On November 19th, 1996 Microsoft released a software application that would have a profound impact on our lives even to this day – it was called Microsoft Word 97. Word 97 was an amazing release from Microsoft, and it included an enormous number of new features. Most significantly it set the user interface standard for desktop word processors that we see in evidence today whenever we look at Google Docs or almost any other word processor or rich text editor.
In the almost 20 years since Word 97’s release, the technology world has made great leaps forward. But has word processing improved? Today much of our word processing and publishing is done on the web. Whether it’s through Google Docs or WordPress, the world now produces an enormous amount of content online. However, we’re doing that without many of the features that we’ve been taking for granted since Word 97.
Think about it, or if you don’t want to here’s a post about some of the challenges from WPShout!. Want spell checking as-you-type? Even with the browser’s spell checker turned on most WYSIWYG editors obscure any suggestions with their own right click menu (hint: hold down Command/Control + Shift and right click and you can get the browser menu back.) Need to copy and paste content containing an image? Well that content’s probably not going to come across cleanly, and that image almost certainly isn’t going to make it into your document. Want reliable, robust behavior when pressing Enter, for lists or tables? In many editors, you don’t notice that’s missing until it’s too late.
And that’s just the “simple” features. More advanced features of Word–like editing an image within the document, commenting or track changes are missing in action. Of the plethora of online rich text editors, there are very few that have these kinds of features.
So what do our users do? Well they turn to Word 97’s successors and write their content in Microsoft Word first and then copy and paste it into the WYSIWYG editor provided by web-based systems. Without realizing it, Microsoft Word has just become the starting point for getting content into your modern, web-based, cloud-enabled system.
When people ask me what we do at Ephox, I tell them these are the problems we think about. We know online editing can be better and that is our focus with Textbox.io and now TinyMCE as well. It should be the focus of all the rich text editors out there on the web. Yes it’s true that not every use case requires image editing, HTML tables or commenting. However, at this point surely features like spell checking as-you-type and reliable copy and paste are features that users are entitled to everywhere. We’ve started to address these issues in our editors – with spell checking, image editing and reliable copy and paste, even with images. Stay tuned as we take editing to the next level.