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Word Processors For The Rest Of Us

Word Processors For The Rest Of Us

by , 11:00 AM EDT, April 30th, 2003

Microsoft.

We'll wait until the hisses and boos die down. It's funny how that one word can elicit such a rainbow of reactions; from unbridled admiration ("I love Microsoft so much that I want to name my first born Billy-Gee!"), to abject disillusionment ("Oh gawd! Is there naught but Word I can use to write my words?"), to seething hatred ("AAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!").

We try to keep an opened mind about Big Redmond. After all, even if Mr. Gates doesn't think it's true, there is ample room in the marketplace for multiple vendors of OSes, databases, and office products. The competition is healthy, it keeps the competitors on their toes, stimulates innovations, and keeps the consumers happy with reasonably priced and very capable products.

When OS X first hit the streets, if you wanted to write a good sized document that included some formatting features found only in advanced word processors, the only game in town was Microsoft. This much to Apple's shame, because we believed that Apple had a stellar opportunity to offer a new and improved AppleWorks to the world, one that took full advantage of the power of OS X. Instead it seems that Apple purposefully down played AppleWorks, giving us costume jewelry in place of what could have been a crown jewel. Ah well, no use lamenting about what could have been; we prefer to keep our eyes focused on what's going on now and what's in store for us in the future. And we like what we see when it comes to word processors.

It's a strange world when Microsoft can make an application that is more Mac-like than what Apple offers. It's even stranger when other app makers can produce a word processor with so many unique features while AppleWorks seems to stew in its own stale juices. There are other office applications taking shape for OS X, giving us more real choices, and that is a very good thing.

Any long-time Mac user will instantly recognize the name Nisus; the company has been making a very capable word processor almost as long as there have been Macs. Nisus has recently released Nisus Writer Express, a pared down version of their Classic compatible word processor. You can get Nisus Writer Express for US$79.

A new player in the word processor arena is Mellel. The thing that Mellel does well is to be able to handle Hebrew and other right-to-left languages in a document. Mellel is a work in progress but the authors promise great things. Mellel is very inexpensive, US$19.

A while back ComGrafix Inc. made their OS 9 version of their office product, Ragtime, available as a free download. The free version was called Ragtime Solo. The idea was to get people familiar with Ragtime so that newer versions would have a broader audience. Since that time ComGrafix Inc. has developed and released an OS X version of Ragtime and seems to have gotten what they wanted, a larger audience. Version 5.6 is currently available for OS X and will set you back US$595, which makes it more expensive than Microsoft's Office X. It is worth it? Download the demo, and be the judge.

Now that Apple supports X11, any app that uses X11 is as easy to use as apps made for Aqua. OpenOffice is an excellent example. No longer do you need to download and configure the FreeX86 X11 window manager, OpenOffice works as-is. The problem is that 'as is' is still beta, but it does work. In this case, AppleWorks would be the better choice, however.

Then, there's ThinkFree Office, a Java based office suite made to be compatible with Microsoft Office X. You can buy ThinkFree Office in the store for about US$50 or you can download it.

And finally, we should also mention two other word processors: AbiWord and Mariner Write. AbiWord is a usable app that will let you open and edit some Word documents, though it needs X11 to run. Mariner Software is slowly but surely completing an office suite of apps, the first two of which are Mariner Write (US$79), a popular and competent word processor, and Mariner Calc, a spreadsheet app (US$79, or both for US$139).

As you can see, there are lots of choices when it comes to word processors for OS X. Obviously, the breadth of choices narrow as you define your requirements for a word processor, but be mindful that we've listed only the more popular apps. There are dozens of shareware and free word processors around, each with its own peculiarity or speciality.

So, if you absolutely despise Big Redmond, or refuse to pay big nasty bucks for Word, it is comforting to know that you don't have to.

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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