Many of us are looking for alternative ways to produce our books. Ways that don’t cost us very much—or anything at all—but that are just as productive as the Big Money software options.
If you’re at all like me, what you really mean by low-cost is no-cost. Something for free that’s capable of improving productivity. We don’t care if it’s got all the bells and whistles, so long as it allows us to do our jobs.
When it comes to finding a suitable free alternative to Microsoft Word, a lot of us know about Open Office (or Neo Office for those Mac users among us). We’ve tried it. We’ve found it useful, but less than ideal. At least that describes my experience with it. Some days, I’d rather use a pen and paper than Open Office.
But what else is there? I’m delighted you asked!
Let’s Talk About Word Free
Word Free is a word processing software designed by a community of programmers from around the world who share one basic philosophy: Word processing software should be free. Word Free is completely free. It’s also unlicensed. That means you can download it and install it on as many computers as you own. You can install it on the computers of your family members and friends. Or your neighbors. Or your tribe.
Yes. I’m serious. Here’s what the developers say in their own words.
Word Free is a powerful and free word processor. Because Word Free is free, it is freely distributable and available for use by anyone, without restrictions. With Word Free, there is no need to worry about piracy. We encourage you to make as many copies as you like and to give them to your friends and colleagues.
See? How totally cool is that?
Four Basic Questions
Can You Create Microsoft Compatible Documents? Yes, but you have to make sure to save them as a .doc document rather than the WordFree default.
Can You Open Documents Created in Microsoft Word? Yes.
Can You Open Documents Created in Word Free with Microsoft Word? Yes, but if you save Word Free documents with the default extension (which is .abi), the document will open with every bit of internal software coding showing. In order to avoid this, save Word Free documents as .doc documents.
How Easy is it is to Learn and Use Word Free? Word Free is fairly easy to use. I’d give it 3 stars of 5 in ease of learning.
What I Like About Word Free
While there are differences in the details (the buttons on the menu bars are different), the overall look and feel of Word Free is very close to Microsoft Word. The basic icons are arranged in the same locations and pretty much the same order. If all you’re interested in is basic writing functions, the menu bar defaults are going to provide everything you need at your fingertips.
The default settings include Smart Quotes.
The default font is that old familiar standby, Times New Roman 12 point, but there are plenty of options, including some I’ve never seen before.
Word Free features a revisions markup that’s similar to Track Changes in Microsoft Word. Look for “Revisions” in the dropdown Tools Menu.
One could-be-cool-or-could-be-a-distraction feature is the ability to highlight a word in your document and conduct a Google search for that word. I found that by accident while I happened to have the word “menu” in the paragraph above highlighted. Up popped Google search results! So beware.
This blog post is the first thing I wrote on Word Free. Yes, it took a few minutes to find some of the features I wanted to try out (see below for my thoughts on some of those), but it was by and large just like drafting an article on my trusty version of Word 2000. By the time I finished the first draft, I was sold.
But it wasn’t all a bowl of cherries. There were a few pits.
What I Don’t Like About Word Free
Of course, the first disadvantage to any new software is the time it takes to learn how to use it to best advantage.
One thing I love about Microsoft Word is the ease of changing styles and creating new styles. I especially like that feature in the old version on my favorite PC (a Gateway I purchased around the turn of the century: It runs Word 2000). But the newer PC runs Word 2007 and it’s pretty cool, too.
Word Free isn’t so simple.
First, you don’t change styles, you change the stylist. Not a big deal, but when your eye is trained to see “style,” even three extra letters can throw you off.
Second, it took a while to figure out how to change an existing style or create a new one. Once I did, it was easy to change the existing format for the basic default style or create a brand new style. Once I found the right location for creating new styles (Format>Create and Modify Styles.) The dialogue box that opens up looks just like the dialogue box you’d see in MS Word, though the default settings for hyphenation and line breaks are different. So even this negative turned into a positive as soon as I found it.
One problem I encountered was that neither Open Office nor MS Word would open the draft written in Word Free without showing every bit of coding appearing within the text. I was able to remove it by hand, but it was a nuisance.
But by far the biggest problem was that the software crashed on two of the three machines I usually test software on. One of the machines was my laptop, which runs Windows 8. The other was the Dell desktop, which runs Windows XP. I didn’t have problems with the Gateway (Windows 98), but I didn’t load Word Free on that computer. I only opened a document. The developers’ notes say it works on all versions of Windows up to Windows 10. I have my doubts.
I am not saying that Word Free caused the crashes. I don’t know that for sure.
But the circumstantial evidence is that there was some conflict that caused the software to crash.
Is Word Free Right For You?
I can’t in good conscience say that it is. When it works, it’s a nifty little, light-weight word processor. But is it worth repeated crashes and lost work? Not for me.
My browser (Firefox) also refuses to even connect with some of the websites offering downloads of Word Free, so I’m keeping my distance and recommend you do likewise. That’s why there’s no link to the program in this post.
Looking for other freeware tools to improve writing productivity? Check out our previous review of LibreOffice.