Linked by Andy Roberts on Mon 6th Jun 2005 18:19 UTC
Features, Office Anyone who has used Microsoft Word for a reasonable amount of time will recognise my very own Andy's Laws on Word:
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Absolutely true!
by Rayiner Hashem on Mon 6th Jun 2005 19:05 UTC

I can't begin to tell you how much I detest word. It's totally insufficient for real documents. I just got done working on a 100 page proposal in Word and it was a major pain in the ass. The paper was an entry into an AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) competition, so it had the works --- footnotes/endnotes, table of contents, tables of figures and tables, pictures, flowcharts, diagrams, very specific formatting requirements, etc, as well as seven people working on it at the same time.

Word fought us tooth-and-nail the whole way. From its broken layout and pagination model, to its tendency to allow a single keystroke totally screw up formatting, to its weird bugs (newer versions leave cursor garbage trails on the screen), everything annoyed us. It was even ridiculously slow, taking nearly a minute to load the 15MB document and taking ten seconds to save changes (a PITA for those like me who hit CTRL-S compulsively after every change). And this was on a 2.6GHz P4! It crashed a couple of times on me, and I'd estimate at least two dozen times between all seven of us, and that was just in the last month of the project.

Here's a list of the most egregious brain-damage:

- Chapter titles would refuse to show up in the table of contents for no reason, but deleting it and inserting a new one would magically fix it.
- It kept bolding one of the entries in the table of contents, even though we kept unbolding it. It'd just be bold again when we updated the table!
- It kept changing our heading font to Arial, even though the body text was in Times New Roman. Our supervisor hates mixing fonts in the same document, so we had to constantly watch out for that.
- It's table of contents/tables/figures updating algorithm is quite broken. If you ask select-all then hit F9 (which theoretically updates all the fields in the document), it'll update the table first, but the figure numbering afterwards. This means that if you insert a figure in the middle of the document (which changes the figure numbers for everything afterwards), it'll put all the old figure numbers in the table, and then renumber all the figures, leaving the table with the wrong numbers.
- When inserting references, it keeps defaulting back to "figure number + title" mode, which is stupid in a technical document where figures have long, descriptive titles. It refuses to remember that you wanted just "figure number" in the reference the previous time.
- Last but not least, here's my favorite Word bug: when you have a multiline entry (eg: in a bibliography), word refuses to allow you to indent the second or third line in the entry if you don't indent the first. However, if you hit "enter" at the beginning of the second line, it won't insert a page break, but does set some sort of internal flag so you can now indent that line and the ones after it. Everyone I've talked to knows this little trick, but nobody knows why it works.

Writing a 100 page document with seven people is hard enough. However, the difficultly of working on a large document in word goes up exponentially with document length. It's just too easy to mess something up, and its a real pain going over the paper repeatedly to make sure a later change hasn't fubared an earlier part of the document. At the end, the results aren't even worth it. Word's output is fugly. The justification algorithm blows chunks, it doesn't do asthetic layout of figures/tables, and it can't export to PDF for hassle-free printing. Oh, did I mention its justification algorithm blows chunks? Whoever wrote that algorithm is a failure at life and I hope he dies.

TeX doesn't give me this sort of trouble. it doesn't make me use a cumbersome "equation editor" when I've got 10 pages of complex equations to enter. It handles figure/table placement/numbering for me, updating everything properly behind the scenes. It allows me to concentrate on the content, without worring if inserting this figure will revert all my title fonts to Arial. Best of all, its output looks professional. Figures are placed nicely at the beginning or end of the page, or on their own figure page. They're always perfectly centered, because you don't have to place them by hand. Equations look amazing, and with amstex, can be very complex. The justification algorithm rocks, and outputs nice PDFs with sharp paragraph edges. Trust me, its immediately noticible when you get a paper or resume typeset in TeX, vs one printed in Word. The former has an air of dignity that the latter just lacks.