From the very start, the written word has been about communicating with others: lots of others. And it has been around for a long time. The true writing of language began around 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia, ok, making marks on clay tablets is a long way from being a word processor, but you have to start somewhere.
4500 years later in 1440, Gutenberg ended the era of the scribe, by inventing the printing press and the era of mass written communication was born. In the 1860s personal printing became a reality with the gradual invention of the typewriter.
Very basic at first, the typewriter slowly improved over the next 100 years to include; upper and lower case letter, tabs, the ability to correct mistakes, erase text and even repeat passages of pre-defined text. This is the beginning of the true word processor. By the 1980s however, as good as they were, the typewriter had started to lose ground to the software word processor. The introduction of Personal Computers, coupled with relatively cheap dot matrix and later ink jet printers, allowed almost anyone to become an author and printer. All they needed, was some word processing software and a few sheets of paper. And this of course is where Word joins the story.
The Word Processor is Born - And Word Takes Off
Software based, PC Word processing has been since the early 1980s. Back then the market was dominated by WordPerfect and WordStar, with WordPerfect gaining the upper hand and becoming the dominant player by the late 80s. The first version of Word was released in 1983 for MS-DOS based systems and, given the dominance of WordPerfect at the time, was not very successful. There followed four further DOS based versions of Word, all of which had a hard time competing against WordPerfect, which by then had become an industry standard, especially in Legal and Academic circles.
The turning point for Word was the release of Windows 3 in 1990. Word for Windows 1 or WinWord as it was known then, was an instant smash. WordPerfect didn't port its software over to Windows for another couple years and mirroring the failure of Lotus 123's battle with Excel, had lost too much ground. Microsoft had slain another market leader.
Since version 1, Word for Windows has undergone a steady process of improvement and redesign over the years which has cemented its position as the number one word processor. At version 3, Microsoft changed the system and named it Version 6, to bring it into line with the other products in the Microsoft Office range. Then in 1997, they scrapped the version numbers altogether and released Word 97 as part of the Office 97 package.
Once Word became part of the better integrated Microsoft Office package, WordPerfect fate was sealed. Although WordPerfect was bundled as part of the Corel/Novell WordPerfect suite with Lotus 123 and Freelance Graphics, it was seen by most as a second rate alternative to Microsoft Office.
Word 2000 to 2003
By the time Word 2000 was released, Word's core feature set was pretty much in place - and pretty impressive it was. All the standard word processing features were there: cut-copy and paste, find and replace, fonts and formatting, as well as defined styles, mail merge, outline view, graphics handling, macro language, Autocorrect and so on.
Additional minor improvements were added in the 2002 (XP) release and in 2003 Word was re-branded Microsoft Office Word 2003 to emphasise its tight integration with Microsoft's Office suite.
Along with the other core Microsoft Office applications, 2007 saw a major re-design of Word, with the introduction of the Office Fluid Interface, or Ribbon to give it its common name. Gone were the toolbars and menus of previous versions, and the Ribbon displayed commands on a changeable and context sensitive strip. The main driver of this change was the proliferation of commands available to the user. In the first version of Word for Windows, there were around 600 commands available, admittedly some quite minor. By Word 2007 this had grown to around 6000!
Many users were simply not aware of what Word could do and even if they were, the commands were hard to find. The Ribbon was the answer and whilst it was not universally acclaimed at the time, most people have grown to appreciate it. The Ribbon also introduced the appearance of Galleries and Building Blocks, collections of easily re-used components such as Tables of Contents, Text Boxes and Cover Pages.
Historically, Microsoft applications were known for providing limited security protection to users when opening unknown files. Word 2010 overcame this limitation by defaulting immediately to protected mode, thus preventing any changes from being made to the file/s in question until the user disabled security by clicking a button.
Other new features, as with Word 2007 before it, focused on usability. Small tweaks to the Ribbon and the introduction of Backstage view (which was a complete re-vamp of the old File menu) made it easier to work with and change your document. And the new Design tab allowed user to change the appearance of the whole document with a single click.
OneDrive was the biggest selling point of Word 2013. By accessing this part of the programme it was possible to use the Cloud to share a document with other users and receive notifications when they had made changes to it. To make things simple, the preview function initially showed the non-annotated copy of the file - although you could change this if you needed to look at comments other people had added.
There was also the appearance of Word On-Line, an internet based - and free - version of the world's favourite and best word processor.
So where next for Microsoft Word? Well it's hard to think about a new 'killer' feature that may in the pipeline, but for most people Word already has a pretty rich set of features anyway. As with the last few versions, we expect the main focus to be on usability, making it easier for people to use the features that are already there. One area that could do with some attention is the References tab. Microsoft did a good job with the Table of Contents, adding it as a building block, so why not work their magic on TOA's, Index's and Citations. More likely is greater integration with SharePoint and Word On-line. Word on-line allows you to see where another user is in the same document, and this is bound to carry over into the full version soon and it seems clear that this type of collaborative working is where Word will be headed in the future.
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