TMCnet Feature Free eNews Subscription
November 26, 2018

The Enduring Popularity of Microsoft Word

Today, Microsoft (News - Alert) Word and the term word processing are almost synonymous. But Word was not the first word processor for the PC. In fact, its popularity did not take shape until years after it was released.

The initial success of Microsoft Word can be traced to the advent of graphical user interfaces. But while the word processor exploited the powers of these new operating systems, its enduring popularity is largely due to the quality of the program itself. Its fluidity makes it ideal for countless purposes. For instance, the CEO of Transcription Outsourcing, LLC affirms there’s no better word processor for transcription services. The same can be said for creating legal documents, generating business reports, composing dissertations, and writing romance novels.

Let’s go back in time for a moment, many decades before and other modern uses for Microsoft Word were even around. Software word processors as we know them first began entering the market in the mid to late 1970s, and they gradually replaced electric typewriters and dedicated word processing terminals in offices around the world. Among the early market leaders were Multimate, WordStar and WordPerfect, which were successful largely because of their easy-to-use what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interfaces.

By the mid-1980s, there were more 50 different professional word processing programs for MS-DOS, which was the most dominant PC operating system at the time. WordStar, which was the first word processor that could perform automatic mail merging, was the leading program, controlling nearly 25% of the market.

Microsoft Word was first released in 1983. Its initial release was not even on MS-DOS, even though Microsoft developed the operating system. It was first released on a long forgotten operating system called Xenix, which was a Microsoft clone of the Unix operating system, which itself was a forerunner of Linux. Unlike most PC word processors of the time, Word was designed to be used with mice, which were just becoming widely available. But, due to the fact that Word's interface was much different than popular word processors and that it could not print exactly what was displayed on the screen, its use was limited.

Interestingly, it was the success of the Apple (News - Alert) Macintosh that changed Microsoft Word's fortunes. Microsoft was able to adapt the program to Macintosh's groundbreaking graphical user interface, and within a few years, Microsoft Word was the dominant word processor on the Macintosh platform.

Then, in 1990, Microsoft released Windows 3.0, which was the first graphical user interface for IBM (News - Alert) PCs that had wide appeal. Having already ported Word to Windows, Microsoft had a huge head start over its competitors. The failure of other word processors to adapt to Microsoft Windows led to a plethora of failed word processors.

By the next decade, Microsoft Word virtually had no competition in the professional market. Though free open-source word processors, such as OpenOffice, provided users and some low-budget organizations with alternatives.

With the advent of cloud computing in recent years, Microsoft Word has gained a certain amount of competition from companies such as Google (News - Alert). In response to the increasing popularity of Google Docs, Microsoft even released a cloud-based version of Word.

Still, Office 365 — which is a collection of Microsoft Office products that includes Word — controls 65% of the office software market worldwide. This is more than triple Google's market share. It’s so popular that the California Department of Corrections has a program for training inmates how to use Microsoft Office in order to better than chances of gainful employment after their release.

Why Word is so popular can be linked to one important factor: worker productivity. While other programs may be cheaper (or even free), none can quite match Microsoft Word's feature set. The functionality gap between Word and its competitors may be shrinking, but as long as it exists Microsoft should continue to be the dominant force in word processing, at least in the professional office market.

» More TMCnet Feature Articles
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]


» More TMCnet Feature Articles