Before about ten months ago, I had never written anything on a computer without first opening Microsoft Word; and I rarely wrote anything that wasn’t a essay, research paper, short story, or poem. But when I bought a Macbook this January, I opted to keep Microsoft off of my computer and went in search of an alternative. First, I never really liked Word. It always seemed powerful, but also somehow too complicated for the basic requirements of most my writing. A second big motivation in this switch was cost of the MS Office suite. $150 seems steep for one program that serves such a basic role and several bundled large programs that I rarely use like Excel and PowerPoint.
Since that time, NeoOffice, which is available for free (although donations are encouraged), has been my primary word processor. While it may be a bit less polished than Word, NeoOffice generally gets the job done and feels similar enough to Word to be quickly usable without making too many major adjustments or learning too many new tricks. Still, NeoOffice also retains some of the hassles of Word. It’s big and slow and ponderous, and it tends to auto-correct and auto-format to the point of pushiness. I spent half an hour last week trying to figure out how to prevent the program from auto-formatting an outline that I was making for a web page. I never did find a solution to the problem, because I eventually gave up and just copied all of my work over to TextEdit. Thirty minutes that I have to research a function of my word processor is thirty minutes that I’m not writing.
TextEdit is an application I’ve found myself double-clicking more and more often since starting at JLB Works around a month ago. This is partly for its function as a HTML text editor, but I’ve also used it for basic composition. The application is visually dull and light on features, but it opens quickly and doesn’t try to predict all of my formatting preferences. It’s been my go-to option for jotting down a quick note or a login name or producing a group of meta tags for HTML. In its defense, I don’t think that it is intended to be a serious writing tool, and if it is, I find it personally too limited and uninspiring for lengthier compositions.
Enter Bean. Bean is a simple word processor based on the structure of TextEdit, but with a few additional writer-friendly features: perhaps most notably, live word count, adjustable page margins, and control over headers and footers. Programmed by a writer of fiction, Bean was designed to stay out of the way of the creative process and let writers get their thoughts down with minimal fuss. For me, Bean does exactly that.
Bean’s default format is the versatile .rtfd format, but it also allows the user to save into nine other formats, including Word’s .doc file format. There are serious limitations to Bean’s compatibility with Word’s formatting, but the point is, a Word user can read a file from Bean and vice versa.
I can’t claim with certainty that my search for a word processor is over. I may take a closer look at Apple’s relatively affordable iWork Pages in the future, revert back to the industry standard of Word when I have a bit more money in my pocket, or get adventurous and play around with one of the many other options for word processing on a Mac. But for the moment, Bean is hitting the sweet spot between functionality, simplicity, and good looks. With this app, I can focus on writing and ignore the writing tool.