jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Writing and Word Processing

A friend of mine is having a heck of a time with his new MacBook. He’s a recent convert to Macs, and as a philosophy student he spends a lot of time in Word. When he first bought his shiny new MacBook, he was surprised to find out there was no word processor in it. I pointed out TextEdit, which he quickly dismissed as not nearly powerful enough for what he needed to do. So, back to the store he went to pick up a copy of iWork ‘08, and started working with Pages.

Unfortunately, it seems that the import/export feature of MS Word documents was not as seamless as he felt it should be, and as everyone he deals with works with Word, back to the store he went to pick up a copy of Office 2008. Now, every time he starts typing “Guten Tag!” (he’s also a German student) he gets the error:

This command is not available in this version of Microsoft Word

I did a quick lookup on google and found found an article that pointed towards embedded visual basic macros that may be tied to whatever he is trying to type, and the macros are simply not there in the Mac version. This was driving him nuts. I can imagine why, for those intelligent people who simply are not tech savvy, having to stop their creative process to attempt to troubleshoot some ridiculous computer problem is an extreme annoyance. However, I can only sympathize with him for so long.

A few months ago I began writing in LaTeX, and I’ve never looked back. I tried to tell my friend with the serious writing needs about it, but he was uninterested in trying to learn a “programming” language. Also, before he started telling me about this Word error, I pointed him at this article, which explains in detail why Word does not scale well to very large writing projects. Plain text does, and since LaTeX is plain text, it too can scale to large projects.

That only leaves the problem of interoperability, which was the main reason my friend went down and bought Office anyway. Another plus for writing in LaTeX is that it’s plain text, and quickly converts to pdf format, which is the other document format that everyone can read (But not edit… I know). Unfortunately, it seems that the only solution that he has come up with so far is to uninstall and reinstall Office, which has not worked. I’m hoping that my friend gives some serious thought to how he is writing, and why he needs a “word processor”, when it seems that what he really needs is a tool to allow him to write.

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