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Microsoft Word has been the go-to word processor since the early 90s. It’s a program that anyone who’s ever used a computer will recognize and for good reason—it’s both capable and common. Documents with .doc (or .docx) extensions are ubiquitous and widely recognized as the file format of choice for formatted text files. Although it’s relatively affordable in its modern incarnations—$139.99 for home use or $6.99 a month as a subscription service (as part of the Office suite)—freeware alternatives abound and for once, they’re more than capable.
All of the word processors we tested have the basic features you’d expect from any software dedicated to text—spell check, text input, font options, and basic formatting. The difference, in this case, is in the details. Some of the software is more feature-rich with advanced options for macros, text wrapping, and even add-ons. They’re all compatible with the standard document formats and should work interchangeably.
The real question is, which is the best? Read on to find out!
Microsoft’s own Word Online is probably the most obvious choice. Available as part of Office Online, Word Online gives users a stripped-down version of Word. All of the standard features are here. You can type up your papers, essays, and documents in the relatively familiar interface. Try to incorporate more advanced formatting and you’ll run into some problems.
It may look familiar, but it's a far cry from the feature-filled Microsoft Word.
It’s interesting that nearly every basic function of Word is replicated in the online version, except that some of the editor’s most useful features are stripped away. Insert an image into a document and you’ll have rudimentary control over its size, but you can’t control text wrapping, cropping, or simple image correction. Likewise, heading into the Page Layout tab grants you access to margins, orientation, size, indents, and spacing, but important features like columns are noticeably absent. Going further, Word Online doesn’t give you direct access to local files and documents. To open pre-existing documents, you’ll first have to upload them to your OneDrive before they’re accessible in Word Online.
If all you’re doing is writing up a basic document—for a school paper or a cover letter—you’ll be fine with Word Online. Documents are automatically saved to your OneDrive account and can be downloaded as .docx files when you’re finished with them. Although it works for most tasks, Word Online is clearly meant to be a stepping stone to the full product. Unlike some of the other word processors we tested, it’s a stopgap solution that exists as a convenience, but also as a gateway into the paid ecosystem of Microsoft Office products.
Final Verdict: It's a word processor, but only in the most basic sense. Think of it as a step above WordPad, but clearly inferior to Microsoft Word.
This is the freeware word processor to beat. Favored by many for its relative simplicity and ease-of-use, Google Docs has been wildly popular since it was first made available to Google Apps users in 2007. It’s come a long way since its initial versions and is now a fully capable word processor that’s available to anyone with a Google account.
Anyone even remotely familiar with Google should recognize Google Docs. It's the online word processor of choice for more than a few people.
As with all of the other word processors, it lets you type in your words and edit them. Inserting images is easy, and manipulating text is a cinch. The interface is kept simple and the tools available to users are adequate. Columns aren’t officially supported, but inserting a borderless table can have a similar effect.
Collaboration is one of the app’s major selling points. Working on a document with multiple people at the same time isn’t a problem with Google Docs. Each and every user currently viewing a document are displayed in the top right of the interface. Built-in chat and rudimentary revision tracking go a long way towards making multi-user documents reasonable. Add in the simple things like labeled cursors—you can see where your friend’s cursor is currently placed—and Google Docs works wonders for projects that involve multiple authors.
The recent addition of add-ons has made Google Docs even more capable. Plugins like Track Changes and EasyBib Bibliography Creator add features to the software that are otherwise unavailable or inadequate.
What makes Google Docs particularly appealing—and possibly a bit off-putting—is that there’s no paid upgrade or hidden monetization. Google’s happy enough that you’re working within their ecosystem and don’t need you to pay a monthly subscription or a one-time fee to access the software. The main drawback to Google Docs is that there’s no desktop client. Dedicated apps exist on most mobile platforms, but the only way to access it on a PC is through a web browser. It works well, but it lacks some of the advanced features that power users look for in a word processor.
Final Verdict: It's free, it's quick, and it's easy. It's also missing some essential features that powerusers will likely miss—namely a desktop client. If you know you don't need any advanced features, you can't go wrong with Google Docs.
Click through to the next page to see what we thought of OpenOffice Writer, LibreOffice Writer, and Kingsoft Writer.