January 31, 2011, 10:51 AM — Microsoft Word is ubiquitous: It's the standard word processor in most places of business, and it often ends up installed on home PCs due to compatibility and familiarity. It isn't the only choice, however. Whether your main concern is price, complexity, specialized functionality, system footprint, or some combination of the above, you might have many reasons to look beyond Word.
(For links to all of these downloads in one convenient list, see our "Microsoft Word Alternatives" collection.)
This article focuses mainly on programs that offer a significantly different function set, interface, or purpose than Word, but we would be negligent not to mention the free OpenOffice.org, an open-source office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, database, and more) that provides functionality roughly equivalent to that of Microsoft Office at a 100% price reduction. The interface is closer to pre-2003 Office, with standard menu bars instead of ribbons, and for the most part it can open Word 2007 documents. (I have a test document containing complex formatting with every bell and whistle that Word offers. When I tried it in OpenOffice.org, I saw some errors in the layout; all of the text and images were present, though, and things were just a bit misaligned.) OpenOffice.org is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux/Unix systems, making it useful in cross-platform situations.
Specialized Word Processors
"When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like your thumb," or so the saying goes. Microsoft Word has a lot of layout options, but it isn't really a desktop publishing program. If you want that kind of fine control over positioning and output, one alternative to look at is PagePlus Starter Edition, which is free. It provides most of the standard desktop publishing features, such as master pages, column flow, and easy ways to place, move, and lock text boxes and images. The Starter Edition has no time limits or advertising, but it is a good example of what I call "teaserware"--software that shows the menu items and buttons for features available only in a commercial upgrade (in this case, the paid version is $100). PagePlus Starter Edition at least makes it clear which features are "live"; some teaserware waits until you try to use the locked features, and then slaps you with an error message.