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Tool Time: Free Word Processing Software

March 16, 2012

If you’re looking for a word processor and you don’t have any money to spend, head over to and download their suite of productivity software–that’s marketing speak for a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics package, presentation software, and a database.

Since most of us aren’t accountants or graphic artists, today we’ll concentrate on OpenOffice Writer, the word processing package. I’ve been using it for about two weeks and I can do everything I need to here, and save my work in Word format.

The Plusses

  • It opened my Word documents (from my old laptop) with no problem.
  • It kept and didn’t corrupt the styles in my Word document.
  • It saves to Word format.
  • Although the menu structure is different than Word–substantially different from Word 2007 and 2010–I haven’t had to look too hard to figure out how to do things.
  • The things that weren’t readily apparent–like going to a specific page–were pretty easy to figure out.
  • According to its website, it works on any operating system–Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Sun Solaris if you’re a supergeek.
  • It’s free.

The Minuses

  • I really like and miss the tabular set-up in Word.
  • The keystroke shortcuts aren’t all the same. For instance, Ctrl-G takes you to a specific page in Word. It does nothing in Open Office Writer.
  • Although the formats carry over, the specific formatting has minor differences. For instance, there are minor variations between Word and Open Office in the number of pages in my manuscript.
  • The word count in the lower left corner of the Word display is buried (Tools > Word Count).

The Overall Verdict

A manuscript just isn’t a very complicated document. For a novel, you typically need two styles and a basic page set-up. Open Office Writer can handle that with no problem.  If you’re a little strapped on money, and you don’t mind re-learning a few things, it’s definitely worth investigating. Over the coming days, we’ll sprinkle in some posts on how to do some basic things in Open Office Writer.

How can it be free and legal?

Open Office is what’s called open source software. It’s a cooperative venture by a number of developers and other developers are encouraged to contribute features and functionality. There’s no profit model associated with the software, which means it really is legally free to download and install and even distribute. No one from the Business Software Alliance will ever beat down your door and confiscate your stuff for using this software without paying for it.

Basically, in using this, you’re relying on the goodness of strangers.

More in future posts.


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