I actually posted about this a couple months ago in my LiveJournal.
Here's what I had to say then:
So my friend Adam and I were talking, via IM of course, about the state of Office software on the Mac (and, in turn, on computers in general). I know, pathetic. But look at me, Im an unattractive, uninteresting gay male sitting at home, doing laundry on a Friday night. Pathetic is my life. Please shoot me.
Anyway, Adams a big fan of OpenOffice.orgs efforts to build an open source office software suite that can go to the mattresses with Microsoft. Me? Not so much. OpenOffice is a powerful suite, and Im sure its a technical marvel of interesting code. But none of that means a think to me, because its ugly. Unusable on a Mac, and not much better on Windows. Short of a ground up recode and redesign of the entire -- and I mean entire -- interface, I cant see it ever being software worth using. There are only a few companies that can make livable software interfaces -- Adobe, Microsoft and Apple being three of the big ones. Adobe has no office suite and no need for one. Microsoft already rules this roost with a functional, if not all that friendly, cadre of powerful (and powerfully insecure) applications.
Which leaves Apple.
Ive written about Apple and office software before -- called productiivity software before Microsofts behemoth of a suite became synonymous with the term. The conversation this afternoon got me thinking about it again, and how much Id like to see Apple build a word processor. I like Nisus Writer Express a lot -- but Id like a Keynote-type app (smooth and powerful) better. Of course, the problem with a word processor is the document format. Word is a standard thats hard to topple. Impossible, Id wager. So any company that goes after the word processing market, even at the fringes of the Mac platform, has to deal with the ubiquity of the Word format and what that means for the distribution of documents created in their own application.
Do they natively write Word files? Obviously, the program would have to read them, in order to handle files sent in from Windows users and to access legacy data. But should a competitor program build its file format around a closed and moving target like .doc? Is it even possible? Or should a second class standard, like the closed-but-public .rtf format, be used? Thats the path that Nisus has taken. To its gain or detriment, its too early to tell.
Which led me to remember something else Adam once suggested -- what about a word processor that used PDF as its native format?
Im an admitted PDF-addict. The format is so versatile, so powerful, theres nothing about PDF thats not to love -- except perhaps for its limitations as an eBook format. PDF is also ubiquitious -- do you know anyone who doesnt have Acrobat Reader or Adobe Reader on their computer, or a comparable product? Most word processing documents that are sent out are meant to be read, not altered. I get Word docs all the time from my boss -- theyre like tablets from the top of Sinai, to be read, not altered. Id suspect most word processor files sent out are similarly perused, not rewritten. So a word processor that natively saved files in PDF format would be able to share read-only versions with other computers, even other platforms, with ease. And in times when the second party does need to edit, thats when you can save a copy as RTF or DOC.
I can think of other advantages a PDF-based word processor format would have. PDFs have built in security features that any PDF-distilling application can activate when saving them. Think of the inherent security in a word processor that can send out files based on an open, well-accepted standard, but which can be secured to limit viewing, printing, editing, extraction, copying, etc -- without the cumbersome Right Management software for the operating system required by Microsofts secure documents initiative in Office System 2003. These secure documents would also be cross platform, accessible (to those with the access code) on Macs, Windows machines and Linux boxes, all from the get go. No special software required.
Also, since the documents would be built in the published PDF format, not the proprietary, hidden DOC format, theyd be future-proofed. An open standard is one that people need never fear will disappear, rendering their documents unaccessible.
Sure, PDF files can get awfully large when filled with lots of graphics and the like, but were talking about word processing documents -- mainly text with a few blurry JPG files here and there, most likely. And Mac OS X has the ability to read and write PDF files quickly -- just think how spry the OS is at taking the word document youve been slaving over and throwing it to Preview for a quick check before printing, and remember that in doing that it first creates a PDF of the document. All in seconds. I just converted a 60 KB Word file (all text, 27 pages of it) to PDF using the Preview function of the OS X Print dialogue, and the result was a 68 KB PDF.
PDF is so integral a part of the structure of Mac OS X that itd almost be a shame not to use it, unless there is some technical reason why its not feasible. I cant think of any. Sure, thered be issues of what program would open an Apple word processor generated PDF. How do you stop it from opening in Preview or Acrobat? Dare I recommend that Apple employ a Type and Creator code to link these PDFs to Apples word processor? Or would they go for an altered extension, say .apdf? That would make sending the files out to others a bit less convenient (youd have to change the extension). But Im sure that the Apple software engineers could find a great solution to this conundrum. And make it look Keynote-beautiful in the process.
But should Apple do it? What do they stand to gain? Independence from Microsoft, the ability to chart their own productivity software destiny. To say nothing of better relations with Adobe, for an Apple-based word processor that saves directly to PDF would go a long way in helping make the PDF even more universal on the Mac. What do they stand to lose? Further ground with Microsoft, and a lot of face if their new program flops.
I, for one, would gladly plunk down $99 for an Apple-written, PDF-writing, well-designed word processor. And, for the sake of nostalgia, can I take a moment to recommend the name MacWrite X?