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Vote for Your Favorite Mac Word Processor
By Josh Centers and Adam C. Engst
Word processing apps are as old as the personal computer, but what counts as a “word processor” turns out to be almost as contentious as determining the “best” word processor. In this TidBITS reader survey, our goal is not to crown any particular app but to collect your opinions about those word processors you’ve used.
That said, what does count as a word processor? Plain text editors have been around forever, but when WordStar came out in 1978, it popularized the concept of a word processor: an app that not only let you edit text but take control of how it would appear on the printed page. Although WordStar has been defunct for years, some professional writers still rely on it, most notably George R.R. Martin, author of “A Game of Thrones.”
Although there were plenty of worthy word processors on the Mac early on, including MacWrite, WriteNow, FullWrite Professional, Nisus Writer, and WordPerfect, Microsoft Word eventually came to dominate the market, in part due to running on both the Mac and in Windows. Word’s .doc format is in many ways a de facto standard when it comes to exchanging editable text documents, even when there’s no need for anything beyond plain text. Put simply, for millions of people using Macs and Windows, Microsoft Word is the only app they consider when they want to put words on paper.
In recent years, Word’s fiercest competitor on the Mac is Apple’s Pages, which has had a tumultuous history. As Apple moved toward an iCloud-based strategy that emphasized workflows that could seamlessly switch between macOS and iOS, the Mac and iOS versions of Pages clashed. You could create a document in one version and move it to another, but something often broke in the process. To resolve this, Apple retooled Pages, starting with Pages 5.0 on the Mac. It eliminated most compatibility issues but at the cost of losing many Mac features. Only now, four years later, have the semi-unified Pages apps nearly caught up with the capabilities of Pages 4.3. Since Pages 4.3 still works fine and is widely owned (if not readily available), we separated the versions in the survey.
Of course, as powerful as Word and Pages are, they’re far from the entire story. Numerous lesser-known word processors offer different approaches. Take Control started with Word, switched to Pages, and is now using Nisus Writer Pro because it offers a robust set of writing and document layout tools, solid collaboration features, and most importantly, a full programming language that makes possible things that no other word processor could ever do. But these full-featured programs can be overkill — sometimes a small, focused app like Bean, Growly Write, or Nisus Writer Express is more appropriate. And for those who move in the open-source world, there’s Open Office and its variants.
Apps for Another Survey -- Although we’re happy to add more word processors to the survey, we did have to limit ourselves in a variety of ways to keep the list to a manageable size. To that end, we’re not including online word processors, Markdown-based writing tools, plain text editors, desktop publishing apps, or iOS-only apps. If there’s enough interest, we can run another survey on these categories. Here’s why we’re keeping them out of this survey:
With all that in mind, it’s time to turn to you, the TidBITS reader, and ask you to share your opinions about the word processors you have used on the Mac. We’ll collect and summarize the results, as we did with personal information managers (“Your Favorite Mac Personal Information Managers,” 18 January 2016) and personal finance apps (“Your Favorite Mac Personal Finance Apps,” 29 February 2016). The survey is embedded at the bottom of this article on our Web site or you can navigate to it directly.
Notes on Ratings -- A few important notes before you start clicking your answers:
We’ll report on the results next week, calling out those apps that garner the most votes and have the highest ratings. Thanks for the help!
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