what basic word processing application for osx would you recommend?
May 15, 2014 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Should be kinda an easy question in 2014, but I’ll ask anyway: What basic word processing (and preferably free/cheap) application have you found most stable/safest and user friendly (for Mac)?

A colleague will soon begin a writing project that should end up with a 200-page or so manuscript (text, sections/lists, some tables with words, not numbers, etc.) and asked about the best app use from the get-go. Since I didn’t have a ready answer, I figured to check with you all.

Some context: She’s very much a Mac user, running a MacBook Pro and OSX 10.9.2, not very techie, and has probably spent the most time with MS Word (which neither she nor I feel much loyalty toward for the typical reasons: somewhat complex/futzy to use for simple stuff, instability/crashes, Microsoft is evil, etc.). Besides the basic functions above, she’d like to access her file/manuscript from multiple machines/the cloud, and to have option for uncluttering the screen while composing (a mode that just shows the text without all the formatting or desktop), while also being able to add more complex document design as the project develops. Oh, and she’s paranoid about losing her files, so stability’s a big thing. (I’ll also add that in this era, I’m hoping it’s a freeware or close to it app, since spending $$$ on word processing these days seems to me, well, unnecessary, but perhaps I’m wrong.)

Fwiw, besides MS Word, I’ve used the Google Drive word processor, which has some annoying formatting issues when exporting files to other word processing apps; the Bean application, which allows for the uncluttered composing option, etc., but has given me some unreadable files when documents have gotten large (over 50+ pages) or incorporated too many tables; and the plain old TextEdit app from Mac, which, again, has behaved oddly on me with longer docs or those with lots of cuts/paste editing. None of these options leave me overly enthusiastic. So, what else might work?
posted by 5Q7 to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd use either Word or LibreOffice Writer (formerly OpenOffice, but that project was forked and the 'original' is basically defunct) to write, and DropBox to store it. Oh, and other backups too, since DropBox doesn't prevent other kinds of Bad Things like accidental deletions.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:23 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she bought the Mac recently, I believe she may have Pages included, which is Apple's answer to MS Word.
posted by brentajones at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2014

I was going to suggest OpenOffice too. I wrote my dissertation on it with no problems.
posted by saucysault at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2014

If she wants free, why not try Pages?

But what she should use is Scrivener and Dropbox. I feel confident in saying that is the best app from the get-go.
posted by Silvertree at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a Mac and it comes with iWork but I'm not a huge fan. If she's used to Word I'd just get Office for Mac. Especially if she is ever going to need a spreadsheet, because Numbers is awful.
posted by radioamy at 2:00 PM on May 15, 2014

I recently switched to Mac from Windows and decided not to shell out for MS Office. The LibreOffice Calc application is actually quite nice and comparable to Excel unless you're doing complicated macro programming. I've been less happy with LibreOffice Writer, their Word equivalent; the page breaks are annoying as hell to delete/move around and the menu is pretty different. So I've switched to Google Docs for word processing, which suits basic needs; however, I do all my complicated word processing, such as my thesis, in LaTeX which is a decidedly technical option.

For word processing, I'd say try out LibreOffice and Google Drive, see which she likes better. Scrivener is reportedly super-awesome for novel writers, which may or may not suit her use case.
posted by serelliya at 2:53 PM on May 15, 2014

This is a Mac user. Why all of the Word recommendations?

My comments:

Scrivener is great, but it has a modest cost - $45. It is NOT for the "not very techie" user, though. Writing in it is simple; getting it into print or PDF-ready format can be a bit of a challenge. The strongest point in its favor is its tree-organizer format, which is a godsend for a long writing project.

Pages is now, I believe, now $20 in the App Store, or free with many Macs. I am not sure how it would work if she wants to generate a table of contents, etc. but for most purposes it is an excellent choice. Apple, perplexingly, dumbed it down with the switch to the App Store version, but gradually has been restoring its higher-end features.
posted by megatherium at 3:05 PM on May 15, 2014

It's no longer being developed, but I used to love Bean. I now use Scrivener but it is a different animal.
posted by perhapses at 3:44 PM on May 15, 2014

No personal experience, but Nisus make two word processors, the simpler of which is $45. It would be worth checking out reviews & getting other opinions, but they seem to have their advocates.

I use Pages (older version) and find it good, but have no idea how it would go with larger & more complex documents.
posted by mewsic at 4:06 PM on May 15, 2014

I've processed words and published manuals on Macs since 1985. I've hated Word since 1.05 and that's an unnatural prejudice I'm sticking to.

I've relied on Pages since 2008. I've never encountered wacky bugs—but I'm not using 10.9 yet (no reason to). Using Pages, I've made signs, posters, pamphlets, copy-for-publishers, and blog posts; I've printed locallly, handed PDFs to copy shops for big color output, and exported .DOC (Word format) files. Pages handles tables which Word bombs on. At least v4.3 is a remarkably intuitive WP; it's easy to turn off all the formats and write, and it's painless to assign keyboard commands and slap in formats at will. I have not seen the current version.

Unless you're using an industrial strength long-document tool, more important than the WP is your workflow: don't keep your document in one file. Break it down into meaningfully large but not-more-than-40 pages. When you're finished with a chunk, then you can merge it with other finished bits. Save often; save a new version of the working file every day. The magic of undo means your files get tangled: saving new is the best prevention in the world.

I've also used Nisus Writer Express (free download to try) and its big brother Nisus Writer Pro. They include a lot of features for data processing (sophisticated search and replace, columnar selection, discontinuous selection (Pages does that too)) but the WP features feel a little tacked on. I never could figure out their Styles system, and formatting with styles, not locally, is essential if you're submitting a book manuscript.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:27 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another rec for Pages and the iWork suite. Easy to use and never been buggy for me.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:06 AM on May 16, 2014

I use Writeroom, Pages and Scrivener and of those three I would recommend Pages—Scrivener is too much, Writeroom isn't enough, Pages would be just right. (and what Potomac Avenue has to say about workflow is really good advice.)

the only problem I can think of with Pages is that only Pages can read Pages documents, which could limit what other machines she could work from.
posted by spindle at 5:53 PM on May 16, 2014

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