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1/5/2007
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Microsoft Interviews Itself About The New Word

Microsoft corporate VP Peter Pathe explains how new features and a new user interface will benefit users.

A new version of Microsoft Word comes to consumers on Jan. 30, and to celebrate the occasion Microsoft has interviewed itself.

In a Q&A posted on the Microsoft Web site, Microsoft corporate VP Peter Pathe fields questions posed by PressPass, which is to say Microsoft.

Eighteen years old now, Word has reached the age of consent, never mind that you've been clicking "I Agree" for years now.

First released in 1983, Word has evolved from the first WYSIWYG word processing program into a ubiquitous and mostly beloved workhorse perhaps best summarized by an even more awkward acronym, WYSIHWBBTM -- What You See Isn't Half of What's Buried Behind These Menus. (Lest Microsoft be accused of shaving years from Word's age like some movie studio confabulating to protect the career of a favored forty-something ingenue, it's worth noting that the company considers Word's date of birth to be 1989, the year of its release for Windows.)

Yet for all its features, Word remains easy enough to use to satisfy the 450 million users of Microsoft Office worldwide. And that's one of the reasons Pathe believes the program has endured.

"Ease of use became as important, or in some cases more important, than any particular word-processing feature a competitor might be adding," explains Pathe. "Consistency and compatibility with Excel and the other Office applications became a new customer expectation. And 'personal productivity' had to be enhanced with collaboration and workgroup capabilities."

Looking ahead at the new Word, Pathe says customers can expect to save time using the program as a result of a new user interface design. He lauds the program's new formatting capabilities and points to Quick Styles and Document Themes as options that will help users alter the appearance of documents quickly.

"Also, our new Document Inspector protects people from making 'information errors' the way spell check protects them from spelling errors," Pathe says. "The Document Inspector looks for personal information, along with tracked revisions, and alerts users to their presence. If you've ever sent a document to a client that contained embedded comments and changes from the internal process, you know what I'm talking about."

Microsoft's dialogue with itself doesn't exactly delve into unknown territory or pose tough questions about the future of a desktop app in a world waking to the possibilities of browser-based apps, but there is one surprise that some may welcome: Pathe admits that Microsoft should never have created Clippy, the animated paper clip helper unceremoniously banished from Microsoft Office in 2001.

"We knew that we needed to make Word easier to use and the features more accessible to more people," says Pathe. "But it turns out a cartoon paper clip asking if you wanted help with that letter to Mom wasn't always as welcome as we had hoped it would be."

That's not exactly bended-knee contrition, but it does suggest that the new Word has been crafted with Microsoft's many customers in mind. It may even sell a few copies.

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