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Macintosh Word Processors

By Randy B. Singer

For some reason there is a prevalent belief among Macintosh users that their only choices for a word processing program are Microsoft Word and Apple’s own Pages.  Many bemoan the fact that Word is too complex a program for them, and that Apple’s Pages, once a powerhouse, has been regressed to a simpler state in recent years.  These users would like an alternative to the two obvious choices.  Maybe something easy (or just easier than Word) to use, yet fairly full featured.  Or maybe just a decently competent program that they don’t have to pay for.

Well, good news!  There are lots of word processors for the Macintosh.  They range from very powerful to very easy.  There are completely free options.  There are even options that vie with Microsoft Word for features.  This site endeavors to point you to all of the current options.

Note: This site does not list text editors (which are not word processors), specialized programs such as script-writing software, writing aids, etc.  Just general word processors are listed here.  Please don't e-mail me and tell me that I've left out your favorite text editor.

Just about all Macintosh word processing programs offer at least nominal compatibility with files in the Microsoft Word format.  (Word format being the de facto standard among business people.  Many users have to be able to exchange files in Word format with Word users.)  While Microsoft Word itself is the only program that can guaranty one hundred percent compatibility while reading or exchanging files with other Word users, in most cases, if you stick to fairly simple documents, most of the below programs can be used to read and create compatible Word format files.

Here is where to get Word and Pages:

Microsoft Office (includes Word, Excel, and Powerpoint)

There is the mistaken impression among many users that the latest version of Office is only available via a subscription.  This is not the case.
Office 2016 stand-alone for home ($150)
Office 2016 stand-alone for business ($230)
Home edition from Amazon ($129.50)

Pages (Free)(Pages was previously a commercial product that came free with new Macs.  Now it is completely free and anyone can download the latest version.)

Let’s start with a program that is more or less a clone of Microsoft Office (though it is more like the Windows version than the Macintosh version).’s three distinct programs.  Two of which are completely free!:

Apache OpenOffice, NeoOffice, and LibreOffice are three different "office suite" products, like Microsoft Office, but they are all based on the same open-source codebase that originated with the commercial product StarOffice, which was purchased and then put into the public domain by Sun (now owned by Oracle).

These are competing "projects" even though they are working with the same open-source OpenOffice code to create a Macintosh-native version.  Not all of these products offer the same exact capabilities and/or performance.  There are also some differences in how the graphic user interface looks in each program.  These products nevertheless are very similar, and all are either free or very reasonably priced.

All three can open, modify, and save Office documents in their native formats.  They will usually, but not always, do so perfectly.  (The native format for Office documents is identical across platforms.  That is, when you send an Office document created on a Macintosh to someone with a Windows PC, no translation of the document is necessary for them to open it, and vice versa.)  If you like Microsoft Word, but don't like paying for it, any or all of these three programs are worth checking out.

Apache OpenOffice (Free)
The best known of the OpenOffice ports for the Mac, but ironically the least advanced.   Until relatively recently, in fact, OpenOffice/Mac required X11 to run with a graphic user interface on the Macintosh.  It is now fully native.

NeoOffice ($15/$30 Mac App Store version is entitled to unlimited free upgrades)  
Based on the OpenOffice code also, but more advanced and, most importantly more stable.  I recently tested all of these, and NeoOffice was the most stable.
What makes NeoOffice worth $15 when the the other two mentioned here are free?  In comparison to the other OpenOffice siblings, NeoOffice has implemented more features for the Macintosh:
...and in most instances is faster:
and it is more stable.
(Previously based on Java, but it now has next to no Java code in it.)

LibreOffice (Free)  
The newest fork in the Open Office development field, which, unlike all the others, is being backed by a consortiom of big company sponsors, such as BROffice, Google, Novell and Red Hat. This project has just about eclipsed all of the other Open Office projects.  It was quite unstable for a while, but recently it has become a really good product.

Which of the three above programs are best?  I'd try LibreOffice first, because it is free.  If it isn't as stable on your model of Mac as you like, or if NeoOffice offers a feature that you would like that LibreOffice does not, I'd then go with NeoOffice.

Other choices (listed more or less in order from most powerful to least powerful):

RagTime (729 €)
An integrated multi-function program for professionals.  Sort of like the gone and much lamented AppleWorks, only on steroids.  It includes the integrated capabilities of: a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, graphics, page layout, PDF, HTML (web), database, address-book, etc.

Papyrus Author (179 €/$?)
The "never ready for the English-speaking world" word processor that has been enticing us for years.  The German version is reportedly very popular.  A beta version of a well-polished English language version was recently seeded to testers, but then the release date was scrapped.  It’s a shame, because this looks like the Microsoft Word killer that many have clamored for.  Easy to use (even fun), yet supremely powerful.  Maybe the developers just need some encouragement?   (English version)   (German version)

FreeOffice/Softmaker Office (free/$70/$100/subscription)
similar to Microsoft Office
Comparison chart of the features and costs of each version:
A really slick Office suite extremely similar to Microsoft Office, for either free or a fraction of the price.  Excellent file compatibility with Microsoft format files!  The free version is worth having.  On a par with LibreOffice; both have their own strengths and weaknesses.

LyX (free)  (some assembly required)
Sophistocated word processor for creating stylized works.

Nisus Express/Pro
The professional version of Nisus has become a very powerful word processor.  Some consider it a worthy, and even a more desirable, competitor to Word.  Users rave about it.
Features in Pro version:
Free video tutorials:

Adobe InCopy (Subscription)
A program whose main focus is to allow for close collaboration between writers, editors, copy editors and designers. InCopy is almost always used in conjunction with Adobe InDesign, either using its own built-in integration tools or using a 3rd party workflow database (e.g. K4, WoodWings).

Mellel ($59)
A fairly powerful word processor.  Best known for its ability to superbly handle foreign languages that are read from right to left.

Mariner Write ($30)
An every-man's word processor.  Fast, easy to use, reasonably powerful.  It reminds some folks of the once wildly popular WriteNow.

Growly Write (Free)
A surprisingly competent free word processor!  Includes columns, stylesheets, advanced placement of graphics in text, drop caps, tables, hot links, borders, etc.   Yet is still easy to use!  Sadly, includes no footnote capability.  This product is worth downloading just because it is free.

Scrivener ($45)
A lightweight word processor that specializes in allowing you to most efficiently work with your research/ideas and create complex works through composing and arranging ideas and integrating them easily.

Write 2 ($9)
A lightweight word processor that includes stylesheets, headers and footers, tables, and columns.

Bean (Free)
An very basic word processor.  No stylesheets or footnotes.  Not completely compatible with Word format files.

iText Express/Pro  (free/$12)
A fairly new product that this author has not looked at.

Calligra Suite (Free)
An open-source project based on KOffice.  Can’t be downloaded as a turn-key program.  Requires some assembly.  Can import but cannot export Word format.

AbiWord (Free)
Can’t be downloaded as a turn-key program.  Requires some assembly.  It is unclear how well it works with recent versions of the MacOS.

If you have any additions to this Web site to suggest
I would very much appreciate hearing your suggestions.
Send them to:
Randy B. Singer

Other Web pages by Randy B. Singer that might be of interest to Macintosh users:

Macintosh OS X Routine Maintenance

Macintosh OS X Slowdown Solutions

Macintosh Beachballs!

About The Author Of This Web Site

Randy B. Singer is:

- The head of the MacAttorney User Group
with, at this writing, close to 10,000 members!

- A co-author of The Macintosh Bible (4th, 5th and 6th editions);

- Author of the ABA publication:
The Macintosh Software Guide for the Law Office

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