When you think of word processors, your mind probably defaults to Microsoft Word, Microsoft Office, or Office 365. There’s a good reason for that, as Microsoft’s option is one of the most widely used across the globe. That doesn’t mean, however, Microsoft Word is the only option. In fact, there are better choices available that are cheaper, better and more reliable.
But what makes a word processor better and more reliable? From my perspective, better means it’s equal parts user-friendly, flexible and capable. An application UI should be intuitive and (to a point) customizable so it can fit with a user’s workflow. Users should be able to immediately know exactly what they are doing, without having to spend much (if any) time researching ways to make the interface work more efficiently. As to reliability, users shouldn’t have to be concerned about losing work or having compatibility issues when sharing documents with others.
And that’s the tipping point. When faced with compatibility, many users will argue that alternatives don’t work with Microsoft Word. However, it’s really the converse that’s been an issue for so long. Yes, Microsoft holds the market share in word processors, and they’ve become much better at following open specifications. But, it’s not always been this way. For decades, Microsoft bucked standards such that other applications had a very hard time with interoperability. A Microsoft Word document wouldn’t always open as expected on a competitor application.
That isn’t so much an issue now. Why? Because the other applications have come a very long way and Microsoft has hopped on board the standards express straight to compatibility town.
I’ve spent many years fighting this fight; working with editors that only use Microsoft Word and having to jump through hoops to make things function as expected. Over the past five or so years now, I’ve rarely had an instance where someone using Microsoft Word has had a problem with a document I’ve sent them. That seems to be the case no matter what application I’m using for the task.
But what apps do I use? In my case, I’ve depended on about four word processors over the years and I want to share that list with you. I guarantee that any one of these applications will serve you well.
I’m not going to lie, Google Docs is the tool I use the most. In fact, the only application I use more than Google Docs is Firefox, and I use that to access Google Docs. I spend probably eight hours a day in Google Docs and it rarely (if ever) lets me down. To make this even more appealing, Google has gone out of its way to make its offering compatible with Microsoft Word. When working on a document within Google Drive, the default file type to download is Microsoft Word, so Google gets what’s up with collaboration.
And speaking of collaboration, Google Docs makes real-time collaboration a snap. Simply invite users to work with the document and you can all start editing simultaneously. In fact, the collaboration functionality of Google Docs is so much better than Microsoft Word’s Co-Authoring option. With Google Docs, collaboration isn’t just incredibly simple, it’s vastly superior to anything on the market. Combine that with comments and revision history and Google Docs cannot be beaten for collaboration.
Although Google Docs might not include all of the advanced features found in Microsoft Word, the 90% of users that don’t take advantage of those higher-level options will find Docs that fulfills their every word processing need.
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Apple Pages comes in second for my word processing needs. And that’s because of one simple reason — I have an editor that uses Microsoft Word and leaves hundreds upon hundreds of comments and track changes in my book manuscripts. When I try to open those heavily edited manuscripts with the likes of LibreOffice, the software chokes. So, without a copy of Microsoft Office, what do I do?
I use Apple’s take on the word processor, Pages. Although Pages does have its own idiosyncrasies, it’s still far better than Microsoft Word. I’ve always found the Pages interface one of the most user-friendly on the market. With the ability to quickly hide and show various sidebars (such as formatting, comments and document settings) and easily collaborate with a document, Pages offers more advanced features with a lower learning curve than the competition.
As far as the interface is concerned, you won’t find a better-designed word processing UI on the market. Apple Pages is hands down the most intuitive user experience available.
One of the very few caveats to using Apple Pages is that it doesn’t support the .odt format. It doesn’t have any problem opening .docx files, but if you’re working with anyone who prefers the open document text format, you’ll be out of luck.
So, as you’ve probably already surmised, I do have a slight problem with LibreOffice, in that it doesn’t handle full-novel manuscripts as well as it should. But outside of that one issue, LibreOffice has been an outstanding alternative to Microsoft Word for a very long time. And, even though I can’t use it as an editing tool for books, I do use it to format them. Why? Because I find the LibreOffice formatting features to be just about the best on the market. Not only are the formatting options comprehensive, but they’re also very simple to use.
LibreOffice also offers the ability to switch the interface between a single toolbar, sidebar, tabbed compact, groupbar compact and contextual single. Each of these interfaces will appeal to a specific user type, so one is certain to perfectly align with your workflow. Personally, I find the sidebar interface to be the most productive. Of all the UIs available for word processors, none of them are as flexible as that of LibreOffice Writer.
LibreOffice is also adept at opening and saving as most file types. You won’t have any problem working with .odt, .docx, .rtf, text and other document types.
Beyond its inability to handle massive files, LibreOffice does have one other weakness…collaboration. Yes, it does include the basic editing tools (track changes and comments), but it doesn’t include version history, and, although it does include the ability to save to the likes of Google Drive, the feature hasn’t worked for years.
Other than those caveats, LibreOffice is an outstanding alternative to Microsoft Word.
SoftMaker offers one of the alternatives to Microsoft Word that will be automatically and immediately familiar with Microsoft Word users. In fact, if the Microsoft Word ribbon interface is to your liking, you’ll love this alternative. Softmaker offers their FreeOffice tool that includes TextMaker. TextMaker is one of the most Microsoft Word compatible tools on the market. This particular application is the one you want when you need most every Microsoft Word feature (even some of the advanced options), but don’t want to either pay for Microsoft Office or would rather use a tool that’s more reliable.
TextMaker can open and save just about any file that you throw at it, and can even export as EPUB and PDF. This tool also includes a very user-friendly Mailings feature that works with an embedded SQLite database so you can quickly create contacts to be used for mail merging. And, like any good word processor, TextMaker includes editing tools like comments and track changes.
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Reliability is tops
One thing I didn’t really mention for each tool is reliability. This wasn’t an omission. Instead, I wanted to hold off to the end to conclude by saying each of the above tools offer unrivaled reliability within the word processor space. I’ve used every tool on this list and have only had a handful of instances (spanning decades) where I’ve lost work. And even then, tools such as LibreOffice include features that make recovering work from a crash possible and simple.
In all of my years of working without Microsoft Office, I cannot say (even for a second) that I’ve missed out on anything. With the help of any one of these applications, you can be as productive as you need, without worrying about losing work from a crash or time from a learning curve.