Saturday, June 19, 2004

Geek Nostalgia

I found this link at Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Electrolite, and have to pass it on. This Wired story in praise ofMS Word 5.1. "I still consider 5.1 to be the gold standard of word processors," said Samuel Herschbein, a veteran user from Seattle. - I know that feeling. I would not stop there - I don't believe I have used a more satisfying program ever, anywhere - it does exactly what you ask it to do, it does it quick, it does it without crashing. It does almost everything I could imagine wanting it to do - it is fast, stable, it has a wealth of formatting options, plus tables, plus some DB options, it is flexible and powerful and with glossaries, almost programmable. It is completely customizable, to a degree far beyond anything else, including any subsequent version of word (why can't I assign a keystroke to "Sentence Case" any more? Huh? Tell me that?) And - oh yeah - full text searching for your entire computer. And relatively fast full text searching. Easy to use. Access to almost anything, any kind of file, on the machine...

Damn. What a thing of beauty. But here's the sad part - I still use it on my second machine, my pre-OS X mac, which still serves some purposes itself (another piece of machinery that has stood the test of time - a Mac 4400 - still working like a charm, still quick and responsive and reliable, even compared to the new ones. A great computer.) I don't use it on my new machine - why is that? First - it's not OS X compatible - even if it runs well in classic, I generally avoid classic. It does weird things that I don't want to think about. Second - what is it lacking? Alas - it is lacking one or two.

The most important - in fact, the one that is, really, decisive, is the lack of interactive spelling checking. I am a lousy typist - and lousy in small ways, usually - reversed letters, dropped letters (I spelled that "drpped" the first time) - little stuff that isn't quite completely manageable with autocorrect and the like. The red underline is my friend. And - even this isn't entirely the fault of Word 5.1 - I think the real sinner is one of the Apple upgrades - possibly to the power macs. I used to have third party software that did a lot of interactive spellchecking - and external macro products to boot. They stopped working, somewhere, maybe with the powermacs, maybe system 7 - and getting those features back proved to be enough to eventually drive me to newer versions. Somewhere - is it version 2001? One of them, was quick enough to use on my i-book. And so... Office X works fine - it's fast, it never crashes, it has the features I want. It's ironic that now, with a more than a Ghrz processor and Office X I finally have the performance I used to have on a Classic II with Word 5.1 and a couple add ins.

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