Here's some random tired late-night thinking on Microsoft Word. Or, rather, the way Word and word processing programs are used.

The big problem with modern word processing, to me, appears to be that the document styles, document usage, and document versions are being rolled into one. The Document is Everything. The Document Retains. The Document Remembers. The Document Forces.

I have written a doc in OpenOffice.org, but I'm facing the same problem as people who use Word will face. I don't see a solution to this problem because people are so used to Modern, Easier Word Processing.

Here's how things work in Real World: I have written a story. It goes to my beta reader. The beta reader is supposed to use specific character style marking and Insert Note command for their annotations. I even had to make a style guide for this supposedly simple procedure. He's a smart person. He'll figure it out.

Why the style guide? Because a few years before, I Just Sent Them The Damn File... and the user came up with all sorts of funky ways to make their text stand out. Colour the text red, blah blah blah.

What would the printers of yesteryear would have thought if each and every one of the editors would have come up with their own editorial marking styles? They would have been confused, that's what.

Now, I'm a writer of the text. I'm not supposed to be coming up with my own rock-solid annotation method on how to tell apart my own annotations and my beta reader's annotations.

But that's what these new and bold word processing packages force us to do.

Okay, this isn't a big problem. I archive the versions separately. I can read from the svn log that this one here was the copy my friend sent. I can figure out that the red stuff is his stuff, just like ages ago you could tell apart the people who wrote the margin annotations.

The big lesson is this: The new word processing systems don't have a rock-solid support for workflow. They do, however, give you a big honkin' toolkit for defining your own workflow. People who are unaware of how the particular system does their workflow end up in nasty surprises. The whole notion of workflow support comes from the users rather than the system itself.

In a sane world, I could type my text. It'd say "Author's margin notes", "Author's redaction", "Beta Reader X's margin note", etc., wherever such things would actually appear. The Beta Reader would need, without explanation, where to type their own comments to make them appear as Beta Reader X's margin notes.

Now, the Author has to deduce that "this red text here was added by the Reader X, because he was the only one who says he didn't get the copy of the Style Guide."

God, this sounds like some corporate bullshit about changed TPS cover sheets or something. In a sane world, people who write just write. The TPS cover sheets get added entirely elsewhere.

Heck, I'm in so much coffee that I don't know if I already posted about this. But this is how things are...