1. Technology

Word Processors -- Choosing the Right Word Processor

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In recent years, word processing has changed dramatically. You’ll find plenty of free word processing programs. You’ll even find online word processing services. These services will let you work on documents anywhere you have an internet connection; and, there is no need to install anything on your machine.

But, for business users, things haven’t changed that much. There is really only one word processor: Microsoft Word. It is the gold standard in business word processing. Word offers a bevy of features to help you streamline your word processing. You also get tools to help you create top-notch documents.

Word is available as a standalone program. It is also bundled in the Microsoft Office suite. It integrates seamlessly with Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office applications.

Word’s price tag may be an obstacle for some users. (A standalone version costs $120 for home users. Compare Prices) Others may not need such a powerful word processing program. But, if you frequently share documents with others and need advanced layout options, Word is for you.

Of course, you may not need to purchase a word processing program. Windows computers often come bundled with Microsoft Works. Works is much like the Office suite. However, many of the advanced features are absent.

Works is fine for general word processing. It will suit students up to the high school level. And, home users who simply want to type correspondence or basic documents will do fine with Works. In fact, it may be preferable in some ways. The learning curve isn’t so steep. And, the program interface is less complex.

I recommend that Windows users give Works a try, if it is available. You may be pleasantly surprised by the program. You can upgrade if you need more features or if you run into other problems.

Mac users will be disappointed to find that Mac computers don’t include a word processing program. The iWork suite is available from Apple for $80 (Compare Prices). This suite is easy to use and produces attractive documents. But, it doesn’t match the features of Microsoft Word. Of course, there is also a version of Microsoft Word (and Office) for Macs. (A standalone version of Word runs $230. Compare Prices)

Whether you use a Mac or a PC, you’ll find free word processing programs. Online services are quick and convenient. They also provide free online storage. That means your documents are always a few clicks away.

But, you’ll make sacrifices with online services. They don’t offer the same breadth of features as Word and other desktop programs. They won’t even match the stripped down feature set of Microsoft Works. In short, online services are currently best suited to complement your desktop word processor. That is, unless you’re creating basic documents.

If you need a more advanced word processor, consider OpenOffice.org. This program is completely free and works on both Macs and PCs. Its features are very similar to those of Microsoft Office. And, like most word processors, it produces documents that are compatible with Word. There is a growing push for open-source programs like OpenOffice.org. So, you’ll find that businesses and government agencies are adopting the program. You really can’t go wrong with it!

Be sure to check out my top picks for free Microsoft Word alternatives. You'll learn more about OpenOffice.org--including how to get it--and free online word processors.

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