A good word processor is one of the few pieces of software you simply can't live without. You might be able to manage without a spreadsheet tool or something for making slideshows, but text documents are unavoidable. Thankfully, you don't need to splash out on a full Microsoft Office subscription; there are some superb word processors available to download and use completely free.
Here we’re looking at the very best word processors that can be used offline (particularly useful for distraction-free writing), but there are also several excellent browser-based tools to consider if you'd rather do your writing online.
Google Docs is the most obvious choice, and has the advantage of saving your work automatically so you don’t have to worry if your connection fails. It’s also a good choice for collaborative working, and means you don’t have to upload work to a separate cloud storage service. However, it has a limited selection of templates, there’s no way to import content from other Google applications, and any online tool is going to be surrounded by distractions like social media.
If you'd prefer an offline word processor, read on – the perfect one is only a click away.
A word processor with cloud storage and support for all text files
If you’ve used a modern version of Microsoft Word, there’ll be no learning curve when you switch to Writer – the word processing component of WPS Office Free.
This free word processor looks and behaves almost exactly like its premium counterpart, and even has its own equivalent of OneDrive, offering 1GB free cloud storage.
Its selection of pre-installed templates gives you everything you need for common document types, and you can easily create your own for bespoke tasks. It’s compatible with every text file format you can think of, including current and legacy versions of Microsoft Word dating back to Office 97.
WPS Office Writer is supported by discrete ads, which can be removed by upgrading to the premium version, but they’re barely noticeable and no features are locked behind a paywall. Overall, WPS Writer is very impressive, and in our opinion it’s the best free word processor available to download today.
WPS recently launched a free PDF to Word converter as well, which is a great companion to its word processor.
2. LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice
All-singing, all-dancing word processors for any text-based work
LibreOffice is a fork of Apache OpenOffice, and although there are some differences between the two suites (LibreOffice receives more frequent updates, for example, and has a more lively userbase), their word processing components are so similar, we’re listing them together.
Both versions of Writer are feature-packed analogs of Microsoft Word, packed with all the features you could possibly need for any text-based work.
The two versions of Writer include wizards and templates for common document types, such as invoices and letters, and it’s easy to create your own templates for future use as well. The word processors also work together with the other office software in their respective suites – so you can use Base to create a bibliography, for example.
Both word processors support all the most popular file formats, and can export documents to PDF without the need for additional software. If you’re looking for a word processor that can stand in for Microsoft Word, either of these two will be a perfect candidate.
The ideal word processor for first drafts, with no fussy formatting
If you simply want to hammer out some words without worrying about formatting, you could just use Windows’ built-in Notepad app, but FocusWriter is full of clever tools that will help you maximize productivity without ever getting in the way.
As the name implies, FocusWriter blocks out all distractions so you can give that all-important first draft your full attention. In normal use, all you see is a blank page – toolbars are only visible if you move your mouse pointer to the edge of the screen – but there’s a killer feature in Focused Text, which fades everything into the background except the current paragraph or sentence.
FocusWriter also features alerts that are triggered at certain times, or when you’ve reached a predefined word count, so you don’t need to worry about watching a counter (as you would in Microsoft Word). This also makes FocusWriter a good tool to use in tandem with the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working hard for a period of time that’s long enough for you to work productively, but not so long that you become fatigued.
It’s not suitable for editing, but for productivity, FocusWriter is hard to beat.
Another great looking word processor, but watch your file formats
TextMaker – the word processing element of SoftMaker FreeOffice – is good looking, and comes with several handy templates for creating letters and other everyday documents. The selection isn’t as extensive as some of its rivals’, but you can also make new designs for future use and save them in TMV format.
All the features you’d expect from a modern word processor are present and correct, including advanced formatting options, the ability to create databases for managing bibliographies and footnotes, and a function for tracking changes to collaborative projects.
The only real drawback of TextMaker is its inability to save your work in DOCX format (though you can open and edit these files with no difficulty). This feature is limited to the premium version of SoftMaker Office, which retails for £48.20 (about US$60, AU$75).
Productivity-focused word processing with quick shortcuts
WriteMonkey is another no-frills word processor designed to help you maximize your output without fussing with editing and formatting. It’s not intended for documents like letters or CVs, but is great for committing early ideas to paper (or screen) so you have the raw material to develop later.
Unlike FocusWriter, which is compatible with all the most common text formats (including Microsoft’s DOC and DOCX), WriteMonkey only works with TXT files, so you’ll have to convert any works in progress before opening them. WriteMonkey’s hidden controls are tricker to navigate, too – everything is accessed via a large right-click menu, or a vast collection of keyboard shortcuts.
That said, if you’re happy to commit those shortcuts to memory, you’ll find WriteMonkey faster to use than toolbar-based alternatives.
We also like the ability to look words up in Wikipedia, Google Images, Poetry.com, Answers.com, and many others without opening a browser winder manually and leaving yourself open to the temptations of Twitter and Facebook.
WriteMonkey is a portable app, so there’s no need to install it – just extract all the downloaded files to a removable drive or cloud storage service and fire it up by running the file WriteMonkey.exe.