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Eschatological prognostications for the 2028 technical writing industry

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2008. Eschatological prognostications for the 2028 technical writing industry. Intercom April:44.

Every time I grow smug about my understanding of our work, I take steps to correct the problem before someone less enamored of me than I am has a chance to do so. In the spirit of learned humility, I therefore descend into the rut well trodden by generations of pundits before me, and speculate upon the future of our profession. Having learned the lesson of previous eschatologists throughout history, none of whom survived long enough to be mocked for their predictions, I'll stay closer to home and only predict our future for the next two decades, thereby ensuring I'll still be around to learn wisdom from my inevitable comeuppance.

1. A technical writing computer virus, created in an anonymous developing nation, infects only computers that contain a copy of Word, FrameMaker, RoboHelp, MadCap Flare, or WebWorks. The virus, which will link thousands of zombied Windows computers around the globe, will quietly replace all computer hardware and software documentation with random fragments of text from the world's hard drives moments before the documentation is FTP'ed to the packager to be burned onto the final distribution DVD or shipped to the printer for printing and binding, leaving the original files intact so as to avoid detection. Nobody notices, and the world continues much as it formerly did.

2. Microsoft, fed up with the constant games of one-upmanship, buys Apple and fires everyone outside the user-interface group. In a surprise coup, Steve Jobs uses his severance package to buy up all seats on Microsoft's Board of Directors, fire everyone inside the user-interface group, and install himself as Chairman. Within 2 years, the rehired former Apple programming staff, synergizing and/or warring with their erstwhile competitors in the Microsoft operating systems group, ensures that WindOS X dominates the market for desktop operating systems, relegating Linux to a historical footnote. Apple–Microsoft hires spokesman Vin Diesel for a well-received advertising campaign that announces the impending release of WindOS XXX. Theme music for the campaign: the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want.

3. The single-sourcing revolution is over, with all text everywhere, in all genres, produced using single-sourcing techniques. <include if publication = Intercom>Technical writers everywhere rejoice, knowing they can safely "write once, use many". Global workplace productivity increases by 10%—versus 73% in the technical writing sector.</include> <include if language = French>Vive le fin de l'empire américain! Vive Jerry Lewis!</include> <include if language = Spanish>Dónde esta la traducción?</include> There are some initial glitches, but they are generally easily spotted and fixed by eagle-eyed technical editors.

4. Apple–Microsoft offers a free version of Microsoft Office, compiled in such a way that the same version will run simultaneously under Windows, WindOS XXX, and Linux, in its final "scorched earth" attempt to eliminate OpenOffice once and for all. Their strategy backfires when the clever folks at announce 10 new commercial versions of OpenOffice, ranging from the US$90 student/teacher edition to the US$499 corporate edition, which also includes a full install of Linux and the Linux version of Microsoft Office on the DVD. Apple–Microsoft stock plunges, and OpenOffice joins the Fortune 100.

5. And one final prediction, since even pundits should be right once in a while: In 2028, Microsoft Word will still be unable to correctly number headings automatically, will still not have a reliable Master Documents feature, and in response to criticisms of the fragile, ever-changing .doc file format, will announce its "universal file exchange" format: ASCII text, which will, of course, be incompatible with everyone else's implementation of this file format. Word's spellchecker will still not recognize standard plurals formed by adding an "s" at the end of nouns, and menus will have been totally eliminated, replaced by a new "precognitive" interface. Apple–Microsoft technical spokesman Steve Wozniak publicly admits that menus never were a good idea, but had to be retained "for backwards compatibility".

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