Searching for The Perfect Word Processing Software: Mission Impossible?

Image 2014-05-26 at 12.15.46

Searching for The Perfect Processing Software: Mission Impossible?

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The good ol’ days.

As a writer and digital media professional, I’ve used a wide range of word processing software over the years.

Just like almost everybody else, I was initially confined to Microsoft Word for a long time. But after it crashed on me one time too many, I began looking elsewhere. Much to my surprise, I found a few options that could meet most of my needs, including Bean and of course OpenOffice.

However, as more products arrived to the market, it became all too easy to download too many choices. Some were too slow to add on new features. Others lacked any semblance of customer support. Worse still, some stopped being actively developed. (For example, development of Bean, formerly a favorite of mine, stopped in March, 2013.)

In time, I found that while I did not miss Word, I did miss having one go-to product — one that I knew would likely be around for years, with a solid team of developers standing behind it.

But is it possible to rely on just one piece of software—or, in fact, is it even desirable?

Enter Apple’s Pages.

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Apple’s Pages isn’t just beautiful to look at—it also works flawlessly across different devices, not to mention online.

I’d been hesitant about Apple’s Pages after I discovered it lacked an auto-save function. Users also complained about its weak grammar checker and poor mail merge. (These drawbacks apply to the ’08 version.)

But with subsequent releases, Pages became too attractive an option. I’ve now been using it, quite happily, for a few years. I love its beautiful layout, its attractive price tag and its intuitive design, as well as the fact that I can access and edit Pages documents on my iPhone or Mac. More importantly, Pages lets you work effortlessly with people who use Microsoft Word. And its live collaboration feature works amazingly well.

What’s more, iCloud’s beta Pages feature greatly alleviated my concern that Pages files can’t be edited on a PC, should I ever have to work on one: anyone with a Web browser can now work with Pages documents, regardless of software installed on that particular machine.

“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” —Salvador Dali

Yet for all its qualities, Pages is not a perfect tool. Like Word, and indeed most other word processors, Pages treats writing as a linear process, making it difficult to go back and forth and play with structure.

With Pages I have also experienced the odd compatibility issues between Apple’s and Microsoft’s word processors, especially when working on documents containing tables. This means I have to use Word every now and then, just to make sure that the .docx file I’m sending looks exactly the way I want. (Thankfully, many people tell me this is a less of an issue these days, and it’s been a while since I last found a problem.)

Lastly, Pages uses a proprietary format, which tends to put off those of us who like the idea of future-proofing our work.

“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” —Salvador Dali

Of course, it’s not fair to expect Pages, or any of its competitors for that matter, to be something that doesn’t exist: the perfect all-purpose tool. Whether you prefer Pages or Word (which I understand is now a much better product), there’s a good chance you will need to use at least another word processor. (It has to be said, though, that many casual users are happy with one or the other.)

Me? I wish I could say one of them does everything I need.

Those of you who have read my previous articles on Byword or Scrivener might be confused as to which program I prefer. The answer is… All, and none.

Take Byword. It may support Markdown, and allow you to publish directly to Tumblr, Blogger and WordPress. It’s also lightweight and fast and has excellent iOS apps. But it’s not designed as a replacement for the likes of Pages and Word.

As for Scrivener, it’s overkill for simpler, shorter documents.

Summary

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Just your average user of word processing software.

Personally, I type letters, memos and shorter documents on Pages. I use Byword for blog posts and other online content, if only because it supports Markdown.

For most of my writing, however, I use Scrivener, and I would certainly use it even more often if parent company Literature and Latte would release an iPhone app once and for all.