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Microsoft Word 5.1 Returns… to the iPad

What?! Does something about this article seem odd, not as you remember, or too good to be true? Check the date it was published!

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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