Ditching MS Word for Text Editors

Writer Steven Poole has shared this great history of his experience with word processing software, culminating in his recent decision to leave Microsoft Word behind forever in favor of modern text editors Scrivener and (my personal secret weapon) WriteRoom.
The last question is one of interoperability, and on first sight it's a serious one. Surely if everyone else is using Microsoft Word and we are sending documents back and forth to each other, then I need to use Microsoft Word too? I imagine that kind of reasoning sells the majority of new copies. But for me it doesn't matter at all. If I just need to read a Word document, I can open it in pretty much any Mac program. If I need to exchange files back and forth using comments or Track Changes, I can do that through Google Apps or Pages. If someone really insists on sending me a Word document so festooned with all its formatting "features", tables, graphics, and so on that it doesn't work in another program, I am just likely to respond: What the fuck?
There's a practical beauty to working in plaintext files, and it's lovely to be able to get at my work quickly every time I decide to move to a new text editor. (I'm writing this in TextWrangler, but when I need to turn off the world and bash out some words, WriteRoom is tops—and opens up my text files just like every other sane application out there.) Goodbye, cruel Word [StevenPoole.net via DaringFireball.net]
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14 Responses to Ditching MS Word for Text Editors

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s not exactly what you want, but you could try opening the template in OpenOffice, which is free, pasting in your text, applying styles and saving out a DOC file.

  2. Asi Behar says:

    We’re a little late for this post, but my associates and I at Revver developed a tool to help make reStructured Text a little more viable alternative to MS Word.

    We just recently launched rst2a.com – a reStructuredText advocacy site that lets you convert rst files to PDF or HTML based on a variety of styles available today. There’s even an easy to use API, so you can convert rst docs easily via your own apps.

    For any other rst fans out there, if you have some styles that you’d like to make available, please let us know – we’re really hoping rst2a.com can serve as a repository for great rst styles as well as serve as a useful tool to make rst easier to use.

    We don’t have rst to Word conversion just yet, but we’ll take a look and see if there’s any way we can add support for that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been using TextEdit, the “free” program that came preloaded on my Mac for about 5 years now, and have never felt that not having MSWord was a problem. If I needed to send a file, resume or otherwise to anyone I’ve found the RichText (.rtf) is just as good as anything and anyone can open it with any program. Things are harder, and occasionally impossible to do with it, but with a little creativity there are ways around the little problems.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It would be fine to abandon Word on an Apple platform. What difference does it make?

  5. strider_mt2k says:

    What about the many freeware options for word processing?

    The .doc file is so common that I would think it nearly impossible to get away from it entirely.

  6. grumblebee says:

    Does anyone know a way — without using Word — that one can get convert a pure text file into a .doc THAT USES A WORD TEMPLATE? I asked this question on Metafilter, but no one could figure out a good workflow.

    My publisher insists that I use a specific Word template (that he provides). I don’t own Word. I don’t want to buy it. But I need to give him the doc marked up using the template.

    It’s not a matter of how the doc looks. It’s more that chapter headings, paragraphs, etc. MUST be tagged with specific styles from the template.

    I want to write in Textmate and use my made-up codes around text, like this: &&chapter one&&. Then I want some app that I can use to search for anything between two sets of &&, convert it to a specific style in a specific Word template and spit out a Word doc.


  7. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t touched word since ’97 but back then Word could export its text with styling tags. I imagine it can now. Figure out the tag code and write your text doc accordingly. Then your wanker of a publisher can import the doc and it’ll be styled properly. Unless you’re doing this a lot more often or you’ve got a many, many paged document… I doubt it is worth all the trouble just to avoid using Word.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Why hasn’t there been any mention of Adobe InCopy? Being a cut-down version of InDesign, it has some pretty powerful styling features.
    PS I don’t work for Adobe.

  9. Andreas says:

    This selection made me wonder why I didn’t get a Mac again, but before going to craigslist looking for someone in the market for a kidney/MacBook Pro trade, I hit Google and found Dark Room for Windows. I really like the concept, and that might work until I have a good excuse for buying more hardware.

  10. Simon Greenwood says:

    @grumblebee: the logical way to do it would be to export the template to LaTeX and then use LaTeX as your markup, referring to the template. Then you can export it back into the Word format. There are free tools available but I have no idea how well they work.

  11. Joel Johnson says:

    @Strider: I don’t really like Office that much, so using a freeware clone of it isn’t appealing. If I have to send somebody a .doc, I make one in Google Docs by cutting and pasting in a text file. I usually ask the person if they can just accept a text file first, though. It’s my little way to spread the gospel.

    @Andreas: Dark Room looks AOK! Certainly good enough to prevent yourself from spending a bunch of money on hardware just to get a text editor!

  12. Anonymous says:

    please – you must conform your methods to ANY tool – even a new microwave. just because it is what you want to do, or are used to, doesn’t make anything better or worse. the world uses money – we conform and use the local currency. the world uses ms word,
    good bad or indifferent. make it easy on yourself.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I know a lot of people will disagree, but the pinacle of word processing for me was reached a long time ago with WP5.1. It just has enough features without making it too complex. The other great thing is you can type – I mean you don’t need to be contantly going from mouse to keyboard. If some a$$hole insists on word format (as sadly many do) M$word (to its credit) is able to render wp5.1 documents fairly well.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Vim rules.

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