Okay! All right! Enough already! I promise I'll never again print a discouraging word about Microsoft Word.
In a recent column, I offered a mixed review of the new version (v. 2.0) of Word, the word-processing program from Microsoft; I found it high-powered but slow and complicated. I have subsequently been torn to shreds by some readers who are clearly devoted to this program.
This response is a particular manifestation of a generalized phenomenon you find throughout the personal computing community: Lots of people have become loyal fans -- indeed, absolute devotees -- of particular machines and programs.
I run into this all the time -- you probably do, too -- just talking to people about their computer gear. And I come up against it head-to-head whenever I come down hard on a new program or computer in this space.
With the possible exception of fishermen who have invested in a Berkley Graphite Rod, there is probably no more enraptured corps of product owners in America than the crew of true believers you'll find at any Macintosh Users Group meeting.
But then, you find nearly equal loyalty and enthusiasm at any gathering of Apple II addicts, Kaypro carriers, Heath huggers, Tandy troopers or Commodore compatriots.
The only group that doesn't seem to wear its love for a particular computer so visibly on its sleeve is the largest group of all -- the owners of the IBM-PC.
Perhaps this is because the IBM buyer is secure in the knowledge he made the right choice and doesn't need to prove to the rest of the world how right he was.
Software programs enjoy, if anything, even stronger consumer loyalties.
You get a pair of computer users into an argument about the relative merits of, say, Symphony and Framework, the two best-known integrated software packages, and the medieval wars of religion begin to look like a Sunday picnic.
Certain software companies seem to elicit particularly fervid support. The current favorite -- in the MS-DOS or PC-DOS world, at least -- is Borland International, maker of the excellent Turbo Pascal and the indispensable Sidekick accessory program.
Borland makes useful programs that work beautifully, offers them at prices under $80, doesn't threaten you with jail if you make a copy, and provides free, friendly technical help for all its customers. No wonder computer people are in love with this company.
Given the intense consumer loyalties that mark the personal computer community, I should not have been surprised that Microsoft Word would have its diehard defenders. It's just that I hadn't previously run into any strong Wordophiles.
There are word-processing packages that have earned loyal fan clubs. I know several writers who have clung to their outmoded 8-bit, CP/M computers just so they could continue to use the writing program called Electric Pencil.
On the MS-DOS side, I keep meeting writers who have gone head over heels for a program called Xywrite II.
Then there are the hundreds of thousands of computer users who profess to be blissfully happy with the impossibly complex WordStar, of all things. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, "Such is human perversity."
And now I've heard from people who will go to the mat on behalf of Microsoft Word.
Some readers pointed out, accurately, that in my comments here on how difficult it is to format a page for printing under Word, I failed to mention a set of short-cut formatting commands that can be implemented with two keystrokes.
Yes, those commands are available and work fine if you're writing on standard plain paper (i.e., no letterhead) in standard paragraphs. But to adopt your letter to any other format is far more complicated and time-consuming on Word than on most other programs in its price class (i.e., $300 and up).
The most interesting Wordophile who contacted me is Anne Elizabeth Guthrie, a Washington, D.C., woman who was so taken with the possibilities of Microsoft's multifaceted program that she wrote and published, on her own, a book on the program.
Now, it's one thing for a consumer to stand up for a particular computer product, to tell her friends about it or write letters to computer columnists. It's another thing altogether for someone to write a whole book.
And Guthrie's book, "The Secret Word, A Guide to the Hidden Potential of Microsoft Word" ($17.95 from The Technolit Center, 1001 Connecticut Ave., Washington, D.C. 20036), is an excellent job. It's a much better introduction to the program than the manual Microsoft provides, and it has more useful tips than the Microsoft Press book on the program ("Getting Started with Microsoft Word," $17.95).
If Microsoft has any sense, it ought to buy a few thousand copies of Guthrie's book and hand it out to anyone who buys Word. But then, if Microsoft had any sense, it probably would have produced a faster, less perplexing word-processing program in the first place. (You didn't really believe that promise I made back in the first paragraph, did you?)