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While I don’t spend nearly as much time as I used to working on web publishing systems I am still thinking about how academic users can make the most of tools like Microsoft Word and keeping an eye on things. Today, there was an exciting and enticing post from the Word team. Reading in the new Word.

One of the things Word has always excelled at is content authoring, but there’s more to a document than just writing, reviewing and collaborating. Historically, many documents were received and read in a paper form, but the increasing ubiquity of digital devices has led to a world in which many documents never even reach a printer. Word has long had tools tailored for reading, but this release of Word we wanted to go even further to improve the modern consumption experience.

[Emphasis mine]

At last, I thought, they’re going to add proper HTML support! And maybe even ePub!

But no, there’s no mention of HTML at all, it’s about the a reading new mode for Microsoft Office itself, brought to you by “the members of the reading, object zoom, resume reading and navigation pane feature crews, most of whom are shown here”. Based on the picture, that’s more than a dozen people rearranging the deck chairs while the recent versions of Word I have for Mac and Windows still can’t save sensible clean HTML5 to files and web APIs except under very specific conditions involving the marginalised blogging feature.

The reading platform for the world is the web. You have that in Redmond?

Word’s still a really good writing environment if you use the right selection of features, and even if it weren’t it’s still something that we’ll have to support and live with in academia for a long time to come. For example, I’m working with climate change researchers who use R scripts to massage their data, run their models and generate figures for articles, but despite all the reproducible goodness of the process, the ‘papers’ still get written up in Word.

By the way, I’m still slowly working away at the WordDown HTML conversion tool I started last year on the JISC HTML5 project, kind of like Markdown for word processing. It does a good job of exporting Word documents to HTML, based on simple formatting like headings, indenting, list formatting and so on. Maybe the Word HTML feature crew would like to take a look at that, I’d even re-license the code so it was safe for them to look at if that’s a problem.


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