Microsoft Word has been the world’s de-facto word-processing program for eons, while at the same time becoming a standard bearer for bloated, unwieldy software. The good news is there are alternatives you can use, which offer comparable levels of sophistication and often better speed, ease of use or features. What’s more these tools are free and compatible with Word .doc files, which can make the switch almost painless. Here’s our round up of 10 of the best.
KWord. Part of the Koffice suite, this is a word processor and desktop publishing tool combined. It comes with all the tools you’ll need, like word count, print preview and the rest, but without the bloat and more significantly, the price. Most people will probably be happy with just word processing their letters, but it’s useful to know you can lay out a simple flyer instantly if you need to. Available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
Atlantis Nova. If full on page publisher power is not your thing, then this free version of the commercial Atlantis word processor may be what you need. It gives you almost as much layout and text functionality as the big boys, but super lightweight package. It sports a very familiar interface, and can handle .rtf files if you need to import old Word documents.
PolyEdit Lite. Another cut down word-processor which offers very respectable performance and functionality. There’s no word count, alas, but there is a spell checker, themes and integration with the excellent WordWeb thesaurus freeware. As long as you’re not hoping for any bells and whistles, this fast capable program will suit you very well.
Jarte. This innovative WP package has in interface which you’ll either love or hate. Gone are the boring Word-style toolbars, replaced by a hover over menu system which is positively Spartan in approach. That’s not to say the feature set is spartan. There’s a word count, WordWeb dictionary and thesaurus support built in and even screen capture. The tabbed document handling is very neat, but an option to restore a normal interface would definitely be a plus.
Q10. You want a minimal full screen text editor with the sounds of typewriter keys hitting paper (and a return bell ding)? You got it. Unashamedly devoted to ‘real’ writing, this is not so much a word processor as more of a writing tool. Like a well worn Mont Blanc pen. Word count, character count, alarms that go off when you fail to reach your own writing goals. It’s all there. But forget about any frills like image insertion or layout. Just keep writing, foo’.
Write Monkey. Another in the ‘creative’ word processor genre, this neat program offers a bunch more customisation than Q10, including different typewriter sounds, and a serious amount of page and interface customisation. At the end of the day, though, it’s not going to do anything else apart from give you a writing surface, so don’t expect any Word type frills. The right mouse button is worth clicking for extra functionality. Fast and cool.
Rough Draft. As the name implies this is a word processor aimed at writers producing scripts, screenplays and the like. The basics are all there, with word count and customisable styles, but there are some nice extras too, like a live spell checker, a calculator (not sure why, but it’s neat) and multiple tabs for open documents. It’s not a particularly fancy product, but if you’re into that type of professional prose production, then it’s definitely worth a look.
JDarkroom. A Java based cross platform (Mac, Linux, Windows) text editor which offers auto-save backups, mouse scrolling and export to HTML. The feature set is simple yet effective, with things like word and character count, and the interface is another of those which aims to focus your attention on writing, not playing around with paragraph settings.
Office Writer. Part of the venerable open source Open Office suite, Writer is a full, and I mean full, featured word processor with every bell, whistle and gong you could possibly wish for. Image gallery, media player, macros, mail merge, you name it, it’s in here. For the price, simply unbeatable. With this program you can do anything from a simple memo to producing the re-write of War & Peace.
AbiWord. One of the staple products of the Open Source application software world, this word processor offers a solid set of features and functions, including mail merge, document templates and multiple editor collaboration. The program is also boosted by support for plugins, always a great way to add power and features as needed. Multi-platform and multilingual. A solid product all round.
To round off this Top 10 and reward you for reading this far, let’s throw in a couple of bonus tracks for the win here, with a couple of the ultra modern online word processor applications.
Zoho Writer. This surprisingly sophisticated online word processor demonstrates just how far online applications have come in the recent past. You’ll find a large amount of the standalone functionality in this program, as well as interesting new management options, for example tags for storing and finding your documents easily, and even an integrated blog editing tool. This is the beginning of a brave new world.
Google Docs. What list of word processing options would be complete without the venerable Google Docs. Again a surprisingly usable program, which almost seems to ignore the penalties of online access. It’s fast and full featured, although you won’t find exotica such as image wrap in here. What you will find though, is a superb collaborative tool, which makes it a snap to edit from multiple locations.
For standalone glory, Office Writer is hard to beat for a full featured power tool, it has just about everything you’ll need to manage, edit and tweak your documents. For ‘creative’ writing needs, it’s hard to pick a winner, but possibly Q10 and Write Monkey stand out as being more useful than the alternatives. At the end of the day, a word processor is very much a personal thing. You may hate some features that others love and vice versa. So look around, take your time and live with a few packages for a while before you make you your mind. It’ll be worth it in the end.