Recommendations for a Word-compatible OSX word processor?
November 1, 2015 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Having finally run out of patience with having to install a massive security fix every time I want to use Word for Mac 2011, I'm querying the Hive Mind for recommendations for an OSX word processor that can also open/save .doc or .docx files.

I'm a sporadic and minimal word processor user - I probably don't use 10% of what MS Word is capable of - but, y'know, sometimes you gotta create a document, and sometimes I have to open a Word file or work on a file in a Windows environment.

Let's assume that for various reasons I don't want to use a web/cloud-based application.

Googling around is getting me too many opinions, too many options, and too much old information (I don't care what Lifehacker thought the best wp apps for Mac were in 2009 . . . . ) so I figured y'all could help me figure out what would work for me.

Pages? People seem to be mad that Pages has lost some features and gotten too focused on incorporating images. Will I be annoyed with feature bloat if all I want to do is bang out a to-do list with certain things in red?

LibreOffiice or OpenOffice? My last experience with OpenOffice (pre-Apache-buyout) had some of the same frustrations I'm currently having with Word for Mac - if I didn't use it for a couple of months there was an enormous pile of bug fixes and security updates waiting for me, so I'm a little leery here.

Many of the lightweight word processor apps (like the ones on this list) seem to have compatibility issues with docx files, but maybe my Google-fu is failing today. Am I missing something obvious? Should I just grab a simple program for my personal needs and use something else when/if I have to open or save a file in MS Word format?

'09 iMac running OSX 10.11.1 El Capitan, fwiw.

Thanks in advance, everyone.
posted by soundguy99 to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Every single major application that you begin to use in 2015 will have big bundles of updates that will need to be installed sporadically. This isn't the '80s or '90s, where you would purchase an application on disk, perhaps get a service pack at some point, and use it for a decade. It's not limited to word processors, it's... almost everything.

So, try LibreOffice first. If it suits your needs, it's free! However, I've had some issues, historically, with formatting from complex .docx files being slightly off compared with the real deal.

I would watch out for Pages. Every single time there's an update, there are throngs of people complaining about how Apple has removed functionality, and I've seen much of that myself. In addition, while Pages may be able to load and export Word documents, Pages documents themselves are an island that can only be opened in Pages. Never expect a commitment to interoperability from Apple.

Word 2016 has worked extremely well for me on the Mac - I've been running it since the previews, and it's always been faster and more stable than Word 2011 for me. I'm not sure what's up with all the low reviews on Amazon, because my experience has been solid. It is, obviously, the gold standard, but as you know, gold is expensive.

If formatting isn't a big deal - if you're just writing, and need to open that up in other places without an eye to formatting - there are a tremendous number of options from old-school apps like BBEdit or TextMate and TextWrangler to newer apps like Brackets. These are much lighter - but, again, you'd only be getting the text, not the ability to pass full formatting back and forth with Word on a PC.
posted by eschatfische at 11:46 AM on November 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're only using the very, very basics of Word then there's no point downloading a local application if you don't want to use Word in the first place.

Microsoft OneDrive has a stripped-down version of Word available for free online. Google Docs is also pretty useful. I use it every day for work.

The only caveat with cloud-based services is privacy: I have been teaching as a sessional at a college in Canada and we're not allowed to use cloud-based services such as OneDrive or Google Drive, when data is stored in the US (as it almost certainly is).

So I have had to use my local version of Office to create lecture slides and assignments, and then send to students using the college's email etc.

If you're a freelancer clients will sometimes also demand a certain degree of data confidentiality, which means not being able to use cloud services.

However, I work as a writer for a number of agencies and I typically submit assignments using Google Docs. It's basic, has an edit/track changes function and is easy to format.
posted by Nevin at 11:52 AM on November 1, 2015

Turn on auto-updates, and then you won't have to wait for an update when you want to use Word.
posted by clone boulevard at 12:01 PM on November 1, 2015

Pages works fine. I like the fact that I can work either on my iPad or my desktop Mac. I get slightly annoyed at its lack of features, but because you can save to Word, I do my sophisticated editing there.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2015

Bean is a very lightweight OS X word processor that is in stable release but is no longer being updated. It works with Word files though I've had some formatting hiccups with tables and images, ie the kind of stuff MS Word loves to garble anyway.

Pro: no updates, ergo no updates
Con: no updates, ergo no guarantee of future compatibility
posted by a halcyon day at 12:13 PM on November 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you tried TextEdit? Yes, the super-simple little text editor that ships with your Mac. It can open and save as doc/docx. It does tables, lists, and multiple fonts. You can also create font styles for use across your document.

If you need to do much with layout it's not for you. But it serves all my very occasional word-processing needs.

(Most of my actual writing is just stuff in Evernote, with occasional diversions to Scrivener; if I need to lay out something nicely I'll bring out either Illustrator or InDesign, what with being an artist type.)
posted by egypturnash at 1:12 PM on November 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

You don't actually say in your question what types of documents you create (novels or to-do lists?) which would determine the answer to your question. I you only want to " bang out a to-do list with certain things in red", Pages works just fine.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 1:36 PM on November 1, 2015

So if you're mostly using a word processor to bang out documents for yourself, Pages will be fine. The main thing that folks got upset about was a one-time thing, where Pages for Mac had advanced features removed in order to make all versions of Pages — for Mac, iOS, and web — have the same capabilities. Those features have now largely been added back in, and they were generally the advanced features that it sounds like you weren't using anyways.

But if you'll be doing a fair amount of collaboration with people who use Word, I wouldn't use Pages. If all you want to do is open a .docx file, change it, and save it again, then Pages makes you jump through hoops to do that.

Word for Mac 2016 is definitely a lot faster and nicer than 2011, but Microsoft Auto-Update is still the most tedious updater ever. (The problem isn't that updates exist, it's that there's far too much busy work involved in applying them.) I've decided that Word 2016 is the least bad of the available options, though, so that's what I'm using.
posted by Banknote of the year at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding OS X's built-in text editor, TextEdit. It can open and save Word files. It's small and stable and fast. If you don't need elaborate formatting or change tracking/annotation, you may find that it works very well for you.

It's also free (as it comes with OS X) and its feature set has been very stable over the years. It doesn't have an iOS counterpart, so it's not tethered to a need to follow design changes on the mobile end of things in that way that Pages does. Apple does not have the track record of flipping the table on it that they do with Pages.

Seriously, give TextEdit a try. Rule it out before you decide to spend money on anything else.
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:28 PM on November 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Bean, if it does what you need it's very minimal and pleasant to use.
posted by nicwolff at 3:15 PM on November 1, 2015

Thirding or fourthing TextEdit. It does exactly what you need and costs nothing. Whenever an OS-X-using friend of mine asks me for help with a Word document, my first piece of advice is to open it in TextEdit instead. It's easy to use and not overloaded with toolbars festooned with obscure icons.
posted by ejs at 3:25 PM on November 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been using the older version of Pages as my everyday word processor. I've got the newer version and I'm sure I could adjust to it, but haven't.

Anyhow, I do keep Microsoft Word around, because I need to be able to open complex Word files (and sometimes need to work in it directly). Although Pages does a good job with Word files usually, I need to be prepared for the edge cases that do crop up. I also find that, although I export from Pages to Word files to send to clients, there are also edge cases with that where a style got screwed up in translation, and I need to do some massaging in Word to make things right.

This may sounds like a lot of extra futzing around, but I count the fact that I haven't clawed my eyes out as a worthwhile payoff.

If I could get away with it, I would do most of my work in Markdown, and export from that to a Word file. Sadly, that's not quite feasible.
posted by adamrice at 3:56 PM on November 1, 2015

If you do choose Pages, be advised that it has had a ridiculous bug in its docx exporter for many years. It embeds a 478KB image called image1.png in every docx export, regardless of whether this image is relevant to the content of a file. This means that no exported docx will ever be smaller than half a meg.

But a docx is just a ZIP in disguise, so you can safely and easily remove this image from YourDocument.docx with the following command:
zip -d YourDocument.docx word/media/image1.png
Having done this, I find that Pages actually produces the smallest docx files of any tool I've seen.
posted by rlk at 5:20 PM on November 1, 2015

I use OpenOffice all day every day. I can't say I've ever experienced anything like what you describe about bugs and fixes. Periodically it notifies me that there is an update and I click a single button to run the download and update.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:17 PM on November 1, 2015

« Older Best fish market that has good quality and low...   |   Minimalist running shoes for wet wintry weather? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.