Microsoft Word has been the standard bearer for word processors since it pulled ahead of WordPerfect in the 1990s. Other word processors are measured, in large part, by their Word compatibility - the ability to read and write to the Word DOCX and DOC formats.
The release several months ago of Microsoft Office for Apple's iPad marked a new chapter for Word: a shift away from the centrality of the Microsoft Windows operating system in Microsoft's marketing efforts and a recognition of the popularity of non-PC devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Office for iPad is only available through subscription. Though Microsoft's website includes a link for you to "Buy Office 365 now," you're actually only leasing it to use for a limited time. The cost of one year's use of Office 365 Home is $99.99, with other pricing plans also available.
Despite Microsoft's centrality, Word isn't the only word processing game in town. Others include:
- Corel WordPerfect Office is Microsoft Office's biggest commercial competitor, though its market share is tiny in comparison. Still, Corel followed Microsoft's iPad move by including support for the iPad in the latest WordPerfect Office, in its case, through a WordPerfect iPad app that users can download from the Apple App Store.
- LibreOffice, which is free for all users, is traditional software you load from your computer's hard disk, except you install it by downloading from the Internet instead of copying from CDs. LibreOffice is "open-source" software, meaning anybody with the programming skills can share in its development.
- Google Docs is "cloud" software you can access only through your Web browser when connected to the Internet. It's free for individual and educational users, with fees for business users starting at $5 a month.
The biggest negative with both LibreOffice and Google Docs is they're less than 100-percent Microsoft Office compatibility. More advanced features, such as tables, styles, macros, links, change tracking, and comments, are most likely to cause problems.
Some people do report formatting headaches when dealing with documents created with different programs. Others report that, if they're careful, using Word competitors causes no problems.
The most frequently given advice is if you're using a Word competitor and want to minimize the problems for those accessing your files using Word, save files in the DOC format that was the default of Word 97-2003 rather than the newer DOCX format.
Keep in mind, some organizations require not only employees but also contractors to use only Word and other Office products to avoid problems.