disks? Seriously?)

            • Bryan says:

              …Outsource? Backups?

              Are you insane?

              Just wait for the day when mozy or dropbox (or whoever) decides that they’re losing too much money by providing backups for everyone, and shuts down. And then two months later, something deletes a file you needed.

              Yes, it’s a PITA to do it yourself. But if you let someone else do it for you, they have both a stranglehold on your data, and the ability to destroy it with no recourse for you (by selling off the storage when they shut down).

              Good luck with that.

              • Nick Bell says:

                The advantage of Dropbox really comes when you use it on multiple computers. It doesn’t matter to me if Dropbox shuts down its servers. All that information has been automatically backed up on three different computers.

                Not to say you shouldn’t have alternative methods too. A good external hard drive that is regularly and automatically backed up to is a great option as well.

              • WJS says:

                If the service you use for backups shuts down and you do nothing about it for months, you have no sympathy from me.

  18. I has some luck with Abiword. It works like microsoft word but without a lot of feature cruft.


  19. Jad says:

    As a Mac owner, I primarily use Pages for all of my Word Processing. Works like a charm. Although I’ll second the Office 2007 chorus in the comments here; it sort of sucks, but it does the trick, and I don’t think it clears it’s backups on a crash (???). My girlfriend used it and “didn’t hate it”.

    Regardless of what word processor you pick, use Dropbox for backups. I put my entire senior thesis in Dropbox, and not only is it accessible from wherever you are, they save all versions of documents you save for 30 days, even in the free account. If that’s not enough, if you pay for a Dropbox Pro account, you can add in Pack Rat support for $4 a month, for unlimited file history.

    So I pay $14 a month for 50gb of online file storage, and each file saved there has unlimited version control going back since I started paying for pack rat support. No matter what app you use, this sort of thing would prevent disasters like what happened to you.

    Fingers crossed you find a sweet word processor!

    • Ian says:

      I’m not a huge fan of Drop Box. More from when someone links me to their account at work and not only overfills my capacity but then it thrashes to the network downloading gigs of data.

      I do like the idea but I’m waiting for an add on to Google for that. $5 a year for 20gig storage, but at the moment I have to manually upload which is sub optimal.

    • Ross Bearman says:

      I recently switched from Dropbox to SpiderOak. Sure, the website and interface are much uglier than Dropbox, but it’s far more secure and the available storage is also larger.

      This is probably worth reading: http://web.appstorm.net/roundups/data-management-roundups/dropbox-vs-spideroak-file-sync-battle/

      Personally I think we need to get over a generic fear of “the cloud”, and just be sensible about what data we put where, and how it is handled. I have no issue uploading properly encrypted data to a third party service, on the assumption that their servers are probably less likely to have a security breach than my desktop anyway.

  20. I’d second the mention of WordPerfect. I’m a professional writer and editor, and the only time I go into OpenOffice or any kind of Word-style program is for compatibility’s sake.

    Let me put it this way – WordPerfect is obscenely powerful (I use it for typesetting books for my publishing company), and the minute you start writing in it, it feels like a typewriter. Things such as formatting, margins, and page numbers are even in logical places on the menu, too.

  21. Susie Day says:

    Open Office sucks, yup. I’m really, really hoping that Libre Office changes directions .. right now their software is just Open Office with a few bug fixes. Every time people would ask for features that would make Writer more of a word processor, the OO.o team would respond with ‘Won’t Fix’ .. even when it was for things that they used to have, but don’t now. For years I typed everything out in HTML rather than use a word processor .. at least then I knew exactly what it was doing.

    After 4 years of using OO.o, I can make it bend to my will, and use it for final book layouts (I’m a (very) small publisher). It took me a long time to figure out how to get everything to work together. But, if you don’t want anything fancy, the only thing you need to worry about are paragraph styles. Copy paste your document, select all, remove all formatting, set it all to the text body style, then set you chapter headings to H2s … THEN, open the styles box and only change them in there. Justify has option, don’t look at the toolbars, they suck.

    And, the first thing I do when I use a new install is to turn off autocomplete and autosave .. they both suck and will break your brain/document. don’t trust the machine!

    I know you’re probably not going to try Open office or Libre Office again, but I hope my advice helps someone out there

    I would recommended AbiWord, but it’s still a bit buggy. your best bet is to google minimalist word processors and try a bunch out, let us know what you find.

    Good luck with your novel! We’re all rooting for you :-)

  22. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I can’t say that I’ve ever even remotely had anything that bad happen to me.

    There was one time when my browser auto-updated when I had turned auto-update off and it ended up eating all of my bookmarks, but that was mostly just a really annoying way to clean up my bookmarks like I was always thinking about doing but never did.

    Anyway, I’m gonna go with what these other guys are telling you and say that you should head back to Word 07.

    I use OpenOffice because I’m broke and can’t afford anything else, plus I have no explicit need for anything else, but if I was writing something bigger than 10,000+ words and was planning to make money off of it, then I’d be looking at stuff I would be willing to spend money using so that I don’t run into problems like you have, cause there is no way in hell I’d trust open source software to be even close to as stable as professional software unless I was intimately familiar with the coding itself.

    Remember, open source is stuff people code for free, and while you wouldn’t release software you’ve written yourself unless you’re sure it’s bug free and has a comprehensive tutorial, other people are not so professional about their coding hobby and will release stuff that does what they want without explaining what they wanted it to do and how it does it.

    • Sean says:

      That’s a major generalization, and it would be just as valid to say that open source software is always better because the creators take pride in their work, and know their code isn’t going to be hidden away in a binary if they write it poorly. Truth is, some projects are better than others, just like some companies are better than others, and the Open Office project is run by Oracle, which has a reputation for shoddy work (where their open source stuff is concerned, at least). (That’s why LibreOffice exists, but so far they’re not that much better).

      • Simon Buchan says:

        In my experience, quality goes something like:

        (worst) commercial <<<< open source < (most) commercial << open source (best)

        eg. the best open source is better than the best commercial, but not drasticly, the majority of commercial code is spread out, but on average is a little bit better than most open source, and then you get the *REALLY* terrible war-story weekend-prototype maintained for 40-years commercial code.

        • Sean says:

          Sounds about right. Sturgeon’s law applies to open source software as much as anything else, and I’d almost be tempted to add another category beneath worst commercial for “I threw together this library for my own work and stuck it out on github without any documentation or intention of updating or supporting it.” Seems like open source code written for windows tends to be lower quality than that written for linux, too, perhaps because the serious open source programmers are too proud to learn windows programming.

          Proprietary: [—————-[Mean]——————-]
          Open source: [-] [—————–[Mean]————]

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Well, let’s just say that where I work, we’ve switched from Unix to Linux, and noone’s considering Windows for serious work. That’s not because everyone likes bugs so much.
      That said, of course there is more than enough half-done and horribly buggy software out there, but not all of that is free … You really should not judge any piece of software based on the price you pay.
      In my book, LibreOffice definitely beats MS Office, I wrote my first larger project on Office 97, and it nearly killed me. Wrote the next on in TeX, and it taught me a lot. The third one was with OpenOffice (1.0 back in the day), and that went pretty smooth.
      Actually, OpenOffice (and LibreOffice) can handle larger texts muc hbetter than MS Office. Both have the ability, though, to break up large textx into single parts and link them together, which makes stuff a lot more convenient.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        Do people where you work also know that software versions and features change a lot over the years?

        If you judge MSO/OO today by your experiences with office 97 and open office 1.0… Well, time to reevaluate, maybe?

        • Zak McKracken says:

          OK, so I switched to OO in 2002 (on version 1.0). At work, we do have MS Office 2007 and OpenOffice 2.4 by default (talk about outdated software…), and a colleague of mine had been working with MSO but switched to OOo, because it gave her much less trouble. I myself rarely use MSO, mostly for simple stuff. but it’s got no advantage right now that I’m aware of.
          Also I wouldn’t know why I should spend som much money on MSO when the thing I’m using works fine (for my applications). Especially the formula editor in OO has always been waay superior to MS office. Only LateX can beat it, but alone for that I’m not willing to switch.
          Oh, and one advantage of open source: You can get the new version at no extra cost. That is, if you’re the boss of your computer, which we are not, so 2.4 at work, LO 3.3 at home for me.
          And another big point for LO: It allows me to work on whichever operating system and desktop I prefer. Which happens to be Linux for serious work, Windows for Games and stuff (and it’s cross-compatible and everything!. I know that these days Windows 7 can do much more than XP used to be able to, but it’s still not quite up there with Linux in terms of network capability, and again it does cost money.

          Final nail in MSO’s coffin: I can never mislay or loose the installation key, I can install it wherever and whenever I want, and noone’s gonna give me any “genuine advantage” shit.

  23. Brett says:

    Some people suggested LaTaX, but that's the OPPOSITE of what I want. (At least right now. It might be good once the book is done. I don't know.) I don't want to worry about formatting and layout and fonts and spacing and margins an markups. I want a nice, clear, easy-to-read environment in which to put the words next to each other.

    I’m not quite sure where you got your impression of LaTeX, but the whole point of it is that you don’t have to deal with formatting and layout unless you want to tweak the default output. It can handle just straight text and make it pretty. It’s my go-to for academic papers.

    • Shamus says:

      According to Wikipedia, here is the input used by LaTeX:

      \LaTeX{ } is a document preparation system for the \TeX{}
      typesetting program. It offers programmable desktop publishing
      features and extensive facilities for automating most aspects of
      typesetting and desktop publishing, including numbering and
      cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout, bibliographies,
      and much more. \LaTeX{} was originally written in 1984 by Leslie
      Lamport and has become the dominant method for using \TeX; few
      people write in plain \TeX{} anymore. The current version is

      % This is a comment; it will not be shown in the final output.
      % The following shows a little of the typesetting power of LaTeX:
      E &= mc^2 \\
      m &= \frac{m_0}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}

      Gah! No! Might as well just use HTML & CSS if I’m going to do that.

      (I’m assuming you type the above, and then get the pretty text when you publish the document. It’s possible I’m misunderstanding.)

      • EmmEnnEff says:

        If you use LyX, you will never have to touch the code, unless you actually want to fine-tune your document’s formatting (Which you should not care about, while you are writing it).

        Interoperability with Word (Or the lack thereof) ought to be the dealbreaker for you (Assuming you aren’t willing to export to RTF after you’ve finished writing… And applying finishing touches in MS Office/OpenOffice).

      • Brett says:

        I'm assuming you type the above, and then get the pretty text when you publish the document. It's possible I'm misunderstanding

        No, you’re right, it’s a markup language just like HTML, but for print publishing. You do require a small amount of code (the \begin{document} and \end{document} parts) in order to tell the compiler how to make the document, but it really can handle straight text and make it nice-looking.

        Most of the intimidating stuff you quoted is superfluous to your purposes — the stuff at the very bottom is for a typeset equation, and the \LaTeX{} bits are similarly superfluous.

        For example, the following is a compilable document (that makes a nice type-set page):


        Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam volutpat dictum elit a rhoncus. Maecenas lacus augue, condimentum a accumsan ut, tempus vel metus. Integer eget tellus enim, ac fermentum lorem. Aenean risus leo, consectetur vitae imperdiet a, malesuada at nisl. Nunc ac nisi dolor. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. In mollis, ligula ac viverra convallis, eros purus sagittis dolor, a mattis enim lectus vitae nunc. Quisque nec mi vel purus ornare facilisis. Fusce vitae tortor ut ipsum pharetra ornare eu id nibh. Aenean posuere enim non lectus facilisis non lobortis lorem imperdiet. Pellentesque eget semper quam. Nam tempor fringilla dolor, in elementum neque ultricies ac.

        Nulla facilisi. Aenean non sapien nec neque sollicitudin pharetra. Aenean lobortis vestibulum nibh quis consectetur. Praesent semper mollis nibh, sit amet egestas felis elementum nec. Cras ullamcorper mollis ultricies. Aliquam erat volutpat. Fusce mollis rutrum mi, et molestie metus iaculis pretium. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nam et consequat dui. Integer ultrices, metus sit amet auctor hendrerit, justo dolor gravida enim, eu ullamcorper nisi orci at nulla. Suspendisse nec massa odio. Cras elit ante, eleifend interdum lobortis vitae, elementum vitae lorem. Sed sagittis scelerisque porttitor. Quisque ullamcorper ultricies metus sed faucibus. Nunc placerat molestie sagittis. Vivamus varius, nisi et pulvinar mattis, lorem dolor tempor justo, sit amet bibendum velit nulla quis felis. Donec a vehicula augue. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Nam varius ante eget lacus euismod vehicula.


        • bbot says:

          Seconded. If you’re not doing anything fancy (graphs, figures, etc) then LaTeX is very sparse. In practice, you would also be declaring chapters, and some dicking around to print page numbers and page headers, but otherwise, LaTeX source is pretty close to plain text.

          Plus, since LaTeX is a conventional compiled language, you can use source control tools to manage the corpus of text. With automatic repository duplication, you have as secure of a backup system as anything that doesn’t involve granite blocks and chisels.

        • Manny says:

          Since Shamus is writing a book, he should use \documentclass{book}, which ironically enough will by default add headers with the current chapter name and page number. You know, the thing that was a hassle in Libre Office…

          But I can see why Shamus wouldn’t like LaTeX. I supsect he wants to have full control over the layout from the beginning on, instead of just using a default template.

          My advice is to take the needed 15 mintues to install a compiler and an editor (e.g MikTex and WinEdt), try out the simple structure given by Brett, and insert \chapter{title} tags. If the layout of the output suits you, you win.

          Also, I am surprised to learn that Word has become the industry standard. I always assumed it was LaTeX based on my experience in the academic field.
          Nowadays I work a lot with Word, and I think it requires a least as much effort as LaTeX to learn to use the Word styles correctly.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Writing an academic paper and writing a book are entirely different. I doubt enough authors know enough to easily figure out the admittedly sparse markup language I’ve seen in LaTeX…

            • Manny says:

              You have a point there. While LaTeX works just as well for books, many authors have obviously a limited practical technical background and cannot possibly be bothered with LaTeX code. I have difficulties picturing Noam Chomsky typing documentclass[12p]{book}. So yeah, probably not a good candidate as an industry standard for authors.

              Still, for professional typesetting, LaTeX is probably more widespread then Word. But that’s not actually the task Shamus should be doing now (even if it was that activity that eventually doomed his work in LO).

              • anna says:

                You picked Noam Chomsky as your example? Really? The same guy that developed this? If TeX had existed in 1969, I suspect he *would* have used it to write “Aspects of the Theory of Syntax”.

                I mean, you make a good point, but chose the strangest example imaginable. I mean, really, doesn’t everyone at MIT use LaTeX? :P

          • Tizzy says:

            Shamus already burned 4 hours on adding chapters in Libre Office. In at most two hours (probably much less), he could give LaTeX a try and see if it works for him or not.

      • Ermel says:


        the main difference between LaTeX vs. word processors as I see it is this: in word processors, the less you know about them, the more likely you are to botch something up. In LaTeX, it’s the other way round.

        As a beginner, you’d use little more than the documentclass, begin{document} and end{document} commands, and type away in your text editor of choice. And the result, after compiling it (trivial), will look very nice indeed.

        Soon, you’ll want chapters. So chapter{title goes here} it is. Sometime later you’ll perhaps notice you don’t want chapter numbering. Or you do, but in lowercase roman numerals. So you look up how to do it, add that command, and it will be done. But there’s no need to ever go through what you’ve written and reformat it — there, you still just write chapter{…}.

        And whatever else you might fancy, there’ll be a way to do it. And it will all … Just … Work. And since the compiler never writes to your input file(s), it cannot harm them. That’s for you and your text editor to do. :-)

        Seriously, give it a try. It may be a huge download, and it may look intimidating for a few minutes; but I promise that you’ll be satisfied and typing merrily away in much less time than it took for you to add chapters in LibreOffice.

        And as for proofreaders, surely they can handle PDF files, right? No worries there, then.

        And who knows? You might get into the thing and end up writing your own style files, with all the possibilities to botch things up nicely like beginners do in word processors. But even then, you’ll never lose data though fumbling. You’ll just finally know how to produce really horrible-looking documents.

        Beginners don’t know how to that in LaTeX. That’s the beauty of it.

        Yours, Ermel.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          Just in case you start using LaTeX: Get yourself a decent template. Some other TeX document that you can start with. It’s like programming and not knowing how to write a makefile. Having a small program to start with makes everything so much easier.

      • Ingvar M says:

        \documentclass is necessary (but you’d probably want to use \documentclass{book})

        \author{Shamus Young} is probably a good idea.


        Both of those are necessary. Unless you explicitly want formatting, the only thing else needed is your text (one blank line between paragraphs) and chapter marks (if you want them, they look like \chapter{Title goes here}).

        And unless you’re using complicated tables and all (and if you do, in the Great American Novel, I may just have to swim across the Atlantic and spank you), that should be pretty much it.

        If you want footnotes, they look like\footnote{The footnote text goes in here, the footnote marker in the running text goes EXACTLY where the backslash on the footnote command goes, if you want a literal backslash in text, double it} this.

      • Luke Maciak says:

        Actually, LaTex is exactly what you want. It lets you put one word next to the other without worrying about formatting. There is a tiny bit of boiler plate code you will need to use (two/three lines) but the rest is smooth sailing.

        When I decided to write my Masters thesis I actually defied my advisor and wrote the whole damn thing in LaTex. Never lost any work, never had any of the issues you described. I had a problem with my figure numbering once, but it turned out I simply reversed one line of code and then copied and pasted it all over the place. Spent 5 minutes googling the issue and then about a minute fixing it via global search/replace.

        Every single one of my friends who were writing their thesis in Word had massive issues with formatting, crashes, lost work, etc…

        Honestly, you are way better off just using LaTex. I understand your reservations – I had them too. Just take the plunge. Create a few simple documents. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you figure it out, you will never want to see Word again. :)

      • Shamus, Shamus, Shamus. Please don’t make technical decisions based on what you read on Wikipedia. Don Knuth went to a lot of trouble to make TeX much easier to enter than HTML, and real examples have a lot more text and a lot less syntactic noise than that thing you pulled from Wikipedia.

        I’m very picky about my documents, plus I often have to do a lot of fiddling to get things to fit within page limits. I see the programmatic aspects of LaTeX as a major advantage.

        The big disadvantage of LaTeX is spell checking—at least under Unix, support is still terrible.

        You might quite like Lyx. It was awful once, but after 15 years it has gotten pretty polished. And it has an integrated spell checker, not quite as smart as ispell, but perfectly usable.

  24. Stiltskin says:

    Writeroom is a bare-bones, clean, distraction-free editor, but it’s for Mac OS X only. Does anybody know a Windows equivalent?

  25. Blast Harcheese says:

    I feel your pain, Shamus. I’ve been there myself.

    I’ll throw in my two cents for Q10:


    It’s more like an upgrade of NotePad rather than a clone of WordPerfect or MS Word, but it’s simple and rock-stable. I’ve written close to 80,000 words with it and I’ve yet to have it crash. It stores everything in text format, and if you want to save different versions you have to do it manually.

  26. Isaac Karth says:

    I usually use Cream/GVim for serious writing/editing and InDesign for formatting. All the features of Vim and WordPerfect, none of the crashes of Word. Plus the autosaves actually work. No guarantees that it’ll be anyone else’s cup of tea, but it works for me.

  27. Factoid says:

    You should really find out what software your proofreaders will use to view your book. if they want to use Word, and intend on doing anything with the Track Changes feature, you absolutely want to have them make a test edit and send it back to you before they proof and mark up your whole book.

    track changes is an often incompatible feature in most of these programs. Open Office’s track changes doesn’t necessarily jive with Word’s track changes.

    This MIGHT be improved in the DOCX file format, but have not tried it personally.

    I once sent a 30 page document to be reviewed by a professor, who turned on track changes and sent it back to me. I could no longer open the document because even though I saved it as a .doc file, he did his edits in Word and I used Open Office. His track changes made the document unreadable for me.

    After that I finally switched back to Office 2007 and really haven’t looked back since. The learning curve sucks because those tool ribbons are drastically different than the drop down menus of the past, but once you’re used to where everything is it’s actually kind of nice.

    • Lanthanide says:

      The ribbons are a huge learning curve if you were familiar with older versions of Office. But it sounds like Shamus isn’t, so in that case it really isn’t much of a curve. And once you get used to them, they really are significantly better than the old menu system – on this one, Microsoft’s GUI team really did hit the bullseye.

      • Kyte says:

        Every time I’ve tried to find a feature, I think: “Ok, which of these tabs does it fit…. ‘k, this one. *opens* Let’s see… Oh, here it is!”
        It’s amazingly discoverable, the Ribbon. I might’ve been used to menus, but it’s hard to keep disliking the ribbon after a few tries.

    • vukodlak says:

      Yes, seconded on the “track changes” thing. I’ve read student essays written in pages, open office but saved into doc format. I used word to open them and the track changes mode to add my comments and corrections – and neither pages or open office were able to deal with them. If this is what your proof-readers will be doing, I’m afraid you will need MS word.

  28. Mark says:

    I hate to actually be a fan of Microsoft Word 2007, but from reading through your complaints, I have actually done most of these things rather painlessly in Word. I did this for my undergrad thesis and admittedly had some help from formatting tutorials from my school to figure out where all the specific menus were located.

    When you’re writing a document with lots of styling and well over 100 pages, an upgraded Notepad isn’t going to cut it, those “kitchen sink” style features actually become useful. The only downside is that the cardinal rule is that you have to work with the program and not do anything manually because you will just shoot yourself in the foot. Difficult if you’re not patient, but it saves a lot of time later on in the process if you want to change one little feature that is propagated throughout the document.

    I don’t know if other tools mirror features in Word 2007, but they should have things to very easily set chapter titles and subtitles with the style feature. It’s really easy to view this with the “Document Map” feature. I’ve never had justify act strangely like that in my experience or had a problem setting up headers. Also, never had any crashes in Word, so maybe I’m just lucky? I had to put my email in to register this comment, so if you’re interested in learning more, I could try and help you, but I’m probably only good with Word, which you seem to dislike.

    Also, I will highly second dropbox, when I was writing my thesis, I numbered each revision and saved them each to the site and didn’t even come close to the limit. It can hold close to 2 GB once you play a few of their games and invite a few people. That’s easy for me because I have used it for every team project in school, it’s amazing for that. But even for individual file backup, it’s very convenient, free, and simple. Be aware that even if you do delete something, you can go back and see those files for at least a month and it tracks all revisions to a document for a certain period of time too. Very convenient if you accidentally delete or save over something.

  29. Infinitron, Mari, and Mr. Conley*, I have a question to ask:

    What is your mindset that you would think suggesting an alternate program with little to no explanation would be helpful? I don’t presume to speak for Shamus, but he DID provide a fairly detailed description of both the issues and the state of mind it put him in and if I were in his shoes, someone blurting out “Just try it.” to an alternative I know NOTHING about would only incense me further. I point this out because I HAVE been in a similar situation before and have dealt with these kind of responses and while they’re not as infuriating as ‘You SHOULD have used (x)’ I find them just as unhelpful.

    stringycustard may have been late to game suggesting his program, but that’s cause he spent the time to JUSTIFY that suggestion with some context instead of worrying if he was the first to suggest it.

    *and all other for which this applies…which is quite a few.

    • Mari says:

      My mindset is simply that I’ve already, on a previous occasion, done the detailed plug for AbiWord. Sorry it’s not in this thread for you to read, but it’s already been brought up last time Shamus mentioned shopping for a new word processor.

    • Infinitron says:

      LyX is very popular among academic types (of which I am one). I threw the name out, knowing that other, more articulate people would see it and do the hard work for me.
      We can’t all be Great Communicators.

  30. Soylent Dave says:

    Office 2010 is the best version of MS office I’ve used (and I’ve used a few).

    Don’t get me wrong – it still has a lot of extraneous features that you’re never going to use (but they’re included anyway just in case!), but at least the bits you actually want to use are easy to find and use – and if you’re willing to spend a bit of time faffing about with the ribbon you can make sure all the bits you’re using are 1-click away (rather than two).

    It seems relatively easy on the PC – the project I’m working on at the moment (which is around 50k words, with plenty of formatting and tables and stuff) uses around 25Mb at rest and 32Mb when I’m doing something. (Word 10 uses 7Mb to run a blank file, to give you some sense of how it scales). It certainly opens up a damn sight faster than previous versions (although my PC is pretty new (albeit not state of the art or anything)), and I’m yet to experience any slowdown while typing or whathaveyou.

    (It does have the typically ‘microsoft’ decision of Office 10 files saving by default as .docx, which would be all well and good if everyone else on the planet used Office 10 (or was willing to download the compatibility files), so anything that’s going to be passed on to other people gets saved as a .doc (or .pdf))

    It’s not what you want it to be – but I don’t think there exists a barebones, reliable word processor, so (as you’re probably aware) you’re going to have to hunt through what is available and decide what features you can do without.

    (I’m satisfied with Office 10 because it runs well, it’s robust and it’s compatible with everyone else (and I make use of some of the features), but your priorities aren’t necessarily the same as mine. There are trial versions available so you can see if it’s still as horrible / not for you as you remember)

    • zob says:

      doc –> docx change is made because doc format have some serious security issues.

      • Dave says:

        Also, new features in Office 2007 and later require docx, and docx is just a zipped XML file as long as nothing is embedded in the document. The Office 2007 formats are just better. It’s another case where MS sat on something so long people thought it would never change (Windows XP, the Word 97 and Excel 97 file formats, IE6) and got burned by it.

        • Bubble181 says:

          I was just going to say this. docx, xlsx, and all their ilk, can just be renamed to “.zip” and opened painlessly. There are far less compatibility issues between docx-capable programs than between doc-capable programs.

    • Lanthanide says:

      I sincerely hope that your 50k word project doesn’t have as many parenthetical asides, including nested parenthetical asides, as your comment does ;)

      • Soylent Dave says:

        Ooh, almost certainly; I overuse parentheses constantly and most of my editing (for anything, ever) is going “hmm, this entire paragraph is just you waffling on to the reader about something tangential, Dave – *delete*”

        There’s probably about 2,000 words of actual content in the entire document.

        If I’m not careful I stick an ellipsis at the end of every sentence as well…

        • Goliathvv says:

          Let me see if I got this right: you’re working on a 50K words project in which only 2K of these words are actual content?

          Do you realize that every time you write 4 words, there are other 96 words of “non-content”?

          I would REALLY like to read that, and I’m not being sarcastic or anything, it just seems like a pretty different reading experience.

          • Mari says:

            I’m fairly certain there’s some hyperbole in the whole “only 2k actual words” thing. Then again…

          • Chargone says:

            i suspect trying to follow the main point would be an exercise in frustration, but it would probably be rather interesting if one let go of that notion. *laughs*.

            • Klay F. says:

              This makes me want to write a work of fiction in the worlds largest set of nested parentheses.

              The entire story would be, “And they lived happily ever after.” or some such and then extrapolating 100k words from there.

              I wonder how many people would want to enact bloody murder on me?

            • Atarlost says:

              Actually, this sounds exactly like Moby Dick. The majority is asides related to nautical technology, whaling, and cetacean biology. These have absolutely nothing to do with the plot and little if anything to do with the characters. The signal to noise ratio probably isn’t 25, but it’s still extremely high and you could easily push it higher within the same narrative structure, especially since there’s so much more known about cetacean biology today.

          • Daphne B says:

            cf: Laurence Sterne. You’ve pretty much described Tristram Shandy.

          • Soylent Dave says:

            As Mari said, I was being a smidgen hyperbolic there.

            I am aware that I overuse parenthesis (and tangential commentary in general) when I’m writing, and when I do an edit run I do end up removing the odd paragraph here and there (or putting it into a different section, where it belongs) – but I hope it’s not to the degree of 96%.

            I did do it twice in this comment though.

          • James Schend says:

            Maybe he’s writing Tristram Shandy, but he’s not in on the joke.

            Edit: DOH someone beat me to it!

  31. For what little it’s worth, I feel your pain. Sometimes I feel like I’ve used every word processor on the planet. The novel I’m working on right now lives in yWriter, which can be a lovely program when you get used to it but is not very similar to a traditional word processor at all; I don’t recommend switching to it mid-project.

    As far as useful suggestions go, I will say I’ve used AbiWord in the past and not hated it, but I didn’t use it for long enough or on a large enough project to stand completely behind it.

    Good luck.

    • Will says:

      yWriter is a great program, but yeah it does take some getting used to and you really need to start in it. I’ve been using it to write the stories for P&P RPG games and the people i play with actually noticed that the scenarios suddenly got several layers more complex after i started using yWriter :P

      I don’t think i’d want to try and convert an existing project into yWriter though, especially not 100k words.

      • It can be done. I converted my project to yWriter at about 20-30k words, which is why I recommend against switching mid-project, but it has an import feature that works alright if you figure out what it’s looking for and format your document accordingly.

        Interesting thought, using it for RP plots. I think I’ll stick with Wikidpad for that, but I can see how yWriter’s tools would help.

  32. Some Jackass says:

    That happened to me…once. After that, I taught myself to manually hit the save button every 5 minutes, or every paragraph. Saved myself oceans of despair over my work.

    I just use a pussified version of MS Word…and by “pussified” I mean “So you just want to type your story and not take advantage of the bajillion of pointless features we offer? Pssh, go ahead, faggot. Just dont come crawling back when you want a pimped out captioned chart in your document like all the cool kids…also good luck sending that as an e-mail, ever”

  33. Victor D. says:

    First, in regard to MS Word: it may be a “standard” (in that a lot of people use it), but it has problems coping with long documents. I’ve had situations where 60 page documents cause Word 2007 to crash (especially when adding the Table of Contents, or headers). I’ve heard and seen similar situations in other cases as well. Not sure how bad Word is when it comes to restoring documents after crashing, but it really starts to struggle as the page count increases (and if you add images to the mix, things seem to get even worse).

    I know most people don’t like the formatting hurdles required, but up to now, the only thing that’s consistently worked for me has been LaTex, for bigger documents. There are some front-end programs which hide some of the complexity: a number of people have mentioned Lyx to me. There’s also TeXnicCenter, which can help with some of the formatting issues (this is what I ended up using). It’s still not as easy to use as OpenOffice or Word, but up to now I have not had it crash or eat my documents.

    • Lanthanide says:

      Not sure you’re really talking about Word 2007 there, or not. Older versions of Word are widely known to not cope with long documents.

      In any event, it’s anecdote. And I have one of my own: my boyfriend submitted his PhD thesis written entirely in Word 2007, over 300 pages. Mechanical engineering, with lots of charts, diagrams, figures added, with full chapter and reference linking. No problems.

  34. KremlinLaptop says:

    Well since everyone is chiming in with their suggestions as to what you should do, what you should use and why exactly using Word would’ve saved you all this hassle and rage (it wouldn’t have).

    Try Dark Room instead. http://they.misled.us/dark-room

    I’m only suggesting it because it’s what I use to write (25k words would be the biggest docs I’ve had in there with no problems, not sure about a full on book) and it works very well for me. Worth a look. It’s incredibly basic, it does nothing extra, it has no features and best of all it goes truly full-screen.

    The full screen bit is a godsend for me, easily distracted by… well the internet, really.

    Oh also I feel your rage, I feel it.

  35. Goliathvv says:

    Shamus, it might be a dumb question, but have you tried to restore the backup folder? If not, try using Piriform Recuva, it’s free and does quite a decent job.

    You’re not guaranteed to recover the latest version, but if that auto-save created a lot of backups, then there’s a higher chance it might work.

    Also, I’d recommend you use some file syncing service such as SugarSync, it’s lightweight and automatically sends a file to their server if it changes. You can also recover older versions of the same file, which might help in a situation like this. You could say it’s “version control for the masses”.

    I use it for my basic backups, university docs and for my save files of course. :P

    Good luck!

  36. Stephen says:

    Not that it helps with your needs, but if Libre Office works pretty close to MS Word, your issues are as follows:

    1 – No Word format does chapter tracking gracefully. Your best bet is generally to treat Heading 1 as the title and be done with it. In most cases, it will work the same way you’d like for table of contents needs.

    2 – This is probably because some paragraph returns got turned into manual line breaks. Word treats line breaks as if the text had wrapped naturally onto the next line, so Justify will wrap the last line (it also really messes things up if you try to change the style of one paragraph because it will get all the other paragraphs that are only split by breaks).

    3 – The only way I’ve ever found to reliably have auto-updating headers into to dive into the Field Code system. There’s one for inserting the closest text in a given style, so if you’re using Heading 1 for chapters, the Heading 1 field code will fill in the last chapter name.

    4 – Dunno about Libre Office crashes.

    But, yeah, as you note, all of these doc editors have been steadily crufting features for twenty years now (or copying features from ones that have). You can do a pretty amazing range of layout with them if you know exactly what you’re doing, but every single one of those things can be broken by something as simple as the wrong section break or pasting from a different document or web page.

    And then in 2007 MS decided to completely rearrange things drastically enough that even users with a decade plus of mastery wouldn’t know how to use the program properly :) .

  37. Chris says:

    I suggest you try Scrivener. They have versions for Mac, Windows and Linux and it is designed for writing books: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/

  38. Johan says:

    My god do I feel obsolete in this conversation, I still use Word 97. My dad bought the disk for his Windows 95, then when he got a 98 he just installed it there. Then I was given his 98, and when I got an ME I moved the programs I wanted (including Word 97) to the ME, and then when I got an XP I did the same. I have Word 97 running on Windows XP, and it’s still what I use for typing documents in English and Arabic.

  39. Ed Maurina says:

    :) I’m interested to hear that you’re writing and looking forward to an “I’m done!” announcement.

    :( I’m sorry to hear about all these troubles, but am glad you wrote up a blog on them.

    Others will suggest this, but I strongly suggest you start backing up your work daily if not more often. I used Open Office for my last two books and am using it for my current two, but I also went through the crash, recover, WTF, arrrggh!! scenario. At that point I went to multiple daily backups. I pretty much made a backup any time I wrote for over an hour or two, and always at the end of the day. Also, I made offline copies of my backups, because I also experienced the loss of writing to “crashed disk”.

    Suggested method:
    Uzing winrar (or your favorite compression tool):
    0. Stop working on book, save and close document.
    1. Add book to archive (using right-click menu)
    2. Name file ‘normal_file_name_YYMMDD_backup0.rar’
    3. Copy file to some backup directory near your book.
    4. Get back to work on book

    5. Repeat 0 .. 4, but use “*_backup1.rar”, etc. for same day backups.

    Finally, never deleted any backups, ever, and copy them to some other disk or CD or DVD weekly.

    The above is a bit of work, BUT… I promise this will save your bacon at least once on a long book project. It did for me.


    Ed M.

    PS – I wrote a post mortem after writing my first book and had a few other tips in part IV (pg 22 .. 25) that might be useful if a bit dated:


    • Simon Buchan says:

      Nowadays 7zip is probably a better bet than WinRAR. I just wish it did file associations.

      • James Schend says:

        Why does everybody on this blog do such complicated contortions to back things up?

        Just use Windows Backup and set it to Daily. Or turn on Shadowcopy. Or install Mozy (which even integrates with Shadowcopy). Or install DropBox. Backing up is *easy*, and if you’re manually renaming files with the date, you’re making it ten times more complicated than it needs to be.

  40. Kyte says:

    You know, your criticisms are usually spot-on. But here? Nnnnnnot quite.
    First, your complaints about features. I’ll be blunt: It’s ridiculously myopic.
    Tables, Powerpoint, Spreadsheets: All vital for anyone with academic or scientific reports to do. I absolutely relied on them.
    Databases, mail merge: Secretaries, business reports.
    Page layout: Do I really need to point it out? My teacher asks for two-column format. I’ll take my three clicks, thanks.
    Media files: I assume you mean non-pictorical files. If so, you got me there.
    Macros: It’s security vs automation. The home user will never need them. But MS cares a lot about the enterprise, which cares very much about automation, what with having to push dozens of very similar docs at a time.

    Second: The “stupid, buggy, pushy, ugly, bloated, nagging, resource pig” bit.
    Resource pig? Winword.exe (Version 2007) is among the fastest-loading apps in my computer, and consumes about as much RAM as mIRC. I ran 6.0 smoothly in a Ultra Deluxe Compaq laptop with a 486DX2 with Super Cutting Edge 2MB of RAM and Windows 3.11 (for Workgroups!). Just sayin’
    Pushy, nagging: Ok, so this is personal experience, but was I the only one who never, ever in his life, had to deal with Clippy? Who had the Office Assistant off by default in every single install he owned?
    Bloated: See first paragraph. It’s surprising how much of someone’s “bloat” is another’s “indispensable”.
    Launchers and notification windows: I’ve tracked winword.exe in Process Explorer. One process, dies upon closure. No launchers, no windows, nothing. At most, a taskbar balloon. You sure you didn’t get Word Frankenstein Edition?

    Changing topic: The rant on how to do X: Dunno, but from your experience, it sounds like LibreOffice very much didn’t copy how MSOffice does things.
    TOC? Mark the chapter title as a title style, insert TOC.
    Justification woes? Only if you use shift-enter (I dunno what kind of break it is, but it’s basically “pretend it’s the same line even though it’s not).
    Page headings? No idea, let’s find out! Google “current title office” (Google first. Programmer’s habit) Second hit (why do I get Kentucky title transfers?) I have to insert a “StyleRef” field. Ok, Insert, Quick Element, Field, StyleRef, which style… Title 1, oh hay it worked! Ok, let’s place it in the header. Insert, Header, Edit, copy and paste the field there. Presto! I suppose it was a lucky break my google search got a hit for the answer on the second (and only useful) link. So I google with the better-worded “current title office microsoft”. Got this. Wow, it’s even more obvious. (It’s in Insert->Cross-reference, with preview and everything) (Y’know, the online Office help’s turned out to be pretty good. Maybe I should start using it as first resort…)
    Crash: Nope, definitely not Office’s MO.

    Woo, this was a nice wall of text. But yeah. You’re giving MSWord a very much undeserved bad rep.

    • Lanthanide says:

      Agreed with this.

      Also, the help in Office 2007 is actually genuinely helpful. It’s often my first port of call for when I need to do something I’m unsure of.

    • Sem says:

      I also agree with this. One of the reasons that Word is the de facto standard is because of all these features. Not that I don’t understand your pain, I also struggled with Word a couple of times. But have you ever watched a trained secretary use Word ? They know it inside out.

      Although your complaints are not invalid, it’s like a novice programmer who opens Visual Studio for the first time and goes : ‘This is way too complicated. I just want to write code’. I use VS at work all the time and I’ll commit ritual suicide if I ever have to work in IDE without intellisense/inbuilt refactoring/etc.

      • Kyte says:

        Hope you never have to try… dunno. Python… PHP…. Javascript… ;)

        • Sem says:

          I detest PHP thus so no never used it. I tried Python once out of curiosity but I only made some toy programs so I didn’t matter all that much.

          The last couple of years I used javascript (& JQuery) a lot more thanks to the rise of AJAX & pressure for more responsive websites. However, in such cases you usually make some code to make the website easier to use and that’s relative self-contained code of medium size. Easier to hold in your head so you remember all your functions, variables, etc.

          Besides, it’s no coincidence that there is a giant IDE for the two dominant programming languages (Java & C#. disclaimer : in my area anyway and I’m talking about jobs in general. It’ll obviously be different if you work in academics or some other specialized industry). If python would suddenly rise enormously in popularity, I think someone would build a decent IDE.

          • Kyte says:

            Actually, I think it’s mostly ’cause those two have enterprise support (MS/Sun-now-Oracle) and they’re static languages. Static typing makes IDEing easier, it seems.
            And probably what you mentioned as well. But I’m too sure, TBH, or Javascript would have a fully-working IDE by now. (VS does some JS, but it’s not nearly as good)

            • Sem says:

              I agree that it’s probably easier to make an IDE for static then for dynamic languages.

              I think that C#/Java having enterprise support makes an IDE appear faster but not that much likelier. If a language would rise enormously in popularity, there would be a giant untapped market of programmers who could use an IDE. In the long run someone is going to make it.

        • James Schend says:

          Visual Studio does a pretty killer job with JavaScript. And JavaScript is a language that’s *hard* to Intellisense on. (For one thing, the datatype of a variable can easily change multiple times in a single line.)

          (But, yeah, it only supports PHP or Python via plugins of varying capability.)

          • Kyte says:

            I know VS does an amazing effort on JS, and I totally love MS for trying so hard, but you must admit: JS intellisense is waaaaaaaaaay behind C# or VB intellisense. Honestly however, I have no idea how it could be improved, I mean, the thing already pseudo-runs the JS on the fly! (Although reliability could be improved. Often I don’t get complete intellisense or it simply does not pop up)

        • Ian says:

          I still have nightmares from when I tried to convince Eclipse to do PHP. I like how it would place closing tags and braces in the most invasive manner possible, and I loved how I couldn’t seem to turn that damned “feature” off. I tried NetBeans and it was even worse.

          Now, my PHP “IDE” consists of a docked Explorer window, a large Notepad++ window, and a browser running full-screen on a secondary monitor. Much better.

    • Moon O'Riley says:

      Shift-enter is a soft-return: a new line that isn’t treated as a paragraph break, preventing the word processor from auto-applying formatting (such as first line indentation etc).

    • Soylent Dave says:

      While I’m generally happy with MS Office, and I do make use of lots of the features, Shamus isn’t really saying “there’s no reason for MS Word to exist”, just “I’m not going to use all the extra features, so I’d like a word processor that just processes words please”

      It’s not really a ludicrous or unreasonable request to ask for a piece of software that does exactly what you want it to and nothing else; it’s just something that’s not widely available (because it’s in the best interests of big companies – like MS – to produce software with additional features that everyone might use, so they can sell more copies)

      • Kyte says:

        But the thing is, Word has to do “exactly what you want” for many, many, many people. To me, it’s “process words and add pictures/spreadsheets/graphs/equations to it”. For a secretary who has to send tons of mail, it’s “process words and then print 10000 labels according to the address book”. And those aren’t even niche demographics. Secretaries and academic writers (including students and teachers) account for a huge percentage of Word users.
        If he expects Word to cater to his (minority (Honestly, who here just “types words”?)) preference, then he’s expecting the wrong thing from the wrong software.

        • Soylent Dave says:

          Without wanting to put words in anyone’s mouth, I don’t think Shamus is expecting anything different from MS Word.

          The reason Shamus doesn’t like (or hasn’t liked) Word is all those features which are a deliberate design choice; I don’t think that means he’s expecting it to change, just that it’s really Not For Him.

          (which is, naturally, why I did a post up there suggesting he try Word 2010… (in fairness lots of the things he hated about old versions of word (like splash screens) have fallen by the wayside in current iterations))

          But it doesn’t mean Shamus can’t want a word processor that caters to his minimalist preferences – just that it’ll be hard to find (a decent) one.

  41. Daniel says:

    I don’t intend for this to be mean, but you have played video games before, right?

    I can’t begin to count the number of games that have had issues with auto-saving. I would expect a word processor to be better, but although the bugs may be different, almost all software has them (dang programmers, get your stuff together!!! :)

    If this teaches us anything, it should be to save manually, and back up those saves!

  42. Nick says:

    It sounds like the majority of your problems are based on styles. Are you sure you know how to use them correctly? The outline styles in Word can be particularly confusing though.

  43. Winter says:

    Just FYI, the “justify” feature is pretty easy to fix. Select your formatting (i’d advise using templates–they actually work in OOo/LO unlike in Word) and then go to paragraph alignment -> justify -> last line -> left. Unless they changed something recently, this is exactly what you appear to want. Mind you, non TeX justify features/etc are a little sketchy and sometimes look ugly.

    A little late, i know.

  44. Zak McKracken says:

    Just in case you’re still going back to LibreOffice:
    Using templates for everything really really helps stability and prevents funny problems with the layout. You can just use the ones that are there and change them whenever you feel like it.
    That’s not just for paragraphs but also for pages or single bold/italic words or whatever. Use a template for those, too. I suspect that was the problem with the page headers not showing everywhere, because they’re tied to pages with the same template. Which is good, because you’ll not want the same header on the impressum or the contents page.
    If the document gets very large (in memory terms, not pages), thing’s start to go slow. That’s when global documents come in handy. Distribute the text across several writer documents, create one global document and insert the single documents as parts of the global one. You can just load the templates from one file where they are current, so the formatting should be the same everywhere.
    The help regarding global documents is pretty good.

    If you’ve just saved and LO crashes, don’t accept the restore option, or, better: load your latest save and compare to the restored document. I don’t know why, but yes, this whole rescue business is broken.

    Independent on what you’re going to use next: Backup, baby! I’m using backintime (on Linux… there must be something equivalent under Windows, I guess) to make backups every 10 Minutes, 6 hours, daily, weekly. They are stored on a RAID1 (although for that purpose a USB drive or another hard disk would be sufficient), and if I accidentally deleted something or made silly changes or overwrote with something, I can go back to the previous versions. Veeery valuable!

    I guess finally, most software will require some amount of learning, as well features as dos and don’ts. …

  45. Zak McKracken says:

    oh, and by the way, how’s google docs? I always thought that was just some kind if plaything, or for people who need to collaborate over the internet … I mean, why would I want to have my word processor running in my browser? No typing without internet? Isn’t that something you did not lik about a lot of games? or am I getting it all wrong?
    I’d have a hard time trusting Google with the contents of what I’m working on.

    • Shelley says:

      Me too.

      From their ToS:

      “11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

      Perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free … lordy! but they restrict themselves to promoting their Services with it. Better than Facebook will give you:

      Sharing Your Content and Information

      2.You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:
      (1) For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

      Transferable? Sub-licensable? Royalty-free? Woldwide? MAN, does Facebook own a LOT OF EXCELLENT CONTENT now by law.

      Google’s is perpetual and irrevocable, but they can only use it in advertising their Services. Facebook can use anything you post, until you delete it. AND everyone you know has deleted it.

      However, they are free, and TANSTAAFL. (!) (still … unlimited license? not acceptable, when you bury it in a license you know people won’t read, I say.)

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Right it’s free, but so is OpenOffice, isn’t it?
        And as long as you’re just typing text? I guess if you want to be typing from any computer anywhere, or your smartphone … but who types serious documents from a smartphone? And if you’re on the road so much, why don’t you have a laptop?

        I think I’m getting old, and I’m even younger than Shamus.
        This “Everything’s gonna be online” motto is something noone understood ten years ago, and while I’m still shaking my head, the rest of the world is actually doing it, and when asked, responds “oh, it’s only a little worse then the way it was before, and I don’t mind having all my stuff the net, it’s the future!”. That does not explain anything! Gaaahh!

        In my book, webmail is still an emergency replacement for a decent mail client, and so should any web-based software be regarded. What am I not getting?

        • Ease of access and/or sharing. It’s way easier to ask someone to proofread your paragraph, see your character sheet or just share something with the world if it’s just in google docs rather than having to manually attach.

          And it seems madness to me to even want to download my mail from a server. I should just have a client to access it on a server, and gmail can do that lightweight and searchably with a very good spam filter.

          Yeah, google docs is pretty cool

          • Zak McKracken says:

            Ooh, but writing and reading mail offline has a huuuge advantage! You can store it, back it up, read it when the internet is broken again … also, my provider (I’m not on Gmail) giives me “only” one gigabyte of space on the server, that is not enough for the mountains of mail I’ve collected in the last few years.
            Although, yes, I do see the advantag when working in a distributed team. And not having to install software is probably nice in some situations. Like, if you can’t install software on your computer at work, or something like that. Me, I just type in the name of the program, get a list, pick the one I want, and the rest is automatic. Sadly, that only works for what’s available on the repository, but it includes pretty much anything I have on my machine.

  46. Shelley says:

    “I don't want to worry about formatting and layout and fonts and spacing and margins an markups. I want a nice, clear, easy-to-read environment in which to put the words next to each other.”

    I second Chris’ recommendation of Scrivener. The Windows version is in public beta and free until the end of June, after which it will cost $40. It exports to Word (among other things).

    Scrivener is a writing software, as opposed to a word processor, meaning that it does not do page layout (which, from your comment above, you do not need). Scrivener assumes that you will output your document to a compatible word processor and prettify things up in that way at the end, if need be. Instead, it focuses on everything you’d ever want to do the actual writing. It breaks your document down into whatever size chunks you want, from one sentence to the entire thing. It has a corkboard view, which is all of your chapters or subchapters or subsubchapters represented by index cards pinned to a corkboard with a short summary and an optional (customizable) status stamped across it (“Done,” “Concept Only,” “WTF?”). Depending on how much effort you want to expend, you can add keywords, PoV, characters in scene. You can generate a clickable ToC. You can link to other parts of the document or outside sites. (These links are included in at least some of the outputs.) There is a section called “Research,” which can house multimedia files: you can put webpages, pdfs, audio, text files, and the kitchen sink in there.

    I have used the Mac version for several years and would never go back to any of the current wordprocessing programs out there. After using Scrivener, they just don’t seem to get what writing actually involves.

    If you don’t fall in love with Scrivener’s grace and elegance and ooo!shiny utility, I’ll click the Donate button and give you back your $40.

    If you do feel that you should have a Windows wordprocessor, I’ll nth recommend WordPerfect. We switched from WordPerfect to Word at work two years ago and rarely the day goes by when I don’t come up against a situation that WP handled elegantly that Word handles laboriously. (Okay, they upgraded to Word2003. But still. The basic principles apply. Reveal Codes.) The WP11 –> WP12 revisions included a greatly enhanced ‘WP-to-Word roundtrip,’ as they called it, from WP to Word and back again. The current version of WP, as far as I know, is their X version, which is one after 12, so you could probably get that cheap.

    HTH. Let me know if I owe you $40.

    p.s. Sorry about the length. But I agreed with Neil Polenske, who said that a recommendation should have a justification. Hope these are persuasive. :)

    • Aldowyn says:

      Who the heck UPGRADES to word 2003? Like a lot of people have said, ’07 is quite a bit better.

      • Shelley says:

        Oh my God, don’t even get me started on the software decisions the IT people combined with the Big Big Bosses make at work. Not only is it W2003, it’s heavily customized and locked down and parts are unusable. The customization began before W2007 came out, and then there was too much that had already been done to scrap it all and begin again. Right now they are talking about a three-year project to upgrade the whole thing to W2010.

        Pity me.

    • Mewse says:

      I just wrote almost exactly this same comment, before realising that somebody else had already posted it. So add my voice in support of Scrivener for long-form writing, Shamus. (though I too have only used the Mac version, not the Windows beta)

  47. Raygereio says:

    Shamus, have you tried scanning your hard drive with a file recovery program? There’s no guarantee you’ll find anything usefull if you used the drive where that backup folder is located since the crash (and honestly there’s no guarantee even if you didn’t). But it might be worth a shot.

  48. GTB says:

    I have, over the last decade and a half, purchased many copies of many different versions of word processors. The one I always end up going back to is Word 2000. Yep. Im running win7 and a word processor from ten years ago.

    I am a Luddite.

  49. Halceon says:

    Well, i’m just going to suggest Q10. Among its diverse features are such excellent tools as a full screen background to avert distractions, a typewriter sound which can be turned off, customizable word counts, page counts, word/character/page goals and it weighs in at only 360kB.

    It doesn’t provide any snazzy or even basic formatting options, but for moving many words from your brain to your computer it’s great.

  50. X2-Eliah says:


    This rant (and a few before) comes across as very, well, opinionated/biased/hyperbolic.

    I went back to your rant section and checked the entries from around 2006 – wanted to show those as an example that your writing style had changed, but, well, actually it hasn’t, the rants back then you made are more or less along these lines as well – so I can’t fault you for that..

    Still, I’ll say it – a lot of this article sounds like ‘hating on the MS because it’s cool’ type of thing.
    For one – you have a problem with some obscure open-source software. Okay, fair enough, it is a buggy messy app. Yet you blame most of it on a completely different software – and even basing on conventions from half a decade ago that simply don’t hold water these days.
    By all means – you had an absolute crap of an experience with libreoffice, and thus it deserves the smackdown. But it wasn’t word that crashed and lost your files, it was LO.

    One thing in particular ‘I had a copy of it five or six years ago’.. Yeah. HAD. It was a version from 5 or 6 years ago – and fair enough, back then, for your needs, it was horrible. but you can’t say that ‘MS Office IS horrible RIGHT NOW and is utter crap because five or six years ago that old version was bad’: software changes over time, over versions, over updates – yet you often compare a stereotypical MS product from mid-2000s with contemporary ‘alternatives’, and assume that comparison holds for modern stuff either.

    Look. OK. This was your rant, and it’s bound to be your opinion – naturally. It’s just that it’s not really ‘cool to hate on M$’ anymore without coming across as a bit of a relic who refuses to budge.. Sure, in 2006 it was a trend to write down ‘M$ sucks big time’ and so on, and yeah – people mostly agreed. But it’s not the case anymore (and I don’t mean whether Microsoft sucks or not, I mean publicly claiming it sucks just for elicting agreement/likes from readers), and perhaps – even if this will fall on deaf ears – your future articles would improve if you focused more on current experience & events and less on ‘age-old trueisms’, as those simply do not work when you’re talking of computers and software.

    Ofc, I could have written about either a)’I like MSO 2007, you should get it’ or b)’I use this [obscure open-source hipster program that kinda almost not exactly does what is partly required], you should spend 2 days getting it work’; but frankly a-you won’t spend that kind of money, and I understand it (my own license is a student-one, full price I’d be unwilling to pay either), and b-that’s a bit ridiculous and probably doesn’t suit your needs anyway (and since you already tried LO, you surely had looked into the question before yourself).
    So instead I’m giving a kind-of feedback on your article as such, with bottom line – focus on current situation and avoid using outdated idioms – it will likely backfire on you.

    PS. You used google docs for a while, won’t that cause problems with publishing your book later on? (i.e. license ownership & stuff going to google or somesuch)

    • nawyria says:

      But it’s MS Word that once set the industry standard for word processors, which is to think for the user and do everything he or she doesn’t want the program to do (albeit with good intentions) and to make it a hell of a job to figure out and solve what should be easy fixes.

      • Kyte says:

        Actually, it was WordPerfect that made the standard for word processors, by departing from Wang (yes, I know). Word just followed on WP and eventually superseded it.

        • nawyria says:

          While it might be true that WordPerfect “set the standard” before MS Word, I meant to point out that it’s Microsoft’s nonsense that permeates modern day Word Processors.

          • X2-Eliah says:

            Yes, Microsoft is forcing the developers of libre/openoffice to continue an obviously problematic trend. Sure.

            • Zak McKracken says:

              Openoffice follows the philosophy that it wants to make changing over from MS Office easier by looking similar etc. Which in some parts means creating similar problems …
              Depending on who you talk to on the newsgroups, you get either “we’re doing it this way because everyone expects it this way” or “no way we’re copying Microsoft” … So, yes, especially in the newer versions of OO and LO you find not only the same features, but also some of the roundabout ways that were established by Microsoft.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        That they did, and most people I know don’t even know any other Word processor than Word. And I content that this would not be the case if it hadn’t been effectively free to copy for a very long time. Everyone had it, just because it was essentially free. Only after that was achieved did Microsoft actually start to enforce its copyright.
        What does this tell us? I don’t know. Pirating software does not damage the big players, it damages competition? Maybe. Don’t really know.

    • Sumanai says:

      'I use this [obscure open-source hipster program that kinda almost not exactly does what is partly required], you should spend 2 days getting it work'

      Yeah, you’re not exactly giving a fair feeling yourself there.

    • Shamus says:

      I’m such a freak, not spending another $200 on the next version of Word when the last version was as useful as a toothache.

      If I’m beating up unfairly on current-gen Word, that’s Microsoft’s problem, not mine. There are costs associated with putting out horrible products, the chief of which is that you become known for selling crap.

      I’m not under some kind of obligation to buy and research every damn thing before I can talk about it on my blog. That isn’t Consumer Reports. This is ME. If Microsoft has a damaged brand, they can try to entice me back through sucking up, selling cheap, and word of mouth.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        Is it really that expensive in the US?

        I picked up a version of Office 10 (without Outlook, Access or Publisher) with 3 keys for around £70. That’s still not cheap, but it’s moved into ‘affordable’ – at least if you actually need all 3 keys and cost it per install (when it becomes ‘the sort of price I expect software to be’)

        Considering the ludicrous prices of previous versions of Office (and the still-ludicrous prices of the full ‘Business’ versions), someone at MS seems have a bit of an idea about what is putting customers off.

        Or one of the things that’s putting customers off, anyway.

      • Moon O'Riley says:

        Exactly. Once a reputation has been damaged/ruined it can almost never be fully repaired.

      • Rick C says:

        Word 2010 has a free, ad-supported version. I’m not suggesting you want to write a book with it, but you could certainly see the differences between what you’re used to and what it’s like now, without spending $200. (Or the Student and Teacher version, which is cheaper.)

      • Zak McKracken says:

        What’s scaryng me right now is that while I fully agree to your rant about MS Office, I somehow still feel obliged to tell you to just take some time and properly figure out Libreoffice, and that you are going to love it if you just get to know it right.
        Turns out I’m probably biased … anyways: you need help with LO, ask.

    • Atle says:

      Should you “hate on M$” based on whether it’s cool or not?

      MS still has the same way of doing business as they had ten years ago: Lock-in (making life troublesome for non-MS products users, in this context through sabotaging use of open document formats)and FUD (and FUD is what your last paragraph is all about).

      So the reasons to “hate on M$” are just as valid today as they were back when it was cool.

  51. MaxDZ8 says:

    OOo recently started to disappoint me as well.
    The coolest thing? Expanding spreadsheet row limit to 1 Mil. Too bad no computer I’ve tried managed to handle more than about 200k rows… and too bad base does not have a “import csv” neither the ability to paste tables from Calc.
    WTF is going on with the piece of software than I once considered the best around?
    This is insane.

    • froogger says:

      Wot? No CSV import!? That decides it for me – for my reinstall I’m sticking to Office XP from 2003. There’s one thing to be said for “bloatware”: at least you don’t have to hotkey between a bunch of programs like I have to when working graphic or sound files. All functions in one app, that’s the way to do it. Perhaps optional plugins is the way of the future? Adobe Photoshop is horrible slow to start, and I know I’m not using a fraction of it’s supernatural abilities.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      You mean importing CSV to base, not calc, right?
      Because in Calc I’m doing that all the time.
      And the paste dialogue in calc is better and more flexible than the one in Excel.

      Base, though, is the neglected stepchild of OpenOffice, I guess that’s recognized by most.

      I do of course have my list of stuff that I want LibreOffice to be able to do, and my favourite bugs, too. But then I didn’t even start to compile such a list with MS Word, because I was too close to exploding from all the excitement it was putting me through.
      But in the end, it probably comes down to the individual use case.

  52. Lanthanide says:

    Having read all of the comments, it’s pretty remarkable that there is very little recommendation or defence of OO/LO going on.

    Shamus: you have this extremely popular blog with lots of knowledgeable people on it. Why didn’t you ask for recommendations for word processors before you just leapt into LO?

    You recently managed to fix your lawnmower by tapping this resource – hell, you could potentially start signing up for mechanical turk jobs and then posting them as challenges here and cream the profits off for yourself ;)

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I’d like to defend LO here, since I’m a big time user. And I would have recommended it. Still do.
      However, I’m using it differently than Shamus intents, and he has indeed gone in and went straight for the nearest and biggest bug (which is only really bad if you don’t know about it, but still).
      So I’m kind of holding back right now …

    • Atle says:

      Unfortunately it’s not a very good product. The main issue is that they copied everything that was bad about Word. Especially the logic behind headers and numbering. This has annoyed me since the early Star Office beginnings.

      And it could be more stable as well. But I always rename files regularly (and take backups irregularly). And I always do this before starting any major changes, like restructuring and reformatting a document in a word processor. I don’t trust autosave in ANY software.

  53. Jansolo says:

    I apology because I didn’t read the entire comments above.

    But I need to make my suggestion.

    Regarding the word processor, you could consider some Adobe tools in order to create PDFs or similar and you can have some fun again with computer vulnerabilities (virus http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=11560 or worst http://krebsonsecurity.com/2011/05/critical-flash-player-update-plugs-11-holes/)

    You can buy a MAC (an expensive computer) and it’s word processor (very expensive, at least compare to google docs, libre office, open office, Notepad++ and so on) . Then, you can have some fun struggling with unexpected errors and with mac fans when you complaint about in google.

    But the best option is to stop your book for while, to write another one, that explains the solutions for your word processors problems (for this writting, you can use an html editor, that generates text files and allow you to use rich formats and even images)

    You can give it a title like “teach yourself word processing for dummies: unleashed” and you will be as rich as the guys who get depressed because of the money and write a guide of auto-helping telling that you can live without money (because they’re going to live better with that useless money that you spend in their book)

    Do you know what is the worst? If you tell someone you are (or you were) a computer professional. They will assume you can help them with Microsoft Word. Otherwise, they will reproach you “what kind of programmer are you?”

  54. Mersadeon says:

    I won’t suggest any word processor, because I don’t know that many. I use Open Office, but just because the school I was in used it and it’s for free (I refuse to use Microsoft Office because of the stupidity of paying lots of money for something that’s just as good when it’s free), but I don’t write books, so I can’t really judge it in that regard. I never use the features – and when I’m writing something long, I write it in Notepad. That one really doesn’t crash often, and after writing it, I just copy it into an OO document.

    And, Shamus, I am so sorry. I know how it feels to lose hours of work, and it really is an infuriating feeling that doesn’t let go of you. I hope you catch up on your work again and remember the edits.

    • Kyte says:

      I refuse to use Microsoft Office because of the stupidity of paying lots of money for something that's just as good when it's free
      Given the comments and rant, I think we’ve established OOo (and LO which is a fork of OOo) is, in fact, not “just as good”.

      • Halceon says:

        Well, that depends on when the fork happened and how much effor has been put into it. I work with OpenOffice at my job and while I don’t need any extra-fancy features like mail merges, it seems to get the job done.

        I use the same on my own laptop, along with q10 and Office ’07 for actual writing and format compatibility respectively. In my several years of OOo I can’t say I’ve encountered any problems similar to what Shamus describes.

        Make of it that what you will, but I don’t think LO should be lumped together with OOo, except on grounds of common ancestry.

        • Graham says:

          The “fork” happenet only a couple months ago (EDIT: apparently the whole process I’m about to describe started in September 2010, but not long anyways), in response to Oracle buying Sun. A bunch of OOo developers started LO for fear that Oracle wouldn’t leave OOo open, or something.

          Oracle demanded that any of their OOo devs not be on the LO team if they were tyo continue working on OOo, claiming a (fairly valid) conflict of interest. This meant they ended up losing many of those devs.

          Due to lost devs, Oracle announced they wouldn’t be continuing any commercial OOo development.

          So LO is actually the most current and only actively-being-updated version of OOo now.

          …yeah. It’s messed up.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            Correct except for the conflict of interest.
            There have been several devs who had been working on OOo as well as another, older fork for some time, and that has never been a problem.
            It’s not as if the two would have been commercial competition, or any dev would have had a reason to stay on the team and sabotage the work on OO in favour of LO or something, since they share their codebase, and both codes are open.
            I think the Oracle guys were just mad about the fork and didn’t want to work with the “rebel” devs anymore. So they shot themselves in the leg.
            The story is actually longer than that, but I’ll stop here.
            LO is now supported by Canonical, Redhat and a few other companies. But they still have to get up to speed. New Server, new people, new website, new group structures, blabla …

      • Zak McKracken says:

        LO is pretty good if you ask me, it’s just that it’s big and confusing if you just run into it, and that autosave bug has been known for some time, I hope they fix it soon. Apart from that, I suppose that most of Shamus’ problems were with not knowing which knob does what.

  55. Ardis Meade says:

    This is totally off topic, but I have just finished reading the entire archives for this site.I don’t know how many articles I’ve read and I have lost track of how long it took, but I’ve read every entry in every catagory dating back to the begining of the D&D campaign, September 1st, 2005. I am now going to walk up to the store, get a snack and go to bed. On topic, I will point out that while this setback may be discouraging, you shouldn’t let it stop you. I didn’t just read through all of this site + Stolen Pixels + Shamus Plays + Experienced Points because I didn’t like it. I read Chainmail Bikini back when it first came out, so I’m not counting that here, but I liked that too. Point being that you know what you’re doing. Don’t give up.

  56. BvG says:

    /smug mac asshole

    Said that, I’d suggest to use a simple text editor, maybe with basic styling for bold and italic text. Why would you care about aligning, indexes or styling? You are producing a text that will be reformatted for you by an editor or text slave. Your job should be to produce content, and make it mediocre readable. Basically, styling is for releasing books, not for writing them.

  57. Jason says:

    Bug report filed. Details of the crash would be greatly appreciated: https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=37744

    • Lanthanide says:

      I like how the guy that replied completely misses the point.

      The bug hasn’t been reproduced.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        He didn’t even catch that Shamus != Jason, nor did he even address the autosave location & behaviour..

        // And this is why I don’t really like a LOT of open-source stuff; you don’t get help or valid bug-checking unless you submit every single technical infobit, usually you get replies just like that.

        • Ragnar says:

          In what way is commercial software better in that regard?

          • X2-Eliah says:

            Devs are paid to fix bugs and listen to ‘simple’ bugreports without the ability to respond like a jackass.

            Well, most of the time – naturally there are exceptions on either side, but the majority of bad experiences with this sort of thing have been with open-source stuff.

            Think about how people would have received Minecraft half a year, or a year back, if Notch had replied to any feedback with such a tone…

            • Zak McKracken says:

              Hmm… where I live, if you try to contact a company about something that’s not going right, you rarely get to speak to someone who understands the problem. You’re lucky if you can speak to a human at all.

      • Moon O'Riley says:

        Even better, he basically came up with a long winded version of pics or it didn’t happen. Plus he wants a sample document for a error that involved data-loss, and implied that bugs that aren’t reproducible don’t exist or at least shouldn’t be tracked.

        Worst of all he proclaimed Shamus is incompetent based on his misreading of what went wrong with justify (if it was what he thought it was it would have affected the entire document and Shamus’ solution wouldn’t have worked). So Open Office have adopted the GIMP method of customer service and for that I intend to advise anyone that asks to stay well away from their software.

        • Shamus says:

          To be fair, my rant ISN’T a valid bug report. It’s the equivalent of “Something broke. Fix it.” There’s not enough direction or specifics that a programmer can go to any one aspect of the code and look for the problem. The bug – or design fault could be anywhere. (Actually, there’s two bugs – the crash and the restore failure. )

          Reproducibility is king when it comes to bugs. If I have ten bugs in front of me, I’m going for the reproducible ones right away. The others are fishing expeditions / time-sinks. Better to fix five minor bugs than fumble around looking for one big one, and come up empty. (And maybe one of the small bugs will lead you to the big one.)

          • Graham says:

            While true, it isn’t a reproducible bug report, the response was… less than encouraging. Rather than just saying there wasn’t enough info to duplicate it, it was basically a variant of “I don’t have any problems. Must be your fault.”

            Yes, he asked for more information that would help, but only after mocking the submitter (and you) as incompetent for not intrinsically understanding a complex program.

            It’s this type of attitude that permeates many open source projects. And IMO, it’s this type of customer service that will prevent them from becoming accepted as proper alternatives to the commercial programs they try to emulate.

          • X2-Eliah says:

            In all fairness, he could have at least said why the auto-saves are wiped on crash, or said that he’d look into changing that.

            You did, after all, point it out very clearly in your post, and it is indeed a stupid behaviour – as the commentators have also said..

          • Zak McKracken says:

            Oh god, I’ll need to finally get an account there …
            Just a hint: Next time LO offers to restore files, compare them to the regular saved ones, before you do anything. To be extra-super-sure, make a copy of the saved file before you click on anything. Or if you know you just saved manually, just tell it to not recover your files. That’s what I do. I guess I could also just deactivate the auto-save, but who knows.

  58. Jjkaybomb says:

    An obtuse way to keep using the program you want is to divide up the book so each chapter is in a separate file, so you dont hit that limit.

    Um… sorry that I cant think of more to say. Just no reason to swap programs when one had been serving you so well. Microsoft Works does well for me as a simple word processer, but converting the files to a doc takes a bunch of steps.

  59. Taliesin says:

    Wow. That’s something of a horror story.

    Personally, I use Atlantis: http://www.atlantiswordprocessor.com/en/

    It’s not free but it is comparatively cheap, and I find it has a very friendly interface, plus it autosaves work properly. It does try to do too many things for you to begin with, but you can turn all of that off quite easily.

  60. JohnTomorrow says:

    I personally used OpenOffice till my missus got extra copies of Win 7 Word. Now i use that, but here’s what I do:

    1. I leave everything. I touch NOTHING except the word processsing stuff (bold, italics, etc)
    2. I save manually, CONSTANTLY. I’ll probably end up deleting the damn thing anyways in a fit of artistic rage.
    3. I head all chapters manually, and i dont bother with footers or headers. Editors do that shit, just write the words so they can play with them.

    Good luck with the writing mate. Cant wait to see what you come up with.

  61. Slothful says:

    Reminds me of how my grandpa told me that when they introduced computers into his workplace, there was a drop in quality, because the writers themselves were not as good at formatting as the people whose job it was to do the formatting.

    Shamus, use a typewriter. Unless you’re really terrible with machines, you can’t accidentally erase your progress.

    • Alex says:

      I’ve always wondered – how on earth do typewriters NOT slow the pace of work to a crawl compared to, say, a plain text editor? How do these luddite writers with their vintage Underwoods ever get anything DONE? Beyond the obvious flaw of not having a delete key or a cursor that can be moved with a mouse click, it’s been my experience that typewriters constantly give you mechanical grief – the keys stick, the paper slips out of alignment, the ribbon dries out prematurely or gets caught on something, and don’t get me STARTED on white-out that’s never as dry as you think it is…

      • Soylent Dave says:

        You use a pen to cross out any offending lines.

        Backspace and delete are incredibly useful tools (and are easily the biggest advantage word processors have over typewriters), but it’s not really that much slower to just cross out the offending line – remember that you’re sat right over the page you’re typing – and type the correct version underneath.

        (you can use tipp-ex / white-out strips on mechanical typewriters as well, but they’re a bit too faffy for my liking – it’s easier & quicker just to correct things manually (with a pen). A neat line through your work is always neater than trying to pretend there was never a mistake there in the first place…)

    • Ragnar says:

      Are you serious? Oops, I spilled coffee all over the manuscript! Oh, whas that your manuscript, I threw it away.

      It is *a lot* harder (and wasteful) to do backups of paper.

  62. Alex says:

    I’ll add to the recommendations that formatting/styling should be a separate work phase from writing (you’re going to read your entire book dozens of times before it’s done, what’s one more pass to put in formatting?), and that it’s probably a good idea to divide the book up into separate files for chapters, or at least chunks of the book. I’m not a professional writer, but I have a few friends who are published fantasy authors who let me hang out with them and pretend to be one too :-), and they always divide their drafts up into manageable file sizes and store everything on thumb drives that are used only for that purpose.

    They do use MS Word (albeit in MacOS), but that’s because they use its built-in markup/redpenning features to correct and critique each other’s work. I currently scribble my little nothings in plain text; I guess if I ever produced something worth reading, I’d probably have to find a way to export it to .docx.

  63. krellen says:

    As an aside, Shamus, I love when you make posts like this, because I can then justify reading your blog and comments as work-related; keeping up on technology advances is part of my job, and your blog posts and commenters help me with that tremendously.

  64. SuperKP says:

    Have you considered making a ‘Let’s Play’ out of bad word processors? It might be really entertaining to hear that “NNNOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo…!” in real audio, instead of the badly voiced Darth Vader in my head.

  65. Rayen says:

    the problem i’ve found with most open source software is that it seems to be designed for programmers and not the average person. In a way it makes sense because programmers were (for a long time) the only people on the net looking for something to replace the bloated mess that was (/is) microsoft. Open office seems to follow this pattern in that it is made to be tweaked here and there to do exactly what you want. unfortunately sometimes you just want to put words down on a page and hit save and come back to them later. I don’t think openoffice anticipates this very well, it’s still a programming toy to be played and tinkered with before a programmer makes a multimedia presentation at the office with it.

    I much as i hate to say it, Microsoft office for XP was about as inoffensive as everything else XP was. once you figured out how to turn off that damn office assistant (DEKFASDVNAELKVN SLWEFN!!!) it worked pretty well. I don’t know what MS office you used but sadly it is the standard because “ALL WORD PROCESSORS SUCK” and it happens to suck the least in the mainstream’s eyes.

    • Atle says:

      I don’t agree to this. My biggest problem with Open Office is the opposite, it copies the non-working illogical logic of what Word used to be.

      There uses to be a word-processor/type-setter program, don’t remember it’s name any more but think it was owned by Adobe, which let you create simple formulas for numbering things like headers. You would create a style for a header, and add to it like wherever you wanted in the title. Then you would define n=0 or n=+1 or similar simple functions.

      That is “designed for programmers”, and it worked very very well. Simple, stable and much much better than OO and Word (haven’t tried latest versions.)

  66. K says:

    I am sticking to my guns: LaTeX. I have used it for exactly one document in my life-time (my Thesis), and it took me a while to get good at it, but boy, is it great. There are even WYSIWYG editors for it. You type text. You press compile. You print. Sure, it has thousands of features, but you can safely ignore them all. And best of all, you can just slam the file into your .svn or .hg or whathaveyou, and get versioning and backups easily. LaTeX is great at doing acceptable layouts without work. Which is exactly what you want during writing: It needs to look decent enough so you can print and read it, but nothing more. A real editor will do it properly anyway.

    Or if you have a mac, use iWork. That’s actually a great word processor.

    Or MS Office 2007 (which is an unbelievable improvement over older versions). But you insist that anything past Windows XP must be shit, so there you go. Did you know that we have incremental automatic backups now, like Time Machine?

    OpenOffice is just crap. Every time I am forced to use it, I want to kill myself.

    • Tizzy says:

      I have used and hated Open Office, and yet I cannot completely fault it. It was a laudable move to create a free alternative to MS Office that was compatible with it. It can’t have been easy, and by definition, it dooms your product to being somewhat crap.

      Still, it is immensely helpful to the people out there who need to use MS Office files but do not want to pay for that privilege.

  67. Tever says:

    Speaking as someone who reads a lot of agent and editor blogs, they don’t like it much when you use justify. It looks pretty to you (and to me; I got jumped on once for daring to mention that when I asked why they didn’t like it), but apparently they’d rather have the ragged edges than have to read through those little formatting glitches and uneven spacing between words, plus they have to redo it again anyway if the book goes to print.

    • Squash says:


      Do not over-format your drafts. It is a waste of time and formatting is often stuffed up by transferring between computers anyway, even using the same program. This especially applies to justifying and paragraph auto-numbering (not that that is likely to be overly relevant to you).

      It is best to put the formatting in at the very end.

      And of course, I must offer sympathy for the situation you are in. I have experienced something similar and it drove me to almost desperate rage.

  68. RCN says:

    Yeah, when dealing with large amounts of text (like a thesis or something similar) I NEVER EVER thrust the software to take proper good care of it.

    Call me paranoid, but I have a system:

    1. I never use the program’s fancy tools like page headers and chapters. I know they to not be trustworthy and to plot to crash my document or send it into oblivion. They’re the spawn of Loki and shall not be trusted. I’m fine using the program just for text and simple formatting.

    2. Whenever I save the document I do it in a new version and keep 5 versions (so I have like “This Document 1”, “This Document 2”, “This Document 3” and so on). This way if anything horrible happens to my earliest save I have 4 more to fall back to and gives me some protections to problems unleashed some time back. Why don’t those programs keep different versions of autosaves? Text is not a huge memory hog, I’m more than happy to leave around 100 MB for the program to make sure the my text WON’T be lost. Every time you autosave make a new document. Or at least leave up to 20-50 versions. Or at least leave me the option to opt for that.

    3. Every week I save everything into a flash drive in case something horrible happens to a computer. I also save it in my e-mail (whose password is not shared with anything else related to me and is a 25 symbols obtuse monster that is meaningless to anyone else). AND I save it in every computer that shares the same wireless network (I have 3 computers in my house, counting a laptop). I also save it in my smartphone.

    4. Whenever a crash DO happen I don’t trust the recovery function. I PERSONALLY KILL THE TASK before it has the chance to “recover” or “save from crash”.

    Then again, I said I’m paranoid. But my system saved sensitive documents more than once.

    • Bubble181 says:

      As for number 2 – Word 2010 does save several different versions of documents as autosaves. I think it’s 5 or so, though I tend to forget. Never had to go back more than one version since I started using it :-P

      • RCN says:

        Really? That’s good to know. Haven’t used Word in a long time. It once ate a very long document of mine and I never had it in me to forgive it, no matter how many versions it got and how many improvements and how many bugs it fixed (considering the usual rule is fix one bug, create ten new ones…)

  69. Samalander says:

    I’m a linux user, so Libre Office is my word processor by default. I’ve never used it extensively so I can’t comment further than saying that it never choked on my tiny docs. Still flushing the backup folder after a crash seems brain-dead stupid…

    I support a few users who use Word 2007 and it seems to be pretty rock solid for them (i.e. they don’t bug me about it). They use word processors a lot more than I do.

    Back when I used Windows, I used to looooove WordPerfect for one feature. I liked the rest, but that one feature made it unbeatable in my book. That feature is the magnificent Reveal Codes. Basically, if you’re wondering why something looks wonky, you can look behind the scenes at the “source” of your document, kind of like peeking at the HTML source of a web page. It simplifies dealing with wonky formatting so much. And for a coding-minded person, it makes the thing quite logical to deal with. I miss it so much! *sad face*

    One thing that trips up most word processors and which is probably the source of all the formatting weirdness Shamus experienced is importing a document that was made with something else. In this case, going from Google Docs to Libre Office. I’ve used the chapter heading thing in GD, LO and Word 2k7 and they work ok, if you start it in there (like most other non-super-simple-formatting). Try converting a document and you might as well paste plain-text and start the formatting from scratch. They’ll all get more things wrong than right. Maddening.

    Cory Doctorow actually uses a plain text editor for his novels. And he uses a tool based on git (source control) to keep a history of his changes. This sounds like wise advice to my ears. Throw in Dropbox for some off-site backups and you’d be pretty much bulletproof!

  70. Jeff says:

    Bah, who needs chapters? My favorite author has this to say:

    Life doesn’t happen in chapters — at least, not regular ones. Nor do movies. Homer didn’t write in chapters. I can see what their purpose is in children’s books (“I’ll read to the end of the chapter, and then you must go to sleep”) but I’m blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Well, it depends. Take the Song of Ice and Fire series for example – each chapter is from a different point of view.
      While it is certainly possible to change point of view with just a paragraph break, that’d make things a lot more confusing.

      Short: there can be valid reasons for chapters.

    • Tizzy says:

      You’d be amazed at the number of good books that do use chapters (effectively). Also, with the number of novels that don’t really follow how life happens.

      Not to mention that Terry Pratchett has taken to using chapters again when it suits him. :)

  71. Bardster says:

    Have a look at this Shamus http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html Its a word processor written by a novelist for novelists. A lot of the people who take part in NaNoWriMo swear by it.
    Quote from his website “Because I’m an experienced programmer AND a published author, yWriter contains a bunch of tools a working novelist will find useful, and nothing some marketing expert came up with to promote additional sales.”
    I use ybook (his reader software) all the time and love it.

  72. aserraric says:

    Using a word processor for anything bigger than 50 pages or so is simply insanity. For pure writing and text editing I would just use a decent text editor (although I hear Scrivener is good, too) and break up the book in individual files for each chapter. When you are done, add LaTeX markup for prettiness.

  73. LVC says:

    Back in the day when I actually had time to play RPGs there was one thing that everybody drilled into their mind. Safe now, Safe often, Safe on different files.

    Personally I like to use git for that now but it’s not that user friendly.

  74. Lisa says:

    If it helps at all, I use a variant called Oxygen Office. They seem to have put a lot of effort into making it a stable version. I’ve never had it crash on me, even with large, ridiculously complex documents.

    Note, though, that this is on XP. I have no idea how well (or not) it works on Vista, 7 or something else.

  75. J Greely says:

    In my experience, TexLive is the best way to get a fully-functional LaTeX setup without resorting to Cygwin (which Lyx apparently uses), and it has the advantage of being installable on a USB stick so you can carry your whole environment from machine to machine. Also, it has a clean update tool.

    The downside of any TeX-based system is that if something ever happens that forces you to step outside of the GUI, the learning curve is insanely steep. If you find yourself typing mktexlsr, kpsewhich, and similar commands, your simple document-processing task has become a multi-layered puzzle box that could devour hours of your precious time. Font-handling in particular is a mess, especially when it comes to Unicode.

    For me, the easiest way to work with LaTeX is the same way I use Word: use my own simple markup in a text file I edit with Emacs, convert it with a script, and import the results for conversion to PDF. TeX paginates a thousand times faster, but Word’s excellent HTML importer allows for immense flexibility, allowing me to do things like lay out vertically-written Japanese text with furigana in specific fonts and sizes, on a custom page size with precise margins and section breaks. I can do enough of that with pLaTeX to use it for my custom student editions of Japanese novels, but it’s a fragile beast.

    LibreOffice kinda-sorta imports HTML, but incompletely and largely unstyled, and you have to do an explicit save-as-and-reload to convert from the special “web page” document type to a full word-processing document. For more complicated imports, you’d have to learn their awful XML format and Zipfile structure (and, yes, I have; it wasn’t worth it).

    The three-machine license that comes with the Home and Student edition of Office makes the price a lot more reasonable, if you’re not violently against owning a copy. Also, current and former Microsoft employees can buy copies for their friends at a very nice price, through the company store…


  76. Broc27 says:

    What? I find it hard to believe that you had no external backup of any kind! I’m using a mac with a Time Capsule so my whole computer is backed up every hour. There must be a Windows alternative???

    Also, since you want a clean word processor, have you tried things like WriteRoom or Clean Writer? They are programs that seem to do exactly what you need: provide a full screen word processor with minimum options and clutter. They are also on mac but may also be on PC or have equivalents!

  77. Ysth says:

    I’ve had pretty much the same kind of experience you describe with the word processor not just doing what I bleeping tell it to, only with Office 2007. I’m sure there are just idiosyncrasies I failed to figure out, but…why should I have to?

    Re lost work, every single day, at the end of the day or the beginning or your first meal break or whatever, but some consistent time, email a copy of your work to yourself (to an available-online account such as gmail).

    LaTeX is nice; a bit of a pain for some things maybe, but definitely in the does-what-you-tell-it-to camp. But where it really really gets you an evolutionary step ahead is in combination with a revision control system such as git. Being able to go back and see when you made a certain change, and what other changes you made then is just fantastic.

  78. Tracy Reed says:

    Wow. Two pages of who knows how many comments and nobody has mentioned docbook?


    If you want to be able to write in a real, reliable text editor but LaTeX is overkill then docbook might be a nice compromise. O’Reilly accepts books in docbook and plenty have been written in docbook (and then automatically converted to many other formats).

    • J Greely says:

      Perhaps because GUI XML editors make terrible word processors, and anyone editing XML by hand is at least slightly crazy?


      • Curt Sampson says:

        Actually, according to the O’Reilly staff, there are XML editors out there that make decent word processors, such as XMLMind.

        If you’re even thinking about writing a book, it’s worth spending an hour having a look at the O’Reilly production process (starting with the tools chapter linked above) to at least have some understanding of one particular production process that works very smoothly and avoids the pain of so-called word processors.

        If you’re a text/command-line geek like me, the above process works really well with the help of a few tools such as a validator and the meld diff program which does a great job of showing textual differences in the presence of line-wrapping changes. Have a read of the source for their authoring book and you’ll see that the XML they need looks pretty good just as plain text, for the most part.

  79. Ian says:

    During my college years I decided to make my laptop a Linux-only system just to see how well free software would work for me on a daily basis. I started using it for school and the only piece of software that gave me any issues was OOo. I don’t remember which version it was, but it was a bit older (I did that experiment for one semester in 2006, if that helps).

    I’m going to make a long story short and just tell you the ending: the issues that I had with OOo’s Office “compatibility” and stability were so great that I resorted to running Office 2003 in Wine.

    I tried the same experiment again recently (in 2010) and wound up running into similar issues. My resolution? You guessed it: running Office 2007 in Wine.

    It’s actually kind of fascinating how well Office runs in Linux.

  80. sinan iÅŸler says:

    ı use notepad.
    no problem, no angry birds.

  81. Chris says:

    Word may have more features than you need, but it’s going to give a much happier experience than fishing around for various home brew replacements. And believe it or not, Word has improved in some fundamental ways in the 6 years since you last used it. Plus you can try it out for no monies. You owe it to yourself to not eliminate the most obvious option. As much as I appreciate that other word processors will generate fun ranting posts like this, I think we’d all rather you be happy and finish your book.

  82. wumpus says:

    Yeesh. Your experience sounds more or less exactly like my experience of writing my MS thesis. Using _Word 6 for the Mac_. In 1997. (The result of which is that I feel no remorse for pirating any version of Microsoft Word, forever. And they still owe me.) How is it possible that such suckritude still exists in 2011?

    Maybe you can write a very basic word processing application after you’re done with your book? It sure seems like there’s a market for something that is approximately the equivalent of MacWrite, i.e. text + fonts/justification + page/section handling + insertion of images for everything else.

    • Atle says:

      I tried using Word 6.0 for a report once. I had a handful of pictures in it, and everything when haywire. Formatting was destroyed, pictures disappeared, and sometimes (but not always) reappeared somewhere else.

      Since it was a report, and I went out of time, I had to redraw some of the missing pictures by hand on the printout before handing in the report.

      Fun times…

  83. Elethiomel says:

    No matter how good it looks, never ever “justify” a long text. A jagged right-edge to the text makes it much easier to remember your place should you glance off the book for a moment, and the inconstant space between words in a “justified” text makes it slower to read.

  84. Hari says:

    I feel your pain. I feel sad to say this, especially that I encourage the use of free software, but when I used OO, I was genuinely surprised how people actually use it and praise it even though it has hundreds of bugs, inconsistencies etc.

    Why not use one of the text based markup languages (such as Markdown or reStructuredText)? The advantage is that you will get to use any text editors that has decent support for highlighting text (for visual feedback of titles, headers, formatting etc.). See this wikipedia article for options: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightweight_markup_language

    Most of them support exporting to HTML, RTF etc. formats and you can then import them back to Word.

  85. SteveDJ says:

    I have not read all 300+ comments, but just wanted to offer a very low-cost alternative. Is it possible that WordPad could work for you? I haven’t used GoogleDocs, but WordPad is just a souped up version of Notepad now with some real formatting.

    …oh, but now I see it doesn’t have spell-check, likely a deal-breaker. But otherwise, it is free (and built into Windows).

  86. perry says:

    i’ve been using office 2010 my college bught for everyone. it works like a charm, though i haven’t written a book in it! also, shamus when i use open source/free sw, i usually try to be ready for shitty things like this. if you’re gonna write a book, you should buy the tools necessary to do so. in this case, the best wp happens to be ms word.
    think of it like this: you are making a multi-million dollar animation film. what would you choose? maya, the industry standard, or blender, the open source clone? (unless you are some sort of an open source champion)

    ps: i don’t see that justify thing happening in ms word 2010 :)

    • WJS says:

      What a stupid analogy. A multi-million dollar production is not going to be made by just one dude! I seriously doubt all indie animators are going to shell out thousands of dollars for Maya.

  87. […] a real, dead tree novel type thing. I’m totally stoked to read it, but it seems that he has run into word processing issues recently. This is pretty much a long form response to that post. I hope Shamus will read it and perhaps it […]

  88. Joan says:

    Have you tried KOffice or its fork Calligra Suite? Maybe they are what you need.

  89. Ed says:

    Have you looked at yWriter? http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html It’s written by an author, specifically for novel writing.

  90. Nik says:

    Have you tried Zoho? It’s just like Google Docs – online, just what you need features-wise and I think they allow for a lot more storage space than Google. You can use your gmail account to log in – http://www.zoho.com

  91. David says:

    About the line-break issue, this is probably due to Google Docs' behaviour and how it separates paragraphs. Instead of surrounding each separate paragraph with a p tag, it probably used two br tags to separate each “paragraph”. This means that these separate paragraphs are just one long paragraph with line breaks inserted here and there (telling the word processor to continue on the next line). It's stupid behaviour that's not your fault at all. It also seems to be very common on online rich-text editors (and in the browsers' own native editors). So, technically, your word processor was doing the right thing when you justified the text because Google Docs was doing the wrong thing.

    Anyway, in Word, the very quick way to fix this would have been a find and replace: replace ^l^l with ^p (and then possibly again replace ^l with ^p, just in case there are any line breaks left lying around). That would have fixed that issue, for the most part. I don't know how to do that in LibreOffice Writer.

    Yes, word processors suck.

  92. Zaghadka says:

    Is Abiword still around? I don’t remember if that sucks or not, but it is lightweight.

  93. Jeremy Foote says:

    Do you really want a Word Processor that works, and is efficient?

    Try Ommwriter Dana I. Of course, you need to be running a Mac, or else have access to the App Store. For a grand total of $5, you would get a processor that separates you entirely from everything. Seriously, I can’t even get to my dock without minimizing the window. The program won’t let you.

    One can save documents as .txt when it is in progress, and also as a PDF for printing.

  94. Itse says:

    …what I need from a word processor: It loads quickly, gives word count & page number, has spell-checking, and doesn't try to do my thinking for me.

    Well I’m a few days late to this, but since it hasn’t been mentioned (often enough), your specifications sound like TextPad to me.

    It’s pretty handy. Not free anymore though.

  95. Blackbird71 says:

    This is a bit tangential to the topic, but you’d be surprised what you can do with a 2″ Swiss army knife saw blade. I once built a bamboo hut using one; I even raced one of the other guys who was using a full carpentry saw, and I was cutting through 6″ thick bamboo trunks faster than he could. Those things are sharp and effective!

  96. I may be coming into this a little late, but I’d just like to put my own two cents in. First of all, rather than using Libre Office, I just use vanilla Open Office, and it doesn’t seem to be quite as bug prone, although I will freely admit it’s just as bloated as you say; it served me well enough on school projects for four years, although it did have some trouble transferring multiple character sets and formatting together to MS Word in .doc format (I had to print at my college’s computer labs, and large portions of my homework would include Greek, Aramaic, or semantic logic proofs). Somehow I doubt you’ll be having that particular problem, though.

    These days, when I write it’s usually fiction or short articles for my blog, and for both I tend to go really basic: HTML in Notepad or Notepad++. I’m sufficiently familiar with the format that it’s just as easy for me to type <i> and </i> as it is to type ctrl+i twice in a word processor, and I can work on advanced formatting whenever I feel like sparing five minutes to edit the base CSS files I wrote last year when I started writing this way. It’s also a little faster for me to use ampersand entities than look up obscure things like, say, Þ in a word processor’s character map.

    I assume you know a fair amount about HTML, although I can’t recall any specific times you’ve talked about it, and even if not, LaTeX looks pretty similar to me in how easy it is to type in markup, with the downside of having to learn a new markup language. (The upside for you is that LaTeX’s markup is designed to imitate the format of programming languages, so it shouldn’t be too hard to learn.) Quite frankly, once you get used to it, it’s at least as fast to type with markup as it is to type in a word processor, and there’s no reason to use anything more complicated than Notepad, Wordpad, or Notepad++, all fairly low-resource, simple programs.

  97. Eilert says:

    Dude, I don’t want to apologise the use of libre office (especially after a new version of the pt-br localization borked the signing of documents) but all the problems you experienced were kind of your own damn fault :).

    First (that I remember, maybe not in the order you complained) the justification issues. The problem was that the document had line breaks (kinda like ‘s) instead of paragrafs (?). It’s standard even in google docs for justification to work this way on line brakes (for whatever reason).

    Hummm, the chapter issue, you should have simply created a paragraph style for your chapter… names?, lines?, however you call it in english, and assigned a level to it. You could even play with fonts and it would be standard in all your chapters. It probably worked erratically for you because of the same linebreak vs. paragraph problem you had before, so you chapter style got to all the text until the next paragraph break.

    The headers I would guess went wild because you had diferent page styles. No suggestions there, this stuff always gave me the creeps in open office and I always consider myself lucky if I can get page numbers correctly troughout large documents. Anyway, the point is headers and footers on openoffice varie between not only sections of the text but page styles as well, and I believe black magick is used to determine exacly in what way.

    Finally, when you recover a document, the recovered document does not overwrite the original file right away, so you could conceivably have closed the document (without saving) when you noticed how crappy it was and opened the last version (not from the backup directory, but the original one, the autosave feature overwrites it, the backup dir have other functions that make it’s cleaning after recovery a little less absurd than it seemed in this case).

    Hey, maybe if you try and open the original file (assuming you didn’t save the “recovered” file) you might have a nice surprise! Let’s hope so.

    I admit this post have a lot of “should have done” this and that and does not seem all that constructive, but I hope it helps a little in the future. I am, after all, eager to read that book. Hummm, now that I think about it, maybe we (readers of the blog) should all pester you to f*cking back up more often (or at all?:P), and that’s that. :)

    Wishing you luck,

  98. eeeeeez says:

    That’s a really, really sad story. It made me laugh very loudly.

    For what it’s worth, Word 2010 is not so bad. Still bad. But not as bad as it used to be and miles ahead of LibreOffice or whatever that Yugo calls itself these days.

    Q10 is *great*, though. Just words and text. A few minor bugs, but never crashed. You might want to look into it.

  99. Tom says:

    Hi :)
    it’s like driving a car? Who needs training for that? Just jump in and cruise down the highway right? Same with a motorbike. There is no difference between driving a car and riding a motorbike?

    Some things are obvious but it’s worth playing around with it, explore it, push that weird thing on the dashboard, perhaps read the manual just not while doing 170 on an inside bend!
    Regards from
    Tom :)

  100. Tyler says:

    Be that as it may, the files are still on your hard disk even if they were purged. Recovering them quickly is the trick, before the disk overwrites the files. Auslogics can do it in a snap.

  101. wootage says:

    (some) Help is here! I know this is an old post because I read it when it came out, but if this works as MIT advertises, it’s worth a look for everyone who uses word processors.

    It’s a program to unfreeze frozen word processors so you can possibly save your work before it crashes. I will absolutely be getting it when it’s released.


  102. Jim (JR) says:

    OK, I’ll throw in my two centavos here:

    1. Word does a fairly decent job as a WORD processor. One stinkin’ word at a time. And as several others have said before, it’s primarily geared toward, (ahem!), “business” word processing needs.

    2. Word Perfect, on the other hand, is a DOCUMENT processor that can be used for a wide variety of things – from the simplest of documents to full-bore publications and books.

    I have used both Word and Word Perfect since the Dawn Of Man, (WP 5.1 for DOS, and the original incarnations of Word), and IMHO Word Perfect beats Word hands down.

    The basic difference between Word and Word Perfect is this:
    * Word relies on a “document template” that describes how the document will be formed, page-by-page – sort of like XML. In order to do anything outside the normal “business-letter” type of document, you need to be able to edit the underlying document template(s).

    * Word Perfect relies on “embedded codes” on a line-by-line basis to control how either the particular line, a particular paragraph, or even a whole section of the document is formatted and controlled. With this, if you decide to alter the basic structure and layout of your document mid-stream, you can do it without crashing the rest of your document.

    Word Perfect allows you to control not just the document itself, but the typography, footnotes, endnotes, chapters, headings, etc. etc. etc. and allows this formatting to be done in a very clean and efficient manner.

    In Word, if it does something really odd – and all word processors do this at one time or another – you are left guessing at exactly what Word was thinking when it did this.

    In Word Perfect, there is a feature called “Reveal Codes” which opens up a window at the bottom of the screen showing *EXACTLY* what Word Perfect was trying to do – and you can edit/remove them directly.

    Yes, I do use both – especially since Word is the de facto standard, due to Microsoft’s “beat everyone over the head” marketing and bundling policies. However, if I have anything serious to do, it’s done in Word Perfect.

    Two more points:

    First: WP is not free – but I believe the cost is very reasonable compared to Word, especially when you take into account the vast differences in their respective capabilities.

    Second: If you are primarily a Word user, there is a bit of a learning curve as Word Perfect works in a totally different way than Word does.

    In my opinion it’s a lot like sex. You may be a bit clumsy and inexperienced at first, but as you continue to practice, you begin to realize how sweet it truly is. And having had the Real Thing, you really don’t want to go back to Wendy Palm and her Five Sisters. (grin!)


    Re: Notepad.

    Whoever said that notepad was a wrapper around a Windows text control hit the nail right on the head. Microsoft itself has admitted that exact thing.

    If you want a text editor that really Kicks Butt and Takes Names, you should really look into Ultra Edit. It does, and can do, things that notepad hasn’t even dreamed about in it’s worst nightmares.
    (Viz.: http://www.ultraedit.com)

    It’s not the cheapest tool in the shed, but it’s definitely worth every penny they charge for it. And you can try it for 30 days before you shell out your hard-earned bux.

    What say ye?

    Jim (JR)

    p.s. Whoever suggested “one file per chapter” hit a writing “best practice” dead on. Except for the simplest (and shortest) of documents, it’s always best to separate chapters into individual files.

    WP, by the way, handles this kind of behavior very seamlessly – allowing each chapter to be merged into the final document in a very smooth manner – headings, foot-notes, endnotes, tables-of-contents, etc – all handled as if it were one monolithic whole. Especially since it supports the concept of a “project” where each item within the project is related to, and exists with, all the other elements – yet retains it’s own identity.

  103. […] an account of an aspiring writer, who after being disillusioned with Word switched to Google Docs only to discover it is plagued by the exact same problems. That’s because all WYSIWYG editors suck. More and more writers are realizing that there are […]

  104. Peggy says:

    Dickens was born poor, had to work through his childhood, suffered mediocre health and bouts of verbosity. Yet he never gave up and became a great writer. Then again, he was never plagued by modern word processors.

  105. Eric S says:

    I’ve sympathetic to most of this…the fact that LibreOffice is bloated, the fact that it copies much of the badness from the MS Office that it ought to be offering a better alternative to; the lack of any kind of reasonable management / oversight / vision roles in so many open source projects like this that make them fail to prioritize properly and address most users needs; the poor design and implementation of backup features in software when the best practices of good backup have been a known quantity for decades.

    But a few things don’t add up here. LO should have had at least two versions of your document to give you. The autosaved version, and the last one you saved. Now it sounds like whatever bug you encountered that crashed you corrupted your autosave file. In my experience your statement here is not true: “The backup directory is purged in the event of a crash.” This is definitely not true with the version I am using now (I’ve just tested it) and I’m pretty sure its never been true with the many versions of LO and OO I’ve had over the years, as crashing and recovery have not been uncommon occurances for me. Maybe you had the bad luck of installing a version where they temporarily implemented this behavior. But I would guess that what is really the case is that IF an autosaved file in the backup directory is corrupted THEN it deletes it.

    So if it does so, then it stands to reason that your last manual save (Ctrl-S) is what it has to restore. You implied that you were saving regularly ‘What happened to all of those times I hit “save”?”‘, but this suggests to me that the last time you actually did so was 3 days ago. If not, where on earth did LO come up with a 3 days old copy of your document?

    So while the software is somewhat to blame here, it sounds to me like you’ve failed to admit the portion of blame that you share, forgetting to hit Ctrl-S for 3 days.

  106. 2tm says:

    So I realize that the comments section for this is long dead, or, long dead-ish, I do see a few 2012 and even March posts in here. But I have to throw out that you should take a look at EditPad Pro, it’s not free (50$, with a free trial and money back guarantee…though who knows how much trouble it would actually be to try and call them on the guarantee…) but has been my (windows based, I like BBEdit on Mac) word processor of choice for years now.

    It’s generally really basic. You can’t change size or fonts (except globally or by regular-expression defined rules) and while it does have a number of useful features such as auto-backup, regular expression find/replace/highlight, spelling (live or passive) and a load of programmer friendly stuff (hex view, character/whitespace tools, compare mode, ect) they are all passive and don’t run or take CPU time when not actually running.

    Anyway, if you’re still looking for a better editor it’s worth a look. It’s an easy install/removal and configures through INI, instead of registry, so when it’s gone it’s gone.

    Also, bought a copy of your book, haven’t had a chance to read it yet but congrats!

  107. GorGor says:

    I have been using MS-Word for a stupid long time. I managed to get my thesis typed on it with not too many problems (~40k words). The main problem with it is that you have to set up all your formatting before you start hacking away at a document (all your heading types etc). If you don’t many many problems. It does work if you have everything planned at the start. I was using 2k3 version, but had been using it for work for 6y before I started my thesis (which has lots of images, tables, EndNote and Math-type).

  108. One of the all-time greatest “features” of ALL word processors I’ve encountered is spitting out a BLANK PAGE at the end when printing!


    Because you left carriage returns at the end of the document and EVERY SINGLE WORD PROCESSOR IN THE UNIVERSE is TOO STUPID to realize that I NEVER, EVER could want a BLANK PAGE at the END of a document. NEVER! ESPECIALLY not when PRINTING it!

  109. Neil Roy says:

    This would be a good idea for a new project. Make your own word processor. :)

  110. Joseph says:

    I think you just need to learn to use it. Most of your problems sound like things you are doing, not the program. For example, if you put a line break after a paragraph, like you did, it will justify the last line, which is why you have to use paragraph breaks. If you just use the help pages, it really isn’t that hard. You just have to be willing to take the ~15 minutes to read the instructions before bashing the product.

  111. Chris says:

    A co-worker just sent me an article called
    Why Microsoft Word must Die and it reminded me of your old article here, Shamus. It’s from someone who’s also annoyed with Word being a required part of modern publishing. Seeing all these issues, I’m glad I’m a programmer rather than a writer.

  112. Erik says:

    Just a note, as you seem to see annotations for old posts pop up. I’ve been reading Charlie Stross’s blog, and he suffers from Word in a similar way. His solution is a program called Scrivener, which is JUST a writing tool, not a word processor… but which can output a .doc format output file. He then (very reluctantly) has a copy of Word for copy-edit and publisher flow reasons, because the entire industry has standardized on MS Word Revision Control markings. (Which in turn still suck, but that’s another kettle of koi.) Check out http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/11/cmap-why-do-you-use-microsoft-.html for his rant on the subject.

  113. Geomal says:

    Google Docs is not real text processor – it is a joke. Word is generally nice but very old fashioned – it was made in the 90s man. Try something new and free – Nevron Docs Text Editor: – https://docs.nevron.com/

  114. iknowwordsucksbut says:

    I have always hated MS word more so with the growing years I second the people who think the ribbon interface sucks vs. the god dang drop down menu scheme used on office 03 or word 2000. Anyone else think the select all feature should be over with copy and paste not with find and replace

    I also hate word for the spell check that seems to have regressed to the 3rd grade, the fact you have to go to “all reference books/ resources” whatever to find originally foreign words that have made it into the American lexicon.

    I cannot stand the “no spelling suggestions” when you are one or 2 letters way from the correct spelling, the suggestions provided are close but not what I need, almost as much as I hate the English language for its idiotic system of spelling based on Latin, Greek French or what ever the **** even though we are far removed from the word origins themselves,that we have to spell segue like something not resembling a word vs. the guy who built the mobility device who spelled it Segway. Worse are the grammar Nazis that hound people for mixing up breathe and breath (when the logical thing to do would be to spell the former breeth or breath no e pronounced as a long e and spell the latter breth

    And no it’s not oversimplification rather continuity English sorely lacks because it is a young language particularly in written form, but I digress at least on that point.

    I cannot stand the grammar choices in MS word always barking about subject verb agreement when I’m using the language the way it has been for 50 years,the fragments it highlights that really aren’t a 3rd grade English student can see the following has a subject, verb and does not violate the order of words making it sound odd. Still when I used it as a quote it told me it was a fragment and writing a news blog had to pull out the old SIC (Being black in America feels like having nothing.)

    Further in cases of a fragment it doesn’t tell you which part of speech verb, helping verb, subject it believes you are missing, when you hit explain on the subject verb agreement problem you get the same stock sentence example of incorrect usage (what was Stephen and Laura like as children suggesting you use were instead, rather than on an internet connected computer finding an example using the word, word phrase it’s having a problem with in the case of singular/plural issues think vs. thinks highlighting the singular word and the plural word within your sentence using that in the explanation instead of highlighting only one. Even better it doesn’t let you finish a sentence, note a capital letter and a punctuation mark at the end of a string, group of words before telling you something is incorrect, usually eliminating the problem all together or calling something a fragment for want of a comma or 2.

    There is no editing symbol for me to end a particularly clever line and demarcate I need to go back there and finish but my brain just found the beginning of the next paragraph and I need to type it before I lose it so I started using this — because it stood out which caused spacing problems it too highlighted GRRR

    I couldn’t agree with you more on formatting that suddenly stops when you don’t want it to, doesn’t apply to the whole document when asked, that it can’t understand the hyper link ended with . come . org whatever and does not need to continue through the whole line, the next paragraph or the whole freaking page or that even clearing the formatting with have you typing in blue times new roman at the very least and to “fix” it the fastest way is to format paint because choosing a font choice/ altering it won’t solve the problem

    but I’m running off on a tangent I also agree with the person who said get a hard copy of word not some free thing off the internet (although today they are going to office 365 rather than that good god) I also agree with latter part of the comment from the person who said use another program and make chapters/sections individual documents. As a fan fiction writer having to upload items with size limits this works well for me should also work shopping to publishers

    Adding all the bells a whistles after the fact chapter index, headings exc. might be the best idea

    And for the love of god to avoid losing priceless material don’t use plain save, don’t count on an autosave, use save as and frequently so you don’t have 9 versions of something and you can’t figure out which one you need

  115. limpack says:

    This is 2016 and I tried to make a presentation with Libre Office. It was something close to a near-dead-experience.
    Extremely jerky interface? Check.
    No way to justify the placement of my tables? Check (There’s a grid, but just keeps you from actually getting it right.)
    Completely randomly shifting formats just because fck you? Check
    Document interface changing size to let the screen accomodate a toolbar each and every single damn time you enter a table? Check
    Crashes? Check
    This ‘software’ is an abomination. DON’T TRY TO USE IT! You have been warned.
    Only thing that could soothe my nerves after hours of being raped by this ‘software’ was to go to the Office 365 website and reassuring myself that I would not under any circumstance ever touch this steaming pile of crap again.

  116. John says:

    LaTeX is actually what you want. Really. Yes, you can fart around with the formatting for aeons.

    The idea behind latex is the strict separation of content from format.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Re: All Word Processors Suck | Terminally Incoherent on Wednesday Jun 1, 2011 at 9:40 am

    […] a real, dead tree novel type thing. I’m totally stoked to read it, but it seems that he has run into word processing issues recently. This is pretty much a long form response to that post. I hope Shamus will read it and perhaps it […]

  2. By Text Editors for Creative Writing | Terminally Incoherent on Wednesday Jan 11, 2012 at 10:20 am

    […] an account of an aspiring writer, who after being disillusioned with Word switched to Google Docs only to discover it is plagued by the exact same problems. That’s because all WYSIWYG editors suck. More and more writers are realizing that there are […]

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