Just like our habits changed radically from the typewriter era to the desktop publishing era, so are they changing as we move from the desktop onto the web. Where we used to write memos and newsletters tarted up with the fanciest fonts we could find, now […]

typewriterJust like our habits changed radically from the typewriter era to the desktop publishing era, so are they changing as we move from the desktop onto the web.

Where we used to write memos and newsletters tarted up with the fanciest fonts we could find, now we send quick emails, edit wikis, or post to blogs. We write more lightly formatted works for electronic publication and fewer heavily formatted works for print. Although many workers will still find full-featured word processors or desktop publishers necessary for producing (for example) massive software specs or book-length manuscripts, it’s increasingly feasible to rely on something other than Microsoft Word.

When he switched from Windows to Mac, InformationWeek’s Mitch Wagner found that NeoOffice was an acceptable substitute for Microsoft Office in his own work. Now he uses NeoOffice’s word processor for manuscripts intended for print and a cheap text editor for producing his web content.

RedMonk analyst Steve O’Grady suggested in February that the office suite market has peaked; if so, this has serious consequences for the competitiveness of desktop word processors relative to online document editors like Google and Zoho’s offerings. Though much discussion of whether these web-based applications could unseat Microsoft Office focuses on what features they provide, the more important issue may be how our writing and publishing behavior is changing.

The content we produce as web workers is increasingly:

  • Shorter in length — think email
  • Provisional and subject to change — think wikis
  • Not intended for print — think blog posts
  • Text-based, with formatting eliminated or stored separately — think HTML + CSS

And for that, we don’t need MS Word.

What text editor and/or word processor do you use and why? What such tools do you foresee as being most important in the future?

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  1. Patrick Mueller Saturday, May 12, 2007

    For anything I care about, I try to use markup, and so do it in a plain old text editor – TextMate being my current poison. For stuff I don’t care about, Google Docs. And occasional use of Keynote for when I have to (grumble) put some slides together.

  2. stephen o’grady Saturday, May 12, 2007

    Unsurprisingly, I agree :)

    Text editors at the moment are Scribes (Linux) for anything relatively extensive and Google Docs for anything I need to collaborate on with my colleagues.

  3. Philip Karpiak Saturday, May 12, 2007

    For a text editor I just use Notepad++, since I’ve gotten tired of being picky about what I use and just settled for Notepad++. For a word processor I used to use Google Docs. But since I’ve found out I sucked at writing proper English, I went back to MS Office…

    In the end, I would love a web-based editor that could function like Notepad++ and MS Office, where every save could be written to my web server (like with using VI). Man that’s going to take a while :\

  4. It doesn’t matter what I use. I work on a team of folks all over the country, and despite my best efforts to try and convince them of the error of their ways, they insist on emailing Word files back and forth. I need to use Word because they do. I’ve tried other applications (on and offline) and whether it be headers/footers that aren’t in the right place, comment/review corrections not appearing correctly, or even fonts out of whack, it just doesn’t work. For now at least, I’ve decided it’s not worth the hassle to find a new tool. It’s more about getting the job done with minimal pain over the process. Fighting about the content is hard enough. ;-)

    That said, if I know the document is just for me and I won’t be sharing it, Bare Bones’ Text Wrangler is my editor of choice.

  5. When I wrote my 2 books, I used MS Word – but the whole time, I was wishing that I could use something, anything else. But, that’s where the publisher’s macros and standard formatting worked.

    For my own fiddling, I use TextEdit on OS X, which includes a surprisingly useful amount of word processor capability. Lately, I’ve been playing with Journler a bit, which wraps the native OS X text editor in TextEdit with a slew of useful organizational tools and enhancements.

    For blogging, I often write straight in a textarea in WordPress, though lately I’ve started opening up the OPML Editor again.

    At work, we use Twiki to sling live documentation around. Coincidentally, I used to use it on my site too, but since switched to Trac.

    But, overall, I tend to find MS Word one of my least favorite places to live when trying to write.

  6. My favorite text editor is textedit that comes with mac. i use it for reasons other than what you outline.

    It forces me to think in proper grammer and it also forces me to spell everything correctly. When I was using Microsoft Word, i kept using its autocorrect features as a crutch and my writing suffered as a result of that.

    I tried BBedit and TextMate – bit of an overkill for me personally.

  7. Logical Extremes Saturday, May 12, 2007

    I’m with Judi for anything beyond a quick burst of text. I was using BBEdit, but now have TextWrangler. For short or simple bits of text, I sometimes use TextEdit or even Stickies. But TextWrangler is nice because it will strip out extraneous formatting pasted in, leaving me with highly desirable plain text (and I show invisibles so I know exactly what kinds of white space characters are in there).

  8. For coding (and other “plain text” work) I use Editplus, and have for a long time now (probably since around 2000 or 2001). I’ve tried many other editors but I’ve always come back to Editplus. For console work I use vi.

    I tried many word processors including Google docs, Open Office, AbiWord, NeoOffice (on my iBook) but I always come back to Word. This is one place Microsoft has gotten it “right” – where they can say “it just works”.

  9. I keep TextMate open all the time. I’ve tried a dozen (or more) “notebook” apps for shorter pieces of writing, but my favorite is opening a whole folder of textfiles in TextMate’s drawer. That’s just brilliant.

    I’ll use Google Docs for certain things, especially for low-priority but high-portability stuff, or for things where a template would be nice. Of course, gdocs doesn’t have any templates, but I fake it just fine and don’t really lose any time/flow/focus.

    Finally, I do write longer stuff — much, much longer. For that, Mellel rocks the pants off of everything. For academics and other scholars of hard core factual prose, Mellel is Life. I suppose I could have used MS Word — I own a copy after all — but I hate the bloat, the unresponsive keys, and the get-in-your-way interface. I hate to be a Word basher (I was once heavily invested in the Word way of things), but it simply takes more effort for me to get my writing done in Word than in a text editor or a specialized (read: unbloated) word processor.

  10. Michael Wales Saturday, May 12, 2007

    The majority of my text editing is related to programming or web design. On Windows, there is nothing better than Notepad++.

    Now I’m on Ubuntu Linux, gedit is working perfectly fine for me.

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