Choosing the Right Word Processing Software; the Least Expensive Part of an Editorial Computer System Is the Word Processing Program; Picking the Right One Can Make the Difference between Productivity and Failure

By Finnie, J. Scot | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, July 1988 | Go to article overview

Choosing the Right Word Processing Software; the Least Expensive Part of an Editorial Computer System Is the Word Processing Program; Picking the Right One Can Make the Difference between Productivity and Failure


Finnie, J. Scot, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Choosing the right word processing software | You may think that choosing word processing software is less like debating the merits of butter pecan and fudge ripple ice cream than deciding on a brand of paper clips. But the truth is, like ice cream, word processing software inspires strong emotional attachments. It has to do with the effort needed to master the intricacies of a given program, and the apprehension with which many approach computers.

The problem is that when it comes to selecting a word processor for a microcomputer editorial system, computer anxiety and software loyalty tend to cloud the issue. People who have never word processed often want whatever they have heard is the easiest to use. In many cases, without knowing anything about it, they will be adamant about a particular program. And, rather than trust the counsel of experienced, expert sources, they seek recommendations from friends and colleagues who may be trying to justify their own decisions.

Recently, a friend of mine who had never bought a new car asked me for advice on that subject. I suggested she start by reading the results of the latest research conducted by a well-known consumer products magazine. She replied that she could not rule out cars based on "black dots" in a magazine. In fact, I realized, she had already made an emotional decision.

Experienced users, who are often stuck using and "thinking in" whatever word processor seemed easiest when they started, face a different pitfall. For them, the thought of switching to another program may be daunting--even though they may secretly recognize that their software is hopelessly inadequate for their work. They may stubbornly argue that WordStar, for example works just fine--even though, in my opinion, it's about as old in computer terms as a 1932 Underwood.

If you are getting the idea that companies often fall into word processing--you're right. Considering how little time most editors and staff writers have for extraneous tasks like learning word processing software, it's worth giving some thought to what you select. The last thing you want is to discover in a year that the word processor you chose for your IBM PC or Apple Macintosh editorial computer system is woefully inadequate and should be replaced. More than likely, inertia will have taken hold, and rather than ask for a change, users will want to continue working around the deficiencies of a poorly chosen program. The result could be that much of the efficiency you might have gained from your editorial computer system is being negated by an inappropriate program. It is important to keep in mind that, although word processing software is comparatively inexpensive, the time it takes staff members to relearn and adjust to a new word processor can be very expensive.

What makes word processing software different? If you were to compare the major brands by lists of their features, you might think the different software is practically all the same. But that's not true. What is shared by most is a common set of functions that make up what word processing accomplishes for users.

Behind the scenes, however, and often obscured by marketing hype and hoopla, there are very different strategies for implementing those functions. One of the most significant differences separating programs is an emphasis on either ease of learning or ease of use. Conventional wisdom holds that if your program accents one of these traits, it generally does not excel at the other. Most vendors, however, claim that their products offer both features.

Some word processors, including most of those for the Macintosh, emphasize a pleasing presentation of the menu or command system, sometimes called the "user interface." In addition to being more appealing to aesthetically-minded users, this usually improves ease of learning.

Other programs, such as XyWrite III Plus, from XyQuest Inc. …

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