Microsoft Word is arguably the most dominant business application on the Mac, so Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg examines Word 2001 in depth to see if Word’s first major update in years is worthwhile. We also review Apple’s forays into Unix operating systems, and note Apple posting a $170 million profit and MCF Software taking over ListSTAR from 4D. Releases this week include Nisus Writer 6.0, icWord 1.1, and new handhelds from Handspring.
Apple Posts $170 Million Profit — Apple Computer last week announced a $170 million net profit for its fourth fiscal quarter of 2000. Apple’s bottom line was significantly bolstered by continued sales of ARM Holdings plc., which contributed $62 million to the quarter’s results. Without that investment income, Apple’s profit would have been $108 million, in line with the $110 million Apple predicted when it issued a warning of lowered fourth quarter earnings earlier in the month. During the quarter, Apple shipped 1.12 million units, including more than 570,000 iMacs, and international sales accounted for about 44 percent of Apple’s revenue. Gross margins were down to 25 percent from 28.7 percent in the same quarter a year ago, and 29.8 percent last quarter. Apple CEO Steve Jobs warned that Apple’s next quarter (the first of its 2001 fiscal year) will likely be disappointing as Apple moves aggressively to clear product inventory from its distribution channels, although CFO Fred Anderson indicated the company still expects to see a slight profit. [GD]
icWord 1.1 Adds Older Word Formats — Panergy Ltd. has released icWord 1.1, an update to their $20 file viewer for Microsoft Word documents (see "icWord Reads and Prints Word Documents" in TidBITS-543). Along with a variety of improvements like better support for Word’s built-in graphics, showing graphics in headers and footers, better display of tables, and support for Western European accents in Word 6 documents, icWord now has initial support for viewing the text of Microsoft Word 4.0, 5.0, and 5.1 documents. Although icWord can’t yet display styles in those documents, it should let you at least read the contents. Since Word’s file format hasn’t changed since Word 98, icWord can also view Word 2001 files, complete with styles, layout, and graphics. icWord 1.1 is a 1.5 MB download for PowerPC-based Macs with Mac OS 8.1 or higher, or 3.3 MB for a universal installer that works with System 7.1 and 68K Macs. A 30-day trial is available. [ACE]
New Handspring Visors Offer Color, Speed — Handspring last week announced two new Palm-compatible models in its Visor handheld line. The $449 Visor Prism offers a 16-bit color display (65,536 colors, compared to Palm’s Palm IIIc, which has 8-bit color) in a cobalt blue case, and the $299 Visor Platinum sports a new metallic silver case. Both handhelds use Motorola’s DragonBall VZ 33 MHz processor for what Handspring says is the best performance available in a Palm OS handheld. Each comes with 8 MB of memory. The new handhelds are available now from Handspring’s online store and will be available through other retailers in November. [MHA]
Long-Awaited Nisus Writer 6.0 Ships — After a long gestation period, the tiny Nisus Software has shipped Nisus Writer 6.0, the most notable update to the company’s flagship word processor in several years. New features include automatic expansion of glossary entries as you type, support for Apple’s Navigation Services in Open and Save dialog boxes (including previews), support for contextual menus, a new grammar checker, support for IBM’s ViaVoice dictation software (see "Talk Is Cheap – ViaVoice Enhanced Edition" in TidBITS-544), importing of graphic files using QuickTime, and a new XTND filter for opening RTF documents. Quirkier additions to Nisus Writer’s already unusual feature set include a zoom feature that shows an enlarged or reduced version of text near the insertion point in a floating window, a Nisus Text Analyzer Tool that produces phrase and word lists and frequencies from the text of your document, and a new TextPlus option for saving files as text files with endnotes and footnotes converted to text. Nisus Software also built in a number of minor enhancements and bug fixes, including a platinum menu background, additional options in the spelling checker, the capability to save custom Print settings, and additional control over searching through endnotes and footnotes.
Nisus Writer’s system requirements are refreshingly low, with System 7 or later (Mac OS 8.0 or later recommended) running on a PowerPC-based machine with at least 2 MB of RAM available (assuming virtual memory). Nisus Software plans to release a 68K version of Nisus Writer soon; it will require at least 4 MB of RAM. Despite these minimal RAM requirements, assigning additional memory to Nisus Writer can improve the user experience, since Nisus Writer stores documents entirely in RAM. Nisus Writer 6.0 costs $100, with upgrades from previous versions at $50 and competitive upgrades for users of other word processors priced at $70. A 30-day demo available as well. Download options range widely in size from 12 MB to 30 MB; you can also buy Nisus Writer on CD-ROM. [ACE]
ListSTAR Moves from 4D to MCF Software — 4D, Inc. has announced that MCF Software will be taking over sales and support for ListSTAR, the powerful and flexible mailing list server that 4D picked up in its acquisition of StarNine Technologies last March. ListSTAR hadn’t seen much development for some time before its December, 1999 update to version 2.0, and it seemed unlikely that it would receive significant development effort going forward as well. We’ve relied on ListSTAR since moving distribution of TidBITS in-house in 1996, and it’s met our needs sufficiently that we haven’t even upgraded from 1997’s version 1.2. But it’s good to see ListSTAR finding a new home where support can continue. Farokh Irani, president of MCF Software, is well-known in the ListSTAR user community as the developer of numerous utilities, scripts, and templates for ListSTAR – kudos to both 4D and MCF Software for helping keep a valuable program alive. ListSTAR remains for sale at $295, and evaluation license codes are available. [ACE]
Poll Preview: Front and Center — Honest, we didn’t plan on having multiple pieces about word processing in this week’s issue! But despite today’s emphasis on the Internet, word processing remains one of the most common tasks for which people use computers. That got us thinking: what do you consider the most common tasks for which you use your Macintosh? Vote today on our home page so we can see how TidBITS readers compare with the norm! [ACE]
Gotcha! Our intent with quizzes is mainly educational – highlighting something about the Macintosh, Apple, or the Mac OS – rather than trying to come up with a question that’s likely to fool most of the quiz respondents. However, last week’s quiz asking how many Unix-derived operating systems Apple has released apparently did both: only about five percent of the over 950 respondents knew the correct answer (five or more), with over seventy percent of the respondents guessing at two or three.
We count at least six Unix-derived operating systems that have come in some way from Apple: A/UX, AIX, MkLinux, Mac OS X Server, Darwin, and Mac OS X Public Beta. So even if you’re tempted to argue Mac OS X Server and Mac OS X are the same thing (they aren’t, under the hood) the correct answer still would have been "five or more."
A/UX was a version of Unix developed by Apple in the late 1980s for 68K machines; it pioneered Unix-based sharing of Macintosh files. Apple stopped supporting A/UX in the early 1990s and never ported it to PowerPC, but it was a solid product that gained some die-hard supporters. (TidBITS first wrote about A/UX way back in TidBITS-006.)
AIX: Back in 1996, Apple shipped IBM’s AIX on the short-lived Network Server line. The Network Servers were enormous systems with dual PCI buses, six PCI slots, secure hot-swappable drive bays, and (then) top-of-the-line PowerPC 604 processors.
MkLinux: In mid-1996, Apple ported Linux to PowerPC Macs and eventually issued three developer releases of MkLinux. The last release supported G3 systems (but not the iMac), and although Apple has ceased development on MkLinux, some of its engineering know-how found its way into Mac OS X. MkLinux development has subsequently been taken over by the MkLinux user community. (Tom Gewecke wrote two articles for TidBITS covering running various Linux operating systems on his Mac, one in TidBITS-407 and another in TidBITS-461.)
Mac OS X Server: More recently, Apple released Mac OS X Server, which (like the forthcoming Mac OS X) is built on BSD Unix and the Mach microkernel. Unlike Mac OS X, however, Mac OS X Server has been shipping for some time and lacks the new Aqua interface and associated technologies, but offers QuickTime streaming and unique Mac-only capabilities like the NetBoot server.
Darwin is a bare-bones open source operating system which exposes the guts of Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server without including proprietary Apple technologies like the Aqua interface. Darwin is being ported to Intel processors by the larger developer community, although there’s no expectation at this time that Apple will develop Mac OS X or Mac OS X Server for Intel processors.
Mac OS X Public Beta: Of course, the public beta of Mac OS X is based on BSD Unix, although the command-line is safely tucked away behind the Aqua interface, since Apple eventually intends Mac OS X to be the default operating system for all Macintosh users. Apple plans to ship Mac OS X in early 2001.
Counting these six Unix-derived operating systems from Apple leaves aside other Apple forays into the Unix world, like MAE (Macintosh Applications Environment, which let some Mac programs run under some flavors of Unix) and Mac X (an X Windows server for Mac OS) which weren’t actual operating systems. It also leaves out the various Linux for PowerPC products (check the MkLinux.org site above for a good list) and efforts like Tenon Intersystems’ long-standing MachTen, which is a full-fledged Unix running as a standard Macintosh application.
Microsoft Word is the cornerstone of Microsoft’s Office suite, and the single Office application one is most likely to obtain separately. Spreadsheets are important, presentations are nice, but word processing remains the most common personal and business productivity task on computers, and Microsoft Word has established itself as the industry benchmark in word processing.
Those of us who remember Word 4 or Word 5.1 know that Word was once straightforward, intuitive, and compact. Word 6 was slow, overwhelming, and looked and acted like a cross-platform port. In response to the highly negative reactions to Word 6, Microsoft gave Word 98 a revised interface and provided a much smoother, more pleasant user experience. Now Word 2001 tries, through yet more interface tweaks, to give users better access to some of the powerful features lurking beneath the surface.
Interface tweaks are almost entirely what’s new in this version of Word, and they’re laid sporadically on top of a massive core that seems essentially unchanged from the previous version. Considering that Word is a large, complex, mature product, that’s understandable, though it makes the upgrade decision significantly more difficult.
Initial Impressions — Installation was a breeze. You need about 175 MB of free disk space for the full Office suite, but then you can just copy the Office folder from the CD-ROM to your hard disk. (Alternatively, you can use an installer application, but there seems little reason to bother.) The first time I started up Word, it took a minute to install the new shared libraries and to register the various Office components; subsequent startups were instantaneous.
The transition from Word 98 was similarly painless; I barely knew that anything had happened. Word 2001 picked up my old Normal template, including my toolbar settings, menu modifications, and macros, so the environment looked completely familiar. But my other document templates, and my startup documents, had to be transferred manually from the Templates and Office:Startup folders within the main Microsoft Office folder. The one obnoxious feature of the installation is that it adds a dozen new fonts.
Word’s demands on memory are significant; under Mac OS 9 with virtual memory off, running Word swelled my system heap by nearly 4 MB, with Word itself occupying another 17 MB. Virtual memory improved things a lot, bringing Word’s usage down to 10 MB and the system heap footprint down to 1 MB. If you prefer RAM Doubler to Apple’s virtual memory, there’s bad news: Word is incompatible with RAM Doubler 9 and earlier; Connectix is reportedly working on an update. Compatibility otherwise appears excellent; for example, Word 2001 now works fine with Power On Software’s Action Menus (Word 98 didn’t).
The Obvious and the Hidden — Word 2001’s newly polished interface looks almost entirely like Word 98’s; one senses only subconsciously that the palette background and many palette icons have been redesigned. Whether you find this prettier is a matter of taste, but I’m happy with the results; for example, the new magnifying glass suggests "Find" to me better than the old binoculars. Gone is Word 98’s thoroughly annoying status bar, which occupied the entire bottom of your screen real estate; it’s now incorporated into each document window, which is splendid (This change alone makes the update worthwhile to TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan, who constantly needs Word documents on a monitor separate from the one carrying Word 98’s status bar). Docked toolbars also no longer waste screen real estate with empty gray regions; instead they occupy only the space necessary.
The most obvious new kid on the interface block is the Formatting Palette. It’s a floating window that, unlike a toolbar, you can’t customize, resize, or dock, although you can collapse and expand each of its several sections. The sections, which change automatically to match the currently selected text or object, incorporate buttons and fields from various palettes and dialogs. For example, there are typically sections for character font and style, paragraph alignment and spacing, paragraph borders and shading, and document layout. Thus, it brings into one place a lot of essential context-appropriate functionality that many users otherwise might not find. Unfortunately, what’s not deemed essential is simply absent and you can’t add it, unlike Word’s customizable toolbars. I’d describe the Formatting Palette as both comforting and a significant time-saver, but not as helpful as it might have been.
Word 2001 renames the standard New command to New Blank Document and bumps it down in the File menu, encouraging users instead to choose Project Gallery, which is now the first thing in the File Menu. Project Gallery summons a revised dialog for selecting not just a template or wizard, but even a document type from another Office application, such as an Excel workbook or an Entourage calendar event (these open in their proper applications, of course). Microsoft’s goal here is to help users get started with a variety of project types; templates and wizards aren’t new, but perhaps this dialog will prove a more encouraging front end, as well as giving Office some sense of unity.
The Office Clipboard is a new palette which, while open, accumulates data each time you copy; you can then select any of its data to paste it. It thus implements multiple clipboards. Drag & drop works too, and data in the Office Clipboard survives across restarts and across context switches to other Office applications – the same Office Clipboard appears in Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. In an unsettling oversight, however, it’s absent from Entourage (and Internet Explorer), diluting the additional sense of unity the Office Clipboard provides.
Word has long had basic graphics tools; Word 2001 adds to these with Photoshop-like capabilities such as inserting an image directly from a scanner or digital camera; changing brightness, contrast, color balance; and applying effects such as embossing or chrome. Although these features may seem unnecessary feature bloat, digital images are increasingly common, and it’s not unreasonable for Microsoft to provide Office users with simple image manipulation tools. What feels awkward is using these tools within Word; one wonders why Microsoft didn’t unify and break out all the graphics tools into a separate Office application.
Many other small changes lurk behind the scenes, emerging only when you need them. A brilliant new Find and Replace option lets you search for morphological variants on the same stem: for example, searching for "type", you can also find "types", "typing", and "typed", and replace them with "writes", "writing", and "wrote"! The Data Merge Manager is a palette-based front end to mail-merge, concentrating in one place the steps needed to perform a merge. However, the merge itself is the same old arcane field-based merge, so the Data Merge Manager is like a band-aid plastered over a major wound.
In addition to the spelling dictionary, there is now a definition dictionary (Control-click a word and choose Define), but my first try was almost my last, when I selected "automatically" and got a definition of "automatic drip" (in fact, though it generally works properly, it often matches adverbs incorrectly). AutoCorrect’s inline emendations of errors can now come not only from its explicit list, but also from the main spelling dictionary; this feature is not as effective as I could wish, however, since it often does not operate even when there can be little doubt what the error is. For example, Word corrects "misaprehnsions" properly despite it not being in the AutoCorrect list, but it won’t automatically correct "typoing", even though the spelling dictionary knows that it’s wrong and provides only one suggested replacement.
Tables can finally be nested, as in Word for Windows, and adjacent table cells can also be merged not just horizontally but also vertically, finally allowing Word to mimic HTML tables. In Page view, you can now double-click anywhere on the page, and Word automatically supplies returns and tabs to let you start typing there. The Office Assistant animated sprite is now smoothly resizable and easily banished via the Help menu.
Bugs Fixed and Unfixed — It’s difficult to know exactly which bugs Microsoft fixed. One assumes that changes incorporated into Word 98 through the various updaters released over the years are present here. Thus, for example, I would hope that the bug where umlaut-y suddenly starts replacing all your text is absent, but I can’t be sure. I can testify, though, that no longer do Word Work files visibly gum up your hard disk every time you save (they still proliferate, but they’re properly hidden in the invisible Temporary Items folder), and that Excel charts with vertical text pasted into Word print correctly.
On the other hand, old bugs and annoyances certainly abound. The character obtained by typing Option-i Shift-e is still invisible, a serious problem when using certain foreign or dingbat fonts. The pop-up Style menu in the Formatting toolbar and in the Formatting Palette is still too short and in an incomprehensible order. Word’s drawing tools still differ somewhat from Excel’s (why does Word lack Excel’s "Connectors" graphic type in the AutoShapes toolbar?).
When "tooltips" pop up near the cursor and then vanish, the covered text is often not restored. When you select a comment or footnote in its own pane, the main text still scrolls so that the comment or footnote marker is at the top of the window, with the bulk of the related text scrolled off the top. Scrolling using the Page Up/Page Down keys still moves the cursor, forcing you to reposition it constantly. In my Word 98 review I described some problems with interdependency of styles, and with the muddy interaction between character styles and paragraph styles; these problems remain.
The interface for numbered lists remains mysterious: when I start a numbered list, I can never guess whether Word will restart numbering or resume it where an earlier list left off; and having created two numbered lists, I pressed the numbered lists button on the Formatting Palette to start a third, and discovered that Word had wrecked the numbering of the first two. In general, trying to perform major edits on large documents consisting entirely of numbering was frustrating; it required creative manipulation of the paragraph marks that contain each paragraph’s formatting information to avoid completely screwing up the numbering throughout.
Help of the Helpless — Learning Word remains a hard task, not least because there is no printed manual at all, not even the slim task-based one that came with Word 98. Regular readers of TidBITS are probably aware that I regard this situation as unconscionable, and Adam has lamented it in a now-famous article, "The Death of Documentation."
Users are thrown back instead upon Word’s online help. The good news first: it’s better than it was! The Help window is no longer a separate application with its own menu, yet living mysteriously inside Word. It is now a perfectly standard floating window. In addition to the Back button, there is now a Forward button. And the Table of Contents appears as a scrolling panel at the left of the window.
Nevertheless, Help navigation is lame, in part due to Help being a floating window. There are no keyboard shortcuts. The pages have an order and a hierarchy; yet there is no command for navigating to the next page, or upward in the hierarchy. And the contents panel doesn’t show where you are in the main panel. (Contrast an Adobe Acrobat document with contents at the left; your current place in the main window is always indicated in the contents.) These problems are particularly acute after a search; you click on a search result to see that page in the help window, and you’re instantly lost – at an unknown point of an unknown topic.
The Help content is selective and terse, and sometimes downright incomplete and incorrect. For instance, I couldn’t find anything about the Office Clipboard or the Compare Documents feature. And in the entry about the Microsoft Office Resource Kit (an actual paper manual for Word that costs extra from Microsoft Press), the URL to the Web version is wrong (and impossible to select cleanly). Online help, with its brief individual screens, is like a television sound bite – it jogs the user’s memory, but can’t substitute for continuous, reasoned instruction. This program needs a manual! And at these prices, customers deserve one.
Last Word — Believe it or not, I like Word 2001. It tries to be all things to all people and succeeds in large measure. It’s absolutely packed with useful, powerful features. A complete beginner can write a letter, a novel, a brochure, even a Web page. (HTML export is improved over Word 98, but make sure to switch to "Save only display information into HTML" when saving or suffer truly awful HTML code.) A moderately experienced user can write a paper suitable for submission to a scholarly journal. An expert can write a large complicated document with automatic numbering of figures, tables, and chapters, and an automatically generated table of contents. It’s customizable to a fare-thee-well, and contains oodles of shortcuts and automation features, including Visual Basic, one of the best scripting languages in the known universe.
Microsoft has tried hard to make this version of Word easier to use than the previous one, and in many ways they’ve succeeded. But these surface tweaks have been applied in a haphazard fashion – some aspects of Word are significantly easier to use, whereas others remain accessible only through cryptic toolbar icons or by navigating three layers of dialog. My personal customer research shows that extremely smart people remain befuddled by many features in Word; yet Microsoft claims that your Mom in Altoona can use Word easily. Quick, explain the difference between AutoCorrect, AutoComplete, and AutoText! Describe how to change all underlines to italics! I rest my case.
From a historical point of view, I also find this upgrade disappointing – by now, I would have liked to see Microsoft reaching deep inside Word, rethinking its internals, paring some bloat, unifying the Office applications, but instead, we get still more little pieces glued on round the outside. Still, Word 2001 will surely become the next dominant word processor on the Macintosh (as the latest version of Word has tended to be in the computer industry in general), and it’s more elegant and polished than Word 98.
So, should you upgrade? It is far from compulsory; if you’re comfortable with Word 98, you may indeed have no reason to do so. Word 98 works reasonably well, thanks to the online updaters. And document compatibility between Word 98 and Word 2001, and with Word 97 and Word 2000 on Windows, seems complete, so you won’t miss out on sharing information with others.
However, if you’re at all irritated with Word 98 and you don’t mind the cost (or can find a good price – I heard from one student who could buy Office 2001 at the campus bookstore for $33), yes, you should upgrade to Word 2001. I can’t advise you more specifically, because individual users all have their own priorities. For example, I received an email message yesterday from someone who will upgrade because he wants Word 2001’s capability to render footnotes in HTML; others might scoff, but for him, that priority is crystal-clear and perfectly correct.
Microsoft Word 2001 requires a PowerPC-based machine with a 120 MHz or faster processor, running Mac OS 8.1 or later. If you have virtual memory on, Microsoft recommends at least 32 MB of RAM (48 MB under Mac OS 9). Microsoft Office 2001 costs $500 or $300 to upgrade from an earlier version; there’s also a $100 rebate if you buy the complete version within 60 days of purchasing a new iMac or iBook. Word alone costs $400, with upgrades to just Word at $150.