Word processing in 2013

This morning I played a little with Quip, a “modern word processor that enables you to create beautiful documents on any device — phones, tablets and the desktop”.

I installed the app on my iPad and used it in a browser on my mac. I appreciate that this is only the very first version, that 1.0 is the loneliest number, and all that… but I still found it disappointing.

Introducing his new product on the company blog, Bret Taylor used a screenshot of the first MacWrite, which I happen to have here at hand because it’s the same I use for each and every rant about “modern” word processing. Here it is:

macwrite

Now, you will notice that right next to the expanded “Style” menu, there is a “Font” menu. In 1984 that menu allowed you to choose from a limited number of font faces. For some reason at Quip they decided that in 2013 all this font frenzy needed to stop, that we didn’t need to change font, so all documents have the one and same font (as far as I could find).

Yes, Quip has nice collaboration tools, so far I don’t think that they are good enough to convince me to move my writing to this new platform. But I will definitely keep an eye on this app, it does look like they are onto something.

The truth is that I don’t have a solution for my word processing problems.

I like using Apple Pages for my documents, because it has a set of very simple and precise layout features, and because, at least in my world, documents still need to be printed in many cases (and I come from a design background, so I actually like typography and layouts).

As long as I’m on my own, Pages is great. If I’m working with a colleague who also has Pages, then collaboration is done via Dropbox sharing. Yes, there might be some issues overwriting the document from time to time, but the quality of the final document still tends to be very good.

In cases where I need to collaborate with non Pages users, I end up exporting the document to Word (and loosing some of the nice formatting), or creating a shared document on Google Docs (loosing pretty much all the nice formatting).

From time to time the real-time collaborative editing offered by Google is nice, but honestly I don’t need it that often.

And then there is Fargo. I love outlines, and the whole concept of storing files in my own Dropbox account is absolutely brilliant. So far, collaboration with Fargo can be tricky (but it’s much better than when I had to convince people to download and install applications on their PC), and I haven’t figured out a way to move an outline to a word processor in order to create a page layout when necessary.

The truth is that most of these tools don’t interoperate. They all have their formats, and quite often the only way out is cutting and pasting: not exactly the most efficient way of doing it.

And while many applications are starting to support real time collaboration, I’m still waiting to see applications smart enough to understand what I’m writing and help me out by finding relevant documents (both in my own archives and on the interwebs), images, data, etc. I think that the technology is there, someone just has to figure it out.

I guess that what I would really like is writing in a Fargo outline, with Quip collaboration tools, and be able to export a structured file to a Pages document for some final formatting touches.

It looks like there’s still plenty of room for improvement in word processing.

4 comments

    • paolovalde

      It’s a good solution for writing (actually I should have mentioned that I always have BBEdit running as my go-to text editor), but it’s not easy to convince people you randomly interact with to learn Markdown.
      And it doesn’t solve my layout problems.
      If it’s just about writing, especially technical stuff, without having to care at all of the layout these days I’d probably go to Fargo. Outlines are great tools for thinking.

  1. Mike Procario

    I was writing issues document that was very well matched to using an outline. I wrote it in Fargo using the ability to move parts of the outline around until I had the most logical arrangement. It was real help. Then I wanted to share it with my colleagues, and I had real problems exporting in such a way that I could produce a readable Word file. My my colleagues are not the fan of new technologies that I am.

    • paolovalde

      With the latest updates, you can now easily publish an outline. But of course, if you need multiple users to edit the same outline, it can be a bit challenging.