Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Evolution of the Word Processor

I've been writing since I was a kid. In school I wrote stories and reports by hand. Sometimes I wrote letters to relatives. As a kid, I tended to avoid writing reports because I found that if I made too many mistakes on a report, or if I missed an important point, I'd have to start over again.

In high school I found that there was a typing class. I took it because I figured there would be girls in the class. I was terribly shy and figured that immersion could help. It didn't but I did learn to type. I took the class also because there was a voice in the back of my mind that said that I might need that skill someday. Someday I'd be typing for a living.

Having to re-write a paper document due to an error could not be avoided in pen. That didn't necessarily improve with the typewriter. Some of you may remember that quaint piece of equipment. The typewriter requires manual loading of single sheets of paper, one at a time, and you had to tell the typewriter when to go to the next line by pressing "return". If you goofed, sometimes you could recover with whiteout. Newer models allowed us to remove an erroneous character with one keystroke. I had one of those.

Then one day, I got a computer and found that I could use a word processor. I remember the joy of using my first word processor. Cut and paste. Backspace! I could move paragraphs around on a whim! But I had no way to get it out onto paper.

I found that my trusty Amiga 500 had a parallel port in the back. I found that my typewriter did, too. I called my local computer store and got a cable and I started printing to my typewriter. This was not at all practical, and quite noisy. I lived in an apartment and my neighbor didn't like it. Fortunately, I was in an end unit, so I only had one neighbor complaining. I could only print during waking hours.

I spring some dough for a color dot matrix printer, easing the pain for my neighbor and I got better quality documents out of it. I could print in color, too, and that was pretty nifty for the time. I still have some fractals I printed with that machine.

The word processor took nearly all the pain out of writing reports for classes I took in college. I zinged my assignments with grades of A, A+ and A++. With the word processor, I could easily sort my thoughts, organize the flow of my work and keep my reader with me.

Alas, Commodore was going out of business. So I had to let go of my Amiga and got a Mac. That had, I think, Microsoft Word. For years I used Microsoft Word, because a friend of mine said that Word was the king of word processors. I think it's pretty good, but I don't use that anymore.

After ten years of using Windows on PCs, I discovered Linux and free software. With that came OpenOffice. The people who developed OpenOffice studied the Word document format and learned how to recreate it with their application. I was gratified to learn that I no longer needed to spend big bucks on Microsoft Office anymore.

I use LibreOffice now and I exchange Word documents on a regular basis with other people, no complaints.

In the last few years, there has been a major shift to the cloud. Word processing now takes place in cloud based applications as well as desktop applications if you still want them. The cloud based word processor comes in many forms. Email, blogging, Facebook, Google+ and many others too numerous to name here.

Google seems to be the best with Google Docs. The Google Docs word processor is relatively complete and creates documents in OpenDocument and Word format. Microsoft has introduced Office365 in an effort to catch up with Google. The cloud based offerings can compete with desktop offerings, but they offer one feature the desktop application can't. Access from anywhere. Tablets, phones and PCs. If you have an internet connection and a mobile device, you can work.

I don't know if I will ever let go of my PC. I'm really old school. But I do enjoy the relative ease of using Google Docs. I keep logs on Google Docs. When I have to deal with businesses as an individual, I log my calls, the points of conversation and planned actions there. I log my work at my place of work so that I can say for certain when I did something if someone else asks.

Word processing has come a long way. What matters to me now is the variety of ways in which I can do it. I have well defined channels for my work. Private work stays on my PC. Routine stuff like logging can be in the cloud. Public stuff can go on Google+ or Facebook.

I'm very happy with the way writing has evolved and look forward to its continuing evolution.
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