NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2009
Word Processing Choices from A-Z (really) Part 2: From N to Z
Written by John White a member of the ICON PCUG, New York
From The ICON Graphic, Newsletter of ICON PC User Group, Inc., December 2008 Edition

editor (at) iconpcug.org (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

Notepad: The built-in Windows plain-text editor makes a type minimalist HTML editor with clean unformatted code. Not all users know there are font and word-wrap options available. To check it those capabilities, go to Start>Accessories>Notepad>Format.

OpenOffice Writer: This article is being written with version 2.4. It retains a few minor quirks and inconveniences compared with MS-Word 2000, XP, or 2003 plus some decided advantages. For example, if the squiggly red line under correctly spelled terms (missing from its dictionaries) bothers you, UNclick the ABC button on the top of the screen—the one with a wavy red line. At any point, click its mate (ABC above a blue check mark) and manually check spelling. However, there is not button for the thesaurus. Call it up instead with Control-F7. You can also check in Czech or Nepali as well as more common tongues. The default language list supplies three flavors of English and three of German but none of French or Spanish. More 79 other language dictionaries are downloadable or under development. I switch between OpenOffice (“Writer” or “switer.exe”) and Word, depending on the task. OOW saves keystrokes by remembering recently typed words and inserting them in white letters amid blue bands after one types just a few of the word's letters. To accept its suggestion after starting a word, tap ENTER and keep typing. To ignore it instead, just type on. Users of Excel will recognize and appreciate this option. OpenOffice outdoes Word in WYSIWYG cropping of inserted pictures. For a long time OO has offered in the File menu “Export as PDF” as one choice at file-saving time. A menu button also offers the same feature. It rapidly creates and saves the file directly instead of sending it to a printer menu as Adobe's expensive version requires.

Logically enough, page formatting choices are found in the (TA-DA!!!) Format drop-down menu instead of the File menu. I especially like the “E-mail as Microsoft Word” button on my customized toolbar. I'll use that one in a few minutes to send this file to Ira. Although a paid-for version with telephone help is available as StarOffice (from Sun Microsystems) for under $70, this free version is supported by a worldwide community of volunteer programmers and forumdwellers. The suite includes equivalent programs for Excel and PowerPoint, a capable database, and a drawing program—all accessible from the File>New menu in OpenOffice Writer. In place of Microsoft Publisher in the premium-priced MS-Office suite, the free open-source Scribus may be satisfactory [http://www.scribus.net/]. The native OOW file format, .odt, is widely employed around the world, conforming to the standard used in Europe and other ISO countries. This file type crosses platforms to work in Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. OOW also opens and saves in .doc, .txt, .rtf, .xml, .html, plus several more formats including Microsoft's .psw [for Pocket Word]. I have had better success with OOW opening and editing older Word documents than with MS-Office 2007. [Free download to install: http://www.openoffice.org/]

Thinkfree Online: To me, it's “ThinkLoser.” and forget the “free” part. This is/was supposedly a free online suite with an optional Premium version. Reputable media mentioned its limited beta offering was as early as December 2006 with cost estimates of $5 to $10 a month. Earlier this week (April 15) a Web search at Avant listed Broderbund as #1 among many download sources, but that link seized up both times I tried it. Reaching Broderbund by a different route, I found the installable (not “online?) Windows-only version for $44.95. After 20 minutes or more trying to download, register, and fire it up the free one elsewhere on the Web, after email verifications, etc., plus two more crashes—amid various notices about what to do if downloading and installing failed in a variety of ways—I admitted failure and uninstalled it. Just before giving up, I had semi-installed and managed to find a Thinkfree screen claiming this to be the best office suite on earth. If so, earth is in trouble besides just growing warmer. Other screens apparently accessed their word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, but never revealed any way to actually create a file using any of those choices! Two teases seemed promising at first—“Search” and collaboration. Since I had not yet created a document, it was no surprise that searching for one proved to be a dead end. With nothing yet in production by me or anyone I know, its collaboration had even less utility. Next, I searched in “Templates,” achieving my only Thinkfree success, sort of. I typed “letter” in the template search box and got five letter templates or something. The first didn't seem to be a letter template at all, but was a document about how to use Haitian expressions. The other four were in Asian languages using characters I cannot read. To be fair to Thinkfree, I've copied and pasted below their exact message and boldfacing. Since I never reached the “Sync Cache” folder they describe, I wish you better luck than mine if you care to try it. No date for the new version or demise of the older one was mentioned. If you have purchased TF Premium, store the receipt with your Enron stock certificates. Microsoft needn't worry about this competitor. “We will be launching 'My Office' and providing a new version of ThinkFree Office. You will no longer be able to use the old version which is called 'ThinkFree Premium' as of that time. You will be using our new integrated ThinkFree Online service after installation. Please remove 'Sync Cache' folder before you proceed installing the new version of ThinkFree Office.Location and Instructions for removing the sync folder. For Windows: C:\Documents and Settings\account\MyDocuments\TFSync For Mac: /Users/account/Documents/TFSync For Linux: /home/account/TFSync”

Wordpad: This little brother of MS-Word comes free with your Windows installation. It opens and saves in Unicode, .rtf, and the older MS-DOS .txt format but not Word's .doc. It comes with bolding, italics, and underlining of installed Windows fonts in colors, a horizontal ruler with adjustable margins and tabs, and a single bullet style but no numbering button or mail merge. It is a good emergency word processor if the missing features aren't needed for the project at hand. [Start>Accessories>Wordpad]

WordPerfect X3: One can pay the full “retail” price of several hundred dollars, but at A href="http://www.royaldiscount.com/corel.html">http://www.royaldiscount.com/corel.html it is $82.94. I prefer the “OEM' version for $18.46 with free shipping for either version. The current X3 suite contains a powerful, customizable word processor compatible with MSOffice. Its Quattro Pro spreadsheet matches Excel quite nicely. A graphics drawing application and Presentations either its native mode or in PowerPoint mode. The word processor offers to work in MS-Word style, native WP X3 style, or older versions back to 5.1. All these apps play nicely with MS formats.

Zoho: I admit to saving the best for the last. Zoho wins my prize as winner among online word processors. All the integrated application elements of Zoho's suite employ similar enough interfaces and working styles so that users of Office version through 2003 will either recognize or master them quickly. I wish Microsoft Office 2007 had been designed by Zoho. This suite connects many well presented applications in a style that handles like a nimble sports car instead of a ponderous “featuremobile.” It displays obvious buttons and tools, export/publish options (including PDF), offline options (after one installs Google Gears), a stunning array of accessible and complementary features: spreadsheet, blogger, chat, notebook, planner, mail, database creator and reporter, conferencing, wiki editor, project manager, CRM and contact manager, plus others. Even if “Help” seems a bit elusive, the buttons and menus provide intuitive answers better than traditional, encyclopedia-type help. I found no reference to mail merge, but the other word processing feature set is both complete and readily at hand. Spell check, tables, bulleted lists, tags as folders, comments, and collaboration features seems to be exceptionally friendly. I have just started using this impressive suite, so an in-depth evaluation will have to wait.

About John White: John has taught word processing and spreadsheets for a dozen years at New Horizons (Manhattan), Dowling College, NY Tech, and BOCES.

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