Microsoft’s cash cow has felt a constant barrage of aliens poking at the dominance it once enjoyed. Apple launched Pages, Google launched Google Docs and OpenOffice is becoming the de facto choice for governments looking to trim their massive software licensing costs.
While Word is still the most dominant brand in word processing, it could soon cozy up to WordPerfect or AmiPro in the coffin of software failures. Rather than write about all the things I hate about Word, I decided to write up some ideas that Microsoft could and should use to regain its dominance, scare off those probing aliens and evolve its standing.
1) THE Windows Default Editor — Notepad and Wordpad felt like a strange way to solve the issue of taking notes in Windows. Notepad is a straight-forward ASCII-style editor with few frills; Wordpad (interestingly sires back to an idea for a mobile app that quickly disappeared during the Windows 95 beta) deals with low-level word processing documents or filtering .doc, rtf and other files. My suggestion? Kill both. From the flames rises a new word pressing program — Word Lite. Free, well-branded and so basic, you’ll probably need something more robust and comprehensive… and yes, Works is dead.
2) Word App Store — As a professional editor and writer, Microsoft needs to make this happen. Word Lite not only needs a spell checker, a grammar checker, a word count but it also needs professional level tools that require professional-level certification, verification and yes, a probable licensing fee. The Word App Store would offer all these things along with paid apps for AP style, Economist style, Wired style and whatever else an editorial project might require. For freelancers, they could turn these packages on and off as needed for a project. For licensors, this would ensure yearly updates to an active audience (for a fee). Need Word Art, why not buy it for $10 with 100 pieces of clip art? (Hey, if you need hints… check out how Notepad++ does it.)
3) Word on iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Mobile – Ballmer already knows that Cloud Computing will probably turn him into former CEO in the Bahamas. Yet, rather than tie a Word user to a platform, bringing the Word brand to every platform not only gives consumers choices, it avoids several potential suits from the FTC.
4) Ditch the “Smart” code (smart quotes, crazy MS version of XML) – Whenever I get a new install of Office I’m saddled with the task of shutting off Smart Quotes, ordinals and all the other assumedly Smart things that Microsoft already did for us. Seriously stop. Smart Quotes kill scripts, make pages look bad and add time to the dev and edit process. So not smart. And for the few HTML illiterates who rely on “Save to HTML,” Word creates too much needless formatting code that adds time to the Q&A process and the code is usually 50% over what is required to create a web page. And creating new Word formats that don’t work with old formats is just stupid. You rule the land, just stick to the same .doc format and improve the product, don’t confuse the document.
5) Skins that bring better functionality (or just the old look back) — the latest version of Word offered a new, more confusing view that mostly scrapped the old first level interfaces that users experienced with the product, yet the second and third tier (the real place where most people work had NOT changed at all. The result was new makeup for an old dog.
Assuming that owning Word as a “necessary evil” in order to do business is becoming less of a requirement and more of an elite level of user, Microsoft has to imagine what the future of Word will be. On its current tract, Word will not survive in the face of challenge unless Microsoft decides to do something drastic. With Adobe’s Acrobat becoming the default format for digital documentation, Word files are becoming less and less common. If Adobe were to create a simple word processor that saved files in a modifiable PDF format, the Word team could just kiss their desktops goodbye.
Yet, I know Microsoft. It has several of the leading minds in software. Microsoft could win again, if it tries.