It was October 25, 1983 when Microsoft released the first version of its WYSIWYG word processor (What You See Is What You Get). Wordwhich later became an integral part of the Office suite first and of Microsoft 365 more recently, turns 40 and Microsoft wanted to celebrate the anniversary by briefly retracing the history of the successful application.
The early 80s were the golden age of personal computer: The 1981 IBM PC was the first ever even though the Apple II (1977) was among the very first systems to bring computing into the hands of end users. Microsoft itself recalls the Apple Lisa from early 1983, which is remembered by many as “Apple’s most influential failure“. That sparkling era, which probably had no comparison in the following decades, also saw the birth of systems such as Atari 400/800 (1979), Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum (1982), Amstrad CPC and Macintosh (1984), Amiga ( 1985).
Word, what innovations did it introduce 40 years ago
When Microsoft Word was launched in 1983, it brought with it some features and key innovations which distinguished it from other word processing software of the time. The user interface, for example, finally hinged on the use of mouse. An approach that made the program decidedly more intuitive than other solutions that relied exclusively on keyboard commands.
Furthermore, as we mentioned in the introduction, Word immediately adopted an approach WYSIWYGwhich allowed users to preview on screen what they would then get on paper once they sent the document to the printer.
Furthermore, compared to its competitors, Word had features for managing graphic resources and images, it provided advanced formatting tools and even integrated the first spell checker. As regards the printing optionsWord gave the way to manage the appearance of documents sent to the printer by intervening on the pages and their arrangement.
What were Word’s rivals
When Microsoft Word was launched on the market, it had several rivals. WordPerfect was a major competitor in the 1980s and 1990s: it was known for its robustness and popularity in the legal and administrative spheres. Then they were there WordStarone of the first word processing and word processing programs; MultiMateappreciated for its ease of use; Lotus Manuscript; Wordcraftper i computer Apple II.
What are Word’s competitors these days?
Word remains one of the most widespread and used word processors globally today, but there are several competitors that offer themselves as a valid alternative.
La suite open source LibreOfficefor example, integrates Writer, a solution compatible with various document formats, including Microsoft ones. However, the gauntlet is thrown down by many suite cloud like Google Docs and Workspace as well as the excellent ONLYOFFICE.
LibreOffice and the open source community in general have repeatedly strongly criticized the use of OOXML format (Office Open XML) by Microsoft (.DOCX file in the case of Word documents).
The question of Word document format: OOXML versus ODF
In 2007, in fact, Microsoft took action to have OOXML recognized as one standard ISO. This effort caused significant controversy, with some organizations and members of the open source community raising concerns about the standardization process and complete format opening.
According to LibreOffice, the files used by default by Microsoft Office would still be based on the proprietary format deprecated by ISO in 2008 and not on the standard approved by ISO itself. “They are artificially formed and unnecessarily complex“, LibreOffice complains, arguing that choosing Microsoft would cause problems compatibility with the office suite free. Which instead focuses on the format ODF (OpenDocument Format).
ODF is the work of a consortium of organizations, it is designed as one open standard e independentsupported by organizations like OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and is a recognized ISO standard.
Microsoft explains what Word has in store for the future
After recalling the many milestones placed throughout the history of Word, Microsoft points out that the goals that the company looked to in 1983 have not changed. “The goal is to ensure that Word can support users as they complete any reading and writing task—everything from the simplest to the most complex tasks—as efficiently as possible“, writes the company in a note. What will change in future versions of WordTherefore?
Artificial intelligence and generative models are increasingly protagonists
As was easy to predict, the advent ofartificial intelligencethe arrival of increasingly powerful and advanced generative models, the introduction of Copilot at the level of the Windows operating system and the Microsoft 365 suite act as a driving force to accelerate an epochal change in writing and reading experiences.
Collaboration between users and customization, also for the benefit of developers
Microsoft also plans to improve the collaborative features in order to increasingly configure Word as the most suitable tool for creating, editing and reviewing content efficiently, regardless of where you are, who you are working with and which device you are using.
Word must also become, according to the Redmond company, even more customizable. We have seen what is happening with Excel which integrates Python and other tools that are particularly useful for those who deal with data analysis everyday. Here, Word will be inspired by those changes by providing developers with tools to create experiences in line with user needs and support customized workflows.
Support for more document formats and increasingly central web version
The wordprocessor also wants to become a document reader par excellence, regardless of the device in use and, perhaps, the file format. We know that it is possible to transform PDF into Word using only Microsoft software: in all likelihood, therefore, Word will improve its current features and embrace new document formats in the future.
Finally, the version Word for the web it will never be left behind and will continue to offer the best features with the aim, evidently, of competing with the more well-known cloud suites.