Remember WordStar? If you do, you’re officially old. WordStar was one of the very first commercial PC word processors. I cut my computing teeth on an Osborn 1 running CP/M and WordStar.
There was no such thing as WYSIWYG back in the day of black screens and green, mono-spaced text. Word processing was full of control key combinations and cheat sheets. What you saw on screen wasn’t what you printed out (thankfully).
For nearly two decades I suffered under the domination of Microsoft Word. First, as a standalone word processor that Mac users loved, then hated. Then, as part of an Office suite that piled ever more unusable features on top of one another in a never ending stream of expensive updates.
A few years ago I kicked the Microsoft habit cold turkey. No Word. No Excel. No PowerPoint.
There may have been a little apprehension during the switch because so many businesses rely on Microsoft compatible files, but it just never came up as a problem. Apple’s Keynote was better than PowerPoint. iWorks’ Numbers was a decent spreadsheet, and easier to use than Excel. iWork’s Pages isn’t Word and it doesn’t have to be.
But for real world writing I needed something that was less point and click, less Apple-like, and more traditional (in the sense of WriteNow; my all time favorite).
What I found and love and use is James Hoover’s Bean. It’s a free word processor created in the WriteNow vein. Fast, dependable, just the right amount of modern features, everything you need, and nothing you don’t.
The user interface is familiar and friendly. It has a floating inspector, a toolbar, and tabs for multiple opened documents.
If you write for a living, Bean has pretty much what you’d expect in a modest list of features.
There’s templates, free-form headers and footers, page layouts, split-window editing, full screen editing (as in distraction free), a live word count, and automatic date-stamped backups.
And, yes, there’s the Mac’s built-in dictionary, automatic word completion, and the all important WYSIWYG.
Bean is simple enough to use immediately, powerful enough to get plenty of writing work done without approaching a manual (there is none), and friendly enough to make you forget Microsoft (and save some annual upgrade fees).
The only negative is document formats. Bean does not import images in native Word ’97 files (and other information cannot be read). That means some Word documents may lose formatting in Bean. From Bean to Word is less of a problem.
If you don’t require absolute Microsoft Word compatibility in your documents, and you simply want to write in a professional, undistracted manner, Bean is worth a try.
Free. Fast. Fun.