Author Tanya Mahmutovic has been a Technical Writer in IT and software development for nearly seven years.
Do you remember when desktop publishing was not user-friendly? Learning how to use a desktop publishing tool required technical training, it felt like programming code. Learning how to use Word Perfect was similar to learning how to program code, and there was even a function that revealed codes. WordPerfect was the standard when I started to learn about computers and began developing my typing skills. I distinctly remember the “reveal codes” function, and I actually grew to love it! As most organizations adapted to Microsoft Word, I was truly disappointed that there was not a function that was even similar to reveal codes. However, at the beginning of my educational journey, WordPerfect was the standard. It was the desktop publishing software before Microsoft Word came along and replaced it as the most widely used desktop publisher.
Word Perfect would have been a little intimidating without any training, and Microsoft invested a lot of money to reduce the amount of time it took to publish a straightforward document. This translated well for businesses because they were now able to get more productivity from their employees without needing to provide training. In addition, Microsoft was able to make the MS Word application available on all standard Windows Operating Systems for next to nothing, and every Windows PC had MS Word installed. Why would anyone buy a more expensive product like WordPerfect if a publishing tool was already available on their PC?
In most of my professional experience, I find myself craving access to a wider variety of desktop publishing tools, and respecting those technical communicators who have the support to use something else other than MS Word. The expectation has always been to adapt my content into the applied business standard; that is to say, MS Office Suite. Considering the business’ perspective, MS Word is a logical and economical choice as the standard desktop publishing tool across most organizations. Microsoft’s investment of time and money to increase MS Word’s user-friendliness and ease of use gave them the great advantage in the desktop publishing tool market, as seen today.
Getting a desktop publishing tool is easy now because the MS Word application is on all PCs and relatively simple with little, if any, training necessary. However, organizations are shifting away from using stagnant documentation towards a dynamic approach to access content across many locations and platforms. The constraint that organizations are now facing is that their content must be available to their employees when they need it, especially now that their working force is no longer just sitting at a desk in head office. Instead, employees are working from less traditional locations, such as trucks, cabs, airplanes, hotel rooms, etc., and they are also requesting a wider variety of platforms, such as Mobile Devices, iPads, laptops, etc.
As a Technical Writer, I strive for, and value, translating the content that I create for the user or audience in a format and method that adds merit to their daily function, when they need it. Having access to tools that enable content to be accessible, that embrace principles of usability, especially now that content is more important across platforms, will enable organizations to get the right information to the right users at the right time. At the rate technology is changing, it is important that content is updated and information is delivered accurately, but it is also helpful when the technology that is applied as a vehicle to develop and deliver information, is also adapting.
In the case of WordPerfect, it seems that they may have simply overlooked their audience, and were not able to adopt a user-friendly approach, although in my opinion, it was a far superior desktop publishing tool. In contrast, MS Word listened to customers and made it easy to use, and made the technology inexpensive for users and businesses. Now that the demand is about getting the right content out in a variety of formats, single-sourcing and usability is more important than ever for streamlining technical communication.
After my slow and painful transition from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word, I gave up on trying to reveal my codes. I was forced to adapt, and I began to apply templates and managing my styles in MS Word. Nevertheless, with this new push for content across platforms and devices, my organization might start to apply single-sourcing and usability principles to address some unique challenges; maybe there will be an appetite or opportunity for my organization to adopt some cool desktop publishing tools into their application portfolio.