Love it or hate it, Microsoft Word is one of the most important Mac apps of all time. Called Multi-Tool Word when it debuted for MS-DOS in 1983, the name was soon changed to Microsoft Word, and a free demonstration version was included on a disk with the November 1983 edition of PC World. Later that year, Microsoft showed Word running on Windows and ported it to the Mac in 1985. The rest, as they say, is history, and Microsoft Word is now celebrating its 40th anniversary. Microsoft has created a timeline showing some of its technical milestones.
Tonya and I have a long history with Word. Although we primarily used WriteNow at Cornell University during our undergraduate years from 1985 through 1989, we often helped users with Word while working in Cornell’s public computer rooms. Two years after we graduated, a college friend of Tonya’s encouraged her to apply for a job at Microsoft. She was hired and spent the next two years doing phone and online support for Word 4 and Word 5. (So many people considered Word 5 to be the pinnacle of the app’s history that Tonya later penned two April Fools’ spoof articles about it: “Microsoft Word 5.1 for Mac OS X,” 1 April 2003, and “Microsoft Word 5.1 Returns… to the iPad,” 1 April 2011.) She also helped edit the manual for Word 6, Microsoft’s first attempt at a cross-platform version. I applied for a position as a Word program manager and got an interview but was not offered the job due to my lack of design skills, a rejection I took as a compliment, given my low opinion of Word’s interface.
After leaving Microsoft in 1994, Tonya wrote The Word Book for Macintosh Users and Word 6 Starter Kit for Macintosh, among other books that touched on Word. In 2003, when we came up with Take Control Books, one of our key innovations was to have authors and editors work in the final layout of the manuscript. Tonya leveraged numerous Word features to facilitate this approach, including an automatic table of contents, hyperlinks, canned blank tip boxes, and shared keyboard shortcuts for applying approved styles. At that time, Word was the only Mac word processor that could handle book-length documents with change tracking, and only the Windows version of Word could export PDFs with links. We eventually moved first to Pages (for Mac-based PDF and EPUB export) and then to Nisus Writer Pro (for faster and better production), but Take Control wouldn’t have happened without Word.
Although I’ve always preferred other word processors to Word, Tonya’s deep understanding of how Word thinks has kept her using it the entire time. Even now, in her work at Cornell, she spends most of her days editing documents in Word.