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    In this thread

    • Tired: vim vs Emacs
    • Wired: WordPerfect vs Word ’97
    • Inspired: WORDSTAR.EXE
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      Ha! :-D

      Well, yeah, kinda, except that Word* was a pig 30y ago and now is some kind of titanic balrog thing.

      WordPerfect for DOS FTW. But it’s not freeware. I should pitch it to them and try to get a job maintaining a live USB or something…

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      Honestly, having used a lot of older software that competed with Microsoft’s, Microsoft’s won because it was usually legitimately better (or became so). In the 90s, Word had better mouthfeel (as in, how the interface feels) than WordPerfect; it helped that the many companies that owned WordPerfect were also being mismanaged. (Of course, in the 80s, it was different; Word was irrelevant outside of the Mac then.) Another good example is 123, where Excel creamed it because it became the superior alternative on merit. Or Internet Explorer vs. Netscape; Microsoft didn’t need to abuse their monopoly to kill Netscape; Netscape’s own mismanagement and software that had to reload the page on window resize got them in the end.

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        There is some truth to this but it also needs to be set in the bigger context.

        Microsoft’s won because it was usually legitimately better (or became so)

        Well, honestly, sometimes yes. Excel was a good GUI spreadsheet, honed on the Mac before it came to Windows. OTOH it freely stole some good features from Quattro Pro, itself a remarkable product.

        Cf. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Borland-Software-Craftsmanship%3A-A-New-Look-at-and-Coplien/3a091c3f265de024b18ccbf88a6aead223133e39

        1-2-3 in part failed because, just like WordPerfect Corp, Lotus believed the hype and wasted a huge amount of time and developer effort on creating an OS/2 port. The effect of this is that they were distracted from the real target – Windows – thus giving MS a big head start. However this was more by luck than good management on MS’ behalf.

        Secondly, don’t neglect the synergistic effects of having development of the OS and the apps under one roof. MS was happy to lie and BS about this (“Chinese walls” etc.) and anything else. E.g. Gates personally lied to Aldus founder Paul Brainerd when told that Aldus was doing a word-processor for Windows, “Flintstone”. (Context: Aldus wrote Pagemaker, at that time the high-water-mark in graphical page-layout software.) Gates told Brainerd that MS was doing one already and not to waste the company’s efforts.

        It wasn’t. Gates went back to HQ and ordered Word for Windows ASAP, and it really showed: Word for Windows 1 was an ugly, barely-working rush job, with none of the polish of Word for the Mac. WinWord 2 wasn’t much better. The next version, WinWord 6, forcibly converged Word 5 for DOS and Word 5 for Mac. It was a good product on Windows and DOS and an utter pig on the Mac, because it used an adapted Windows codebase.

        So, no, not just simply on merit. Merit plus blatant theft, lying, backstabbing, distraction tactics, cheerfully screwing up rival products even from the same company, and so on.

        Also consider the pure de-novo in-house stuff, such as Access or Exchange: hideously clunky, over-complex and under-performing.

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          Word for Windows 1 was an ugly, barely-working rush job

          Ugly and barely working? Yes. Rush job? Not at all, exactly the opposite.

          Word for Windows 1 was, at least in terms of project management, botched. It was happening at the same time as other botched things, like a Windows database product that never shipped (Omega.) The cleanup after it created the culture in the apps group that is still visible today, where Gates hired Mike Maples to introduce Microsoft to techniques for managing larger software projects. Before this time, projects were smaller and mistakes had smaller consequences.

          Now the source code is released, you can actually see it in the code. The shared WordTech stuff where they tried to keep code shared with other Words but ultimately failed, or the WordLite thing where Write for Windows was going to be built from the Word tree with a different #define, which also failed. The thing where there’s different resources for Windows 2 and Windows 3 because Windows 3 happened mid development but they’d already promised to support 2, which also meant being the poster child for stressing the PCode compiler since this meant fitting DOS + Windows + Word + Data into 640Kb.

          That project was going for five+ years (when did Write ship?) I hadn’t heard of the conversation with Brainerd before, but it’s possible Gates was sincere: there really was something under development, but he hadn’t understood how far off track it was as a project, meaning how late and underwhelming it would become.

          That said, Publisher 1 and 2 are pretty awesome, IMHO.

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            Aha! Thanks for the insight.

            I looked for references – 30Y ago it was fairly widespread but it’s all but pre-WWW – and while I found some, it seems I misremembered it a bit and it bears you out.

            https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=19920227&slug=1478100

            https://www.cringely.com/2013/03/21/accidental-empires-chapter-13-economics-of-scale/

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            1-2-3 in part failed because, just like WordPerfect Corp, Lotus believed the hype and wasted a huge amount of time and developer effort on creating an OS/2 port. The effect of this is that they were distracted from the real target – Windows – thus giving MS a big head start. However this was more by luck than good management on MS’ behalf.

            While that may be true in part, it also should be remembered that, at that time, MS was beating the OS/2 drum in public, telling third-party developers that OS/2 was absolutely the future, even while they were secretly transforming Windows into a viable competitor. Ostensibly the two-facedness was to avoid letting IBM know that MS was planning on dropping them like a hot rock ASAP, but the side effect was that lots of companies wound up sinking time and money into porting their apps to OS/2. When MS did their about-face and began pushing Windows to the exclusion of OS/2, they had the head start on everyone else for third-party apps.

            MS : 1990s :: IBM : 1950s

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              At first, MS really meant it.

              Even by the time it shipped, before Windows 3 existed, it was clear OS/2 1.x should have targetted the 386 – I think it’d have been much more successful if it had.

              MS knew it, but IBM wanted to honour its promise to tens of thousands of buyers of ‘286-based PS/2s. (Who didn’t care and who ran DOS on them.)

              Win3 was a skunkworks project – Raymond Chen has blogged about this. Until the hack that let it run in 3 different modes at once was demonstrated to a manager, then BillG, MS itself strongly believed in OS/2.

              Yes, there was certainly a period when it was as you say – MS working away on its new toy while swearing up and down to IBM that it was still committed to OS/2. But that was right at the end of the development process.

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              Secondly, don’t neglect the synergistic effects of having development of the OS and the apps under one roof.

              It’s funny how in leaked source comments, the Windows team is tripping over themselves dealing with compatibility with Microsoft’s own apps.

              utter pig on the Mac

              Having used Word 6 on Mac, I don’t really buy the narrative most Mac users give of it.

              Also consider the pure de-novo in-house stuff, such as Access or Exchange: hideously clunky, over-complex and under-performing.

              Funny considering Exchange has few good alternatives (Dovecot is not groupware), and Access still fills niches that should be filled (i.e why the fuck do I need to hire a dev for a CRUD app?).

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                It’s funny how in leaked source comments, the Windows team is tripping over themselves dealing with compatibility with Microsoft’s own apps.

                Oh, absolutely. But as someone else commented, I think, you can still install a 20YO app no problem on Win10, whereas it’s a minefield on Linux – because MS bends over backwards to keep Windows compatible.

                I think this attitude served them very well but that was long ago. Conversely, Apple’s willingness to discard large chunks of its own technology stack has enabled macOS to move forwards much quicker – although that’s running out of steam now.

                Exchange has few good alternatives

                Competitors to Exchange? Well, there were, once.

                • HP OpenMail, and despite denials, I reckon HP axed it because of pressure from MS. I think partly because HP really needed MS to back Itanium.

                • Notes – an answer to a different question, but it coulda been a contender.

                • Chandler, which crashed and burned. (I got an email today – my copy of Dreaming in Code just came in to my local bookshop.)

                • There’s stuff like OpenXchange, Zimbra, SOGO and so on. I evaluated a few, years back for a long-gone client project. They were not compelling offerings, but they exist and they can be made to work.

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                  Notes – an answer to a different question, but it coulda been a contender.

                  Notes is a better MongoDB+Access than it is an Exchange.

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              That may have been the case at the time, but since then the quality of both MS Office and Internet Explorer have dropped precipitously. IE we can ignore because it was discontinued in favour of a reskinned MS-Chromium.

              The question then becomes - can we get an old 90s version of MS Office? The answer is probably yes and people with low powered machines might even want it because modern office is bloated and slow. But it is unlikely to be legal and free.

              On the other hand the primary reason people today use office (based on just asking a very small sample size) is that it supports the file formats that people expect them to use. Microsoft was not legitimately better in this, they used their monopoly in the 2000s to establish their own proprietary formats as the norm. I imagine WordPerfect does not support the newer formats either.

              Please correct me if I am wrong on any of this, I would love to hear that there is a super lightweight and fast document editor that supports the relevant modern formats and is free to use.

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                the quality of both MS Office and Internet Explorer have dropped precipitously.

                Agreed. :-(

                can we get an old 90s version of MS Office?

                Absolutely. I run Word 97 on WINE on 64-bit Ubuntu. Works perfectly – e.g. I can install the 3 service releases on it no problem – and while it was sluggish and bloated at release, nearly ¼ century later it’s tiny and fast. It has the same file format used until 2003 & still supported everywhere. It has the outliner, the all-important writer’s tool IMHO. It has the proper menu-bar UI, not the Ribbon which I loathe. The feature differences are amazingly trivial from it and the next 3 versions before Office 2007: 97 has no highlighter, and can’t embed tables in table cells. AFAIK that is it.

                Compare with later versions: Word 2000 installs but I can’t install the SRs on it. Word 2003 won’t install; I needed CrossOver Office for that. I don’t have Word XP to try.

                I think a full install of Word 97 is 14MB.

                it supports the file formats that people expect them to use

                Which of course MS keeps changing. You can install free filters on Office 2003 to load/save the DOCX etc formats, but few knew that. Office 2007 & later put up fake scary messages about working in legacy mode or some such marketing FUD.

                I imagine WordPerfect does not support the newer formats either.

                No, it doesn’t. In fact the Word filter as shipped is broken but there’s a free fix, documented in the FAQ.

                FWIW I think WordPerfect 8 takes 6MB of RAM by comparison. LibreOffice is in the hundreds with all the performance that implies, and it doesn’t have an outliner.

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                  I don’t know; modern Office still feels fine to me, is surprisingly lightweight (i.e the Office apps use under 100 MB of RAM in my experience) and there have been improvements since 1997 (i.e the ribbon is good, actually; PowerPoint is much better at reflowing text when Impress is not).

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                    People’s mileages vary.

                    Personally, compared to 6MB for WP8 or 14MB for Word 97, I think circa 100MB is appalling. :-)

                    And I loathe the Ribbon. I read far faster than I can peer at little annoying icons on ribbons; in Word I turn off all the toolbars. I memorized the menu tree and all its options in about 1993 or so and so for me the Word UI from Word 6 to Word 2003 is extremely fast and easy. The Ribbon dropped a neutron bomb on my muscle memory and at one stroke took me from an expert who wrote and delivered training courses on the app, straight down to the level of a rank newbie who’s never seen a computer before.

                    I despise it and won’t use it. At $JOB-3 we were given Office 365. I had local admin rights; I just installed LibreOffice and used it instead, set to default to the ’07 file formats. Nobody ever noticed.

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                      If I hated the ribbon, I’d rather run Office 97 than LO. LO looks like old Office, but is subtly different in ways that just aggravate my muscle memory. It’s what you run when you have no alternative.

                      The thing I like about the ribbon is far more logical organization of commands. It hurts the people who brute force memorize interfaces, but not the hunt-and-peckers (who are always confused) or the people who learn interfaces through intuition/learning (who figure out why).

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                        If I hated the ribbon, I’d rather run Office 97 than LO.

                        Well, in some ways, so would I – but there’d be licence implications putting my own copy on a work computer. None with LO. Also, I find LO far more robust with corrupt Office files, and LO Calc copes much better with (for instance) pasting non-rectangular ranges into a spreadsheet.

                        It was legal, it worked, it read/wrote the file formats, and nobody knew. I only had to use Outlook. That was suffering enough.

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                          The thing I like about the ribbon is far more logical organization of commands.

                          Good gracious, really? Wow. It always strikes me as like whoever organizes supermarket shelves: they clearly have a plan, but it surpasseth all understanding. Their minds do not work like my mind. To me, for instance, different kinds of sugar and sweeteners should obviously be with the tea and coffee into which you put them. Beverages are a logical grouping: hot here, cold there. Not to the intellects vast and cool behind supermarket layouts.

                          I find it extremely illogical and annoying. I am not for a moment saying the old Office menu layout was universally good – there were formatting things in about 3 places, revision tracking should have been under Edit, and so on.

                          But it worked and I knew it.

                          The thing that annoys me most is that on my Mac, Office 2011 is fine. The macOS UI means MS couldn’t eliminate the menu bar, so all the options are still there where I expect, and I can simply turn off the Ribbon completely.

                          But I can’t on the suite’s native OS.

                          It hurts the people who brute force memorize interfaces, but not the hunt-and-peckers

                          Yes, I totally get that. What helps newbies hinders experts. But I’m not sure vice versa is true.

                          Even WPS Office has now gone over to a Ribbon, and after 1 transitional version, they removed the menus completely.

                          What I don’t get applies to both: why can’t I just turn it off? Why forcibly alienate all your most expert users?

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                            Reading the justification and iterative design helped me understand the “why”. (For me, things like styles and references are a good example of the ribbon’s usefulness - it caused me psychic damage every time I saw a user make headings through “24pt bold” - the style gallery that’s right there with live previews of styles makes Word as a semantic style based editor much more obvious. Or the fact that all the things related to i.e citations are logically grouped together instead of spread in the nebulous “Tools” menu that menu items go to die in.)

                            Turning off the ribbon would be like “turning off” command mode in vi or turning off the dashboard in your car; it’s a central piece of said interface.

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                              Hmm. ISTM that you’re attempting to make 2 mutually-conflicting points here.

                              I accept, as I’d already accepted, that it may be better and more accessible for beginners. And there are always new beginners.

                              I’m not one. I found your earlier comment…

                              the people who brute force memorize interfaces

                              … to be very strange. If you use an app for hours every day, how can you not? I didn’t memorize it for fun. I read and reread those menus and I learned it, just like I learn any other tool, as I have been doing since I was a year old, and as I currently watch my year-and-a-half old daughter doing every day. We are tool-using apes. It is no more “brute force” than learning to bang the rocks together.

                              If I am confronted with a new UI, one I don’t know, then I have to explore it. I am a reader and a writer. Words are far more self-explanatory to me than trying to guess tiny icons.

                              What I am getting at here is that there are different types of people, and while this new UI may be better for some, it is at the same time worse for others – for people like me.

                              Turning off the ribbon would be like “turning off” command mode in vi

                              I submit this is entirely false and wrong.

                              For two, demonstrable and verifiable reasons.

                              [1]

                              The old Office interface was put together like Lego, and this was exposed if you went into the menu-and-toolbar customization screens. There is a vast palette of functions, and 2 or 3 frameworks of UI: menu trees, and toolbars. You can add and remove menu entries, and add and remove toolbar buttons or entire toolbars. Then you give them a name, a picture, and map a function to them.

                              So, for instance, I used to like Word’s WordPerfect-a-like white-on-blue mode, and also the Full Screen mode which hid all UI. Both were buried in dialog boxes. It’s the work of about 30sec to add them to a toolbar, and of about a minute or 2 to add them to (say) the View menu.

                              The point being that it was all Protean: unlike a lot of apps, the menu-and-toolbar UI was not programmed into the code. There were functions to display menus, and functions to display toolbars, which could be horizontal , or vertical, or float. Then there were a tonne of settings linking those displays to actual program functions, but if you wanted, you could pretty much totally rip it apart and rebuild it.

                              What this means is that there is, or was, a deep separation between UI and functionality, which MS pre-sculpted into the apps’ UI but which you could customise.

                              I haven’t worked much with Office post 2007 – partly because I work with FOSS now, partly because I hate it – but I would guess that’s still there.

                              So, no, the old UI was not some fundamental, integral part of the code, and I bet the new one isn’t either.

                              [2]

                              But the more clinching disproof is that, as I described, they have not done the same to Mac Office. Mac Office is based off the same codebase, as it has been since Word 6/Excel 5 etc., and Mac Office still has menus and toolbars. The toolbars have been castrated – I can only have 1 in Word, and it can only be horizontal. I used to arrange the toolbars vertically on widescreen monitors, one left and one right, so I could still see as much text as possible while not having it letterboxed down to a few lines.

                              Not an option any more, but then again, my Mac has a 27” Retina display so it’s manageable.

                              My laptops don’t and it’s a lot less manageable there.

                              The ribbon, the toolbars, and the menus were all just views of the underlying program functions. They remain interchangeable in Mac Office – you can use the ribbon, or you can use the menu, or you can use both if you want.

                              I don’t want. So I turn off the ribbon. Totally gone. Basic built-in program option.

                              This is 100% doable and it has been done in shipping product.

                              I do not believe that it is for some magical reason impossible in the Windows version.

                              There’s even a kludgey 3rd-party add-on that puts the menus back: https://www.addintools.com/documents/office/where-office-2010-menu-toolbar.html

                              I am happy to accept you don’t want it. Fine with me. But why does that mean nobody else can have it?

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                  I love WP 3.5e for Mac, especially the innovative toolbar system. Sort of like the ribbon, but done right IMO.