It's not true that you need Microsoft Word. But you do need Word's features.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Stop Paying for Software
Get Microsoft Word's features for free

May 3, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   The best way to save money is to stop spending it. That's the idea behind my new series on the best free software for Windows and Macs. This week I'm recommending three Microsoft Word-compatible word processors.
Everybody needs a good word processor. That's true. And the best one might well be Microsoft Word. That's also true.
   But it's not true that you need Microsoft Word. I have three suggestions for word processors that work just like Microsoft Word in most ways but cost absolutely nothing.
   My first suggestion is a perennial favorite of mine. It's Writer, the word processor that comes with OpenOffice, the free Office-compatible suite from www.openoffice.org. The highest praise I can give it is to tell you I prefer it over Word even though Word is second nature to me. (I taught it for years.)
   Get the full OpenOffice suite, available for both Windows and Linux, even if you think you'll only use Writer. You'll be sure to appreciate the suite's PowerPoint-compatible presentation software, Impress.
   The Mac version I recommend is called NeoOffice and comes from www.neooffice.org. It's basically the same as OpenOffice. It also has Writer.
   If an entire suite seems like overkill, you might prefer sticking to just a good word processor. An outstanding Microsoft Word-compatible stand-alone word processor is AbiWord, from www.abisource.com. It's been around for seven years and is highly regarded.
   AbiWord is available for Windows, Macs and Linux PCs. Its greatest strength is its range of optional add-on features. Be sure to look at all the free plug-ins at www.abisource.com/wiki/PluginMatrix.
   Finally, here's an old friend repackaged as a powerful word processor. The old friend is WordPad, the solid (and maybe stolid) no-frills word processor that comes free with Windows. Microsoft refused to give WordPad the same features as Word -- it wants you to buy Word -- but a company named Carolina Road Software has a better idea.
   Carolina Road is giving away a Wordpad-on-steroids word processor that it calls Jarte. It slices and dices just like Word and has the features Microsoft left out of WordPad -- spell checking, outlining, complex text alignment and much more. Get it from www.jarte.com.
   Next in this series: The best free security software for Windows and Macs.