I haven’t written much for TidBITS lately, in part because I’ve been busy helping some old friends at Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) with an upcoming release of Microsoft Word 5.1 for OS X, a carbonized version of Word 5.1a that preserves most of the features and all the look and feel of the highly popular Word 5.1. A few external beta testers – all former employees of the Macintosh Word Support Group – have been working day and night to identify new bugs generated as part of the carbonization process, and to focus programming efforts on the most pesky of Word 5.1’s old problems.
The design goal for Word 5.1 for Mac OS X was to create a clean, carbonized version that would run natively under Mac OS X with as few changes from the original version as possible. After much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, Microsoft decided to remove linking features from the new version, citing little hope of clearing up existing bugs. That means no more publish and subscribe, and no more OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). Equation Editor and Microsoft Graph have been incorporated into the main software program as mini-modules, so they no longer rely on OLE to function, though Microsoft Graph has not been updated and remains somewhat dysfunctional. Although Word 5.1 for Mac OS X mimics the interface and appearance of its classic ancestor by default, it does offer a new option in the Preferences dialog for turning on an Aqua-style interface.
Following internal debate over the extent to which this release should track the original, Microsoft also corrected a few design errors left over from Word 5.1. For instance, tables can now print over a page break, you can delete a footnote by deleting its number in the footnote region, and rotated text is more likely to print smoothly. The ReadMe file included with the software offers a complete list of changes.
Although I was a member of the old Macintosh Word Support Group, I didn’t do much beta testing. Instead, I’ve been revamping a book I wrote back in 1993 – The Word Book for Macintosh Users – this time for Microsoft Press. Microsoft has released the golden master to manufacturing, so Word 5.1 for Mac OS X should be available for online purchasing for $45 in early May. The only included documentation is Balloon Help, but by late May, the new edition of The Word Book should be on shelves, and the software will be bundled with the book for the same price.
Word 5.1 for Mac OS X represents a credible job on MacBU’s part to bring Word 5.1 into this century, and I expect that many old-time Word users will be happy to trade in the bells and whistles of newer versions for the comfort of an older, more familiar, less-Windows-influenced piece of software.