Recently I received the same question from two different people; “What is a good replacement for Word on my Mac?” My brother Nathaniel asked me this when his version of Word stopped working on his new Mac. Microsoft apparently is able to install software on Apple’s new computers providing a preview of Word amongst other things. When the preview software expires, the software useless unless you pay up. My brother was a little upset, he didn’t really understand how the software got on his computer in the first place since he did not install it, and why did it suddenly stop working? And no, he was not prepared to pay for something he thought already belonged to him. He uses his computer for writing, “a glorified word processor” as he called it, but he uses iTunes and does some web surfing too. One would not necessarily call him a “power user.”
On the other hand, my good friend Gustav is a power user. He blogs, runs Excel programs he’s written, and is teaching himself Ruby on Rails on his machine. He is always running the latest version of OS X and when he asked about a replacement for Word he said he wanted something with a smaller memory footprint that Open Office, which is a bit of a resource hog. Abiword was the perfect thing then, it is just a word processing program, nothing more.
Abiword is a free text editor (free as in beer and as in freedom), licensed under the GPL. Abiword looks a lot like Word, or rather how you expect Word to look. I have no idea what Word looks like today, with the release of Vista surely the interface has changed in Word but I do not use it. Abiword has all the right buttons in the usual places, it is very easy to get acquainted with its interface. It has all the tools you’d expect, spell checking, various formatting, plus some things you might not expect. One very handy feature is that it reads and writes all kinds of documents. You can use it to write html for example and of course it can read all your Word documents (.doc) and rich text (.rtf) documents. Abiword also has a versioning system. This is particularly useful if you make multiple revisions of your documents or need to get back text you wrote previously. It changes the text of different revisions to make it clear what has changed. It even has a built in tool to report bugs so you can aid in the development of the software.
Abiword has been developed for years and has a mature code base. It has versions for nearly every platform including the big three: Mac OS X, linux and Windows. I strongly recommend it to anyone who needs a word processor.