Microsoft Word remains the industry standard for word processing, used by home and business users. Text files are routinely sent in Word's default .doc format as a matter of course. But despite its popularity, Microsoft Word has its disadvantages in its size, cost and proprietary coding. However, there are several other options available for word processing--including no word processor at all.
The price tag alone is enough to put off many potential Microsoft Word users--more than £162 for Word 2010 when bundled with Microsoft Office. Because of this, users are looking more toward the free Open Office to cover their office-suite needs. The open-source, cross-platform AbiWord also merits a look if you're just interested in word processing.
Microsoft's products are patented, and the company vigorously protects this. The program comes with an end-user license agreement which allows you to install your program to one machine. While Open Office installation takes you through a registration process, this is not required, and you can install your download in as many computers as you want.
Backward Compatibility and Exporting
Newer versions of Microsoft Word don't always play well with older versions; sometimes there are formatting differences between versions. Microsoft Word also doesn't work well with other word-processing programs, and files sometimes need to be cleaned up and reformatted when you're using a different word processor. Exporting a Word document into another program, such as a pagination program, also keeps the formatting string intact, which usually must be stripped out before the file can be used.
While larger hard drives and online storage make file size less of an issue, Microsoft Word files are considerably larger than text files. In an informal bench test, a 550-word text document saved in .txt (text) format took up approximately 3.5 kilobytes. That same document, saved in .doc (Microsoft Word) format without any other changes was 17 kilobytes. But Microsoft Word isn't the only space hog; that same document saved in .odt (Open Office) format took up 25 kilobytes.
As more features crept into Microsoft Word since it started becoming popular in the late 1980s, the program itself has become more bloated. According to Microsoft, Word 2010 needs 256 megabytes of RAM to run. However, 512 megabytes is recommended for the program to run well, so older computers will not be able to handle Microsoft Word. By comparison, Open Office has the same system requirements as Microsoft Word, and the open-source AbiWord requires 16 megabytes to run.
Too Big for the Job?
While Microsoft Word is still an excellent option for preparing documents for immediate print, that's not the only thing you do with text. Documents are also written for publication on the Internet, making plain text the most efficient option. Even if you write professionally, a full-blown Microsoft Word may be too much program for your needs. For most users, a simple text editor--such as WordPad for Windows--covers all of the writing needs without all the bells and whistles.