Now comes Microsoft Word 2008. Out of consideration for those of you with better things to do, right here at the start I intend to make relatively short a very long tale, enabling you to bypass the backstory entirely if you're busy or think me windy.
In late 2007 I found my way more than belatedly into Word X (from Office for Mac 2000), a version already one iteration out of date — considerably so, since Word 2004 had succeeded it some three years back. I got my feet seriously wet in Word X just in time to greet the release of Office 2008, the first Universal Binary release of Office for the Mac, making it the first version to run on Intel Macs as a suite of native apps not requiring Rosetta.
Moreover, Word 2008 defaults to the new .docx (Open XML) format — just when I'd gotten into the habit of saving all my new text files as Word rtf (and converting all my old ones to that format) so that anyone could open them. All of these changes, and others, pertain to making Office '08 a fully cross-platform set of apps, surely a laudable goal. Nonetheless, they force a number of adjustments on users, most of whom (unlike me) have spent years learning to work with previous versions of these apps and now must revise their ways of thinking and working, sometimes drastically, if they elect to upgrade.
I faced just two significant adaptations: the first, and most substantial, to the latest release of Word itself, the second to a brand-new file format within Word.
En route to this juncture I had tested most of the word processors and writing environments available for the Mac, and found them wanting. Or, in some cases, more accurately, just not for me. Generally speaking, I'm willing to do a lot of accommodating to someone else's defaults and design concepts in computer apps. But as a working writer I like my word processor the way I like it. This is as idiosyncratic and fundamental as personal preferences in underwear and shoes and the choice of sugar or no sugar in your coffee — very much a matter of taste and comfort and individual style. If you opt to do your first drafts with a Number 2 pencil on a legal pad while sitting in a tepid bath, or you just love Bean, I fully endorse your choice, even though I don't share it.
The big question, then: Having come to terms only recently with Word X, and never having upgraded from there, could I leapfrog over Word 2004 for Mac and land both happily and productively in the Word 2008 environment? More specifically, could I create (or recreate) therein the writing environment within which I feel at home?
What does this writer want?
Given that I publish internationally as a professional writer, my word-processing needs may strike you as ridiculously elementary. I function most efficiently in a relatively spare, no-frills writing environment. In terms of text production and output thereof to print and pdf, I really only need to use one font. I like sans serif for its clean look onscreen, and have settled on Arial. I have made Arial the default font in the text-oriented apps I use regularly: Word, FileMaker Pro, Entourage. This simplifies my cut/copy/paste operations considerably.
I prefer my toolbars (I use Standard and Formatting) fixed at the top of the screen, customized, and always visible. I work with just a few custom templates. These have headers, occasional footers, page numbers, footnotes/endnotes. I enjoy a good clean screen, with my main text set at Arial 12-point, zoomed to 215 percent, with View set to Print Layout. This gives me a workspace that exactly fills the 15-inch screen of my MacBook Pro, very easy to read, with minimal distractions.
I'd figured out how to achieve all that and more in Word X when I finally got to it. So I first confronted the possibility of replicating in Word 2008 the environment I had managed to create for myself in Word X. This proved remarkably easy.
Word X>Word 2008
During the install, I chose not to remove Office X, a wise decision (for a reason I'll describe shortly).
I began by duplicating the My Templates folder from Word X and dropping that into the ~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates folder. Then I started up Word '08, which opened those templates with no backtalk. I saved them in the new .dotx format for templates, jettisoning their predecessors. (Word '08 comes loaded with a large assortment of templates, with more available online at Mactopia, http://www.microsoft.com/mac/templates.mspx?ttid=41 and Microsoft Office Online, http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/FX100595491033.aspx?pid=CL100632981033. Templates created for Word 2004 seem to open easily in Word '08.)
Next I set out to replicate my Preferences and customized toolbars. MS Office '08 allows you to run both a legacy version of an app and the newer version simultaneously. However, rather than switch between the two iterations of Word again and again, which gets confusing, I made screenshots (Shift-Command-4) of the Preferences screens in Word X and my customized Standard and Formatting Word X toolbars, dropped those screenshots into Preview, and used that as my ready reference.
I spend much of my workday in front of my screen. So, to reduce eyestrain, I switch periodically from the default black text against a white background to white text against a blue background, a checkbox option in Preferences>General. However, in that view in Word 2008 the vertical cursor remains a thin black line, almost invisible against a dark blue background. (The little on-screen mouse doohickey remains white, fortunately.) This wasn't the case in Word X, but got introduced somehow in Word 2004. Particularly hard on the visually impaired, for whom this display alternative is often useful. Mac BU indicates that they've taken this under advisement, so perhaps we can hope for an overdue fix in the near future.
With that exception, to my delight, I discovered that the developers of Word '08 had retained — or otherwise enabled — almost everything I'd arranged for myself in Word X.
Before setting up shop in Word 2008 I had not spent enough time in Word X to start using VBA macros, so I did not face the crisis presently confronting many others who came to rely heavily on this workflow-automation function, absent from Office for Mac 2008. I hope such frustrated users feel comforted by the May 13 announcement from Microsoft Corp.'s Macintosh Business Unit — Mac BU henceforth — that the next version of Office for Mac will restore VBA to the suite's toolkit, and that the release of that iteration will not take four years to reach the market.
However, Word '08 works with Automator, Apple's own workflow-automation app, and comes complete with some 40 Word-specific "actions." One of these, for example, will convert your document to a PDF file — a procedure that takes quite a few more steps under normal conditions.
Moreover, Automator interfaces with Applescript, and Word '08 is scriptable, apparently more so than Word X or Word '04. While I have never fully explored Applescript, it's time for me to start. I don't resent Microsoft for forcing that issue. How could I? What could be more Mac-specific than pushing users toward scripting? What Mac addict could complain about that?
That said, I don't find Applescript's language and procedures either simple or intuitive. (One online tutorial exults, "Notice that it almost looks like plain English!" That "almost" is the operative word.) There's a definite learning curve, and you can't just hack your way into it. I've successfully tweaked a few scripts created by others, but to construct one of my own I'll have to read and study the manual.
Script Editor, the Mac app in which you create and/or compile applescripts, has a Record function that allows you to perform a sequence of keyboard actions which automatically get converted into applescript-language commands. Extremely helpful, especially to the newbie scripter. Not only can you create scripts without knowing Applescript, but you get to see immediately the scripting syntax for a given action — highly instructive. Alas, while Word 2008 will run applescripts, it doesn't enable the Record function. Adding this function would greatly enhance Word 2008, and seems only logical if Mac BU has opted to direct users of Office 2008 toward Applescript.
This brings me to the only toolbar options from Word X that I found missing in Word '08: the ability to create your own custom buttons, useful for such things as running applescripts from a toolbar. Apparently custom toolbar buttons and Open XML don't mix. So it goes. What then?
Paste Unformatted Text/Paste Matching Destination Format
That custom-button option In Word X enabled me to create a single-mouseclick, scripted "Paste Matching Destination Format" action for my toolbar. This applescript solves the one default in Word to which I object: the standard keystroke combination for pasting (Command+V) in Word puts the copied text at the cursor-defined insertion point in the destination document while retaining its formatting from the original document.
I realize that some users may want to retain the source formatting in a paste operation, but I can't recall the last time I needed to do so. In my everyday usage I expect the paste operation to match the pasted text to the destination format — and I perform this action daily, often dozens of times per work session. Sometimes I want all the original document's formatting stripped away; sometimes I just want the inserted text to conform to the font and font size of the destination document, while retaining other formatting elements (such as italics and footnotes).
All the other word processors I've used — WordPerfect, AppleWorks, Mariner Write — conform pasted text to the destination format as the default. I don't often feel a need for an alternative, but if a significant number of users do then it should come as a Preferences option. (I think such people are in a distinct minority, though I could be wrong.)
Microsoft obviously paid heed to the various long-term online complaints about this in assorted forums and reviews, which often point out that the present method for achieving this result efficiently requires a macro (in Word X and Word 2004) and an Applescript in Word 2008. (Such kvetchers also usually note that simply pasting unformatted text involves the cumbersome Edit>Paste Special>select Unformatted Text>click OK sequence.) A number of these commentators appear not to have discovered that Word '08 offers a partial solution to both these problems via a choice in Preferences.
A bit of further investigation reveals that in Word 2008 Preferences>Edit, under "Cut and paste options," you can choose "Show paste options button." If you check this box, then whenever you paste text a small floating menu appears alongside the pasted selection. From this you can choose Keep Source Formatting, strip down to Keep Text Only, or opt for Match Destination Formatting — the latter achieves my most common purpose. (You can also select Use Destination Styles, connected to the Stylesheet function.) Click on your document and this menu vanishes.
Since the floating Paste menu sits on your screen just to the right of the pasted selection, it actually takes slightly less cursor movement to use that than to go to the top of the screen for the applescript workaround.
Conceivably, then, Microsoft feels that they have resolved this problem. I don't agree. Even accepting Word's best offer via Preferences, this remains a two-click operation after pasting — easier than the Edit>Paste Special operation, but still kludgy. As an ideal, this should come as a default choice in Preferences, with the Preferences-determined display of the floating paste-options menu then showing the other alternatives if you want them at your ready disposal.
However, Microsoft didn't actually ignore the problem. Why they didn't go the extra yard and set it up as a default choice I don't know. But this built-in Preference definitely improves on the situation in Word X, and perhaps on that in Word '04, and at least acknowledges that the user should have a choice here. Maybe next time they'll make it a true default choice in Preferences.
Fortunately, there's an applescript that does the trick, to which you can assign a keystroke combination. I'll have more to say about this in the Word '08 Applescripts section at the end of this report.
Beyond that, I have one small annoyance with Word: When I save a file, the Save command on the File menu doesn't change. (This holds true in all the Office '08 apps.) The only way to tell if you've saved a Word file is by (a) examining the little red Window Close button in the upper-left corner of the window, which acquires a small dark dot in the middle whenever a previously saved document gets changed, or (b) checking the Word icon next to the file title at the top of the file window, which dims as soon as you make any change to the opened document. These are relatively subtle visual cues, probably inaccessible to the visually impaired. How hard would it be to make this document status perfectly clear, and easier to see, via graying out and making inactive the File>Save line, a common feature of many apps? (Mac BU indicates that they've also taken this under advisement.)
View Facing Pages
In AppleWorks, which I used for years, it's possible to view and edit facing pages of a document. This enables the user to examine two-page spreads — which book designers and printers call layouts — to see how the material will appear when printed, and also to revise the material while viewing it that way.
This isn't a robust substitute for a full-scale page-layout app like Adobe PageMaker, or even an intermediary one like Apple's Pages. But, especially for a publishing project that doesn't involve complicated design elements, it can suffice. Indeed, in 2005-06 I used this AppleWorks feature to design a book of poetry (my own and my father's), Like Father Like Son (http://likefatherlikeson.info), that just got nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I did all the layout work in that facing-pages AppleWorks view, then exported the finished version as a pdf file. The printing house made a few adjustments thereto under my supervision, and we went to press from that pdf file.
So I'm glad to report that Word 2008 includes this option as well, as did Word X and Word 2004 before it. You get there not with View>Publishing Layout (which shows you just one page at a time, albeit on your choice of spiffy background) nor with File>Print Preview (which can show you the two-page layout, with no editing option). Instead, use View>Print Layout>Zoom, which offers you a choice of multi-page views, including two-up, in which you can edit the text easily. If you put the Zoom button on your toolbar, you can toggle in and out of this view quickly.
Tastes Like Chicken
To sum up, then, Word '08 allowed me to reproduce almost exactly the customized toolbars and screen view that I'd created for myself in Word X. (I assume it would have enabled me to do the same with a setup from Word 2004, but I don't have that installed and can't test it.) And those, in turn, replicated the customized AppleWorks environment to which I'd become habituated.
For me, that's the first question in testing a replacement application: Can I do in the new app what I used to do in the old app, even more easily if possible but at least without having to relearn many keystroke combinations, locations of frequently-used commands and features, etc.? I'm a creature of habit, and with the computer some of those habits become physiological, matters of kinetic memory.
I don't sneer at new functions and features, and I don't disregard them. Over time I'll explore the Word 2008 Elements Gallery, the options contained in Publishing Layout (Word's experiment with a Pages equivalent), the Templates library, and other bells and whistles. But I start out here secure in the knowledge that I don't have to reconfigure my workflow, that I'm on familiar ground. Consider this the "tastes like chicken" response, the reassurance that something you've never tried before closely resembles something you know very well.
As a result, I'm now writing comfortably in Word '08 — as comfortably as I used to write in Appleworks. I have created a very congenial word-processing environment for myself in this app, none of which involved elaborate workarounds. Word '08 has enabled me to set up a streamlined, stripped-down, customized word-processing workplace that does exactly what I need it to do. The mildly irksome issues I've noted pale in comparison with what Word 2008 serves up. So I'm a satisfied customer.
Working in Word 2008 with existing files from other applications
With those setup tasks accomplished, and an enjoyable, productivity-enhancing workspace before me, I started to open my existing text files to see how Word '08 dealt with them.
About my files: I still have correspondence folders full of unconverted legacy DOS text files going back to my first decade of computer use (1988-98), during which I ran WordPerfect on a PC. I also have some remaining AppleWorks files; I moved to AW when I moved to the Mac in '98. I have a few Mariner Write files (.mwd), because I experimented with that app for awhile before finally moving to Word, and used Write's native format briefly before deciding to save everything in Rich Text Format (rtf). Then I have a few Word .doc files from flirtations with Word 97 and Word X, and some other odds and ends, including some ASCII files from long-forgotten sources.
Over the past 18 months I have used MacLink and/or Word X to convert the majority of my past and current text files to rtf, since everyone in the world seems to have the ability to open such files nowadays. This constitutes my version of what the experts call active management of data and resources, as distinct from passive management thereof. What does this mean? A movie on Kodak film stock can sit in cold storage for half a century, undergo minimum degradation, and still run fine on a well-maintained '50s-era projector; that's passive management. But digital assets (and electronic media in general) require periodic upgrading to new hardware options, new storage media, and new file formats in order to remain accessible. That's active management.
For a writer, active management represents the only sensible choice; try finding a fast way to extract a WordPerfect file from a 5.25-inch floppy and you'll see what I mean. Not only does nada dura siempre in the digital world, but nothing lasts very long. Build that into your thinking, and factor a migration every 5 years or so into your planning.
So I've begun to approach this maintenance and upgrading process aggressively, and systematically. My remaining legacy WordPerfect files, and a few stray files whose origins I can't recall, require translation via MacLink Plus from DataViz; with that utility I convert them to Word rtf, doing this incrementally as time allows.
AppleWorks can save text files created therein as rtf, as well as in various versions of Word, and both Word X and Word '04 can open such files; no need to go through MacLink for that. Word X and Word '04 can even open AW's own native word-processing documents (.cwk) seamlessly, and I find those conversions via Word itself more precise and trouble-free than rtf or Word files generated by AppleWorks.
However, while Word '08 will open rtf and Word files created in AW, it doesn't recognize AW-native files, presumably having taken AW's EOL status as a given while still in the design phase. A good reason for me to keep Word X around until I'm sure I have converted all my old AW documents to Word rtf.
(Word 2004 also opens AW files, so don't remove one or another of these versions of Word from your hard drive if you don't have AppleWorks installed and/or MacLink at hand. You never know when an AppleWorks file will show up. Note: I have tried Panergy's icWord, which does open AppleWorks files and allows you to save them in rtf, but I find that icWord scrambles footnotes/endnotes in translating AW files, whereas Word X/2004 usually renders them perfectly.)
My first goal in active management of my text files, then, is to convert everything over to Word rtf files. This makes the most sense to me; at the moment, Word rtf is close to a universal standard. With my AppleWorks files, I do this by dropping a dozen or so AW files into Word X, massaging them therein one by one, and then saving them as Word rtf. Though more tedious than batch-processing via MacLink Plus, this process lets me see quickly any problems that the conversion from AW to Word creates in individual files.
And there are glitches: files (or sections thereof) that appear inexplicably in the Wingdings font, text passages that turn into headers, headers that bully their way onto the first page, etc. Even occasional files that don't open at all, or open as gibberish in Word but open just fine in AW, from which I can either save them as Word rtf or at least extract the text and drop it into a new document. By the time I have everything in rtf I will have cleaned up and style-conformed my text files considerably.
Word 2008 has no trouble opening rtf files created in Word X or Word 2004. (It also opens rtf files created in AppleWorks, Mariner Write, and other programs.) So, for those poor souls like me orphaned by the demise of AppleWorks, I recommend the use of Word X or Word 2004 for reliable conversion of AW files to Word rtf. From there you can move them into almost any other word-processing program for the Mac, including Word 2008.
Word 2008 and .docx format
This raises an obvious question: What about Word 2008's new Open XML (.docx) file format?
I do see the logic of having everything in an Open XML format. That's the future. But I'll make the move to .docx format in increments. Now that I have some understanding of this file format, and the reasoning behind it, I'm saving new documents I create — and older ones that I open in Word '08 — in this format. Subsequently I can always save copies of .docx files as Word rtf, for people who can't open the .docx versions. And there are assorted options for others to use in opening .docx files. (Microsoft provides a free conversion tool at Mactopia. To download Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac 0.2.1 Beta, go to http://www.microsoft.com/mac/downloads.mspx?pid=Mactopia_Office2004&fid=AB66B5BF-37C3-41BB-945E-784782FC582C.) Eventually, it seems reasonable to assume, everyone will either have that ability built into their installed word-processing apps or else will have one or another conversion option on hand.
However, various forum posts and reviews indicate that the conversion process from existing .doc or rtf files to the new .docx format remains imperfect: formatting gets lost, footnotes get bollixed, styles shift, and so on. For that reason, I hesitate to convert in large batches directly from AppleWorks to .docx, or even from Word rtf to .docx, despite the fact that MacLinkPlus Deluxe 16 supports the new .docx and .xlsx (for Excel '08) formats.
Instead, I prefer to supervise these conversions file by file, conforming them to my default font and font size, screen view, and other preferences, and addressing any problems that arise in individual files. That's how I've handled the transition from other formats to rtf, and I'll do the same as I move my files gradually from rtf into Open XML. Call me old-school. It's a boring and time-consuming chore, but it ensures preservation of my content intact, plus quality control over the formatting of the files. Once I get everything into .docx format the files should be close to flawless. Until then, Word rtf remains an international standard, so I can't go wrong.
Word 2008 saves to .docx format by default, but you can elect otherwise in Preferences. And the new Preferences screen imitates Apple's System Preferences look (tastes like chicken), making it easier to navigate.
I consider myself an oddball user of Word, somewhat akin to a mechanic who buys a top-of-the-line new car with all the extras and then strips it down to the motor, chassis, wheels, and basic controls. I've probably deactivated (or simply ignored and left unused) 90 percent of the glitziest features of Word 2008, including the latest. But my main concern, as a professional writer, has to do with the options for adapting my word processor of choice to my own working preferences, no matter how bare-bones or idiosyncratic. With that in mind, I've explored Word '08's viability for such customization. So far, it passes all my tests with flying colors. And while it doesn't open instantly (it takes just under 30 seconds on my MacBook Pro), it runs plenty fast.
I should add that I don't use PowerPoint, having moved to Keynote. I do use Excel, but not in sufficiently sophisticated ways to feel qualified to comment on Excel '08, except that it opens my old Excel X files just fine, save for for some minimal substitution of fonts. However, Entourage is my email client of choice, and I'm also very pleased with the new Entourage. The only problem I've encountered is that sometimes, for inexplicable reasons, highlighting a message and clicking the Delete icon also deletes an adjacent message. I haven't yet figured out why that happens, or what I can do to prevent it, so I have to check my Deleted Items folder before purging it. This one oddness irritates me, but doesn't override my general satisfaction with the latest iteration — a highly effective new interface, and an easy import of all my data from Entourage X.
The long backstory . . .
Before my relationship to the Mac began, I spent well over a decade working in the DOS platform. During that period I used WordPerfect as my text processor of choice, for no better reason than that the tech geek at the New York University computer lab where I learned about things digital recommended it to me when I first walked in the door in mid-1987.
Despite the fact that I've had MS Office on my hard drive ever since I went all-Mac circa 1998, use Entourage as my email client, use Excel for spreadsheet work, used Powerpoint until Keynote one-upped it, and have moved documents into and out of Word many times for professional reasons, I consider myself a Word newbie. Fact is, until late 2007 I'd never worked at length in Word. During a short stretch in the late '90s when I jumped ship to the Apple platform I tried Word 97 briefly, didn't take to it, and then, when a good friend pointed me toward AppleWorks, left Word behind and never looked back.
Well, Steve Jobs gave AW the coup de grace with his EOL notice in August '07. I'd read the pixels on the wall almost two years earlier; so, while still working in AW's final release (6.2.9), I'd already gone shopping for a replacement.
Pages fails the test
Wanting to stay within the Apple family of apps if possible, I first tried Apple's own Pages, which seemed a logical successor. But in various ways it doesn't play well with others — including AppleWorks files.
I started my experiment by importing some of my email correspondence, which I had created in various iterations of AW, running from 5.0 up to 6.2.9, and which contains no formatting. Pages imported these .cwk files easily.
I next tried importing formatted, footnoted AW files generated in AW 5.0. Pages would import these exclusively as text-only. Then I tried importing AW 6.2.9 files with the following features: boldface, italics, headers, footers, footnotes. Pages deleted the footnotes, headers, and footers, while also stripping out all boldface and italics. Moreover, I found it impossible in the resulting Pages document to add visible boldfacing and italicizing. (This is no problem in a document created originally in Pages.)
Next I tried to copy/paste the complete text of an AW 6.2.9 document into a new Pages document. In addition to stripping out the notes and formatting, it removed all paragraph indents, and any flush-right or center instructions as well.
Even when importing an AW 6.2.9 text file saved as rtf, Pages stripped out the footnotes, headers and footers, and formatting (BF/ital/etc.).
I think it safe to say that Pages imports only basic, unformatted AppleWorks documents created in AppleWorks versions 6.2.4 and 6.2.9. Hardly a satisfactory replacement for AW for anyone who has worked in that program for years, with a substantial backlog of styled, formatted, footnoted/endnoted text files to migrate. You'd think that Apple would reward customer loyalty by making the switch from AW to Pages painless, wouldn't you? Think again.
Moving right along . . . to Mariner Write
I then tried a bunch of other word processors. For 18 months I worked in Mariner Write (release 3.7.2) — pretty good, closest of all to the fat-free AppleWorks word-processing environment. But it has some serious glitches, such as a peculiarly constructed, counter-productive footnote/endnote function; it actually creates a new file for each note that must then get saved and closed.
Write doesn't recognize AW files, so it's not an inviting sanctuary for refugees caught in the AW diaspora. No other app can read Write's native-format files (.mwd), and MacLink won't translate them. Write's native rtf format (RTF Mariner Write) doesn't open dependably in Word. Word users can usually opens Write's RTF Word files without a hitch, but those files opened with excruciating slowness in Mariner Write itself. The latest update, release 3.8, solves that problem, but doesn't interface particularly well with Word. It adds styles to imported Word RTF documents and otherwise messes with formatting. And, although its current online advertising asserts that "Mariner Write opens and edits Microsoft Word documents," it will not recognize or open Word '08's .docx-format files.
Presently, Mariner has an online chart comparing the latest release of Mariner Write favorably to Word — except that it compares it not to the latest release of Word, but to Word 2004, without indicating which releases it uses for its bench test. And Word 2008 obsolesces a significant number of the features in that chart where Mariner comes out ahead.
"[T]he comparison obviously has been up there for a while and needs to be updated," a spokesperson for Mariner Software wrote to me in late March. I consider that disingenuous; in my opinion, Mariner should have made those revisions in the first month after Word 2008's January 15 release. By mid-June '08, as I write this, the chart certainly implies that it represents the two current releases going nose to nose with their latest iterations.
More importantly, Mariner appears demonstrably more committed to its other products, steadily improving existing apps in its software line and birthing new ones — e.g., most recently, MacGourmet Deluxe, a recipe- and wine-management program — while making no substantive improvements to Write between March 2004, when it released Write 3.5, and June 2008. In any case, I got tired of waiting for MW's long-promised release 4.0, lost confidence in Mariner's commitment to evolving this app, and moved on.
And onward some more . . .
I took NeoOffice and OpenOffice out for rides. They won't open AppleWorks word-processing files either. Beyond that, for me they have too many quirks, and I simply didn't like the UI of either, though I really appreciated the open-source premise and looked longingly at the dedicated usergroup communities these related apps have acquired, which reminded me of the AppleWorks community I'd left behind with true regret. In the last analysis, while I believe in encouraging healthy competition and shareware/freeware, I don't see any advantages for myself to working with Word-clone alternatives. I'd rather spend my time learning how to write applescripts for Word. And I don't overlook the compatibility benefits of working in the same app that so many of my professional colleagues use.
I looked at such alternatives as Mellel, Bean, and AbiWord. Not my dishes of tea. Nisus Writer Pro works very well indeed, but I like to have the specific functions I use visible in horizontal toolbars, and not have to locate them in pop-out drawers among a bunch of other functions I don't use. Once again, I didn't see what I'd gain from choosing this over Word.
(Of course, it's not necessarily a matter of either/or — could be both/and. I have not yet taken either Nisus Writer Pro or Word '08 through the process of putting together a book-length file, with chapters, index, table of contents, bibliography, etc. I will try that sometime. Perhaps Nisus does that better than Word; I don't know yet, though Word '08 has some new functions to serve those purposes. What I do see is full compatibility between the two. Nisus opens my new rtf files quickly and flawlessly. Nisus files saved in rtf, its default format, open with equal ease in Word '08. So there would be no problem moving between the two for specific tasks — for example, using Nisus to build a book out of essays that I created or refined in Word.)
And I tested a number of apps that we could describe as writer-specific environments — WriteRoom, for example, which takes over your entire screen for a simplified, distraction-free writing experience. (I actually achieve pretty much that same effect in Word with some tweaks to the Set Window Size, View, and Zoom applescript; see below.) Scrivener, another contender, does all kinds of nifty things, but most of them I don't want to do — though others certainly might, and more power to them — while the things it does that I want to do wouldn't improve significantly on the equivalent options I found in Word.
Back at the ranch
So, to my great surprise, I have ended up easing into Word. I started not with the latest iteration but with Word X, which I had loaded on my Pismo (as part of MS Office 2000) when I got that machine, and had then transferred over to my new MacBook Pro in summer of '07. I'd never really worked in Word X at length, but over these past eight years I'd been in and out of it — to save in native Word format a document that some editor couldn't read in the versions of Word .doc or Word rtf that AppleWorks generates, or the Mariner Write counterparts thereof. And once in a blue moon some overzealous editor would send me a file using Word's "Track Changes" feature, which I abhor, so I'd have to open that up in Word in order to undo the editorial damage they'd inflicted. In short, I wasn't exactly new to Word X, but I wasn't really at home there either.
Maybe my poking around and testing different word processors over the past two years has loosened me up. Be that as it may, I discovered that I could set myself up to do everything I want to do in Word, in a visual/screen environment that suits me fine.
Obviously I could have done that all along; I just never took the time to sort through all of Word's often bewildering array of options and deselect the many that get in my way, then customize it via toolbars and preferences and tinkering under the hood. (For example, I actually had to nose around online for some time to find out how to eliminate permanently the annoying, persistently malfunctioning two-button Adobe pdf toolbar that Microsoft imposed on users of Word X; that's blessedly absent from Word '08.)
Initially, then, I found Word 97 and then Word X intimidating compared to AppleWorks, top-heavy with features I simply didn't (and still don't) use. And the creepy little animated-cartoon "Office Assistant" Microsoft nicknamed Clippy really made me nervous. Yeah, I know; I could and did turn him off. But he lurks . . . the avatar of everything I have found wrong about Microsoft in the past.
However, the past is prologue. I'm not a knee-jerk Microsoft basher. For a teacher and lecturer (part of my professional practice), PowerPoint improved so greatly on the slide projector and the overhead projector as to leave them in the dustbin of history, and though I've migrated to Keynote I take my hat off to PowerPoint for breaking new ground. Excel is a fine spreadsheet program, now the benchmark for such. Entourage is a first-rate email client. As for Word 2008 — well, I've made it my word-processor of choice, with no reservations and no reluctance. I have no higher praise than that.
Apparently others feel the same. According to Microsoft, the company considers this the most successful launch ever of Office for Mac. And Mac BU has already released Service Pack 1 (SP1), providing increased stability, security, and performance enhancements to the suite. You can download this at http://www.microsoft.com/mac/downloads.mspx. (Be advised: Installing Service Pack 1 deletes all the aliases on your Work menu; you’ll have to construct it again from scratch. You might want to make a screenshot of that menu before starting the install.)
My Word 2008 Applescripts menu:
The recent uproar over the "Simpsons AppleScript Virus," a small, self-contained AppleScript malware applet, makes it clear that Mac users need to take care when downloading, installing, and running applescripts created by others.
With that caveat in mind, I must add that extensive searching online has not revealed any vast trove of readymade applescripts for Word 2008, even from reputable and reliable sources. Nonetheless, I've found some (plus a bunch of Automator "actions"), and I expect more to crop up regularly. Here are brief descriptions of a small collection of scripts for Word '08 that I find handy, and that you might want to consider, with links to them all. Some you can simply download, unzip, and drop as is into your scripts folder (~/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Word Script Menu Items). Others you have to copy and paste into Applescript's Script Editor, compile, and then save. None of them contain anything damaging.
* Paste Plain Text: This does exactly what it says. It strips away from whatever's on your clipboard not just source font and font size but also italics, boldface, underlining and footnotes or endnotes as well, matching the resulting plain text to the font and font size of your destination document's insertion point. (Contributed by Tidbits Senior Editor Joe Kissell, posted as part of a package of six scripts at http://macworld.com/3408.)
* Paste Text Matching Destination Format: If you don't want so extreme an unformatting action, use this one. It will conform your pasted text to the font and font size of the cursor-specific destination, but will retain boldface, italics, underlining, footnotes, etc. (Contributed by Daiya Mitchell and Paul Berkowitz, posted at http://word.mvps.org/mac/PasteTextAS.html. They also offer a Paste Plain Text script, but I prefer Kissell's, which leaves the cursor at the end of the pasted text rather than in front of it.)
* Change Underline to Italics: When I started writing on the computer, back in 1987, not all the editors commissioning work from me accepted digital files; those that didn't required printout. The long-standing convention for typed manuscripts was to indicate italics by underlining the words to be italicized. As a result, I have a lot of text files (especially those legacy files) that include underlined words, unnecessary and unwanted nowadays in most cases. Creating a script to eliminate them from all components of a file — not just the main body of the text but also the headers, footers, endnotes, and footnotes — required consultation with and assistance from the redoubtable Daiya Mitchell at Mactopia, plus some trial-and-error experimentation at my end. Now it does the trick. (http://nearbycafe.com/litandwriting/wordwork/products.html#applescripts). Note: Since some old-school publishing situations, especially in academe, still require underlining, I've also created a script that converts italicizing to underlining, posted in the same spot.)
* Remove From Work Menu: Word 2008 enables you to create a Work menu to which you can add any open document and from which you can easily access those documents — for example, ones currently in progress, or others to which you refer frequently. This script lets you delete unwanted items from that menu. (Contributed by Joe Kissell, part of the above-mentioned package of scripts at http://macworld.com/3408.)
* Set Window Size, View, and Zoom: Lets you pre-set the way you like to view your Word documents — window size, window position on your screen, view, even specific toolbars — and impose that on any Word document you open. You can create variants of this script (with variant names) if you have more than one such set of viewing preferences. A fine example of using a single applescript to perform multiple tasks. (Contributed by Daiya Mitchell, posted at http://word.mvps.org/Mac/scripts/WindowSize.html.)
* Arrange All Vertically: Lets you view two (or more) Word document windows side by side. Perfect if you need to compare two documents, or copy and paste from one to another. You can toggle between them using Command+Tilde. Caution: If you have more than two Word documents open, it will resize them all, giving you a screenful of long, skinny windows. (Contributed by Shawn Larson, posted at http://word.mvps.org/mac/scripts/ArrangeAll.html.)
* Clean Web/Email Text: Text copied from online sources, or from emails, often contains unwanted formatting. To strip that out, run this script; it'll get rid of a bunch of junk, including line breaks. This is a tweaked version of a script created by Joe Kissell (posted as "Clean Up Text," part of the package referred to previously), to which I've added the removal of all double spaces and closing angle brackets, which appear as > in some emails. (http://nearbycafe.com/litandwriting/wordwork/products.html#applescripts.
David Pogue has posted "Fix Internet Text," a similar script created at his request by Microsoft, for cleaning and wrapping web/email texts: http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/01/applescript-code-for-microsoft-office-2008/. I've tested this, and don't consider it foolproof. If you run it within an existing text document, even with a selection highlighted, it'll reformat all the text in that file. Instead, you have to paste the copied web/email text into a blank Word document, do a Select All (Command-A), then run the script, and then copy/paste the result into your destination document. Mine, and Kissell's, will work on just the highlighted selection within a document.)
* Apple helps those who script themselves: Here's one I retooled from something I scrounged up. It will display any text message you put into it. (http://nearbycafe.com/litandwriting/wordwork/products.html#applescripts.)
I've run these with no trouble, save as indicated with the Pogue script. In Word 2008, as in earlier iterations, you can bind your scripts to keyboard commands, which further reduces the effort involved in activating them. For example, you can follow my lead and use Ctrl+Option+V for Paste Text Matching Destination Format. This creates the most efficient workaround.
For those who want to go further with scripting, Apple has just issued the first update of its AppleScript Language Guide in 9 years. Online at http://developer.apple.com/documentation/AppleScript/Conceptual/AppleScriptLangGuide/introduction/ASLR_intro.html. You can download the pdf version at http://developer.apple.com/documentation/AppleScript/Conceptual/AppleScriptLangGuide/AppleScriptLanguageGuide.pdf.
One of the satisfactions of working in AppleWorks was the supportiveness and generosity of its user groups and developers, from whom issued a veritable flood of workarounds, templates, clip art, and scripts. I begin to see such a sharing attitude in the MS Office environment, especially at some of the sites listed below. May this tribe increase.
Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac (of which Word 2008 is one component) comes in three flavors:
1. Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition. Includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage. (SRP: $149.95.)
2. Office 2008 for Mac (Standard Edition): Adds Microsoft Server Exchange Support & Automator Actions for Workflows in Microsoft Office. (SRP: $399.95.)
3. Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition: Adds Microsoft Expression Media to the standard edition. (SRP: $499.95.)
There are upgrade options for the second and third packages listed above, and of course assorted multi-user licenses. This isn't a full review of the entire MS Office '08 suite in all its variations, so I won't detail all the possible variations. When considering this (or any) software, the purchaser should take into account his or her specific needs at present and for the foreseeable future — keeping in mind the number of computers you use and the number of licenses you'll need, the possibility of sharing a multi-license purchase among a group of friends and/or colleagues, the frequency of new releases, and such other matters as the likelihood of special offers. (For example, in 2007 Microsoft had some windows of opportunity for serious bargain-basement upgrading of earlier releases of Office to the 2008 editions.)
Once you commit to any software central to your working life, I recommend joining — or at least regularly checking into — online forums and/or usergroups devoted to it. You'll get money-saving advance warning of discount opportunities, not to mention help with the inevitable bugs and commiseration over the unsolved problems.
To customize Word for myself and research this article I spent time at the following sites:
Word:Mac, a section of The Word MVP Site (http://word.mvps.org/Mac/WordMacHome.html);
TUAW: The Unofficial Apple Weblog (http://www.tuaw.com);
Apple's own Applescript site (http://www.apple.com/applescript/);
Tidbits (http://db.tidbits.com); and other info sources. My thanks to them all.
A.D. Coleman, Posted 6/22/2008
For more information on Microsoft Office 2008 visit: www.microsoft.com
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