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02 Word processor? (What's the best... - Macintosh application software)


This article is from the Macintosh application software FAQ, by Elliotte Harold elharo@shock.njit.edu with numerous contributions by others.

02 Word processor? (What's the best... - Macintosh application software)

Word 6.0.1 is big and powerful, and it's going to polarize the market
like nothing ever seen before ( (even earlier versions of itself).
Word 6.0.1 requires a 68020 Mac and System 7. It wants a 68040 or
PowerPC CPU, about thirty megabytes of free hard disk space, and five
free megabytes of RAM (after all extensions and the system software
are loaded). On the other hand Word 6.0 is the first consumer priced
product to provide all the features I need in a word processor
including character based styles, auto-numbering of equations and
figures, a fully programmable macro language and much, much more.
Word is virtually guaranteed to have at least one feature you can't
live without which just isn't available in any other word processor.
For me that feature is outlining. For you it may be styles or
cross-platform support or a mail merge that can be used by
non-programmers. You may not need all the features in Word 6.0, but
chances are good that you need some of them badly. The only
significant capability missing from Word 6.0 is support for non-Roman

Even more importantly between the integrated outliner, fields, active
assistance and the unbelievably powerful style sheets, Word is the
first word processor to do more than merely treat documents as
characters on a page. Contrary to the beliefs of many on the net
and Microsoft's own propaganda, Word 6.0 isn't just "over 150 new
features" tossed in to produce long lists of checkmarks in MacWeek
feature comparison charts. It's the beginning of the first word
processor that more than merely placing characters on the page
actually knows what those characters mean and how they relate to each
other. It is the next step that will take word processors from
helping us type to helping us write. It took me a while to realize
this is what Microsoft was (very quietly) up to. Noone else in the
market is even close to providing this, and Microsoft doesn't want to
tip off the competition. Nonetheless this is the future of word
processing; this is how we will be writing documents in ten years;
and this is the biggest change in the definition of what a word
processor should be since the original MacWrite, and perhaps since
cut and paste.

Finally since Word is the market leader, there's a greater chance
that it will be upgraded and supported in the future, both by
Microsoft and by third parties. Many people have been burned by
committing to word processors that were subsequently abandoned,
leaving them with files they could neither exchange with others nor
convert into better supported formats. Thus it's nice to know that
anyone you send a Word file to will be able to read it, and that any
program which needs to import word processing documents will import a
Word file. And if there is some feature you need that Word just
doesn't have (though I find it hard to imagine what) there's a very
good chance a third party tool exists to provide it. For instance
although the envelope feature in Word is virtually useless, you can
use Easy Envelopes to replace it. On the other hand, there's no
replacement for WordPerfect's imperfect outliner.

Now for the bad news: In the process of creating this completely
new kind of word processor, Microsoft encountered a few problems.
Most glaringly Word 6.0.1 is slow on 68030 and 68020 Macs. The
implementation is causing so many problems for so many people, that
users are abandoning Word in droves. While the Macintosh Word team
at Microsoft continues to attempt to defend their product, they're
pretty much the only ones. Even Microsoft's own technical support is
telling callers "We hate them," (The Mac Word programming team), and
[envelope printing in Word 6] "is proof Microsoft doesn't do drug
testing when they hire programmers."

Finally Word's interface is more like Windows than a Macintosh. (The
menu bars aren't attached to the windows yet, but I'm waiting for
that.) Believe it or not, Microsoft continues to insist that this is
a feature and not a bug, and that their customers want it. By this
they mean that system managers who approve purchase orders for
hundreds of copies of Microsoft products and oversee large,
mixed-platform networks want it. This sort of person is, after all,
Microsoft's real customer. Microsoft has demonstrated little concern
for the individual typing at the keyboard who, after all, doesn't
approve any purchase orders. While making the Windows and Macintosh
versions of Word look and work identically makes technical support
and training easier for management, it makes using the product harder
for the individual Mac user since they essentially need to learn how
to use a Windows program to use Word.

Nonetheless I think Microsoft's vision of word processing is strong
enough to make up for the bugs and the Windows interface. However
that's not a strong enough argument to make up for the snail-like
slowness of the product, so if you don't have a 68040 or a PowerMac
with five free megabytes of RAM you need to look elsewhere. Therefore
since Word doesn't run suitably quickly on my SE/30, I'm still
looking for the ultimate word processor. I hoped WordPerfect 3.1
would be that program but there are still too many bugs in screen
redraw, tables, and the import of Word files for me to feel
comfortable using or recommending it.

WordPerfect 3.1 is close to what Word 5.1 should have been and what
many people wanted from Word 6.0. It's acceptably fast on 68030 Macs
with as little as two free megs of RAM, has just about every feature
of Word 5.1 except outlining, plus a few more commonly requested
features like automatic cross-referencing and auto-numbering of
figures, equations and tables, a macro language, and support for
WorldScript II languages like Korean, Chinese and Japanese (though
not right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic). You can retrieve
a demo from


If you want to upgrade from Word 5.1 but your Mac can't handle Word
6.0 or your stomach can't handle Windows (since Word 6.0, is after
all, just a Windows port) you might find WordPerfect more to your
liking. However be warned that not all of its features actually
work. Many of those that do are incomplete in their current
incarnations. And there are distinctly non-trivial bugs in screen
redraw. Finally Wordperfect Corp. no longer offers lifetime technical
support (though the first 180 days of support are tollfree). As
thrilled as I was to see a real competitor for Microsoft Word, I'm
afraid the initial glow has worn off. I cannot recommend WordPerfect
at this time, primarily because of the screen redraw problems.

Users with limited disk space, 68000 CPUs, or less than four
megabytes of memory may want to consider WriteNow 4.0, a word
processor noted for its speed, small memory appetite, minimal disk
footprint, and small price, about sixty dollars. Unlike the other
products discussed here, WriteNow really is designed first and last
to be a word processor, not a document formatter. It doesn't have an
equation editor, text boxes, an outliner or other features more
associated with desktop publishing than with writing. If all you
want to do is write, WriteNow may be the choice for you. However you
should be warned that after a series of mergers, acquisitions and
product sales WriteNow has found itself in unfriendly corporate hands
and will likely eventually die a quiet death. There are no plans for
any future upgrades.

Users behind the power curve and even those out in front of it may
also want to consider ClarisWorks whose word processing functions are
more than sufficient for basic writing. While more expensive than
WriteNow, ClarisWorks also provides many other well-integrated
features in a small and speedy package.

Almost everyone who buys a computer immediately either buys or
borrows a word processor. Certainly they get one before they get
a modem and net access. Consequently the market for freeware and
shareware word processors is miniscule. Nonetheless there is one.
Datapak's Word Solution Engine Demo 2.2 is a full-featured free word
processor. Don't let the word "Demo" fool you. What Datapak is
demoing is the capabilities of the word processing engine they
license to software developers, not the word processor itself which
is fully functional and free. WSED supports editing files larger
than memory, WorldScript, simple styles and all the standard features
you'd expect in a Macintosh word processor. There's no manual or
technical support, but what do you expect for free? In any case
the program is simple and intuitive enough that neither should be
necessary. See


Among writers of technical documents that include many numbered
equations, tables, and figures, FrameMaker is particularly popular.
This may change now that Word offers all those features, especially
since FrameMaker really is more of a desktop publishing package than
a word processor, and it's priced like one. The educational discount
price for FrameMaker is close to the non-educational, street price of
Word 5.1 or WordPerfect; and competitive upgrades are not available.
When creating a Framemaker document you need to give a lot more
initial thought to the layout of the page than you would with most
word processors. It's much harder to just launch FrameMaker and
begin writing than it is in any of the other word processors.
Finally FrameMaker requires even more RAM than Microsoft Word 6.0!
All these facts convince me that FrameMaker is not well suited to
general use.

Many netters swear by (and at) NisusWriter from Nisus Software. If
you're used to almost any other word processor, your first reaction
on launching Nisus may be "What were the programmers thinking?" The
answer is, "Nothing like anybody else in the market." In many ways
Nisus is still trying to catch up with Word 4, not to mention Word 6;
but in many other ways Nisus has been ahead of Microsoft for years.
The feature set of Nisus is almost orthogonal to the feature set of
everything else on the market. For instance as well as the standard
Plain, Bold, Italic and Underline styles, Nisus also includes Lower
Underline, Dotted Underline, Word Underline, esreveR, Strike Through,
Overbar, Invert and more. On the other hand style sheets can't be
based on each other, tables can't span more than a single page, you
can't copy and paste styled text into other applications, there's
no outlining to speak of and the size of the files you can open is
limited by available RAM. It's almost as if someone sequestered a
group of programmers in a lab for the last ten years, and forced them
to develop a word processor with no knowledge of what anyone else
might or might not be doing.

Fancy styles are far from NisusWriter's most important unique
strength. NisusWriter is the only word processor that lets you write
in any or all of Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, English,
Russian, and more. To use non-Roman languages (except Japanese)
requires a separately available ADB dongle (about $100 street); but
if your writing is limited to Roman languages and Japanese, the
undongled edition will serve equally well.

NisusWriter is also renowned for its powerful macro language and
styled-grep search and replace. I've accomplished jobs in minutes
with NisusWriter that hours of AppleScript programming and
WordPerfect macros weren't able to handle. If you have a lot of text
that you want to reformat automatically you owe it to yourself to try
NisusWriter first.

If you're looking for a word processor that can do tables, multiple
width snaking and newspaper style columns, import every picture
format known, and in general double as a desktop publishing package,
you don't want NisusWriter. On the other hand if you need to write
in Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese or many other non-Roman languages you
really have no other choice. You can get a demo from


MacWrite Pro 1.5 is a solid product but has nothing special to
recommend it beyond the name of the company that makes it. If
MacWrite was produced by Friendly Neighborhood Software (tm) instead
of Claris, it would have been eliminated from the market long ago.

After years of abandonment FullWrite has returned to the hands of its
original developers and from there to the retail market. As of this
writing I don't have much information about it but you can retrieve a
demo copy from


What's the bottom line? In open platform competition where every
program gets as fast a processor and as much RAM as it likes, there's
no question that Word 6.0.1 is by far the best word processor for the
Mac. The one exception is if you need to write in non-Roman
languages in which case NisusWriter is the superior choice. However
if we limit ourselves to 68030 Macs with less than three free
megabytes of RAM the choice is a lot less obvious. Word can barely
run on such a system. WordPerfect can't redraw its screen properly
on any system. NisusWriter works but is missing many features users
have come to depend on. All I suggest to Mac users with 68030 Macs
is keep whatever you have now, be it ClarisWorks or an older version
of Microsoft Word, and wait for the next round of releases before
upgrading. You may not have to wait long. As I write this rumors of
WordPerfect 3.5, ClarisWorks 4.0 and NisusWriter 4.1 have just been
released. One thing's for sure: the Macintosh word processing market
is a lot more interesting than it was a year ago.


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