01 August 2015

Notes on Word Processors

Last night I signed up for a trial of Office 365, the Microsoft software subscription service, so I could try out Office 2016 for Mac before its official release. Over the years I've switched between various word processors.

Back in the days of Mac OS 9, I was an occasional user of AppleWorks (and ClarisWorks before that). MS Word was obviously superior to these at the time, just as it remains superior every successive Apple word processor.  

Late in high school I experimented with LaTeX, which has a kind of beauty and conceptual purity to it, but which is not easily customizable, and requires one to de-bug text, which can be enormously annoying (normal proofreading is bad enough).  Also, I tend to be a little obsessive about formatting and design, and adjustments are not very easy to do in LaTeX without a lot of tinkering under the hood.  

During college I used MS Word for the most part, but also did a lot of drafting in Google Docs, which had the (then newfangled) guarantee that you would never lose your work from crashes.  I also experimented with a web-app called "Write or Die", which encourages you to keep writing by playing horrible sounds and flashing unpleasant colors on the screen if you stop for more than a few seconds.  This was a great help in forcing myself to focus and simply put down ideas I had already worked out. 

In graduate school I used Write or Die periodically, but mainly MS Word. In my first year, I experimented with hand-writing papers, including one extended composition written entirely by hand over the course of a day and a half, and another lengthy essay written in a single evening. (Typing does not always increase the speed of composition.)

Write or Die made me accustomed to listening to Hanson's "Mmmbop" while writing (it was one of their punishment tracks).  In my second year of graduate school, I wrote a significant portion of my MA Thesis on Foucault and Aquinas listening to that song.

Two years ago I tried a minimalistic "markdown" text editor called iA Writer.  This application and its relatives promise to make focusing easier, but their formatting idiosyncrasies prevent me from wanting to write anything in them.  Who wants to have to fiddle with conversion from mark-down to normal rich text?  Also, the focus factor really wasn't there any more than in any of the simple standard plain text editors.

A little over a year ago I splurged on Srivener.  I'd been working on a book project, and wanted to keep it organized.  Scrivener makes organization very easy, and it has a nifty two-window feature that makes it possible to put source material in one pane and your draft in the pane immediately next to it.  

This summer I finally realized that Scrivener, for all of its doodads and organizational tech is more of an impediment to organization than a help.  The way it divides up and funkly formats your text makes me uncomfortable.  I have nearly two decades of experience with MS Word.  I know how to get what I want out of it.  Scrivener, not os much.  So, when I started re-drafting my Summa commentary, I ditched Scrivener and went back to Word.

That brings us to the original point, which was my acquisition of Office 2016 for Mac.  It's beautiful! The interface is very clean and tasteful and it feels stable (so far).  It fits with the new look of Mac OS (the Yosemite/El Capitan look), and it is compatible with the new El Capitan split-screen feature, which is a huge plus for me.