Wednesday, August 30, 2006


What do we really want from a word processor?

I was thinking through the whole word-processing evolution this morning and really marveling at how far we've come in just 20 years. I remember when I used a word processor for the first time. It was the early version of WordStar, and it was probably sometime in 1984, right after the first IBM PC came out. I remember putting the baby down for a nap and sitting in the dining room watching my typing appear on the screen like magic. I was awed. Back then the world was still flat and fire had just been discovered. I think we were still working on the wheel.

Word processing is so much more than text now it almost doesn't seem like we're in the same universe. I mean, sure, I'm still typing characters on a keyboard and watching them appear on the screen. But there's color--lots of it. And movement. And I'm not satisfied with blocky Courier letters anymore--we need fonts that harmonize with the content and intent. And I want backgrounds that say something about who I am and what my message is. And I want the option of doing all sorts of complicated column tricks and adding shades and pull-quotes and heads and subheads and multiple customized links. More than anything, I don't want my word processor--or my documents--to be boring. I'm used to expression, lots of expression, in font, color, format, photo, background, video, sound, and more.

And I'd like to be able to program my word processor so it knows the way I work--that in the morning I typically do the blog posting; that in the late morning I work in the online communities; and that all afternoon (and into the evenings, and on the weekends sometimes) I am writing books. That way it will know which template to open for me and when, based on the personalized clock I set up in the control panel.

And maybe one day my word processor will tell me when the brightness and contrast levels in a photo are too low to be produced professionally (when I choose the "Prepare for commercial printing" option). And there will be a button that pops up enabling me to add a video post to a typed doc when I publish it live to the web; and of course I can save all this as XML and send it via RSS and broadcast it as a podcast with a simple click of a button.

Okay, some of this is real and some of it is future projection, but no matter how you slice it, this is one heck of a long way from type-a-character-discover-fire WordStar. :)

So, what do you want your word processor to do?

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