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There’s a Word for It

Aug. 1, 2014
That is, you have Microsoft’s Word on it. Nationally syndicated columnist Reid Goldsborough explains alternatives to the ubiquitous Word, the reigning word processing software. He also delves into the future of Microsoft’s Office. A must-read if you use Office or even just Word.

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 recent release of Microsoft Office for Apple’s iPad marks a new chapter for Word. It’s 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 another trend in computer software, subscriptions. Despite Microsoft’s website including a link for you to “Buy Office 365 now,” in actuality you’re only leasing it to use for a limited period of time. The cost of one year’s use of Office 365 Home is $99.99, with other pricing plans also available.

Subscriptions are a way for software makers to maximize revenue, often at the chagrin of users. In the past, once you paid for a computer program, it was yours to use as long as you liked. With subscriptions, your use is being more tightly controlled.

Office is a big cash cow for Microsoft. According to Microsoft’s latest quarterly numbers, its revenue was $20.4 billion and net income $5.7 billion. These figures are down 0.4 percent and 6.6 percent from the previous year, but they’re down less than the 9.8 percent drop in PC shipments in 2013, according to a recent report by IDC.

Microsoft’s good fortune is a result in part of the success of the subscriptionbased Office 365. Revenue from Office 365 doubled from the previous year, with it now having 4.4 million subscribers.

Office for iPad is also off to a good start. Microsoft announced 27 million downloads during the first six weeks. Microsoft is using a “freemium” model with Office for iPad. Users can download a crippled version for free, one that lets you only view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. If you want to create or edit documents, you have to pay.

Despite Microsoft’s centrality, Word isn’t the only word processing game in town. Office’s biggest commercial competitor is Corel WordPerfect Office, though its market share is tiny in comparison. Still, Corel followed Microsoft’s iPad move by including support for the iPad in the latest Word- Perfect Office, in its case through a WordPerfect iPad app that users can download from the Apple App Store.

Microsoft’s aggressively embracing the subscription pricing model has opened the door further to free and low-cost word processing and office software. The two most popular options here are LibreOffice ( and Google Docs ( LibreOffice is free for all users, Google Docs for most users.

LibreOffice is traditional software that 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 that anybody with the programming skills can share in its development.

Google Docs is “cloud” software that 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 per month.

The biggest negatives with both LibreOffice and Google Docs is their 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 organizations require not only employees but also contractors to use only Word and other Office products in order to avoid problems. It’s part of the culture. Attitudes about Office today are similar to past attitudes about IBM, for whom the motto, “You can’t go wrong with IBM,” existed in the minds of information technology managers.

To some users, requiring everybody to use Office is the equivalent, in past years, of requiring everybody to use a particular brand of typewriter or pen.

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, if you’re using a Word competitor and want to minimize the problems for those accessing your files using Word, is to save files in the DOC format that was the default of Word 97-2003 rather than the newer DOCX format.

But the bottom line is that the customer is always right. Using Word and other Office products, for better or worse, sometimes just needs to be chalked up to the cost of doing business.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or