Happy Birthday MS Word

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, October 15, 1993

MS Word 6.0

MS-DOS ver 3.0 or higher
384k RAM (512k recommended)
1.5-5.5 meg hard drive space

$659.95/$129.99 upgrade

Hard to believe, but MS Word turned 10 this year. Older than arch-rival Word
Perfect, older than the Macintosh.

Yes, way back in 1983, MS Word 1.0 was released. It was one of the first programs
for a PC that supported a mouse, and in fact was often sold bundled together
with the original Microsoft rodent (which created the false rumour that it
REQUIRED a mouse, thus hurting sales). It was also widely distributed as a
working model mailed out free to all subscribers of the then new PC WORLD

While innovative, the early versions were slow and quirky. While some users
fell in love with its unusual menuing interface, and its early attempt at
WYSIWYG (showing bold, underline, and italics, but no true fonts or page
layout), first WordStar, and later Word Perfect became the typical
word processing programs for DOS PC users.

And around 1988, it seemed like DOS Word went into a state of suspended
animation. Version 5 came out then, with improved performance, and a huge
feature set, ready to go head-to-head with Word Perfect 5.1. But when Word
Perfect continued to dominate the market, Microsoft looked elsewhere.

Word for Windows was released, becoming the first full-featured word
processor available in the still-tiny Windows market. (Yes, Ami was already
available, but Ami-Pro didn't come out until a few months later). And when
Windows 3 became a smash success, in mid-1990, Word for Windows was ready to
become the standard product for that platform.

(Where was Word Perfect? Well, they seemed to be ignoring their DOS best-
seller as well, but they spent most of their energy developing for OS/2, and
then changing their mind when it became apparent that Windows was going to be
a much more widely used unvironment. As a result, they've only become a major
force in the Windows market in the last year or so).

With Microsoft, along with most other PC software developers, putting most of
their energy into new Windows products, DOS Word 5 just sort of sat around
for the last 5 years. Sure, there was version 5.5, released in late 1990. But
this simply repackaged Word 5's features into an interface with more standard
menus, similar to Microsoft Works for DOS. Longtime Word users were furious
at being asked to upgrade, and to master an unfamiliar interface, while
gaining no new enhancements.


Well, this year, Microsoft finally got around to an upgrade. Maybe it's to
celebrate the 10th anniversary, which is duly noted on the box. Still, I've
got to wonder if version 6 will be the last version for this DOS pioneer.

The goal for version 6 seems to be to bring the DOS version into line with
the Windows and Mac versions... similar feature sets, similar menus, common
code. At the same time, Word 6 for DOS users are being promised a 'dual
license'... users can move to the soon to be released new Windows version (
also being numbered Word 6), without purchasing an additional license.
It seems like Microsoft is hoping that all the DOS users will take advantage
of this, and move to Windows, letting the DOS version, well, fade away.

Word 6 for DOS is much less of a major change than Word Perfect's new version
6. It looks and feels a lot like Word 5.5... the same Microsoft menuing
interface already familiar to users of MS-Works or the Edit utility that
comes with DOS 5 or 6.

(Word 5.5 secretly let users install the old 'classic' Word interface... Word
6 no longer has that option).

And like Ms-Works, or older versions of Word, and unlike the new Word
Perfect, it's still a classic DOS text program. There's the pretend WYSIWYG
mode where you get italics in italic, and underline underlined, but there's
no Windows-like appearance; you can use fonts, including any TrueType fonts
you may have for Windows, but you don't get to see them onscreen, except in
Print Preview mode.

You do get a number of enhancements, bringing this version more in line with
the Windows and Mac versions-- the menus are even more similar than before,
there's a table editor, an optional ribbon with formatting commands, and even
drag-and-drop editing.

There's a nice Bullet tool, making it easy to add bullets without having to
memorize ALT+NUMLOCK codes. Borders, colors, and shading have been made
easier to add to paragraphs. There's a Print Merge Helper, similar to the
Wizards in most new Microsoft Windows products.

Outlining is built in, complete with a special Outlining Toolbar. Grammatik
grammar checker is included, as is special help for long-time Word 5.0 and Word Perfect


Still, with 5 years between major upgrades, DOS Word users may feel a little
let down. The release of Word Perfect 6 created much more of a sense of
excitment... that product underwent a total change.

In a quiet sort of way, the modesty of Word 6 may be its greatest asset. Word
Perfect 6 looks and feels much more like a Windows product, just without
Windows. And to make use of those features, users need faster machines with
more RAM... in fact, they need machines that will run Windows. At that point,
they may simply decide to go all the way, and run Windows.

Word 6 doesn't claim to give you Windows without Windows (And who would
expect it to? Microsoft obviously wants the whole world to get Windows WITH
Windows!) Instead, you get a powerful word processor that runs with as little
as 384 kb free RAM, and can take as little as 1.5 meg hard drive space. For
the millions of 8088 and slower 286 machines, this could be the best choice
of a word processor... and possibly the last upgrade they'll ever get.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan