25

I've really tried to use LibreOffice (and previously the near-identical Open Office). It's sadly garbage. Two of the main annoyances/show-stoppers are:

  1. It has no "dark theme", so it kills my eyes. Even if you go out of your way to follow the instructions online to "hack your own" fake dark theme, it just looks absolutely awful. It cannot be made to look decent due to the way it's designed.
  2. It does not remember where I left off in the document, so every day, I am forced to manually locate where I stopped the last day in my long document. Its "bookmark" features are inane as well, so they don't remedy the situation even a little.

I'm almost desperate enough at this point to make my own word processor, for my own use. But that seems completely insane, given that the year is 2022 and word processing is almost literally the first application that PCs had, and were stable in the early 1980s... Although you had to pay dearly for them, admittedly.

Also, even if I wanted to pay money, they are all about "subscriptions" and "accounts" these days, which prevent me from a philosophical standpoint to use them even if money were not a problem to me. (But it is.)

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  • 9
    Do you require a full-fat graphical word processor, or a text-typing programme ?
    – Criggie
    Jan 21 at 0:56
  • 7
    Power up ye olde computer, toss in the EasyWriter floppy disk and enjoy a high quality word processor! On the monochrome screen, green on black (or amber on black... your choice!) will automatically give you the dark mode without any hassle. Pro tip: the stick-on write protect tabs for floppy disks also work great to hold Polaroids to the ice box so you can enjoy looking at them while you wait for your Kronenbourg to slowly chill! Jan 21 at 5:00
  • 7
    Well, if you do get some money, ye olde Microsoft Office is also available as a one-time purchase for about 150€, no subscriptions attached. You'll have to look hard for it though, they don't advertise it much. And it will only get so many updates, but frankly I think it's stable enough that's not a very important point anymore. And it'll be yours for life.
    – Vilx-
    Jan 21 at 12:31
  • 4
    You'd write your own word processor, but you wouldn't contribute to LibreOffice? Jan 21 at 15:13
  • 4
    @vilx for the life of your installation. They only plan to run the authentication servers for about 7 years, and after that, you will not be able to reinstall it. They already did that to me on Office 2011, and Office 2022 does not support 10.13 which effectively bricks any 2011 Macs that are otherwise perfectly usable. Jan 22 at 1:23

10 Answers 10

20

You are not writing what you are using your word processor for.

For my needs, I have found that Atom (or any other modern text editor) and Markdown gets me almost everything I need, and I can easily preview it and export it to PDF. I save immense amounts of time not messing with layout in a word processor that can't decide if it wants to be a text editor or a DTP tool.

When I need something for print, I use InDesign (which isn't free, of course). There is Scribus as a free alternative but I've never worked with it.

My previous solution was LyX, which is a WYSIWYG front-end for LaTeX, which someone else already recommended.

5
  • Note that InDesign and Sublime are not free. sublimehq.com/store/text Atom is both free and open-source.
    – Gantendo
    Jan 22 at 8:58
  • @Gantendo you're right. I've updated the text. It's not important which text editor you use, most modern text editors have syntax highlighting for Markdown.
    – Tom
    Jan 23 at 8:04
  • 2
    +1 for Markdown. Typora is an excellent markdown editor. It used to be free while in beta, but apparently isn't anymore :( . Markdown is usually more than enough for what I need, the learning curve is almost non-existent. To convert to PDF, I use jupyter notebook, mkdocs or Typora. EDIT: marktext.app could be an open-source alternative to Typora. I've never used it. Jan 23 at 10:51
  • 1
    @EricDuminil pandoc is also an excellent converter, and can export markdown as docx and other formats you might need. The Atom module "markdown preview enhanced" also has various exporters included, and there's another "markdown to PDF" module. So there are plenty of options.
    – Tom
    Jan 24 at 7:25
  • @Tom thanks for the info. Pandoc looks really powerful. I've never used it directly, but I think it can be called under the hood by Jupiter notebook. The PDF from Jupiter is compiled with LaTeX, I don't know if pandoc is involved when LaTeX is installed. Jan 24 at 7:57
19

You could just use Google Docs.

I've found that for 90% of features and 95% of people it has all the functionality that you'd find in Microsoft Office. (Obviously estimated numbers, but based on dealing with lots of semi-technical people at a software company.)

You can use them offline following this guide.

This Chrome extension seems to do a good job of dark mode.

EDIT 1: Good point from Basile Starynkevitch about the files being stored outside of your control.

I would suggest using Drive for Desktop to sync the files you want to your desktop. Then as an additional precaution you could have Windows or 3rd party software backup this folder as well.

EDIT 2: A frustration I used to have was having to go into Google Drive to create new documents but now Google has bought the ".new" domain and have enabled "docs.new", "sheets.new", "presentation.new"("slides.new" is the shorter version) etc. as shortcuts to create new documents.

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    The disadvantage of Google Docs is that the documentation is hosted outside of your (or your employer's) control. Jan 21 at 9:53
  • 1
    @BasileStarynkevitch the documentation like the "how to use" info? Or do you mean your own documents? "How to use" = many sources available. I would expect manufacturers to produce only skeletal docs and leave social media to do the real educating. Jan 22 at 1:27
  • 7
    @Rock I hear you, but if you want to avoid "being the product" that crosses off much of the Internet, including StackExchange. Jan 22 at 3:38
  • 5
    I mean that with Google Docs your own documents (the text you are writing) are stored on Google servers. Perhaps they contain confidential information that you don't want Google to access.... Jan 22 at 9:21
  • 3
    "Then as an additional precaution you could have Windows or 3rd party software backup this folder as well." — As of this writing, if you did that, you would only be backing up links to the same files. The better way to do this is to, in Drive, download the folder as a zip. This causes Drive to convert all files to Word docs for download, which does make it possible to back them up as discrete files. And they can be uploaded and converted back to Google Docs with fairly good consistency of formatting if the need arises, without ever actually owning Word. Jan 22 at 13:52
16

Consider learning, then using LaTeX. See https://www.latex-project.org/

It is an open source software and free of cost.

You need to read books about LaTeX before using it.

Budget a week of work, and buy some books about LaTeX.

With HeVeA (also open source) you can use LaTeX to generate both documents (printable PDF files) and web pages.

If you need a more or less WYSIWYG graphical interface to LaTeX, consider using LyX (also open source).

All the books I have about LaTeX have been written with it. The typography is excellent. And you can embed drawings (e.g. made with Inkscape), mathematical or chemical formulaes, and with MusixTeX extensions musical scores.

And LaTeX can be used on Windows, on Linux, on MacOSX. You probably want to use GNU emacs and some version control system, like git, with it. All of LaTeX, emacs, and git are open source.

A lot of computer science conferences accept, or even require, submission in LaTeX.

A lot of books published by OReilly (about computers, programming, ...) are written with LaTeX.

Most PhD dissertations in computer science, math, or physics are written in LaTeX.


It does not remember where I left off in the document, so every day, I am forced to manually locate where I stopped the last day in my long document.

My old trick for that is (in some draft document) to add some temporary text with weird punctuation or string. For example: @*@*@TO BE COMPLETED (sometimes I highlight it in red). Then you need to search the @*@*@ string. This trick does not require any capability of your word processor or document formater, beyond searching for some weird punctuation (which is your conventional one, choozen to be unlikely to appear in the definitive text). If you forgot your convention, put a post-it on your desk (or send you some email about what is remaining to be written / corrected / improved).


I'm almost desperate enough at this point to make my own word processor, for my own use.

This is an excellent idea.

I hope your word processor would be open source. Have you started to work on it? Maybe you might contact Jeff Kingston (in Australia) with his Nonpareil project.


NB. Another text formatter is Lout. Also open source, also running on Linux, Windows, MacOSX.

PS. My pet open source project is RefPerSys. Feel free to email me about it.

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  • 1
    I disagree that you need to read about LaTeX before using. If you have never used another scripting language, then yes maybe. But otherwise it's probably fine to just download a template and then google problems as and when you meet them. OP is considering writing a word processor, they likely have scripted before, they can just jump straight in.
    – Clumsy cat
    Jan 21 at 14:43
  • 2
    I don't think that the "write my own" line was meant literally...
    – Vilx-
    Jan 21 at 15:32
  • 3
    A variant on this idea is to use LyX, which works out most of the LaTeX for you, allowing you to use a WYSIWYM interface (not quite the same as the WYSIWYG one may expect of Word, but a lot friendlier to such expectations than LaTeX alone). I use it for a lot, including my theses & even novels.
    – J.G.
    Jan 21 at 16:41
  • 1
    Sorry, I didn't notice. In that case, just consider my contribution across these two comments to be a "seconded" from my own experience.
    – J.G.
    Jan 21 at 16:53
  • 2
    Depending on OP's needs, there is no need to spend weeks on reading documentation. I would recommend to start with A (Not So) Short Introduction to LaTeX2ε, subtitle says "Or LATEX 2ε in 139 minutes" Jan 22 at 22:20
14

LibreOffice definitely has a dark mode, as well as support for dark themes. See here for the details. Example screenshots:

enter image description here

enter image description here

You can get the Dracula theme for LibreOffice (popular as a dark mode theme in many apps), and I'm sure there are some others floating around as well.

As for remembering your position in a file - why not:

  1. Find this feature request at bugs.freedesktop.org
  2. If it doesn't get promptly implemented (very likely) - consider implementing it yourself

?

That's much easier than trying to write your own word processor.

2
  • 1
    Also, if you are on Linux (I don't know if Windows has such feature - it may be available in accessibility options) you can easily (usually with a single keypress) switch either the entire screen, or the currently active window, to negative, which gives you something like "dark mode".
    – raj
    Jan 23 at 18:50
  • BTW, LibreOffice has the reputation of a very kind developer community. If you want to contribute to coding it, you will get gentle help. Jan 23 at 20:09
12

There is SoftMaker FreeOffice.

This has both free and paid-for versions. The appearance and use are much closer to MS Office than the Free / Libre Office alternatives.

To run the free version sensibly, you will have to turn off an advertising panel that it puts up by default but, once done, it doesn't come back.

You will have to register for a key. You will get the occasional "Please upgrade" email on the address you use for this.

They are the only niggles I can think of.

SoftMaker FreeOffice is cross-platform: It is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows.

7
  • What is the approx speed to load Free Office these days (relative to MS Office / LibreOffice / OpenOffice)? When I tried it a few years ago, it loaded much faster than the applications in MS Office, LibreOffice, and OpenOffice. Jan 21 at 7:41
  • Difficult to give a definitive answer but FreeOffice is faster than LibreOffice on my laptop. I only use MS Office nowadays on another machine and that one is noticeably slower, but how much of that difference is the machine rather than the Office I couldn't say.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 21 at 7:46
  • Thanks. BTW, on Windows (but no longer on Linux), you can set LibreOffice to load some of its components on boot. It's still fairly laggy, but it does help. IIRC, OpenOffice has something similar that works on Linux and Windows. Jan 21 at 7:48
  • @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket that's always been a kludge, and not a workable one: a decade ago I tried it with OpenOffice (on Linux IIRC), and these preloaded components tended to get swapped out due to being unused, so that once you really need to start e.g. Writer, you still hear HDD seeks and wait for the swapped-out pages to be loaded into RAM.
    – Ruslan
    Jan 21 at 20:54
  • @Ruslan Thanks for the info. On Windows 7, the LibreOffice preloader works well. I generally disable all preloaders, but I have tested that particular one and it works well. There is currently a LibreOffice bug that prevents it from loading without enabling it in both the installer and after a LibreOffice app in open. But once that's done, it works as expected. I wonder if LibreOffice removed their preloader from Linux for the reasons you mentioned. Jan 22 at 3:30
7

(Many answers and comments to this question ask for some more context as to the purpose and needs of the said “word processing”. Which is kind of an essential question, of course. What the original asker actually wants to do with the tool largely determines what kind of software they should be looking for.)


Principles

As of this writing, I did not immediately find comments from the original asker clarifying their intent and needs concerning “word processing”.

Still, my recommendation to anyone looking for a general “word-processing” tool — or rather, a document creation toolset — is based on two principles:

  1. Look for an editor that will produce documents in a standard, widely-accepted, structured markup format which several tools can process (so not tied to a single vendor), and which is expressive enough to mark up complex prose or (technical) documents. There are basically five such formats:

    1. DocBook (Used for many O’Reilly books)
    2. DITA (maybe better-suited for larger, collaboratively written projects which share bits and pieces but not so much for individual, self-contained documents?)
    3. XHTML5 (maybe lacks the number of finer-graded semantic and structural elements present in DocBook that are useful for actually describing a complex book-like title, but you can’t get much more universal than (X)HTML in terms of support)
    4. reStructuredText (rst, as used for Python documentation, among other projects)
    5. LaTeX (more of a print layout markup format than a pure structured document format but still structured and abstract enough to suffice for this purpose (and venerable enough to deserve a mention))

    Pay attention to features in the markup language which facilitate the markup of different semantic span segments, and block elements such as chapters, sections, admonitions, quotations, excerpts of terminal output (for technical documents), author and document metadata, complex tables, pixel-based and vector images, etc.

    Conversely, keep clear of “easy” document markup formats which are ill-defined both in terms of expressiveness and standardization, such as the ever-present Markdown. (The initial easiness and ad hoc-ness comes with a price which you start paying later on when you want to do anything more complex.)

  2. Try to find a document editor which allows access to the raw markup, but does not force you to work in the raw markup mode — a so-called WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean) editor.

    The basic principle behind a WYSIWYM, structured document editor is that it resembles a “consumer” word processor in that editing is a breeze — you can edit the document directly in a styled preview mode — but still lets you keep tabs on what is exactly happening in the markup and structure of the document and ensures that the produced markup will never be invalid or contain superfluous auto-generated markup — much less any messy ad-hoc styling, which is a common and almost unavoidable occurrence in the “consumer” word processors even if you do not want any such styling.

    This is typically achieved in a WYSIWYM, structured document editor by it only ever producing document structure that correctly validates against a given document markup schema. In other words, the editor is “strictly validating” and, at any point, simply does not let you insert markup elements in the document structure that would go against the document markup schema but keeps them out of reach from you — grayed out or filtered out in the lists and menu or toolbar options where you might otherwise choose them.

    That said, a WYSIWYM structured document editor usually does not require you to work with the raw markup elements as such (or that much) but will present at least the most common ones — such as the different section/heading elements, basic paragraphs, or different types of lists or spans of emphasis — as easily-accessible toolbar buttons and keyboard shortcuts.

    I would advise keeping clear of the purported “WYSIWYM” editors which show you a styled document preview in one pane but only allow editing the content in another which shows you the raw markup. This kind of a “lazy man’s” implementation is somewhat counterproductive and not how a true WYSIWYM editor works. While it is important to have access to the raw markup as well, it is much easier to edit and maintain the document if you can type text directly in a styled view which does not let you produce invalid structure, which shows you a rendition of the document with some rudimentary styling, and which does not force you to think the document in terms of raw markup all the time.


XMLmind XML Editor

Recommendation

Given the above principles, my personal favorite for structured document creation and editing is currently a WYSIWYM editor called XMLmind XML Editor (pictured above), which is “is a strictly validating, near WYSIWYG, XML editor” supporting DocBook, DITA, and XHTML markup, and “Free to use by individuals, open source projects and non-profit organizations.” I use it in the DocBook mode, specifically.

This preference for DocBook is because I find DocBook expressive enough in its semantic markup for most literary works, well-suited for self-contained documents, and a good “manuscript” or “source code” format from which conversions can be made to lesser distribution formats.

The preference for the XMLmind XML Editor is because it does not get in your way and lets you type in content “directly” while viewing it with a nice preview stylesheet, and also keeps the document structure in check (in adherence to the DocBook document schema) — so I do not have to do any manual validation, ever, or worry about the structure or markup itself being incorrect.

To fully appreciate the editor, you need to teach yourself about the Ctrl + arrow keys, Ctrl + I, Ctrl + R, Ctrl + T, Ctrl + E and other shortcuts for dealing with basic element selection and nested elements, and you need to teach yourself a bit about the DocBook format itself (what elements are available, how they are supposed to be used, and what kind of attributes they take). But once you have passed those hurdles, it otherwise feels much like a “saner Word” where things are always in order and nothing will ever happen behind your back.

It is important to learn the keyboard shortcuts for everything, though, down to choosing DocBook elements from the offered, context-sensitive list by typing in a part of their name, as it makes you much more productive than clicking the menus and dialogs with a mouse.


Benefits of structured document markup

I like the fact that in structured document markup, structure and semantics is everything, and the final styling (via style sheets) is something that you only worry about later, once you have produced the content. This is how it should be, especially in the modern world where there can be many ways to consume the content, and many different content styling requirements and distribution formats.

Working with structured, semantic markup lets you focus purely on the content and the task at hand instead of getting lost with adjusting minor styling details “in-place” — often with disastrous results, and a need to do constant readjustments when you change something in the content later on, as is common in “consumer” word processors. Unfortunately, the “consumer” word processors have, so far, only had feeble attempts to implement any structure to their workflows and seem to mix structure with unwanted inline styling all the time.

Further considerations

To go from a DocBook “manuscript” to a distribution format, such as PDF or EPUB, you need a document processing toolchain of some sort which will filter the document through a stylesheet and produce a transformed copy in the distribution format while generating a table of contents and other such structures. The aforementioned XMLmind XML Editor includes some such conversion tools (e.g. a conversion from DocBook to HTML format) but you could also use external toolsets, and tweak their conversion parameters and stylesheets to your liking.

If you find the LaTeX route better-suited for your purposes, you will probably want to look at a WYSIWYM editor for LaTeX called LyX.

For reStructuredText, there’s the Sphinx document processor, which probably warrants a honorable mention, but no compatible free WYSIWYM editor (that I know of)... so you’re pretty much restricted to a standard programmer’s text editor when editing the content. And while reStructuredText does many things better and in a more standardized way than Markdown (except for the heading markup, which is very weird and icky in rst), it is still an overgrown README format trying hard to be something like XML without tags, which is a somewhat doomed battle. Beyond very basic formatting, you need to introduce some kind of “tags” and markup with complex syntactical rules anyway and editing your “simple text file with complex rules” will pretty quickly get just as involved as when using actual XML markup to hold the document structure — only with a less explicit syntax and less standardized tools to deal with it.

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  • 1
    I've done all my technical writing this way for years, though the editor I use is Oxygen rather than XMLMind. I only use a word processor for writing short letters (increasingly rare!) and for that, OpenOffice is fine. Jan 23 at 1:15
  • @MichaelKay: Yes, as far as I know, Oxygen XML Editor is fairly similar to XMLmind XML Editor in its operating principle — maybe even more polished — but I do not have much experience on it (I think I tried a trial version many years ago, but that’s about it.) I did not mention it in the answer since unlike XMLmind, they do not seem to have a free version of any kind available for download, only time-limited trials.
    – Jukka Aho
    Jan 23 at 13:52
5

Also, even if I wanted to pay money, they are all about "subscriptions" and "accounts" these days, which prevent me from a philosophical standpoint...

Huh?

Buy the non-subscription version and move on with your life.

Microsoft - Office Home & Student 2021 - One-time purchase for 1 PC or Mac

Amazon - Office Home & Student 2021 - One-time purchase for 1 PC or Mac


Wanna save a buck? Try Kinguin

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  • 5
    That Kinguin site looks shady. Cheap keys like that usually come with issues. They might not necessarily be outright scams (though some probably are), but they might be already used or they could be sold to multiple people. All of which will result in problems when you try to activate your Office online.
    – Vilx-
    Jan 21 at 15:36
  • 1
    True, true. Still, I think that it's worth to put out a disclaimer so that people know what they are risking with.
    – Vilx-
    Jan 21 at 16:40
  • 9
    Where do you think they get those keys so cheap? Microsoft doesn't sell them like that. What you have are either volume licence keys (which are meant for large companies and not supposed to be resold), or MSDN keys. Either way, they're not legal (well, if anyone ever checks that is), and in some cases they can stop working. I'm not saying "don't do it", just - "there is some risk of losing your money attached to it, and it is greater than buying for the official price".
    – Vilx-
    Jan 21 at 17:25
  • 2
    @MonkeyZeus Here, I second that it is shady. Microsoft doesn't sell those keys for that cheap. They certainly aren't paying the difference themselves because they're feeling nice, so chances are they are doing something shady, like volume licenses, selling to multiple people, or other things that could cause issues for the buyer later if the key is illegitimate, which it easily could be. They need some way to get the difference between the Microsoft price and their price, and that way is probobly shady.
    – cocomac
    Jan 21 at 18:16
  • 1
    Kinguin is only a marketplace connecting buyers to third party sellers. Like eBay. Therefore every transaction is a crapshoot. Come to it, the same is true of Amazon, though some sales are by Amazon proper. Jan 22 at 1:43
2

Depending on your tastes and goals, "Emacs" (google "emacs for Windows"...) has been my text editor on unix/linux for 30 years, and on Mac OS since 2006, when that OS started including many aspects of a *nix set-up.

Emacs (or "Aquamacs" on MacOS) is user-configurable in every conceivable manner...

With my set-up of it, it is not WYSIWYG at all, deliberately, because I want to see the literal characters I've entered to a file. This has been useful at times in the past when a file got slightly mangled, and I could look directly at the characters in it, rather than simply having a word-processing program declare it corrupted/unreadable.

2

There is one (not yet mentioned option): OnlyOffice (as a desktop version as well as online Google Docs-like one - however, the latter one is deployed on your own infrastructure, thus keeping the docs under your control). The community version includes nearly all the features apart from those like paid support etc and is fully open-source (GNU AGPL v3, here are Github repositories for the server and desktop editors).

It has a dark theme (for both desktop and online version). The interface mimics MS Office (AFAIK the goal is to achieve maximum compatibility with it), so it is easy to understand and use for those familiar with Microsoft's product.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. For example, the desktop editors are also build with Web interfaces via Electron engine (which is famous for inefficient resource usage, so it may consume a lot of RAM and CPU time). Also (as of 2022) some advanced features like bibliography management are still missing.

0

Why not using simply wordPad on windows? Simple and free. Saves in RTF (word can open..) and can open .doc (even cannot resave in .doc).

On Mac, "Pages" is far beyond paid word, many nice features

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