Word crunching

Anthony Caruana
24 September, 2011
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One of the most-used apps on computers is the humble word processor. Although Microsoft Office might be the preferred tool of many businesses and Pages a favourite with Mac users, there are lots of other options.

In the past it was tough to look at alternatives to Microsoft Word because the .doc format was owned by Microsoft and was a standard. However, the newer .docx format is an open standard that can be used by anyone. That means you can create documents using your preferred tool with confidence that your documents can be read.

However, it’s important to note that while .docx is open, there’s scope for software developers to use it differently. That means that you’ll be able to read the content but, in some cases, complex formatting might be lost.




If you only work with simple documents then Bean is a great, free option. It supports a wide variety of document formats including .doc, .docx, rich text and Open Office, although it struggles with anything other than the most basic formatting options.

Bean allows you to insert images into your documents although it doesn’t use the familiar Media Browser many Mac apps use. It simply allows you to choose an image from your hard drive so adding pictures from iPhoto is a hassle. However, I like the integration with the OS X dictionary and the formatting Inspector is very easy to use with commonly used options placed front and centre.

If you’re working to a specific word or page limit, Bean provides a live word, character and page count on its status bar – something that’s useful for professional writers.

Despite the limitations, I really like using Bean when my main task is simply putting words to paper. The interface
is uncluttered. Although formatting is often messed up I am able to open documents from other word processors and read the content.




Scrivener is more than a text editor. It’s a one-stop spot for holding together all the pieces that go into creating a complex document.

Rather than working with a document, Scrivener works with a binder that can hold research, notes or other content arranged into folders.

In the past, when I worked on a large project, I’d put all the components into folders on my Mac and jump in and out of Finder, opening the various pieces on at a time until the screen was filled with lots of different documents, images and other material that would be used in creating a document. With Scrivener, all those pieces are pulled together.

You can even create a folder for To Do items. These can be assigned a different icon so you can easily identify them in the Scrivener binder.

Although it’s not cheap, Scrivener is a very powerful tool.




No-frills writing – that’s the promise of WriteRoom. If you want a distraction- free writing tool with a really old-school look and feel then WriteRoom will fit the bill. There are no toolbars or menus – just you and your words.

WriteRoom is designed to be used in full-screen mode but it doesn’t need Lion. The screen is completely bereft of the usual menus or buttons and the Dock is hidden away. If you need the menu bar, dragging the mouse to the top of the screen reveals it, much like the auto-hide option for the Dock.

If you drag the mouse to bottom of the screen you get an indication of whether the document has been saved, the filename and word count. Pressing c-Enter takes you out of fullscreen mode to running the application in a regular window.

The display font, text and background colours can all be adjusted. I like using WriteRoom with a black background and yellow monospaced text – a throwback to the old days of using terminals and mainframes.

Documents can be saved in plain text and rich text formats but it doesn’t deal with .doc documents.

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