Saturday, August 15, 2009

Microsoft Word: an Anger Factory

Originally posted on September 6th 2007

This is almost unfair, though really, it isn't. It seems like Microsoft Word has received at least as much abuse as Windows itself over the years. After all, you are more or less forced to use both if you want to get work done in corporate America. A fine recipe for anger is this: force a user to put up with stupid, time wasting behavior. Then make sure, through myriad snares and traps, that there is no way to avoid said stupidities. This engenders a feeling of powerlessness, that often turns into anger. Such is the experiential and emotional path I followed about an hour ago trying to collaborate with a business partner on a document we need to present to our customer.

The document was in .doc format, of course. I'm using Windows XP on my company supplied laptop, with whatever version of Office that shipped with the platform, patched up to fairly recent vintage. Word had no trouble opening the document at first, but at some point it crashed. Thereafter it would crash on each attempt to load the benighted thing. Now, I don't necessarily hold the crash against Word. Applications crash on Linux too. Although subjectively, it seems like they crash more frequently on Windows than on Linux. They are certainly much more prone to bringing down the whole system on XP, which is an improvement in this regard over Win2K, and that OS over NT 3.51 and so on. (Vista has improved system stability quite a bit. But it is a performance pig among other things. Apps seem to crash just as much on Vista, too.)

But how was I supposed to deal with this crash? I don't have another copy of Word around my home network. I do have Open Office in several flavors. So I tunneled in to my home network (running NoMachine NX over SSH) and ran OO writer 2.0 on the problem file. It loaded just fine., which let me at least read the thing in advance of a conference call later today.

But here is the thing that really twists my tail: there is no way re-saving the document with OO and reimporting it into Word is going to result in an acceptable copy for collaboration with my business partner. Doing a "round trip" through OO from Word always results in a broken .doc at the end. This is not an accident. As many are aware, (through Groklaw's excellent coverage of the OOXML vs ODF standardization war, among many other sources) Microsoft wields the Office document formats as a weapon to keep users dependent on Office, and therefore Windows. (Number one and number two Microsoft cash cows. Coincidence? Chyah, right.)

So here is the last roadblock to me solving this little problem for myself. I'll have to go back to my partner and work out what feature is actually crashing my copy of Word. Or perhaps a reboot of the platform will fix things, or deleting Word's temp files if I can find them. Yet another roadblock: nothing I do will be based on what is actually wrong. My attempts will all be stabs in the dark because the internals of Word are secret. Bah!


  1. Just read and liked your article. Also i really liked your input to my blog post "5 things MS does not want you to know about Windows on this blog It was insightful reading your thoughts. Thanks for visiting. Cheers

  2. Hey, thanks for your kind words! I've been away from the blog for a while, so I didn't notice your comment until now. Keep up the good work in Africa!