Looking for an effective replacement for MS Word? Are you sick of its clumsiness and the dreaded auto-format and style sheets and all the other stuff that bloats the beast and makes it unworkable?
Well there are a huge array of alternative word processors to choose from that will suit your requirements.
Lets look at the Criteria:
Free - OK you get what you pay for! However why should we all be required to pay for MS Office again and again, when it gets worse and worse (the user interface with all the little images is appalling). If the application is free, its likely to be simple, have a small kernel and is likely to be easy to use. Why not get it free if you can? Many of the free ones offer cheap upgrades with enhanced features.
Simple - Many of the larger commercial packages are bloated with fabulous features - most of which you don't need and will never use. This slows everything down and makes it hard to do the simple things. Why use a computer to do the simple job adding of numbers and calculations when the simple portable calculator does the job simply and easily. The calculators on most computers only emulate the calculators anyway. Choose the simplest word processor tool that will do an adequate job for you and you will be more efficient and happy!
Powerful - The power you need depends on what you need it to do with the tool. The old applications such as NotePad and WordPad are probably too simple and lack the power and capability most users will require. Choose the tool that provides the capability and features that suit. While the free and simple tools may lack some of the features you would like - it is a compromise, and you can generally find other ways of doing things. Formatting tools, spell checks, thesaurus and other features, add to the power of the tool.
Portable - Most people will want a tool that they can use easily on multiple computers, internet cafes and the like. There are two alternatives - Use an online word processor (offers shared files with multiple contributors, but you can only work online) or a tool than can be installed on a USB memory drive. The latter option means that you can work on your files using the in-built software on various computer in various locations without having to copy files and download and install the program.
Cheap to Enhance - Many of the free tools offer cheap upgrades for more advanced features and various add-ons. Choose a tool that offers these enhancements at a reasonable price. The advantage of this is that you can use the free version for a while, and upgrade it when, and if you decide you need it. The upgrades are generally very easy to do.
Download and Install OR Online?
This really depends on whether you want to work off-line all the time or sometimes, and whether you believe that the online tools, which can have limited features, offer what you want. The online tools can be slow and their speed depends on the speed of your internet connection.
Availability - The word processor application is available from any computer with an Internet connection. If you use multiple computers or work from multiple locations this is a major advantage. Using an online word processor means that you have a standard format and interface from computer to computer and you avoid the problems with variations in MS Word versions and operating systems. You can just log in to Google Docs or Zoho and continue where you left off, no matter which computer you are working on.
Off-site storage and backup - One advantage of online word processors is that no matter what kind of trouble you get into, your documents are still safe, secure and backed-up on servers hundreds of miles away. Its like having an instant backup service and it may help to get you organised with all your files in one place. No more lost portable drives, thumb drives in the washing machine, or hard-drive blow-ups!
Collaboration and Sharing - Documents can be worked on by several contributors live, rather than having to email copies back and forth and dealing with the nightmare of keeping track with versions. This eliminated the need to have to fight with Microsoft’s awful and woeful 'Track Changes' feature - Yuck! You can to set various levels of permissions, allowing read-only access to some people and full editing rights to others. You can often post documents directly to the Web, too, which can be very useful.
User interface - Many people line the clean interface of online word processors. Google Docs is streamlined and simple - ideal for a quick draft.
You don't want to have to be connected to the Internet, whenever and wherever you write. Some people want to work offline, without an internet connection in all sorts of remote locations. What happens when your connection fails? You are stuffed - as all your files are stored and managed online.
Lack of features available in online tools - Many Online Tools have limited capability and features compared with desktop-based word processors. Web-based applications are still being perfected and OpenOffice and Microsoft Office still have far more features than, say, Google Docs or Zoho.
Slowness and poor performance - Some say that offline, desktop word processors perform better, and are much more fluent to work with. Online tools often have delays for screen updates and file saving actions which can be annoying.
The summary below is not exhaustive or complete - it is simply a list of the more commonly available tools that I have had some experience with. Try some of these and decide what ill suit you best.
Open Office.org is a comprehensive multiplatform and multilingual office suite provided by an open-source project. It is compatible with most other major office suites packages. You can open DOC and DOCX files and save files in a vast array of formats. The product is free to download, use, and distribute. It is managed by Sun Microsystems and is considered one the best of the large and fully featured free Word processing options, despite being free. Many people love and recommend it. However it is too large and clumsy for me.
Abiword will run on virtually any operating system and offers support for internationalization (the ability to run AbiWord in many languages) and it very popular and has a large user base. If you use a word processor for only basic needs (writing, saving, cut and paste, etc.) then AbiWord is great. If you are wanting to create hyperlinks or to add tables and indexes, and require complex image formatting and layouts, then this capability is limited.
QJot - QJot is a tiny USB portable rich text editor. It supports Unicode and runs under Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Its native format is RTF, but it can open, edit and save WordPerfect and all Word version files (though not with all of their features). QJot is totally portable and it can be run independently when installed on a USB flash drive.
EasyOffice and EasyOffice+PDF Filter - EasyOffice is a fully featured office suite package that is fully compatible with Microsoft Word and Excel and Adobe PDF files. It is a major and large package and its ease of use for simple things suffers because of its huge range of features. Its NOT free but is inexpensive. Its features include:
# Create and edit Word, Powerpoint and Excel files
# Reads and writes PDF files just like Adobe
# All the features of MS Office and much more...
# Anti-virus program built-in
# E-mail and contact management like Outlook
# Microsoft Office compatible
# Over 3 million users
JDarkRoom – JDarkRoom is multiplatform, as it runs on JAVA, and is a freeware application. JDarkroom is a basic text editor for people who find more complex word processors distracting, and has only a limited range of features but runs in full screen mode. It is almost entirely keyboard controlled, which is great, after you have learnt the commands.
Jarte - A free word processor (includes a pay-for enhacement called Plus) based on WordPad - a simple word processing engine that is packaged with Windows. It is a quick starting, simple, attractive and easy to use word processor that expands well beyond the capability of WordPad. Is is small (ony 10 MB of RAM) and can be run from a thumb drive. This word processor handles RTF and Word documents, spell checking, font and paragraph formatting, print preview, and more with ease, simplicity and speed. Jarte performs all the standard functions well, and has a number of attractive features:
# Tabbed document windows for easy access to your open documents
# The most commonly used functions are available on large buttons
# Instant dictionary and thesaurus word lookup (integrates with free WordWeb)
# Spell check and text search tools that do not park themselves on top of the text you are trying to edit, but become visible when you mouse-over the words underlined in red.
# Single click bookmarking that makes bookmarks both useful and usable
# Instant access to the documents and folders you designate as your favourites
# Instant access to the fonts your designated as favourite fonts
# You can use the mouse scroll wheel button to copy and paste text
IBM Lotus Symphony - IBM Lotus Symphony Documents can create, share, edit and save all word documents and virtually any other standard format. It includes a large set of templates. It has a rich array of productivity tools that are intuitive, easy to use and expand your editing skills.
Google Docs - offers free online office tools include a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Free with a gmail account, Google Docs makes it easy to let multiple people access documents from multiple computers. Also hundreds of templates are available for making business cards, resumes, calendars and tables. You can easily do all the basics, including making bulleted lists, sorting by columns, adding tables, images, comments, formulas, changing fonts and more. You can upload and save all your existing files in all formats. Just click the toolbar buttons to bold, underline, indent, change font or number format, change cell background color and so on. Suits some - but its too slow for me.
ThinkFree Online Office - ThinkFree a very capable and feature-rich word processor that also offers a free online presentation program and a free online spreadsheet. ThinkFree also provides 30 megabytes of free online storage for all your documents. The software is largely Java based, using a this client server model, providing the high performance and utility.
Zoho Writer - has a stylish and clean interface and is renowned for being very easy to use. Zoho also offers a whole array of other online applications such as a spreadsheet, presentation, database and personal information management applications.
Live Writer - is a web-enabled word processing authoring application that gives you a kaleidoscope of choice and flexibility without having to worry about incompatibilities around operating systems, application versions or document formats. Features include:
# Persistent auto-save to your data on your own computer, not on some external server.
# Live document statistics without the need to hunt though the menus or open a dialog box.
# Fully Customizable - you can change the font, background, width of the editor window
# Co-edit with any number of users
# Create print-perfect documents
# Integrate web components
# Control versions and keep track of changes
Jarte is an Excellent free word processor (with and enhanced PLUS version) based on the Wordpad engine. Building on that core, the developers have added all the features that most people will need in a word processor, without bloating the package with complexity.
Its simple. Jarte is very easy to use, and you can configure it to display just the tools you need for your writing, and you can easily switch between a compact version, a minimal version, or a fully-featured one and you can add various tools to the screen view.
Its powerful - You'll find all the usual tools for a standard word processor such as - searching, word-wrap, font and paragraph formatting, integrated spell-checker, configurable tabs, tables, inserting images, and many more features. Some solutions are simple and very clever, e.g. when you mark a word and right click you can look up the word in an online Dictionary and Thesaurus. WordWeb, a free thesaurus, can be integrated seamlessly into the package to avoid going online. I love the way that misspelt words are highlighted by red underlining. When you hover over the word - up pops the spelling options (you can add to your own dictionary). Rightclick and you can look up synonyms using WordWeb.
Jarte also includes a print preview, screen capture, a font manager, and a clip library that stores the last 15 items sent to the clipboard. Jarte gives you tabs and a host of options in formatting: paragraphs, page, fonts, header and footer. Also there is an outline function, a tool for in-denting and out-denting, and a great format brush to easily transfer formatting.
Jarte includes templates and tables and you can insert documents and images and also manage files and folders within the application. The table editor and image management are limited and basic. Jarte reads Rich Text Files (rtf), Word documents (doc) and even latest Word format (docx) and you can export your document as a PDF-file.
Its Portable - There is a portable version for download on an USB-stick, where it can run independent of the host computer. It takes less than 10 MB RAM and the portable version includes all the features including a spell-checker that can be updated.
Its cheap to enhance to get an expanded list of features - The upgrade includes:
I'd love to hear your opinion, and what you regard as the best option and why?