Allen’s personal comments
Word Processing Programs
I’ve been using word processing programs since about 1980, and I’ve gone through a lot of them. In many ways, my two favorites were WordStar, which was written for CP/M (which was earlier than Windows, earlier even than DOS) and Word for Windows 2 (which was written in 1983, and introduced a real novelty: the MOUSE!).
Time has marched on, and the computer world keeps giving us new options, so here are my thoughts and a few recommendations concerning the word processing programs you are likely to meet:
Some basic rules
- The best computer program is the one that doesn’t get in your way but allows you to do everything you need to do.
- Most of us are not computer experts, and we have things to pay attention to other than forcing a computer to work.
- I hate spending money.
- I also hate looking like an idiot when a computer program messes up.
I have very mixed emotions about the new trend for both the program and the files to live somewhere in the Internet “cloud” and not on my personal computer:
- If the program is online, updates are automatic and invisible: I don’t have to do anything to get the latest version, BUT the program always needs a solid Internet connection to run.
- If your files are in the cloud, you can access them from any machine, BUT getting to them is sometimes tricky, AND you can’t open them if there’s an Internet problem.
- Files and programs that aren’t on your computer aren’t in any sense yours, so changes beyond your control (for example, new billing requirements) could affect your ability to get to your stuff.
- In the old days, computers had very limited storage capacity, so online storage was very attractive, but now computers can store a lot more (and text files like we are making are tiny).
Having said all that, here’s how some of our most obvious options look, rating them according to these four criteria:
MS Word is, in a way, the standard of the world. Everyone assumes you know how to use it and everyone assumes you can open an MS Word document, so you should probably figure out how to use it, even if you don’t do your daily writing on it.
MS Word comes in two versions at the moment: The online version and the one you download to your computer. (NOTE: These two are very different programs; if you know how to use one, you will still have a learning curve when you try the other.)
- Staying out of my way and doing what I need: The online version lacks some of the features of the downloaded version, and I find it very slow to load. Once it’s loaded, though, it seems to do OK, though opening a file sometimes takes forever. One problem with online software is that performance has a lot to do with the quality of your connection, and if the Internet goes down, you just don’t get any work done. MS Word has a built-in problem dealing with lists. Sometimes you discover that there is simply no way to do what you want (for example, two Harvard outlines in the same document).
- Opening a file in the online version sometimes just doesn’t work—your best bet is to close the attempt and open again.
- The online version stores files in the Microsoft cloud, and navigating there takes some getting used to.
- Avoiding computer glitches: Kind of OK. Downloading the desktop version took hours; now that I have it, PowerPoint routinely crashes my computer. That may be because my older Mac Mini hasn’t upgraded to the latest operating system and Microsoft won’t upgrade their program until I upgrade my operating sytem. The Windows copies at school seem to have more than their share of glitches too.
- Cost: Microsoft has gone to a monthly subscription fee, but if you’re a student you can get the program for free through Office.com. I don’t know what happens after you graduate.
- Making me look like an idiot: Pretty much every new version or update changes the user interface, at least a little (and sometimes a lot). You need to get used to the idea that you won’t always know how to use the program after an update. The online version doesn’t save files in the standard format, so when you want to load a paper into Blackboard, you must go through an extra step.
Bottom line: MS Word, for a lot of reasons, would not be my first choice. It does have a great spelling and grammar checker, but there are always annoying glitches, and each “improvement” seems to make it more difficult to use. I might have a different opinion, though, if I were using a Windows computer and a blazing fast Internet connection.
- Staying out of my way and doing what I need: Generally, Docs is a winner here. The spelling/grammar checker is weak, and the paragraph styles give you little help. On the other hand, the two best features are auto-save and the ability to open a document on several different computers without any problem or any change in the document’s appearance. Another strength is that there’s a built-in automatic way to forward a document to someone else for comment.
- Avoiding computer glitches: Because it’s an online program, there have been times when it simply would not load or open a document. When Google has trouble with its servers, you stop typing. That’s not often a problem, but I’ve run into it a few times this year. I don’t know how well the downloaded version works. One problem I’ve run into, though, is that students like to send me links which require me to know their password if I want to open the file.
- Cost: Totally free always!
- Making me look like an idiot: They do keep upgrading the program, and sometimes the menus change, but I can generally figure things out. The main “idiot” glitch is that there are a couple of extra steps to download a document for Blackboard, etc.
Bottom line: I’m generally a fan. If I didn’t have a program which I like better, this might become my standard.
This is an Apple-only program. Sorry, Windows folks!
- Staying out of my way and doing what I need: Winner here, though Apple does have different names for things and does them differently than anyone else. There’s quite a learning curve. On the other hand, it’s incredibly powerful in areas such as paragraph styles and general formatting.
- Avoiding computer glitches: Really shines here. One of the best features is that the product updates happen when you run your general update procedure, so you don’t have to do anything special. It’s a program which lives on your hard drive, so Internet outages don’t stop you from writing.
- Cost: Free for Apple users.
- Making me look like an idiot: Like Google Docs, there’s an extra step for downloading a file in MS Word format.
Bottom line: As an Apple user, this would be my favorite if it had been free when I first got into using Apples. (They wanted a lot of money back then.) It’s got a lot to recommend it: power, sophistication, and general usefulness.
NeoOffice—Only for Apple
I began using this program when Apple didn’t have a free word processor. I’ve never left it.
- Staying out of my way and doing what I need: One of the best things about the program is that the user interface (which isn’t too stylish) stays the same, even when there are major changes in the guts of the program. I never find myself asking “How on earth do I do that now?” One of the coolest features in lists and outlines is that there’s a quick, slick way to move a list item up or down (complete with sub-items). I’ve never found that in another program.
- Avoiding computer glitches: This program is put together by volunteers (many of them in the Middle East, apparently), and every so often an update will foul up a process which had been just fine. The fix for these glitches (less often than once a year) usually comes within 24 hours.
- Cost: $24.99 for a forever license for all your machines. Download it here.
- Making me look like an idiot: Possibly the best part. It just works, with no confusion and no battles.
Bottom line: For the Apple user, this one really cooks. It’s put together the way older programs were (drop-down menus, no auto-save), and in a way that makes it more user friendly. I keep messing with other programs, but this is the one I use for word processing and grade spreadsheets.
A last message to Windows users
If I had a Windows computer, I would use Google Docs or the online version of Word for routine paper typing and seriously consider other products such as LibreOffice (free download) or OpenOffice (also free). Another excellent choice is WordPerfect (the student version is $100, but if you are going into law, you will need to learn this program).
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 9/2/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.