I've been providing free technical support as a Microsoft MVP for 10 years now, not to mention the many years before becoming an MVP when I started realizing how good it feels to help others learn. As a support specialist, I continually hear all sides of the software argument...give me more features, there are too many features, why can't you add this feature, why can't you get rid of this feature, I love that feature, I hate that feature.
And years later, as a developer responsible for creating software solutions, I also got a big dose of the old saying "you can't please everyone." Oh...how true.
When it comes to your computer... how you work on it, how you expect it to work, and your own special customizations...we're talkin' very personal things, here! Just ask anyone who has watched me set up one of my own systems! I've learned to become very efficient with my little tricks and I feel lost without them.
I may not be a wiz with Excel, but when it comes to using Word...stand back...I can make that program sing and dance. I love every bloated feature that they stuff into the program and as each beta starts testing I can't wait to see what new features Microsoft has jammed into the program...features with which I know I'll soon have a love/hate relationship.
But sometimes you just don't want to wrestle with all that junk. Some days you just want to write your stinking letter and not worry about styles or shortcuts or formatting or numbering or indents...or crashes! You just want something simple to get a simple job done.
In this article, we'll take a look at Windows Word Pad.
But first! I'm going to bore you with one cute little story.
Years ago I was working with a bunch of hardcore developers. I mean these guys spat out Windows NT core system code like peanut shells. I was there doing my little Visual Basic development and these guys were grunting away with C++ and programming languages I'd never heard of at the time. I was impressed!
A couple of the guys were particularly patient with me. As my mentors, they spent time teaching me a lot about programming. (You've already met one of them here...author Mark Thorpe.) Anyway, I wanted to repay the favor by giving them some free software. So I gave them a list of Microsoft software that I could afford with my discount and told them to pick anything. Most of them picked pretty predictable games and such.
But one of these hardcore, full time geekasaurasus handed me the list and I nearly fell over to see that he'd selected Microsoft Bob.
Now I can hear many of you PC ol' timers giggling from here! MS Bob saw more than it's fair share of snickers. And these days it's a legendary joke that even Microsoft picks on as not one of their better ideas. But it was kinda cute.
It was a fun system interface layer to Windows that looked like a house. The dog, Rocky, would greet you and you'd enter the house. There you'd find the home office with a desk, bookcase, phone, rolodex, pad of paper. Each of these items in the picture were actually access points to the tools they represented. To open your contact list, you'd click on the rolodex picture. To write a letter, click on the pad of paper. Want to send an email message, click on the stack of envelopes. You could even pick from various interior designs to set your mood. How about a Study with a warm fire rather than a stuffy Office?
Okay, so it wasn't the most technically impressive program. But it was fun and back in those days a lot of PC makers, like Packard Bell (who?<g>) were creating these fun Out of Box Experiences by adding these cute, cartoonish interfaces to make computing more friendly. (And truth be told...some days I miss that junk!<g>) Remember, this was before the World Wide Web had graphic pages like this all over the place. Heck, this was back when the WWW was just a toddler.
For the record...MS Bob didn't do too well in the marketplace. I think it may have had something to do with the fact that it wasn't too secure. You could add a password and then you'd have to use that pass to get in the front door. However, faithful Rocky would be waiting for you outside the door and if you entered the wrong password three times, Rocky would say "it seems that you've forgotten your password, allow me to let you in" (or some such comment) and he would open the door and let you into the system.
Now that's what I call a guard dog!<snicker>
Anyway, back to George. When I asked George why on earth would a programming guru at his high level ever want something so silly and simple to use on his home computer...he said, "You know, I work with sophisticated technology all day long. Sometimes, you just want to use something mindless!
And with that...I give you Windows Word Pad.
Hidden away in Windows under Start > Programs > Accessories you'll find an icon for a little known word processing program called Word Pad. It sits there with little fanfare and no splash screen to greet you. If you can't find it on your menu, you can click Start > Run and type wordpad.exe and hit enter. If your system is properly setup, it should start up for you. If not, you can dig around in your Windows directory and you should find it hidden away in there.
Don't confuse Word Pad with Note Pad. Note Pad is a text editor and saves files out as unformatted text files. System geeks use this a lot because they need to use files for system code that doesn't contain excess formatting. And those first web site pioneers used Note Pad to type HTML code before the glorified web development programs like Front Page and Dreamweaver came along. I was one of them...developing the first incarnation of MouseTrax.com in 1995 with note pad!
If you look in the Microsoft history books, you may discover that Word Pad was actually the first incarnation of Microsoft Word. Word 2.x users may swear it is what they actually used!.
As you can see in the image below, it has more features than Note Pad. You can click Insert > Date and Time to select the current date to have it inserted into your document.
You can even design up pages that have a lot of fun features. Click the Font drop down and you'll find the entire list of fonts installed on your system ready to use. Click the Color icon and you can change the selected text to display in whatever color you want. You can even set bullets, tabs, line indents and line spacing by making the necessary selections under the simple Format menu.
You even get a nice little set of Options to play with.
In fact, with a little image preparation, you can click Insert > Object and add your favorite photo to the document.
And you'll discover that many of the more common keyboard shortcuts in Word will work in Word Pad, too. You can hit Ctrl + S to Save and Ctrl + Shift + > to instantly adjust the font size of the selected text.
Plus, the file saves out to RTF format. That's Rich Text Format, which is a fairly universal document format. So it will be pretty much compatible with most document software programs.
And depending on the version you are using, you can even click File > Send and have your newly created RTF document sent to a friend via email.
It'll even open up in Microsoft Word with little fuss and should maintain all the applied formatting.
So next time you'd like to get started on that proposal, but you realize you don't have Office installed on your laptop or home PC...or maybe you're just tired of all the technology and want something simple...don't forget that Word Pad is there just waiting to come out and play!