NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2009
Word Processing Choices from A-Z (really) Part 1: From A to N
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).

Besides the venerable Microsoft Word and WordPerfect, an array of word-processing applications—both cheap and free—is vast and growing rapidly. Some are freestanding singletons to install on the hard disk. Some serve in a suite of apps including a spreadsheet to run live via the Internet. Most online versions I viewed still manifest hurdles to leap before they reach maturity. Two installable versions of MS-Office alternatives, however, rival the Gates products in impressive ways.

Abiword: Although Microsoft's “Wordpad” performs at least half of the writing tasks most of us do, Abiword is installed on my four Windows computers. It will do 98% of what I ask of a word wrangler. Placing a tiny icon on the Quick Launch menu just to the right of the Start button provides this fast-loading, capable program in easy reach. The native file format, .abw, works equally in Abi's versions for Linux and Mac OS X, but there is also an easy drop-down option to save in .doc, .rtf, .txt, .html, .xhtml, and other formats. Abi is a favorite alternate of some of ICON's leaders. [Free download: http://www.abiword.com/] The latest version is 2.6.2.

Buzzword: Adobe's offering, self-described as “The First Real Word Processor for the Web” even though it's not, requires [1] a sign-up and password [2] and says “We're sorry, JavaScript must be enabled in order to use Buzzword.” I'm sorry, too. If a program requires JavaScript, ActiveX, Flash, or Internet Explorer, I can live without it. The world is dangerous enough without them, and my life is already too exciting. Ah, so little time and so many other choices! If someone is willing to deal with it, please try it and give us your reaction to Buzzword. [Free download required: http://www.buzzword.com]

Flysuite: This one promotes itself as an online alternative to Word and Excel that focuses on document collaboration. When I went to their Web site, my Comodo firewall filled the lower right quarter of the screen with warnings about “blocked URLS,” an all time record. That sounded too much an attack of potential bad guys and I stopped right there. Any braver soul care to report on Flysuite? [Free: http://www.flysuite.com]

Google Docs beta: Anew offline version exists but in an even earlier beta stage: Despite my awe for the quality and variety of many offerings from Google, Docs beta online doesn't make the list. It seems to drive a middle lane between “lightweight” and “lame.” I see no reason to use it yet instead of Abiword or even Wordpad to create a new file. Any other users care to point out advantages too subtle for me to spot? To get there, enter your Gmail account name and password. Click on NEW>Document (or spreadsheet, presentation, or folder) and go to work. Don't look for rulers, tabs, or even clues about WordArt, mail merge or even clues how to send the document as an email or attachment. A limited selection of insertable “special characters” offers barebones Wingdings but not Monotype Sorts or any other favorite character sources. You can insert other special characters if you know their Unicode numbers. Oddly enough, the insertable “Asian” character set includes angle brackets, printer dingbats, Western math symbols, plus cm, kg, km, and copyright (c). You may still have to wangle an “invitation” to Gmail if Google is still playing hard-to get with this powerful email/storage service. Free: http://docs.google.com.

Microsoft Works: Older versions required hop-skipand-jump trips through menus to reach an otherwise inviting word processor with usable templates for home and school use. Works 8.5 came on my laptop a year ago, but some Vista machines reportedly include version 9 of Works employing a full version of MSWord although the MS Web site was somewhat vague about this. Version 8.5's word processor looks like Word Lite. It includes the ability to open its own .wps format and its .wpt templates (nice) as well as Word and other formats such as .rtf, .txt, .csv, and .html. Forget about .xml, .odf, or MS-Office 2007's own .docx. Works offers a friendly and capable database, a spreadsheet, calendar, and dictionary as well. Version 8.5 is under $10 at http://store.purplus.net/miwo85.html

Mindomo:> As a preliminary for individual or group writing, this program calling itself an “Online Mind Mapping Process” offers a free visual organizer to clarify and plan the writing process. Your turn: http://www.mindomo.com/

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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