RE: Master Docs in Word

Subject: RE: Master Docs in Word
From: jgarison -at- ide -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2002 14:33:46 -0400

Woody Leonhard, the guru of the straight scoop on Microsoft Office products,
had this to say back in '97:

"Your Office Devils Advocate" tells the sad story of Master Documents:

Long and bitter experience has taught me to be very wary of
announcements of new features from Microsoft. MS marketing love to drum
up hoopla and excitement over new goodies, but I've learnt to take this
fanfare with large grains of salt.

If you don't believe me, then look at the sad and chequered history of
the Master Documents feature in Word for Windows. It sounded like a
great idea for makers of large documents, sadly it was little more than
an idea in reality. To quote from the Word 6 Users Guide "A master
document helps you organize and maintain a long document - such as a
book or multi-part report - that is divided into separate files or
subdocuments." And in the Word 6 Resource Kit it clearly states that it
can handle a master document or up to 32 megabytes in size with up to
80 subdocuments.

In practice, Master Documents would only work with a very small number
of loaded documents, often as few as 5 or 10. The number of documents
varied depending on a variety of factors, but it was only a matter of
time before you'd start getting GPF's and other errors. Master
Documents was unusable by anyone working in a real world situation,
like a book.

I was reminded of the Master Documents debacle when a friend called
having tried it. It fell apart with only a few documents loaded in
Word 6, he rang Microsoft Tech Support. They gave him the official line
that Word 6 was fine with some 'minor' problems that were fixed in Word
6.0c. Ha! I replied with a gale of derisive laughter, no-one with any
practical knowledge of Word would recommend Master Documents under Word
6 or 95. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Microsoft would
give such dangerous advice to a customer. The small changes in the
6.0c update might have eased the Microsoft corporate conscience but it
did little to help users.

They could not supply the 6.0c update anymore, so the friend rang me to
borrow my old copy. Dunno how many ways by kindness to him breached my
software licence.

So Master Documents in Word 6 is little more than a marketing mirage.
Worse still its dangerous because unwary users can lose a lot of
important data and waste a lot of time. Nothing much changed in Word 7
for Windows 95, you might be able to load more into a Master Document,
but it was still unstable. And the final word on master documents comes
from the actions of Microsoft employees themselves. No-one at Redmond
would use the feature themselves in Word 6 or 7, a far cry from what
they would tell customers.

In Word 97 they may have got master documents working the way it was
supposed to back in Word 6. Microsoft employees are apparently braving
the waters, though this may be more due to loyalty. Frankly, master
documents have got such a bad reputation that I can't blame anyone for
not trusting their valued work to something that Microsoft have had two
failed attempts at.

'Third Time Lucky' may be true, but if you're working on a long
document you don't want to risk your hard work to a saying. This whole
story is a worry to me because master documents were so broken in Word
6 that the development team must have known that. It's not a case of
obscure conflicts or occasional rare glitches, this was a fundamentally
flawed feature. The fact such a problem was left in a Microsoft product
is a great concern to me and makes me wary of any new Microsoft
feature. Whenever I look at a Microsoft new feature list I ask the
question 'Does it work?' and I _never_ believe a Microsoft salespersons
solemn assurances about wide ranging tests.

So why was Master Documents left in? I'd imagine it was a triumph of
the marketing department over the developers. The sales guys wanted
more and more features to promote, seemingly, whether they worked
properly or not. You have to cast your mind back to the time before
Word 6, Microsoft was locked in a head to head battle with Word
Perfect. At the time Redmond wanted the new Word to have many
persuasive features and beat their main competitor to the market with a
new Windows word processor.

The result was a rushed delivery of a buggy product (master documents
was only one of many problems). Woody ran a 'bugfest' at the time,
inviting people to email details or problems to him. He was deluged
with hundreds (if not thousands) of notices from around the world. You
can see the results of this in his wonderful 'Underground Guide to Word
for Windows', a book I still keep close to hand for the best
explanation of how Word really works. [I've heard enough good things
about Word 97 Master Documents from the worker bees in Redmond, that
I'm going to try to use the feature in my next book. More about the new
book next week. - - Woody]

-----Original Message-----
From: Tara Bowman [mailto:tara -at- ORCA1 -dot- COM]
Sent: Tuesday, July 30, 2002 1:11 PM
Subject: Master Docs in Word

I’m creating new documentation standards for a small software company that
uses Word for all documentation. I’m trying to determine whether or not to
use the Master/Sub-Documents option in Word for larger documents with
multiple authors. I'm using XP but most of the contributors will be using
Word 2k (if that makes a difference).

There was a posting in the archives with links to articles stating
definitely to stay away from this feature, but I was wondering how many of
you out there agree. Are the advantages of sub-documents worth any headaches
I may encounter in the future? Any suggestions for alternate options for
documentation with multiple contributors?

I’m on digest, so please copy any responses directly to my email.

Thanks for the input,

Tara Bowman
Technical Writer
OR Concepts Applied
tara -at- orca1 -dot- com

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