Word processors are a frequently used, standard software package for most people. However, the most famous word processor, Microsoft Word, is pretty expensive. Microsoft Office Home and Student costs $150 as a one-time purchase; meanwhile, Microsoft 365 Personal costs $7/month or $70/year on a subscription basis. (The latter does include 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage space.)
Fortunately, free word processors are widely available. Some of them are open source, avoiding proprietary downsides. Below is a list of my recommended free word processors. All of them can import and export the most popular file formats (read: .docx, or Word files).
Apple Pages (MacOS, iOS/iPadOS)
Apple Pages is Apple’s current default word processor, included with every new Apple device purchase alongside Numbers (spreadsheets) and Keynote (slideshows), forming the “iWork” office suite. Longtime Mac users might recall Pages’ and iWork’s predecessors: MacWrite, ClarisWorks, and AppleWorks.
The advantages of Pages:
- A simplified user interface (versus Word).
- Excellent document layout features.
- Since Pages is made by Apple, everything works well with MacOS’ features. It also works well with iPhones and iPads, as Apple makes Pages apps for those.
- A basic web-based version of Pages is accessible via iCloud’s website.
The disadvantages of Pages:
- Few other programs can open or read files in Pages’ format (.pages, technically a type of .zip file).
- Pages file sizes are bigger than similar Word format files.
- Pages also isn’t as powerful as Word, so some advanced features in Word aren’t available.
- Finally, Pages’ user interface layout takes getting used to. Nearly all the toolbars are in a sidebar to the right side of the document, instead of running in a row at the top like in every other word processor.
Overall, Pages works well if you’re all in on Apple’s ecosystem, or at least own a Mac. It’s fairly slick, has strong layout and design features, and is easy to use. However, you’ll need to look at one of the other options below if you don’t use a Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
Google Docs (Web-based)
Google Docs is part of Google’s web-based office software suite, along with Google Sheets (spreadsheets) and Slides (slideshows). It’s become a popular word processor, especially on Chromebooks and in schools.
The advantages of Docs:
- A simple interface, reminiscent of older versions of Word or Apple’s word processors.
- Docs’ collaboration features are its most distinctive aspect. Google Docs’ web-based nature makes it easy to share and work with others on the same document.
- Since it’s web-based, Docs works on pretty much everything within a browser: Macs, Windows, Linux, ChromeOS, iOS, and Android. (Though apps exist for those last two.)
- Docs saves files automatically, so there’s no need to remember to save.
The disadvantages of Docs:
- A few steps are needed to make it usable to work offline.
- Files require saving to Google Drive cloud storage, not your computer (unless exporting).
- Docs’ features are a bit lightweight compared to Word.
Overall, Google Docs is an excellent basic word processor. If you need collaborative features, need to access files from any device, want an easy-to-use word processor, and don’t mind writing everything within your browser, Docs is a good choice. However, you might want to look elsewhere if you want a desktop-based word processor, want to avoid using Google products, or need more powerful features.
LibreOffice (MacOS, Windows, Linux)
LibreOffice is a popular open-source office software suite; its sections include: Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (slideshows), Draw (drawing), Math Formula (what it says), and Base (databases). A fork of OpenOffice, LibreOffice goes for replicating the classic Office experience as much as possible, including the pre-”Ribbon” interface. As such, it offers some powerful features.
The advantages of LibreOffice:
- The user interface will be familiar to longtime Office users. (For people who actually like the Ribbon, there’s a way to install such in LibreOffice.)
- LibreOffice’s features are pretty powerful, and make it more like using Word versus Pages or Google Docs.
- LibreOffice is available on every major desktop platform.
The disadvantages of LibreOffice:
- Some aspects of LibreOffice feel a bit clunky, mostly as a byproduct of replicating the Office experience.
- For me, font handling on the MacOS version of LibreOffice left a lot to be desired. Kerning and spacing issues (until a recent fix) made using it a less-than-pleasant experience.
- Similarly, the MacOS version doesn’t feel like it’s very well integrated into being Mac-like. Some of the toolbar icons and menu choices particularly stand out.
- There’s no way to hide certain fonts from the drop-down menu. Scrolling past a lot of fonts for Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, and other languages to get to the ones I want is inconvenient.
- There’s technically a web-based version available, but it’s mostly geared toward self-hosting, and not as well implemented or on par with Google Docs.
Overall, LibreOffice is a good software suite to have if you want a desktop version of Office but don’t want to pay for it, if having a ton of features is important, or if Office document compatibility is important. It’s also my recommended software suite for Linux users. However, if you want something more slickly designed, or need online collaboration/web-based access, you might want to use Google Docs or Apple Pages.
Microsoft 365 (Web-based)
Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) is a free web-based version of Microsoft Office.
Advantages of Microsoft 365:
- It’s still Word, even if web-based.
- Most of the familiar Word features, interface, etc. are here.
- The web-based version means cross-platform support, including on MacOS, Windows, and even Linux.
Disadvantages of Microsoft 365:
- The same disadvantages of the desktop version of Office are present here.
- The web-based Word doesn’t have all of the desktop version’s features. However, an “open in desktop app” feature is available, for those that have the desktop version.
- As it’s the free version, some features are only available to users of the paid version.
Overall, if you really want or need Word, but don’t want to pay for it, this is your only real option. Otherwise, I’d recommend using LibreOffice, if having a Word-like experience matters.
In my case, I use a mix of Google Docs (for writing blog posts, as it does the best job preserving formatting when copying/pasting into WordPress/ClassicPress), LibreOffice (on my Windows/Linux laptop), and Apple Pages (on my Mac). These days, I only use Microsoft Word when working in an office.
What word processor do you like to use? Do you have a favorite one I didn’t discuss above? Please list them in the comments.