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Microsoft Word 5.1 Returns... to the iPad

Long ago, a group of veteran Microsoft developers collaborated on a project to “carbonize” Microsoft Word 5.1 for the Macintosh, enabling it to run natively under Mac OS X (see “Microsoft Word 5.1 for Mac OS X,” 1 April 2003). Many long-time Word users felt that Word never regained its glory after the release of Word 6, which suffered from being made more Windows-like and from its early implementation of Microsoft’s IntelliSense technology (see “The Word on Word 6,” 15 August 1999). The project to bring Word 5.1 to Mac OS X was meant to make it possible to work with Word 5.1 on more modern Macs.

Unfortunately, that carbonization project ran into a snarl of spaghetti code, and the product was never released. Fortunately, many lessons were learned, and the project is now back on track, this time readying Word 5 for release as an iPad app.

Apparently, as Microsoft investigated the possibility of creating a word processor for the iPad, they realized that porting Word 5 was their best chance at shipping a functional product for iOS 4, given its relatively compact code base (and feature set) as compared with later versions. And, when they described the product to focus groups, Word 5.1 for the iPad received actual applause. (At the moment, Microsoft is not considering a version for the small-screened iOS devices, though they made it clear that they will take customer requests into account.)

I’ve run a beta version of the app on my iPad, and found it to be stable and useful, even with documents that exceed 100 pages. It works much as Word 5.1 aficionados would expect, with a tappable ruler and the capability to customize keyboard shortcuts to work with the top row of keys on the Apple Keyboard Dock or Apple Wireless Keyboard.

There is one notable feature missing and one exciting change. In the missing features department, Publish and Subscribe is no more, thanks to the lack of inter-app communication in iOS. However, Microsoft’s hoary OLE (object linking and embedding) has been brought into the modern era. OLE now works between different Word 5 documents stored on the iPad and over the local Wi-Fi network, enabling you to insert content from other Office documents into your Word document wirelessly. If you want to take your iPad away from your local network, a chunk of code extracted from the open source Gears (formerly Google Gears) project makes that possible.

The 1.0 release of Word 5.1 for the iPad was recently submitted to Apple for approval in the App Store, and it will retail for $41.99.


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Comments about Microsoft Word 5.1 Returns... to the iPad
(Comments are closed.)

John Muir  2011-04-01 04:38
I can't believe this review! Didn't you think to hook a USB floppy drive to the port supplied via the iPad camera connection kit to test opening from disks directly? This could save the mightily productive Mac archaeologists among us the need for Localtalk<>Ethernet bridge machines when retrieving suddenly salient 20 year old files. Inquiring minds need to know!
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-01 05:37
Thanks for asking - this is a really important point for Word 5 files orphaned on all those old floppies... To hook up a USB floppy drive, you have to run driver software. I hear that Dropbox is working on adding a USB drive driver to their app and once that's working, you'll be able to load in old Word files via USB floppy to Dropbox and then the only problem that the Word app needs to talk to the Dropbox app. I hear that the folks at MacBU are entertaining the possibility of adding the feature to version 1.1 of the app.
John Muir  2011-04-01 12:28
Ah, that explains why I've had such difficulty trying to install Mac OS 7.6 on iPad. First and second generation! Apple's System Enablers seem to be lagging hardware releases more and more with every passing year.
Peter Breis  2011-04-01 04:43
May we have it back for OSX as well?

It was the last useful version of Word IMHO.
Kurt Keller  2011-04-01 04:57
April's fools! Thanks for the joke! Although I have to admit that Word 5.1a in my opinion was the best Word ever (lacking only the zoom-feature).
davert  2011-04-01 07:17
I find it sad that it took me so long to realize this WAS an April Fools joke -- I really, really, really want Word 5.1a on my Mac again!! Running Office 2011 just isn't the same.
eccparis  2011-04-01 07:20
I'm enjoying this April Fools issue thoroughly!!
Edmond  2011-04-02 00:16
12 years ago I attended a Mac Users Group (remember those) in Orange County and at the end of the meeting, a guy at a table was selling floppies of Word 5. It ran on PowerPC machines thru 68k emulation just fine.
Samuel Herschbein  2011-04-01 08:53
In all seriousness, my life would be a lot easier if my users could revert to Word 5.1.

IMHO it was the best version ever: lean, mean, fighting machine without the plethora of bugs and dysfunctionality of it's progeny.
Brian Thomas  2011-04-01 18:13
Now that I no longer go to Mac Expos or Mac User Groups I rarely feel part of that old early Mac world. But, just getting this marvelously straight review made me feel like I did when I belonged to the black and white world. Thanks Tanya.
Caribou  2011-04-01 23:07
Ahhh, how I miss you Word 5.1 -- I almost dusted off my old Classic II to relive the glory days! Still works! (The dead CMOS battery has it stuck permanently in the 1950's, rather than the 1990's, though.)
Tim Crawford  2011-04-02 08:50
Oh how I wish this was not April first.
William Abbott  2011-04-04 09:40
Word 5.1a stands as a monument to the adage, the third time's a charm. First came Word 5, in all its glory. Uh-oh, not quite right; so, 5.1. Uh-oh, still not quite right;so, 5.1a. Ah-ha! Perfection!

How perfect? For some successor versions of Word you could select a set of toolbars that replicated 5.1a and let the user pretend they were using 5.1a.
I would pay to have that liberty with Word 2008 for Mac and all that is to come.
Just let me compartmentalize Word: be able to have 5.1a and and if necessary, call up Other.