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The best free alternatives to WordPad 2020

Person typing
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com)

After many years, Microsoft has finally announced that it's updating the venerable WordPad app, but not in a way that's likely to please its users. Rather than adding any useful new features to the lightweight word processing app, Microsoft is inserting ads for premium Microsoft Office products to tempt you away from its free tools.

If you like WordPad for its fuss-free interface and absence of unnecessary bells and whistles, it could be time to start looking for an alternative, which is where we come in. We've rounded up all the best lightweight, fuss-free word processors you can download today as a replacement for WordPad.

Best of all, none of these tools contain advertisements (some are made by volunteers while others are funded through donations) so you don't need to worry about being distracted from your work.

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Writemonkey

(Image credit: pomarancha_)

1. WriteMonkey

An excellent free tool to simply get words down on the page

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

For all desktop operating systems
Choice of light and dark modes
Unattractive design

WordMonkey's spartan interface can be rather daunting, the first time you use it, but it's actually a superb minimalist word processor that makes a great alternative to Microsoft WordPad. 

By default, WordMonkey opens in full-screen mode, with nothing but an empty space for you to begin typing, and this may be all you need, but explore a little more and you'll find a raft of handy tools just beneath the surface. For example, clicking the 'Scratch' link at the bottom of the page will give you a small secondary text editor that you can use for jotting down notes.

Right-clicking on an empty part of the screen will reveal a huge menu of options, including a find/replace tool, the ability to paste content from the clipboard as plain text or HTML, bookmarks, markup and much more.

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Notepad++

(Image credit: Don Ho)

2. Notepad++

A free Wordpad alternative that's also great for coding

Operating system: Windows

Tabbed interface
Autocomplete
For Windows only

Notepad++ is enormously popular with programmers thanks to its syntax highlighting, macro recording, code collapsing, and a near-endless list of plugins. However, it's also a great alternative to Microsoft Wordpad, serving as a frill-free word processor without unnecessary formatting bells and whistles.

Although it’s not immediately apparent from the wording of the installer, Notepad++ can be used as a portable app and run directly from a USB stick or cloud storage service.

Notepad++ benefits from a tabbed multi-document interface so you can work on several files at once, and is lightning fast – even when handling very large files. It's been in development a long time, and is a truly fantastic text editor.

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FocusWriter

(Image credit: Graeme Gott)

3. Focuswriter

A WordPad alternative that blocks out all distractions

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

Distraction-free design
No unnecessary formatting options
For all desktop operating systems

Focuswriter has long been one of our favorite distraction-free writing apps, and it's a great free alternative to Wordpad. It's funded through donations, so you don't need to worry about ads appearing, and although its design is very minimalist (its default mode is a full-screen view with no visible toolbars or menus), it's actually packed with a surprising number of handy features.

Formatting options are limited (as they are with WordPad), but you get a word count with optional targets, alarms that can be triggered after a certain time has elapsed, 'achievements' for hitting writing goals, customizable themes and even typewriter sound effects (which are surprisingly satisfying).

Of course, if you prefer, you can ignore all of those options and simply use Focuswriter as a very simple text editor. The choice is yours.

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Simplenote

(Image credit: Automattic)

4. SimpleNote

The perfect replacement if you use WordPad for to-do lists

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android

For desktop and mobile
Handy tagging and search
Requires a free account

If you typically use WordPad for jotting down quick notes and to-do lists, SimpleNote could be the perfect replacement. 

Not only does the free desktop software serve as a great place to type out notes and reminders (which are easy to search and organize with handy tags) SimpleNote is also available as a mobile app for iOS and Android, so you can keep your notes to hand wherever you go. It's wonderfully convenient, and there are no ads of any kind to worry about.

The only downside is that you'll need to create an accounts and sign in so that your notes can be synced, but this is a minor inconvenience.

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AbleWord

(Image credit: AbleWord)

5. AbleWord

A lean version of Word that puts the essentials at your fingertips

Operating system: Windows

Super lightweight
Can import PDFs
Only for Windows

AbleWord is completely free, even for commercial use, and looks like a pared-down version of Microsoft Word. It offers the same essential formatting tools as WordPad, but with some additional features like tables, a word count tool and support for inserting images, but isn't so packed with toolbars and options that it becomes confusing.

You can export files in DOC, DOCX, PDF, TXT, RTF and HTML format, which makes AbleWord unusually versatile, and as a handy bonus, it can open and edit PDFs. WordPad could never do that, could it?

It's a shame that it's only available for Windows, but as a direct replacement for WordPad that's not an issue.