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Microsoft couldn't be Microsoft without Word/Office

Tim Greene | Oct. 25, 2013
Microsoft's productivity apps are $22 billion cash cows

The trouble was, Simonyi says in a video recounting those years, that the hardware couldn't keep up with the ambitions of the software. For example, Word could write italics, but printers and screens didn't support italics very well, he says.

"Mac hardware was good enough first," he says, so Microsoft produced Word for Macintosh in 1985 that sold well despite Apple's selling Macs with a free word processor, MacWrite, included. Word proved so much better that by 1989 more than half of Mac owners also bought Word for the machines. In 1994, Apple gave up on MacWrite altogether.

During its first decade Word faced stiff competition from WordPerfect, far and away the most popular app in its category at the time, catering to the capabilities of IBM PCs as they were then built. WordPerfect was so well established, Simonyi says, that trying to unseat it by matching it feature for feature was pointless. "We didn't have a chance of competing with something that was optimized for the present," he says.

So instead Microsoft opted for a strategy that took a long view and developed Word for a day in the future when hardware would be able to display new graphical features of Word. "We were aiming way ahead of WordPerfect," he says in the video.

That came in 1989 when Microsoft introduced Word for Windows, establishing the application firmly in the Windows graphical user interface. Windows had been launched the same year as Word, but it took six years for Microsoft to deem Word ready for the interface.Word for Windows proved a turning point for the program, although it didn't really take off until the following year with the release of Word 3.0. Word for Windows proved so popular that in 1993 Word for DOS was discontinued.

Meanwhile rival WordPerfect didn't come out with a stable Windows version of Word until 1992. By then Word for Windows had shot ahead, and WordPerfect never regained the top spot. In 1994 Word claimed 90% of the word-processing market, and was used by more than 10 million customers worldwide, according to Dataquest numbers at the time.

"Historically, moving Word to Windows was significant, as was adding it to the Office suite," says Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner. "Both of these happened within the first 10 years of the product."

Since then Microsoft has continually tightened the integration of Word and the other Office apps, says Phil Karcher, an analyst with Forrester Research.

With Office 2013, the latest version, Word has enhanced integration with other Office suite apps to make for richer documents. One example: while working in Word users can search an Office database, the Internet or personal files for images to illustrate the text. They can be sized and placed anywhere in the text with the text filling in automatically around them.


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