Home Computer: Just right for killing time: Mike Hardaker opts for a program with classical design and 'industrial strength'

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The Independent Online
SINCE I write something like 350,000 words every year, my word processor is extremely important to me. For the past few years I have stuck mainly with Microsoft's Word for Windows,currently on version 2. I have dallied with other programs - most notably Lotus's Ami Pro - but I keep coming back to Word for Windows.

Although I find it entirely usable 'straight out of the box', Word for Windows probably provide the most scope for tailoring to individual need. I have been able to customise it to do easily all the things I need most.

The core of this is a built-in programming language called WordBasic. With only primitive programming knowledge it is pretty straightforward to write new functions which will then appear to be an intrinsic part of the program.

So I have 'buttons' at the top of my word processor screen which allow me to count the number of words in a document, to fax the document to anywhere in the world, to add 'foreign' accents to characters, to dial up my electronic mail service and so on. These were all written by me, using WordBasic, but they look and feel just like the functions which Microsoft built in to the product as sold.

It takes time to write these functions, of course, but I do not really mind that. Programming your word processor is an excellent example of what the psychiatrists call 'displacement activity'. And, to be honest, if I am sitting at my computer keyboard, I am a lot more likely to end the day having written some copy for the Independent than if I killed time in more conventional ways like going fishing or getting drunk.

I could do much the same things with Ami Pro but I just never feel as comfortable with it. While Ami Pro is more elegant as a page-layout tool - almost up to the level of specialised 'desk top publishing' software - I feel that Word for Windows has the edge when it comes to the actual word processing.

Word for Windows can do just about all the layout tricks which Ami Pro has up its sleeve, but it is somewhat clumsier. Equally, Ami Pro has equally powerful text-editing tools as Word for Windows, but they are less elegantly implemented. Since most of my work involves the creation and editing of text rather than laying it out elegantly, that rather tips the balance in Word for Windows' favour.

There are other, less tangible, reasons why I stick with Word for Windows - mostly to do with personal taste. Microsoft's offering is more austere than Ami Pro, more 'classical' in its design. This may sound daft, but if you spend 16 hours a day in front of a computer screen, little things like that take on an absurd importance.

It also feels classier and better-made than its competitors. Build quality is hard to pinpoint in software - unlike with cars, say, where a BMW door will give a more reassuring 'clunk' than that of a Vauxhall. However, Word for Windows has it in abundance. Again, when I spend most of my waking life in front of something and my income depends upon it, I like to feel that it is - to use the current buzz-phrase - 'industrial strength'.

Word for Windows has its flaws, of course, some of which are intensely irritating. You actually need to write a WordBasic program if you want to do something as simple as count the words in your document. And even then it will not properly - a bug in the Microsoft word-counting procedure means that it only goes up to 65,536 words before starting at zero again.

When I was working on a 100,000-word book a month or two ago this niggle was nearly enough for me to throw out Word for Windows and find an alternative. Nearly, but not quite.

Word for Windows

Word processor


Vital statistics

System: PC-compatible/Dos


Hardware: hard disk

Software: Microsoft Windows

Publisher: Microsoft

Availability: Dealers, retailers.


List:pounds 464 (inc VAT)

Street:pounds 270 (inc VAT)

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