It is hard to believe it has been nearly five years since Steven Poole’s classic essay, Goodbye, cruel Word. In it Poole reflects on his time using Microsoft Word:
I was still somehow brainwashed, though, as perhaps many people still are today, into believing that Word was the “serious” word-processor: the professional tool for anyone who did heavy lifting with language. Part of the reason for Microsoft’s success in this propaganda trick, I think, was its brilliant choice of file-name extension. Think about it: .doc. That means “document”. A .doc just is a document, right? And a document has to be a .doc. Stands to reason. Anything else would look amateurish. If they had called their files .mwd or something, we might have all jumped ship a lot sooner.
Poole offers two alternative programs: WriteRoom and Scrivener. Both combat Word’s glut and unsustainability:
Am I not worried that WriteRoom and Scrivener, delightful though they are, are small products from tiny outfits, not “supported” by the corporate might of a large company such as Microsoft? No, I’m not. Because actually my writing is now more secure. Instead of a bloated proprietary file format like .doc, both programs use accessible formats – .txt, .xml, .rtf – that (as far as one can predict these things) will be readable forever.
Both WriteRoom and Scrivener are still around. There are many more writing apps available as well, such as BBEdit, Byword, iA Writer, and the oft-overlooked but excellent TextEdit. Most of these are exclusive to Mac and iOS, of course.