Monthly Archives: February 2009



today. the word is word. word. microsoft created this little program called word for public use back in 1983, and with it, incorporated the ‘mouse’ for the first time in a commercially viable format. that is not to be taken lightly. this was most certainly the first program that took the ‘mouse’ as a peripheral device and paired it with a program with a fairly complex set of commands that only worked with word. it also grabbed hold of the file extension ‘.doc’, short for document, and began it’s quest to be ubiquitous.

it being a kinder and gentler computer world in the mid 80’s, a macintosh version was released in 1985, which absurdly led to word’s widespread acceptance. this may seem a bit on the edge of ridiculous, but the mac was one of the first machines to incorporate WYSIWYG across it’s program line and word was the first program to properly take WYSIWYG seriously.

WYSIWYG (pronounced ‘wiziwig, or more simply, was-e-wig) refers to ‘What You See Is What You Get’, enabling the user to actually see the end result and layout of a document without the knowledge of the layout commands that are required. that is to say that making a phrase appear in italics or bold, happens right there on the screen and is not represented by such archaic glyphs as “FontStyle::Bold” or other things that the computer requires to interpret your meaning. you can just hit a quick ‘ctrl+b’ and the text shows up bold an beautiful, forrester family style, with no need for you to learn a programming language. please don’t take this for granted. i personally rather hate dislike the sheer number of languages that i must speak to get my point across on a daily basis, and word in fact made this easier for us all.


so what the &*$% happened? why is it that my word documents aren’t compatible? it’s not 1983, they’ve had plenty of time to work it out. right? compatibility is hell, it is a moving target and a fleeting moment, a stolen kiss at best. making perfect sense when you turn and pucker, only to be stung repeatedly by those bitter and mocking wasps that take a moment to gently beat their wings, close to your cheek, waiting for you to open your eyes just to realize that she’s already gone inside and that the door is closed.

word became king for a while, and in software terms, this is substantial. please don’t bother with petty arguments for window works, claris, and the like, they are nothing, and if you bought into them, or if your computer came with them, you got served. you tried, and you might have had a ‘save as’ or ‘export’ command that could barely get you out of a jam. but as soon as you ventured into that uncharted territory, you could count on your font sizes, margins, indents and page breaks to go completely berserk. whatever it was that you worked on for hours, slaved over perhaps, when presented to those that cared to read it, you looked like you skipped the reMedial typing claSs that was offered at thE


but that wasn’t your fault was it? not really anyway, i mean, how many things must you know? how many programs? how many languages?

what’s truly sad is that it hasn’t gotten any better. between 2003 and 2007, things at least stagnated. works talked to word reasonably and mac users just figured out that they were wrong and had to use a microsoft product on their macs or suffer the pointing and laughing much akin to an embarrassing locker room shower episode. the truth is. word is still the king, but the real problem is that word is no longer compatible with word. at least not initially. in 2007 they did the unthinkable and ‘upgraded’ microsoft office. if for some reason you rushed out to get this new release, i am sure that you were stunned at it’s brilliant retooling and comfortably similar layout to versions past. (that’s meant to be sarcastic). in reality, i compare this new version to having someone come over to your house and reorganize your kitchen, putting the juice glasses and salad tongs where ‘they’ think the items should be. sure everything is still there , but darned if you can find anything quickly or when you need it. furthermore they went and changed the file extension to .docx by default. tossing the trusty .doc extension out with the bath water.

what is docx? a new standard that appends file data in an XML component. no need to overcomplicate this, in truth it is indeed a better standard and will make things MORE compatible. but for now, that one new computer in your network that is running microsoft office 2007 is saving files that all of the other computers can’t open, even if they are running a previous version of office. this is awful, but there is of course a solution.

the best panacea is to download the microsoft office compatibility pack, from microsoft’s website to all of your computers running older versions of office. this allows you to open those docx files with relative ease. the second part of the solution, which is optional, is to make your computer that is running office 2007 save the files in the old school .doc format. i say it’s optional, because in time, .docx will be the de facto norm and make everyone’s lives better. mac, pc or linux, everyone will see pretty much the same thing, and that’s going to be great. the problem is that it’s still a way off at this point and sending people files that they can’t open because they aren’t aware of a ‘compatibility pack’ download just ends up irritating them. to change this default setting, get word 2007 up and running. go to the big circle in the upper left and choose ‘Word Options’, select the ‘Save’ tab on the left. At the top of the next window, it lets you choose the option to ‘Save the files in this format:’. make the selection in the box that follows for ‘Microsoft Word 97-2003 Document (.doc)’. Apply your settings and breathe a sigh of relief. you just made everyone’s lives a little easier. hopefully someday soon you can change it back to .docx, but i wouldn’t count on it this year or next for any reason.

one other thing, if you’re on a pc, download a little program called ‘CutePDF’. it can turn pretty much anything into a .pdf file. portable document format files are awesome when the persons receiving a file do not need to edit the document. any computer can read them for free and it virtually guarantees that what you see is what they will get, and that’s nice too.

Colby Dix is the co-owner of Vermont Geeks. He still has a robin’s egg blue underwood compact typewriter, and it’s dusty.