Aug 19 2008

A Word file creates a final product — it’s not the final product itself

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At a software conference in the early 1990s, my colleague Paul Mayer introduced me as a word processor “freak user,” someone leaps & bounds beyond the established norms of a “power user.” I did some amazing things with word processors back in those days. It also helped that I knew Bob Wallace, the Microsoft alumni who went on to develop PC-Write.

Ah, but those were my halcyon days. Nowadays I just produce truly complex documents in Microsoft Word. When I say “truly complex,” I mean it — for example, I store field codes in comments so I can better understand why change-tracking occurs.

As a freak user, it annoys me when traditional “power users” distribute their documents as a .DOC file. They simply don’t understand the true nature of a word processor file.

Know this: a word processing document creates a final product — it’s not the final product itself. Think of it as an interim file format. You use it to create a PDF file, an 8½x11 sheet of paper, a glossy tri-fold, a web page, whatever.

You’ve got it all backwards if you wonder why Microsoft Word seems so inefficient at storing things. Word does a great job at storing things for the author, not the reader.

Mind you, I myself failed to understand the interim nature of a word processing file for a long time. I myself used to distribute “the final product” as a .DOC file, or a .RTF file, or whatever. And if you only just now realized it for yourself, then congratulations! Let me be the umpteenth person to welcome you to our elite club.

So… If you create interim files for Microsoft Word users, then go ahead and distribute them in the .DOC interim format. But if you create “the final product,” don’t distribute it as an interim .DOC file.

Enough said.