I started using a word processor in 1980 when I was an 11 year old in 5th grade. The program was called C.C. Writer – an ancient dinosaur that I used on our family TRS-80 CoCo (color computer – the one with an acoustic modem and everything which is now, quite literally, a museum piece I saw on display last year at the McKinley Museum in Canton, Ohio). I got pretty good at it- even typed a 70 page leaf collection school project for Mr. Patterson’s 7th grade science class. And I clearly remember telling my parents that I would NEVER be able to go to college because every college application had to be TYPED and I had NEVER used a typewriter before. Of course, my shiny new 256k RAM personal desktop computer and I did make it to Miami University.
Needless to say, I’ve learned LOTS of new wordprocessing programs over the last 32 years: AppleWriter, AppleWorks (all the schools eventually used Apple machines, so we had to learn those programs), EasyWriter, PFS First Choice, pfs Write, Wordstar, Wordperfect, and I’m sure there were others.
Eventually, my universe seemed to standardize on Microsoft Word and the entire Microsoft Office suite. Freed from having to learn a new word-processor every few years and comfortable that, finally, THIS program was here to stay, I had time to learn other Microsoft programs like Excel and PowerPoint. I even dabbled once-upon-a-time in Microsoft’s SQL-like proprietary programming language for the database program Access and continued to be an avid user of Publisher for creating newsletters, award certificates, and posters. Over the years, my use of Access faded, but Publisher was still my main desktop publishing platform, so imagine my surprise, when Microsoft stopped bundling Publisher as part of Office.
Despite my affinity for and proficiency with Microsoft products, I slowly become a big fan of free, open-sourced software, probably because I am married to the world’s biggest anti-fan of large, monopolistic computer companies. My fandom started with PDF readers and writers (dear world: please stop telling people that Adobe bloat is *the only* software with these capabilities) and grew from there. I’ve printed & shared documents via PDF format for years and I needed a simple way to access them since the days of my Palm Pilot, so I was excited when Google Docs appeared on the scene. Yet still I clung to my comfortable Microsoft Office programs, even when they started to look like my mom’s worn-out nightgowns.
When I got a new laptop last Christmas, I decided to take the plunge and see how far I could walk the free, open-sourced talk. It was a scary thing at first to NOT have Office installed. I used Google Docs as much as I could, but some information I just did not want on the internet, so I used OpenOffice as a back-up. I hit one small snag in January when I needed to quickly modify a pretty hefty Word document I created before Christmas containing watermarks and a dynamically linked table of contents. Neither of my go-to programs could both preserve the existing formatting AND allow me to make the necessary modifications, so I had to use Word on dear husband’s computer. Otherwise, I sailed along for 6 months with no problems at all.
This week, I hit problem documents #2 and #3: my resume and a family reunion invite done in Publisher two years ago. The problem with my resume, which needed to be updated, was (again) the formatting. Neither Google Docs nor OpenOffice plays nice with heavily formatted documents like a resume and again, I did NOT have the time or energy to recreate the thing from scratch. But the invitation – ach y fi, did IT give me a boatload of trouble!
First, I learned that NOTHING will open a Publisher document except Publisher. And to make matters worse, it has to be the same VERSION of Publisher you used to create the document in the first place, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I was still determined to recreate the thing – until I learned that there is NO standardization in desktop publishing. So sure, I could download a free, open source program to use, but 1) I’d have to learn how to use it and 2) the format is STILL going to be proprietary to THAT piece of software. After spending an hour or so screwing around trying to learn Scribus, which is just similar enough to Publisher to make you think you can use it easily but just different enough to make you want to rip out your hair, I gave up and made John find me Publisher 2010 on some computer we had at home.
So overall, I give this experiment a B grade. I’d say I’m 95% comfortable NOT having office on my laptop, but boy, when I need it, I sure do need it – and usually because I just don’t have the time to recreate something I’ve already spend hours and hours refining and perfecting. In the end, the principle just might not be worth the occasional but intense stressy drama.
(to be continued…)