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Pomo Word: an audacious, but ultimately flawed performance

by Geoff Hart, techwr-l Drama Critic

Previously published as: Hart, G.J. 2005. Pomo Word—an audacious, but ultimately flawed performance.

Microsoft Word 2003, by the clearly pseudonymous "Microsoft software development team", who wisely chose to remain anonymous, represents an audacious attempt by this controversial auteur to recapture the buzz that greeted their first smash hit, Windows 2000—a dramatic presentation that, as this critic observed presciently at the time, "sucked considerably less". Because this team of dramaturges has a reputation for getting it right the third time, this critic greeted the appearance of Word 2003 with some excitement after the ho-hum debut of Word 2001 and its unabashedly awful sequel, Word XP.

So it was with a feeling of considerable anticipation that I approached my first performance of the new Microsoft opus. That anticipation was to be unmercifully—nay, cruelly!—dashed upon the jagged rocks of version 1-itis and auctorial hubris.

It's clear that the author was heavily influenced by the currently fashionable trend towards postmodernist reinterpretation of the arts: 2003 pays respectful tribute to once-despised classical elements such as the multiple-document interface, while extending modernist elements such as the lack of a printed manual and the in-your-face help system to extravagant—one might even say "awe-inspiring"— extremes, but like its spiritual kin, 1984, achieves little that is salutary. Alas, I must also note that the costumer and set designer, too, achieve a triumph of form over content; all this stage dressing is clearly increasingly mature, elegant, and refined, yet it somehow seems little more than pancake makeup slapped over the aging, somewhat faded faces of the performers. Clippie the Paperclip, in particular, has clearly reached that stage of thespian senescence at which one can only pray for a falling stage light to put both him and us out of our misery. And although the animated animals in "the Help system" strive valiantly to allude to fondly beloved classical tropes such as Shakespeare's mechanicals, most famously Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, they are clearly modern poseurs, not yet having matured into their roles.

The primary actors offer us a mixed bag—on the whole, they are sound and well-directed, but with notable and distracting exceptions. Some performances represent outright failures. Auto Numbering, in yet another of its unending cameo appearances, continues to vex and perplex audiences—despite unfavorable critical reviews dating back to Word 95 that would suggest to the alert author it was time to rely on fresher jokes. This critic humbly suggests that this actor has, in the words of The Bard of Avon, "strutted its time upon the stage and should [be] heard no more". The newcomer to the role of Revision Tracking is also clearly inadequate to the task, particularly in the shadow of its illustrious predecessors, and should be replaced with an actor more familiar with its traditional persona in future performances. Similarly, actors such as HTML Export (and its understudy, marital partner XML Export—néé Yetanother SGML) show considerable promise, but only if strongly directed. The trained eye can anticipate, with considerable pleasure, where these actors will be after further apprenticeship under a strong mentor—but at present, their youthful inexperience and the lack of strong direction detracts from an otherwise fine performance.

I shall strive to end on a positive note: The staging for the small screen (anything less than 17 inches), managed and produced by the Windows XP development team, was nothing short of impeccable—colorful, esthetic, and almost entirely free of the distracting bugs and crashes that plagued previous productions. (In one minor incident, a virus emerged from the audience to heckle the actors and steal a souvenir prop, but fortunately, the callow youth's timing was off; the emergence occurred during the intermission, and the theatre's ever-alert security, featuring the estimable Mr. Norton, quickly apprehended the malefactor.) The 19-inch Samsung LCD monitor provided an impeccable setting for the show, and I can't say enough about the speed and grace of the director (Pentium Processor IV) forced to work with such flawed material.

Notwithstanding these highlights, Word 2003 must in the end be considered, at least in the eyes of this critic, an audacious but flawed performance. There are lessons here be learned by the alert and humble dramatist, if only the dramatist could be characterized by either sobriquet.

©2004–2018 Geoffrey Hart. All rights reserved