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Before You Purchase Word Processing Software


If you're thinking about purchasing word processing software and are confused by the array of products that are available, you're not alone. Many people buy the most popular product because they think it must be the best. Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- there is no one right solution for everybody. Find out what you need to know to make an informed decision on which word processing software to buy.

Will your system resources limit your choices?

If you’re using a new computer, system resources won’t be an issue. If you haven’t your system is older, check the requirements. Word, with all its features, can use a significant amount of resources -- if you plan on running several programs at the same time (you will), it will use even more. If you fall short, your computer will crash and you’ll be stuck with software you can’t use. System requirements are listed on the side of the box; if purchasing online, check the manufacturer’s website.

What are your main uses for the software?

People tend to want the latest thing, even if it isn’t the best match for them. You can save yourself hundreds of dollars if you evaluate your needs before you buy. If it means you’re spending more than you intended, at least you didn’t spend $100 on a program only to find you need the $200 program. If you’re just going to be typing letters to friends and family, you can get by with a more basic program than if you are working on a one hundred page thesis that requires specialized formatting.

Which features will make your work easier?

Manufacturers are always adding more features to their programs; it seems that every few years Microsoft introduces a “revolutionary” new feature to Word. People who work at a high level of proficiency are more likely to find the new features appealing, because they truly do make their work easier. But face it, some of the features will mean very little to the average user. You shouldn’t pay for a feature you’re not going to use; instead, focus on the features you will use.

How easy will the software be to use?

If you are going to have difficulty using a particular program, it doesn’t matter what features it has. Do some research: Ask friends what they think of their software, visit forums (you can start with the About Word Processing forum), read online reviews, and browse the help books at your local library. If the examples look easy enough, go for it. If you’re still undecided, download trial versions or start with freeware.

Do you foresee distributing your documents electronically?

If you are going to be sharing your documents electronically, you will need to think about the software other people are using. While many people consider it bad etiquette to send Word attachments via email, some instances require it: if you’re collaborating with other people and the agreed file format is Word. You will at least want to make sure that you can save your work in formats that are compatible with other programs.

Do you need an entire office suite?

Office suites are expensive. However, if you really are going to use the other components, you should spring for the suite. Buying the two most popular components of Office (Word and Excel) in stand-alone versions will be more expensive than the full suite, so it is better to evaluate what you’re going to use before you make a purchase. If you’re only going to do word processing, buy the stand alone version and invest the money you save in something every computer user needs: an good keyboard.

Do you really need a desktop publishing program?

Word processing software is very different from desktop publishing software; if you want to create documents that approach magazine quality, you’re going to be disappointed with Word. Word processing software has advanced a lot in the past ten years, but it still is not a good substitute for desktop publishing software. On the other hand, don’t try to do word processing with a desktop publishing solution – while it can be done, you don’t need all the features and extra work to create letters.

Which retailer has the best price?

The web is your best resource for comparison shopping, and there are several engines that will do the work for you, even factoring in shipping. Of course, there are some unscrupulous vendors out there. If they offer OEM software, don’t be tempted by the price; there are serious legal ramifications in using it if did not come with your system. Also, make sure you’re not being buying Academic software – manufacturers offer steep discounts to students and teachers, but you must prove eligibility.
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