…The person I was talking to responded (quite seriously) that WYSIWYG means “What You See Is What You Get”, not “What They Get”, that Word actually renders the document on screen based on the capabilities of the default printer on that computer, so that you should expect the same document to print differently on different computer+printer configurations.

Funny. Not long ago I printed something out that was composed on Word on Windows but was printing out no my Linux computer using Openoffice.org. It came out different (slightly longer, as I recall, than the original). Someone at the time blamed that on “Linux not being ready for the desktop.”

WACK!!!! (That’s me figuratively slapping that person upside teh head….)

Go read JH’s analysis of WYSIWYG in Word on Windows here at Linux in Exile.


  1. #1 sailor
    November 4, 2009

    If you want WYSIWYG to be WYSIWTG, convert it to PDF.
    I cannot imagine trying to use word for anything other than a simple letter. Though I have known people do whole books on it.

  2. #2 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 4, 2009

    Microsoft Word is an excellent word processor, and an execrable page layout program.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    November 4, 2009

    Comrade Physioprof is drunk off his ass again. Waxing poetic about MS word. Reminds me of when my father used to get drunk on holidays and call all the relatives.

  4. #4 Mark P
    November 4, 2009

    Well, I kind of agree with PhysioProf. If you use Word as a word processor, it’s fine. It can also do a large aircraftcarrierload of other stuff that is nearly impossible to do because the program is so complex. And the latest version has made significant changes in the interface in order to, as far as I can tell, make significant changes to the interface. And it sometimes does things that you don’t want it to do, apparently as a lesson to you about not attending multi-week courses on how to occasionally make it do the things you want it to do. I am not convinced that you can get the same results when you do exactly the same thing again. And I am also pretty sure that there are hidden switches that make it refuse to do certain things, no matter how many times or how many ways you tell it to do them, unless you can find the hidden switch. Does anyone here remember text-based role-playing riddle games?

  5. #5 Stephanie Z
    November 5, 2009

    If you use Word as a word processor, it’s slow and clunky because it’s constantly standing ready to do everything else it sort of does. It is far more program than almost anyone needs or will ever use–except by accident, to completely screw up everything they’ve done to that point.

    I say this as an expert user of Word, who wouldn’t hesitate to create a document with ridiculous numbers of styles, sections, embedded objects, etc. I just wouldn’t want to trust anyone else to make changes in the thing, and I’m always tempted to start over when someone gives me something they’ve been working on, just to make it clean. It’s far too easy to fill a document with crap.

    If I just want to write, I open TextEdit.

  6. #6 Cdh
    November 5, 2009

    .doc is a closed format. Do you know what Word really does write in your files?

    Also .doc is not really backwards compatible. With old versions of Word you may not be able to open newer .docs. Or they look different on different Word versions.

    Therefore Microsoft Windows is not ready for the desktop.

    Actually this is why you shouldn’t use Word. Or if you do that you should not use .doc but rather .rtf which is at least open.
    When you can you should just use LaTex. 🙂

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    November 5, 2009

    The last usable word processor for the PC was Xywrite 4.18. Written in assembly langauge.

  8. #8 ecologist
    November 5, 2009

    gimme an L
    gimme an a
    gimme a T
    gimme an e
    gimme an X
    what’s that spell?

  9. #9 sailor
    November 5, 2009

    Comrade Physioprof is absolutely right. As a small publisher I would not dream of using word for layout. It is fine for writing and editing. The problem is they made it do everything very badly and ended up with a crockoduck. Does that now prove evolution is true?

  10. #10 zayzayem
    November 5, 2009

    I’ve been switching between Mac (NeoOffice) at home and Windows (Office 07) at uni this year and have run into a few instances of bad changes.
    Tables are bad, and so are punctuation.
    The easiest fix is converting to pdf, which is what I do if I have finished the document at home and/or are uploading it online. But if its unfinished and I need to get it to uni to print it – I’ve had a few assignments which have had a few red comments about why my inverted commas have converted into asterixes or funny square boxes.

  11. #11 zayzayem
    November 5, 2009

    @Mark P: And the latest version [of Word] has made significant changes in the interface in order to, as far as I can tell, make significant changes to the interface.

    Ah. So that’s what all those changes were about.

  12. #12 tonyC
    November 5, 2009

    My life revolves around documents* — and I hate word. I’ve written entire ‘applications’ around the office suite, but I hate word the most.

    I hate its implementation of tables: how hard can it be to simply let me fix the dimensions, or fix the damn table dimension to my current column, or fix some column widths and leave others floating? Sheesh! (it’s even worse if you are trying to manipulate this stuff programatically!)

    It’s even broken the simplistic ‘style’ paradigm. A style is a style. A style plus a local character or paragraph mod (embolden, for instance) is NOT A NEW STYLE (unless I choose to make it so). That feature alone makes almost any document received from anyone else impossible to maintain (and coherent ‘style libraries’ equally impossible). The last ‘word processor’ to get styles (almost) right was AmiPro, back in the early 90’s.

    And TeX is great – but I need a front end that shows me what I get as I write… (it could even be in another window!)


    *As a consultant, I’m used to creating complex many hundred page word documents with hundreds of embedded tables and charts, footnotes, endnotes, and sometimes complicated ‘outline’ structures. Word is our tool – because nothing else lets us get the job done quickly enough without huge training effort for all of the contributors. blech!

  13. #13 Richard
    November 5, 2009

    I am not sure that you can blame word for the fact that when you import a word file into open office, open office prints it differently. Surely that is partly due to OO failing to fully import the file.

    In most cases though I think word prints word documents pretty consistently.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    November 5, 2009

    Richard, that is NOT what anyone is saying. JH’s original post to which this post refers is about how moving a word document from one instance of word to another changes the document, and on top of that, how this is “expected behavior” instead of “bad engineering”

    I mention above that when this happens between word and OO, OO and Open Source get blamed, which is inaccurate and unfair.

    Don’t be an OpenSource meanie.

    For a while I worked in a place where we had dozens of forms in word. They never printed the same way on any two computers. Everyone was always having to mess around.

    Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Word not fuck this up.

  15. #15 Eric Lund
    November 5, 2009

    And TeX is great – but I need a front end that shows me what I get as I write… (it could even be in another window!)

    I have seen products of this kind, but I don’t recall their names since I don’t use them. I’m more the type-it-in-LaTeX-and-compile-it type. On a Mac I use TeXShop, which has one window with the source code and another showing the result of the most recent typesetting run (and by default it renders directly to PDF, making your life easier if you are distributing a document that others are not expected to edit directly).

    I also have to deal with Word forms which don’t work quite right on my computer. The only reason I keep Word around (and it’s Office 2004; I will not upgrade until I am absolutely forced to) is to open Word documents created by other people. If I’m creating my own document, it’s either TeXShop or TextEdit. My home machine does not have any form of Office installed–TextEdit can open Word documents, although it cannot display any embedded figures/tables/equations.

  16. #16 dean
    November 5, 2009

    “TextEdit can open Word documents, although it cannot display any embedded figures/tables/equations.”

    Pages can open Word documents, but then it’s not free.

    Many people use Lyx for typesetting (hybrid WYSIWYG and Latex typesetting). Their assertion is that this shows your work “as it should be” – I think it’s called WYSIWYW (what you see is what you want).

    I have no personal experience with it – I use texshop.

  17. #17 itzac
    November 5, 2009

    I’m with Stephanie. I can get Word to do some pretty cool stuff, but I have to do a lot of the hard work on Word’s behalf.

    Probably the best (read pretty much only) layout tool I’ve used was Corel Ventura. I handled styles extremely well and could do intuitively pretty much anything you needed. Of course it was also riddled with bugs and reliably corrupted its own files. But when it was working well, it was a pleasure to use.

    I think all this is because not every user wants to be able to futz with kerning when they’re writing a one-page letter. Word just ends up being a crappy compromise between the starting and power users.

  18. #18 mark
    November 5, 2009

    I wrote a report using Word, with a number of illustrations (created using various applications)inserted.
    Our secretary is preparing the report for “publication” using Word. Fonts and symbols in the figures are all screwed up. Copying some of the fonts to her machine took care of some of the problems.
    For kicks, I tried printing at home, using Open Office on Ubuntu (my computer currently refuses to boot up in Windows). The preloaded fonts are all very different.
    I expect to let the secretary complete the layout, and then print to pdf from my office computer using the “download fonts” option.
    LaTex and similar software are out of the question for us, as our secretary is not amenable to the required training.

  19. #19 rpsms
    November 5, 2009

    IIRC, the layout program Pagemaker was also too cozy with the selected output device. You had to know (and have the driver for) the RIP your printer was using.

    If I want to print a poster at 100% on a postage stamp, centered, I should be able to.

    This all sort of ties in with Artificial Intelligence. Some people think a smart computer is a good thing. Me, I just think of all the arguments I might have with it.

  20. #20 Linux in Exile
    November 5, 2009

    @Richard (#13):
    I am not sure that you can blame word for the fact that when you import a word file into open office, open office prints it differently. Surely that is partly due to OO failing to fully import the file. In most cases though I think word prints word documents pretty consistently.

    Actually, that’s not my experience. Here’s a quote from the post that I’m referring to:

    Whoa, it is really sad that it’s not only accepted, but expected behavior for a word processing document to look vastly different (note my example: wrapping text around a table, page breaks, etc.) depending on the printer Windows was using. I might understand if the text were rendered a little different due to fonts (installed on the printer) being slightly different from the fonts Windows is using. But I find it hard to believe that text flowing around a table should be any different on one computer+printer vs another computer+printer. If that’s really how Windows works, I think I’m even less of a fan.


    Despite the fact that the document was created with Microsoft Office, and that we all run Microsoft Office, there were 3 different versions of the printed document at the meeting. You could tell by looking around the table that one version of the notes (printed from Microsoft Office for Macintosh) arranged the text around a table in a weird way. Another version (printed by Microsoft Office 2007) put a page break in a different place and put an extra blank line between a table and its caption. The original version (Microsoft Office 2003) was formatted as intended.

    This was a simple 3-page document in “DOC” format, with an enumerated list of paragraphs, so it didn’t take long for us to realize our copies printed out differently, and to figure out the correlation between versions of Word and how the document printed out.

  21. #21 jj
    November 5, 2009

    I use word constantly in my job. As the system admin, I’m always authoring documents on system tutorials, how to’s, and usage policies. If anything is going to be more than 2 pages, it normally ends up a power point (trainings, usually). Some things I do to make it easier on myself:

    1. First I do all ‘writing’ in note pad/word pad. This is because auto-correct annoys me, and word is so damn heavy
    2. Copy paste into word*/powerpoint
    3. Save as PDF < - Most important, this ensures that all formatting, fonts, and any image retains it's original format. It also keeps end users from having the ability to modify my documents. Word is fine as a word processor, but it almost has too much crap under the hood to be efficient. *TIP: Since I have issues with all of words crap, a good thing to do is go to start->run, then type “winword /safe” which will run Word in safe mode, which does not load any addins or have macro support (I always do this with outlook also).

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    November 5, 2009

    jj…. so, the command line saves the day once again. Intereting.

  23. #23 jj
    November 5, 2009
  24. #24 Sanity
    November 5, 2009

    Well, I would say Word works fine for everything that you make on a single computer. Personally, I don’t have much problems with tables and multiple columns, but it can be tricky to work with, especially because the interface is completely different in certain parts of your document compared to others. Trying to be user friendly made Word completely counter-intuitive.

    If I drag-select text outside a table, I want it to work inside a table exactly the same. I do not want to jump through hoops because some people aren’t capable of actually selecting what they want and need help with it. (Curse you, full word selection!)

    If you want to merge documents and retain their individual layouts in Word… good luck. If you want to make a layout on one computer and print/make it a pdf, Word works fine.

    My ideal program would be something that would let me work like in Word, but have a LaTeX-like functionality as well. Being able to either type up my layout, or use a GUI sounds like perfection to me. Still, thinking back to FrontPage doesn’t make me hopeful for something like that.