Which is the best word processor for your Mac?

Microsoft Word
The latest Word improves its Mac credentials, but full integration still has some way to go

Such is Microsoft's marketing clout that most people – even Mac owners – immediately think of Word when considering an application to craft letters, tenders, articles, and other types of text documents.

However, despite being the most prevalent choice, Word isn't necessarily the best, and so this group test conducted by MacFormat magazine explores five varied and generally impressive alternatives along with Microsoft's giant, to discover the most suitable application for you.

On test are Mellel 2.5, Microsoft Word 2008, Nisus Writer Pro 1.1, OpenOffice.org 3, Pages 3.0.2 and Scrivener 1.11.

Ease of use

A sign of a good application is if it's intuitive enough to pick up easily. With the exception of Scrivener and, to some extent, Mellel, it's pretty obvious how to get going with all of the applications on test, but it's only once you start digging into more advanced features that the differences emerge.

Mellel's bizarre interface left us nonplussed, and it's easy to get lost in its maze of options. Even with its exhaustive documentation, we often became disorientated, and the application's inability to undo past save points proved a big drawback.

Among Word, OpenOffice.org, Pages and Nisus Writer Pro, the streamlined offerings from Apple and Nisus win out. It's just far more obvious how to use them.

Nisus also adds various widgets that enhance usability and nudge it ahead of Pages. By comparison, OpenOffice.org is aping an aged Word, and Word itself, despite some interface refinements, feels cluttered and overbearing.

Scrivener presents a different way of working, based around projects, but its fantastic tutorial and tidy interface means it scores highly.
Mellel 2/5
Microsoft Word 3/5
Nisus Writer Pro 5/5
OpenOffice.org 2/5
Pages 4/5
Scrivener 5/5

Layout and styles

This category encompasses each application's ability to create styles for ensuring document-wide visual consistency, along with the kind of DTP-style layout capabilities that many users of word processors require these days.

In terms of layout, Word and Pages get a kick-start via their selection of good-looking built-in templates. Word has improved since Office 2004, and now provides more scope for precision layout and effects, but this was always Pages' virtue, straddling the divide between word processing and DTP. The current version is no exception, and its superior interface nudges it ahead of Word.

Both apps are fine at styles, too, although Word's interface is often needlessly complex and fiddly. With Pages, the ability to easily select all instances of a style is a nice touch, although it pales beside the supreme elegance of Nisus Writer Pro.

The latter offers similar features to Pages, but creating and editing styles via its sidebar feels far more intuitive. Mellel impresses with its range of style-oriented features, although it loses ground due to limited layout options.
Mellel 3/5
Microsoft Word 4/5
Nisus Writer Pro 4/5
OpenOffice.org 3/5
Pages 5/5
Scrivener 2/5

Structuring work

Mellel was primarily designed for authoring academic and technical texts, and its Outline pane is fantastic, offering a clear and concise overview of your document.

Elements can be promoted, demoted and rearranged via clicks or drag-and-drop, and it's one of the few elements of Mellel that feels utterly intuitive. Its robust tools for headers, footers, cross-referencing and outlining reflect the kind of project Mellel is best for authoring.

By comparison, Word's outline view, while offering similar functionality, feels dated and clunky, although its various single-click options for inserting structural elements (headers, footers and so on) enable you to give documents a certain amount of visual panache with minimal effort. Oddly, OpenOffice.org's Navigation pane felt superior to Word's equivalent tools, enabling fuss-free restructuring.

Instead of headings, footers and the like, Scrivener offers the means to split documents into sections and then combine selections on the fly, making it the ideal app for arranging and rearranging a lengthy text.
Mellel 5/5
Microsoft Word 3/5
Nisus Writer Pro 2/5
OpenOffice.org 3/5
Pages 2/5
Scrivener 5/5