The race to reinvent document editing

I thought this article would be of interest to the forum.


Ah, another “the death of Microsoft Word” article. I kind of doubt the millions of lawyers, government employees, staff of Fortune 1000 companies, etc., who depend on Word documents, including the billions of such documents in their archives, will buy into that proposition.


I agree. I think the larger point is that there is a lot of innovation and competition within document/note creating apps as we have discussed at length on this form. I suspect that trend will continue but I can’t imagine that Word will be displaced anytime soon. But, I suspect Kodak thought the same thing about film and blockbuster about VCRs and DVDs. :slightly_smiling_face:

I have to wonder how much this new generation of linking/backlinking text editor are actually drawing from Word (and to a lesser extent, Google Docs) and how much they’re catering towards those folks who had already left word processors for plain text/markdown editors? At least on the Mac the latter seems to be their main source of users. Maybe it’s different on the PC side?

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I was creating a TOC in a Google doc a few weeks ago and was surprised at how smart their link suggestions were (documents in my own drive).


Interesting article and I’m glad to see the pressure on incumbents to evolve. Timestamps (Word doc at the time it was emailed) and immutability (PDF) are still too valuable in many industries, though. I think we’ll need to see more progress in that area from new document editors before they’re acceptable, especially when documents are being passed vertically between related organizations (supplier, vendor, client, stakeholder, etc.)


That was interesting, and I liked how the article talked about the pressure these newbies are putting on Word, rather than the idea they’ll take over any time soon.

Not even Google Docs?

Word documents have a scarily strong foothold within many organizations.

I like the idea that other systems are popping up though. Here’s hoping that solutions pop up that don’t have too much lock-in :crossed_fingers:

Just about every word processor nowadays supports .docx (and even .doc).

It’s not just Word, it’s the whole package. Excel is the industry standard in finance. PowerPoint dominates presentations. Outlook for email/calendars. Now, all these corps are also using Teams/Skype, Azure/OneDrive, and SharePoint.

Every college I have been to and jobs at corporation/federal governments I have had in the last 20 years, they have all used Microsoft’s software and online services. Heck, the last 2 schools I went to, Office 365 was free for all students (and the other 3 used it, but students had to buy the 4 year student version).

Every time someone in the Apple world suggest something about MS losing dominance in corporate software, I just assume they have never worked outside of tech.

The formatting doesn’t always covert well. You will get funny results sometimes trying to convert something to Word. (And Word has a lot more options for formatting. I couldn’t use Pages in school because it lacked the formatting options.)


That’s my experience too. Both the organisation I work for and the university I study at provide Office 365 for free and expect documents in that format. I’ve tried many different routes to produce documents in smarter ways but always end up using Word for much of the production. It’s easier than converting later and dealing with the formatting issues, the need for cover sheets, and academic referencing.

For personal use I have Ulysses and love it.

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No, but a small handful of word processors use Microsoft’s file formats by default.

Here’s one example of such.

To replace word in enterprise setting one should have the Tracking Updates feature. Which is very hard with a plain text markdown format. But only time can tell.


As I was told by a college professor who required a very particularly formatted, lengthy paper (paraphrasing): “If you choose to write it in something other than Word, do not just submit the paper without checking your format in Word first. Word is required for this class, use it.”

So even if I wrote it in a cheap knock off, I had to use Word to submit it (unless I didn’t care about my grade). But Office 365 was free, so students had no excuse.

Not to mention the free stuff just is not as good as Office. Word has a learning curve, but it’s a powerful program.


I could go into lengths tracking whether this example is a demonstration of abuse of privilege by an instructor or not. Since you’ve paraphrased, we’ll agree that all stories have at least two sides. In this case, perhaps the instructor really was too full of it to get past recognizing that requiring a specific quality in document results is not sufficient to force the use of a specific tool. Alternatively, the instructor had other needs to have submissions using Word (i.e. to do grading using the revision tracking tool in Word) and was just not coherent/polite enough to make them clear. Finally, perhaps you inadvertently forgot to add that your college requirements stated that all students had to use Word and the university provided a free student license.

Taking a different tact however to continue the core of this thread, I have my own thoughts.

First, after spending an inordinate amount of time trying to get a Jupyter Notebook (which uses markdown syntax in its cells) to print to PDF in a coherent way, I might say this. The race to reinvent document editing (using markdown editors and the like) will fall flat at the finish line when those same editing tools cannot produce well-structured, first-in-class printed documents without that you have to wait for a certain phase of the moon, tie your hands behind your back, recite the Gettysburg address backwards in Farsi, and then hit command-alt-A-X-Z on your computer keyboard while the printing queue is starting. Or, to put simply, how many of you can point to the accepted markdown command that works across all flavors of markdown to force insertion of a page break when you want to output your notes to a printed document?

Secondly, having spent a few decades now becoming an advanced intermediate user in LaTeX, I would say that no one likes giving up WYSIWYG to create short documents that have to be printed for distribution. Even me. It is the long haul with the ease for auto-ToC and citation generation while keeping margins and section breaks (and page breaks) as seen in what you write that will make-or-break the Word versus some-other-tool debates.

Finally, having to endure the enduring ePub format for textbooks as the next greatest invention, the idea that even longer documents can work as a Web-page – you just have to get used to scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and … – is for the birds (as the saying goes). Or maybe it is that we still have to wait on an ePub reader app that is designed not only to allow you to read sequentially through a long document but is also well-enough designed to allow you to jump quickly to specific content within the document once you know that it is there (e.g. … gosh, I know that I want to get to Figure 3.45 in this textbook but … (scroll, scroll, scroll, … scroll) … where is the darn thing!!!).



In my opinion it’s best to use the best tool for the job. For me that’s Markdown for drafting and Word for the final product. I would not use either of those to replace the other, because both of those are (for me) the best at their respective jobs. I think for a lot of Word use cases it really is best to just suck it up and use Word.

Relatable :laughing:I think with time the rise of a new document system with these issues fixed is possible. But that’s definitely not in the near future.

It was some advanced business class using one of the standard formats, but each section had to conform to it. This much space here, a comma there, hanging indents, etc. He was saying Word was required because if you wrote it with something else and saved it as a .docx and then he opened it in Word the formatting might change, so you would lose points just because your formatting was not correct.

I did say Office 365 was free and required. But it wasn’t just Word. I have an accounting degree. Excel was required for every finance class. In schools where Office wasn’t free, it was required you buy a license. Of course people would use Googlesheets or whatever and still be fine, but on paper it was a requirement. (Having to buy special software for a class was pretty common in general.)

I don’t see a problem with schools requiring it, at least for a business degree. Office is the standard in business, you need to know how to use it.


Fundamentally, Markdown is not a tool for producing printed documents (or even paginated electronic documents meant to evoke print). It is a tool for writing lightly formatted text. That text can be easily exported to the web or other similar destinations, but it’s not intended for going directly to print. If you need print it works a lot better to export it to some sort of word processor or page layout tool and print from there.


Which is fundamentally why markdown will not be a competitor to bet on in the race to reinvent document editing.


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