The perfect word processor?

I have some odd opinions apparently about what a word processor should do and how it should work. I use the term “odd” because looking over the standard offerings out there for writers, none of them have yet worked the way I want them to work.

I used Word 1.0 for the Mac back when I was in seminary and it’s still the word processor that I’m most comfortable with. The present version of Word is too bloated and makes simple tasks too obscure for me to enjoy using it. I constantly feel like I’m wrestling with it when I want to do something that it doesn’t handle automatically. On the other hand, I do actually find the way it automates standard tasks sort of handy – as long as the standard it uses is good enough for what I’m doing. When it isn’t, you’re in a world of hurt (to borrow a phrase.)

I’ve been using Mellel for a while now since I’ve returned to the Mac a few years ago. It’s a great word processor in terms of speed and in the fine-grain control it gives you over your words. But it’s designed for the specialist and academic market. If I was still doing active research I’d probably never consider walking away from it. But I’m not doing research anymore and I’m not commonly writing in multiple languages (another real strength it has). So while I’ve been using it, I’ve not been really excited about it.

I’ve wanted to use Pages (Apple’s offering) but the 1.0 version (and 2.0 version for the most part) simply wasn’t working for me. It was slow and clunky (or so it seemed) and I’ve not invested a lot of time learning how to use it.

I’m basically an essayist and small run publisher in my church job. The sermons, articles and notes that I write rarely run much longer than 5 or 6 pages. The bulletins and posters are often meant to be done on a single sheet. I need easy layout tools, and not much more. I need basic research ability, but not much more. I mostly just want the program I’m using to get out of my way, hide the complexity as much as possible, but allow me to use it when I need it.

Well, that said, I think I found something that’s tailor made for me. Pages. Or more specifically, Pages 2.0 – included in the latest version of iWork released this week.

It does just what I want it to do and in a way that’s pretty intuitive for me. I don’t find that I have to remember where tools are hidden – they’re linked directly from the primary window, but hidden if I don’t want to see them. They’re minimalist enough so that I can actually find what I’m looking for (a major problem with the versions of Word that I’ve used recently.) And it automates just enough to be helpful, but no so much that I have to fight with it. Even the proof-reading tools are useful – a real change from my normal experience of “helpful/clueless” suggestions.

I’m still playing with this, but on the whole, it looks like I may have just found the perfect little program. It’s already replaced Word for me on my computers. (The only word specific thing I’ve needed recently is change-tracking and Pages reads and writes them to Word documents like a champ.)

Keynote replaced Powerpoint for me a long time ago. Looks like lightning has struck a second time.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

5 thoughts on “The perfect word processor?”

  1. I agree with you about the new version of Pages. I liked the old one, but the new one is much better.
    Try Numbers too. I just finished doing an analysis of my older son’s Budget and Financial Aid Award for law school so he could see what it actually meant. Now that I understand how Numbers works, I don’t think I’ll use Excel much again either.

  2. I’m afraid I’m stuck with Word (but not Word 2007) until the journals start being OK with Pages. I find Latex too confusing, possibly because when one has to program in Matlab, Fortran, and occasionally IDL, one actually wants the process of writing not to include an extra level of debugging.

  3. I actually liked Latex (I wrote my major works using it and Vi.) But it’s too much for what I really need. Back when I was writing lots of LONG equations, it was a real champ. Especially since the mark-up language is so close to natural language.
    Pages does a pretty darn good job of exporting Word files. And it can read Word 2007 files as well, and apparently better than the beta application that Microsoft put out as a stop-gap measure.
    I do think if I had to really major writing project – like a dissertation or a book – I’d probably do with Mellel and Bookends and then export that to Word. I really wish Mellel had the ability to read Omnioutliner files. The developers tell me that such capability is coming, but it’s not here yet I note.
    I hear you about having to keep too many languages in your head at one time. I remember programing in Fortran 77 and Apple Basic, and Commadore Assembly, using a PDP-11 and an old VAX with VMS. I begged my wife to let me by a first generation Macintosh because it was the only computer I saw that didn’t require me to learn yet another syntax to do something as simple as create a text file.

  4. Thanks Nicholas – I’ll take a look at Numbers. I’m not very good using Excel. I’ve mostly only used it as a grade book. Back in the day that I was wrangling big sets of numbers, I used Fortran and wrote my own applications as needed.
    But I did try out Numbers the other day as a simple data set with a bunch of addresses. I’m impressed with how easy it was to do something really simple. Time to go watch the tutorials I guess.

  5. With a background in humanities and law I never had the joy of putting words together from a command line, although my electronic text friends used to berate me for not using Emacs. Nonetheless, when I needed to do something book length I found that nothing did the job like FrameMaker.
    A colleague once asked my help in producing camera-ready copy for a text on estate and gift tax. The book had been written by two professors and half the book was written in Word for the Mac and half (alternate chapters) in some version of PC WordPerfect. I started trying to pull everything together in Word, but it was extremely flaky and couldn’t remember to do what it was told (e.g., kept making (c) into the copyright sign no matter what I did, which is a real problem in tax law where you constantly run into cites like 501(c)(3)).
    FrameMaker was the answer, rock solid and a wonderful equation editor that could handle anything. I don’t need that kind of industrial-strength power any more, but Pages sometimes reminds me of it.

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