How file formats matter

This is an article about many of the file formats we are familiar, from HTML to Photoshop, but what interests me is this about word processors:

WordPerfect was always the best word processor. Because it allowed for insight into its very structure. You could hit a certain key combination and suddenly the screen would split and you’d reveal the codes, the bolds and italics and so forth, that would define your text when it was printed. It was beloved of legal secretaries and journalists alike. Because when you work with words, at the practical, everyday level, the ability to look under the hood is essential. Words are not simple. And WordPerfect acknowledged that. Microsoft Word did not. Microsoft kept insisting that what you saw on your screen was the way things were, and if your fonts just kept sort of randomly changing, well, you must have wanted it that way.

On File Formats, Very Briefly, by Paul Ford · The Manual

I could be wrong, of course, but it always seemed to me that WordPerfect was developed by writers and Microsoft Word by engineers. For all that I admire engineers, in this case I think they did a poor job. In WordPerfect, a document is stored in sequence, paragraph by paragraph, fine. In Word, every single paragraph is like a separate document with lots of pointers back and forth to others. It’s like the paragraphs in a Word document are all free-flowing, free-standing and only happen to line up the way you want.

Maybe I’m just too into this stuff, but if you are too, then do read the full piece.

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