My New Word Processor
When I bought my new computer I decided to say goodbye to Microsoft Word. I'd fought with it for long enough! So I started the search for a replacement. I put the post on my blog, but it's become so popular that I decided to add a more permanent page here.
My old computer had a valid copy of Office Professional 2010, so I used that to compare with the programs I tested.
My search for an email client that I could use instead of Outlook began and ended with Thunderbird. It’s open source, fast, clean, and thank all the powers-that-be, simple to install on different computers. One file needs to be copied and pasted, and Thunderbird configured to use that profile instead of the default one, and there it was. With the Lightning extension installed, and Google Provider extension, it merges seamlessly with Google calendar online, so I can access my calendar and schedule from any device I happen to be using.
The search for a replacement for Microsoft Word took a bit longer.
I downloaded a huge collection of Word substitutes, free and low paid (nothing is as expensive as Office, and all the programs I tried had trial versions).
I want to emphasize that this was my own project. Nobody paid me anything, nobody gave me anything, and I had the same customer experience as you will have if you take the same route as I did.
I created documents in the programs, opened them in my copy of Word 2010, and noted how well they imported. I looked at the text editor specifically as an author, with the needs of a professional author, not as a general letter writer, invoice printer or anything else.
I’m Windows all the way, so if you have a Mac, there may be some slight differences. I have a tower PC at home, a Surface Pro I use on the road, and two Android devices, my phone and my Nexus tablet, but I don't usually write on those.
Here was what I had to have in a new word processing program:
1. To work seamlessly with Microsoft Office. That’s because editors, reviewers and so on tend to use it, or at least use the formats as standard.
2. To look good. I have this program up all day, and if it’s ugly, I’m going to get unhappy. If it’s low-resolution, the blurry lines are going to get on my nerves after a while.
3. An autocorrect facility. I use a lot of textual shortcuts when I write, including changing English spelling to US spelling. If I can’t have short versions of certain words, like my hero’s name, common terms (like “shape-shifting”) and a way to quickly convert my English spelling to US spelling, I’m going to get frustrated.
4. The ability to use it offline. If I’m heavily into writing a book, I might switch off the internet. If I’m on the road, I don’t always have access to it. That’s why I didn’t bother with Google Docs, Office Online or Zoho. They all need internet access to work properly.
5. The ability to use styles. I need to control the way the document looks.
Any processors without the above were either junked, or if they had a feature I liked, they were listed as a part program.
What I’d like to have:
1. A word count, preferably a live one.
2. Templates. I save my character and plotting sheets as templates, but I can get by with using them as documents and amending them as I need to.
3. It also needed a spellchecker at least, and I do like a grammar checker for the first line of defence.
4. Consistent capitalisation. Either off or on, either it works or it doesn’t. I’m capable of using the shift key, but if I have to think about it every time, that will stop my flow.
5. Macros, but I haven’t found a program that can handle the dozens of Word macros I’ve set up over the years. I haven't found a converter, either. If anybody knows of such a thing, can you tell me, please, please?
6. A customisable interface. At the very least I want a toolbar that I can call my own, and put the things I use most often on it.
7. To work with Track Changes used by Word. This is how edits are done, and it’s not an option, it’s an absolute requirement for at least one of the programs I choose.
I downloaded all these programs, gave them a good try, and made my decisions. You might not want the same things I do, but at least my reviews will give you a reasonable opinion.
Ableword is fairly standard, and it works fine, at a pinch. But it has one really interesting feature. It’s the only free word processor that will allow you to natively edit pdf documents, so for that reason I have it installed on my computer. Other programs like Foxit will let you add notes and signatures, but Ableword will let you do everything. I keep it on one computer just because of that. When I do galleys, I can tweak. Unfortunately it doesn’t have Track Changes or autocorrect.
Ability Office is fairly standard, but it does have a Ribbon, if that’s what you’re yearning for. I had an earlier version, with menus, but I stopped using it because there were some differences with my docx documents when I opened them in a different program. It’s not much different to most other word processing programs, but the new version has some interesting features it might be worth looking at. It is a paid for program, and it costs $30. You get a 30 day trial.
WPS (used to be Kingsoft Office). I downloaded the free version. It has a ribbon (yay!) but you can use the older menu style interface if you want to use that. However, the toolbars aren’t customizable. It comes with a spreadsheet, presentation and word processing program.
It’s a Chinese program, and seems to be an Office clone. The appearance is very nice, but the menus aren't customisable, and you do have to put up with a few Chinese options. However it is professionally maintained and produced. It has cloud features added to the free version, too. And it has tabs!
If you want to buy it, it's $80 for a lifetime license for one computer, or $3.99 a month, $30 a year for a leased version for five devices, Microsoft Office style. One of the reasons I decided to drop Microsoft Office was because I am not interested in renting, so that price is quite steep, especially if you want to use it on more than one computer. However, it’s still cheaper than Microsoft Office. A lot of people love this program, but there are a few things I don't like.
Autocorrect is there, but you have to dig deep to find it, and I couldn't find a way to set up a shortcut. I think it's still in the introductory stage, but autocorrect is very important to me. That was more than awkward. I did like the interface, though, and I've kept it on my computer.
You can download WPS Office here: http://wps.com
Calligra is a free program, and includes a complete office suite, except for the email client. It’s open source, so you can fiddle with it, if you want to delve into coding. It uses the old-style menu interface. It has a nice distraction free mode that gives you the page and nothing else.
As a word processor, it has a few drawbacks. The way it shows on the page is, frankly, odd, with spaces where there should be none. It also has a huge sidebar which I can’t get rid of. It is primarily a Linux application, and it seems to have taken its Windows download off the site. It’s forked off the KDE office, so that’s something you might want to look at, too.
You can find Calligra here: https://www.calligra.org/get-calligra/
SSsuite – this was so ugly I’d hardly opened it before I decided to uninstall it. I downloaded this a couple of times, because I thought I wasn’t seeing it properly. The icons are horrid, and I couldn’t find a way of changing them, or the layout.
I did have another try with it, and I still didn't like the icons, but I could have tweaked them. I couldn't find anything that other programs didn't offer.
Nevron – It has a ribbon interface, but no Quick Access bar, or a way to customize the ribbon. I had difficulty finding any way of customizing anything.
It doesn't have tools for Reviewing or Track Changes. It seems to have removed its free version, but it does have a month's trial and the price is very reasonable at $19 for Writer and $29 for the office suite.
Word Perfect – Word Perfect is back! Corel has revived it. But when I downloaded and installed it on Windows 10, it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t test it. A shame, because back in the day it was a good program, some claim it was the best. The interface looked good. However, it’s expensive, as expensive as Microsoft Office (£252!), so unless they change the pricing and the compatibility with Windows 10, they’re on to a loser, I’m afraid. You can get the Home version for £110, which is more reasonable. If it works. I'd only advise WP diehards to go for this one, simply because there are other, perfectly acceptable free and low cost processors available. If you manage to get the trial working on Windows 10, let me know!
This is the free version of Softmaker Office, and it's well worth a look. It has limitations compared to the paid for version. It can't save in .docx, and it doesn't have tabs. For other details, see below.
Softmaker’s Textmaker is a German program, so it does have special capabilities for the German market, but you don’t have to use them. The 2016 office suite is a paid for version.
I downloaded the trial version to evaluate it, and I liked it very much. Softmaker offer two versions, Standard, at $70 and Professional, for $90. Each cover three computers owned by the same person. However, if you download the free version, and upgrade from that (click the Upgrade button inside FreeOffice) the upgrade prices are $40 and $60.
Textmaker looks good, has nice icons, and is customisable. I would like a live word counter, but all you need to do is put the number counter on the toolbar, together with the update button, and you get the word count easily. It has a very nice choice of views, including the one I use when I write, the Continuous view. It’s better than the Web view in Microsoft Office and LibreOffice, because it is more accurate to the way it looks on the page. The sidebar can be hidden or revealed, and is very useful when setting styles and details.
And it has tabs! (Squee!) For every document you open, there are tabs (you can turn that feature off if you want to). A tabs view is something I’ve longed for in Microsoft Office, so to find it is a delight. When I work, I have my main document, my characters document and the overall synopsis open, and this way I can switch with little trouble.
There are some pleasant touches, such as when you open a document with Track Changes and Comments in it, the Review toolbar automatically pops up.
I opened quite a few documents that I created in TextMaker in my copy of Word, and they all rendered flawlessly. It also exports as epub, which is so useful when self-publishing!
It’s not as powerful as LibreOffice, but the text editor is much better. It capitalises, remembers your selection of languages, and the toolbars are customisable. It also has a form of autocorrect which works a treat. It has a spellcheck, but no grammar check.
The paid version has macro capability, but no macro recorder, or a converter for VBA, the language Microsoft uses, so I couldn’t try it out. I would like to use the macros!
It’s small, and you can even have a mobile version, installed on a USB stick, so you can use it wherever you go. That is pretty awesome. It looks good, it’s fast and it’s a no-fuss, no-muss program.
However - I came across a pretty serious bug.
I lost a day’s work when it corrupted that, and the day’s backups. I thought it was me, but it happened again. Willing to give it another chance, the same thing happened again. It could be when a file gets too long. I went to the Softmaker techies, sent the files they asked me to, but they were unable to help. They said they'd never come across the problem before, and they couldn't reproduce it. I did come across a few people who had the same thing happen to them, though. They were treated as different cases, although we believe the reason is the same. It used to happen in Word – when a document got too long and had too many revisions and complex formatting, it would get corrupted. If it wasn’t for the way I keep backups and backup my work, I could have lost the whole thing. So if you use Textmaker, I’d advise saving your document every day under a new name – probably the document name and the date. Although I loved this program, I can’t in all conscience recommend it any longer.
You can download the paid Softmaker Office here: http://www.softmaker.com/english/
The free version is available here: http://www.freeoffice.com
Note: Since I stopped using the program, there is a new version of Softmaker Office available. It now has a ribbon interface, which seems to be the main innovation. I don't know if they fixed the bug that stopped me using it.
Scrivener is a complete suite for writers, and very reasonably priced. The word processor is fairly simple, but it has everything I need when I’m writing. However, the interface is cluttered and, to my eyes, ugly. There are numerous extra windows. I write my novels in one big manuscript, not in chapters, so some of the tools provided are of little use. The character sheets, corkboard and so on are all handy, but I have all those in different applications.
I prefer my interface much less cluttered, with only essential tools showing, and with Scrivener, either you go with everything, or you use the distraction-free mode, which doesn’t have things like a word counter.
The learning curve for the program is steeper than for the other programs. However, some writers love this program, and wouldn’t be without it. You can download a fully functioning version of Scrivener, which works for 30 non-consecutive days, and there are frequently discount vouchers, so it’s definitely worth a look.
There are similar programs aimed at being an all-in-one for writers, including Write Way Pro, Plume and Ywriter, so if you want a set of tools, you can try those, too.
Scrivener also made a mess of my folders, imposing its own system on me, and saving documents in its own proprietory format, which I didn’t like at all. You can “export” documents as Word documents, though. With Scrivener, it’s a bit “my way or the highway,” so I took the highway.
Just because Scrivener didn't work for me, that doesn't mean it won't work for you. It's well worth trying, because it's very different from anything else, and it might be just what you're looking for. However, it is for creation only. When it comes to editing and polishing, you'll probably want to move to another program.
You can get Scrivener here: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
Note: There is a brand new version of Scrivener due, and owners get a free update.
I have two winners, and from now on I’ll have them both installed on my main computers.
LibreOffice Writer - LibreOffice has a lot going for it. It has everything I want, except a decent macro capability and one thing that drives me nuts, described below (it might not bother you). You can use the menu interface, or a new GUI featuring a ribbon-style interface. I prefer the menu for now. it has a customisable menu and toolbar option. And it's free, although a voluntary donation is appreciated.
Here's the thing that bothers me when I write. I like my programs to capitalise the first word of every sentence, including the ones that start inside quotation marks. And I use curly quotes. LibreOffice complicates this unbelievably and makes the capitalisation option unusable. If you start a sentence with quotation marks, it doesn’t capitalize the first word. If the sentence starts with a contraction like “don’t” or “aren’t,” then that isn’t capitalized either. The inconsistency means you have to think “shift or no shift?” every time you start a sentence, so it’s best just to switch capitalisation off from the start.
The new version of LibreOffice Writer, number 5, is highly compatible with Word. The developers are working hard at cleaning the code, speeding it up and improving the look.
You can set LibreOffice to save automatically in .docx and the files I use, including the Styles, import into Word just fine.The newest version of LibreOffice has a greatly improved review and comments section for track changes, which works excellently with the Word version. Everything imports and exports as it should.
I think the problem for me is that I come to Libre Office as a Word Power user, and things are done differently here. I have to unlearn all I know and start again. If the developers of LibreOffice provided an easy way for Word power users to move to LO seamlessly, like making the macros usable or providing a converter, then they would have an outright winner on their hands. There would be little point in going anywhere else.
The add-ons provide useful functionality, too. The language and spelling add-ons are good, and it has an Alternative Find and Replace add-on that is hands down the best I have ever come across anywhere.
For my purposes, the macros are useless. When I recorded a couple, the behaviour wasn’t consistent. I tried to correct the capitalization issue using macros, for instance, but the resulting macro sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. The limitations on the macros also make the facility a bit pointless.
LibreOffice also includes a complete office suite, everything except an email program, including a graphics program, presentation and Excel substitute.
Note: I haven’t reviewed OpenOffice, because LibreOffice is based on the same platform, and it has more people working on it.
You can get LibreOffice here: https://www.libreoffice.org/
Atlantis is my current word processor. I love it.
The new version has a ribbon interface, which I found a little difficulty getting used to, but it also has the old-style toolbar, which I like, meaning that you can transition more slowly. You can customise the ribbon toolbars, so I created my QAT on that, and hid the rest of the ribbons.
If you really can't cope with the new ribbon interface, the older version with menus is also available.
It doesn’t have Track Changes, but it does have three things that I love.
1. It has a tabbed interface.
2. And when you open a document, it goes straight to your last cursor position. That is so good. It opens on the last document you were working on, with the others you had open in tabs, and you can carry on exactly where you left off.
3. Moreover, it has something I haven't come across anywhere else. If you close the program with a few documents open in tabs, it reloads them when you restart, so you don't have to load all the docs you want every time. That means I can have the three documents I open when I write – the main document, the character list and the scene plan, and I don't have to load them every time I open the program. It’s simple, and it just works.
It’s fast, too. And it has a couple of nifty tools, like the facility that will check for echoes in your work.
I've been using it for nearly a year now, and so far it's rock solid.
Since Atlantis doesn't have Track Changes, I use a different working method, and it's suiting me very well. I have Atlantis set up for writing, and when I open it, I have a "writer" mindset. Libre Office is set up for editing and revision, with all the tools and extensions I need installed. The programs are fully compatible, so I write the book in Atlantis, then move over to Libre Office, and my mindset is moved over too!
So there you have it. I hope this little review is useful to somebody!