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Write Here, Write Now, Write Anywhere: 13 Free Web-Based Word Processors

Write Here, Write Now, Write Anywhere: 13 Free Web-Based Word Processors
Write Here, Write Now, Write Anywhere

Imagine the situation: You’re visiting your parents’ home for the holidays, a thousand miles from your own PC, when inspiration strikes, a brilliant idea for the next plot twist in your novel! Or consider: you’re on a business trip and your laptop is stolen — and the proposal you’re working on is due tomorrow! Or you’re on campus when you remember you have an assignment due in two hours — and you live an hour away!

Maybe you have a thumb drive you keep your work on; now all you have to do is find a PC that can read your files, and hope you remembered to backup the files you need right away. But advances in web technology over the last couple years have given us another way to work from anywhere, no matter what computer we have access to, as long as we have access to the Internet: online word processors.

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An online word processor gives you the ability to create, edit, save, and access your documents from anywhere. The best ones also allow you to share documents, track changes and revert to earlier versions, and collaborate with other writers. Best of all, any reasonably up-to-date computer can access them, usually without installing anything (some require ActiveX, Flash, or Java — all of which are already present on most computers).

I’ve been using several online word processors since Writely (now Google Docs) was launched a while back, and with recent updates to Google Docs and Zoho, and the launch of a few new ones, I decided to check out the field and see what I might have been missing in the online word processing world. I was surprised to find 13 different online word processors (and a 14th, still in testing, that I couldn’t get running) available for free (there are some paid ones out there, but given the quality of some of the free ones I decided to exclude them from this round-up).

New Kid on the Block: Adobe Buzzword

My favorite, by far, is the newly-launched Buzzword, recently acquired by Adobe. Buzzword runs in Flash, and I generally hate Flash (in fact, I use the Flashblock extension in FireFox to disable Flash-based content by default). But Buzzword uses Flash incredibly well, providing a usable word processor that’s stunningly gorgeous. Look (click any of the screenshots for full-size views):

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buzzword

    Buzzword allows for full formatting, headers and footers, page numbering, endnotes, tables and images, keyboard shortcuts, and commenting — all the basic word processing functions most people tend to use. It also offers a running word count, inline spell-checking, and revision history — great for writers! The menu takes some getting used to; the paragraph, list, image, and table settings slide into place when you click their icons on the right side of the toolbar.

    I do have a few very minor complaints. The first is that the fonts available are Adobe’s own, beautifully designed but proprietary, typefaces. Which means that chances are they’ll be replaced with your system’s defaults (Times New Roman and Arial for Windows users) when you download a document and open it in Word or another word processor. Also, Buzzword doesn’t give you the ability to export as pdf — strange, considering it’s Adobe. And finally, Adobe doesn’t say how much storage they’re offering users — though given the small size of text documents, it doesn’t have to be very much to be useful.

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    Let me tell you how much I like Buzzword: I started writing a book just so I could play with it more. I’ve written over 13,000 words — 39 pages — including a nicely formatted title page. It’s simply a joy to work with, especially with the browser set to full-screen.

    The Sleeper Candidate: iNetWord

    inetword

      The big surprise doing this research is that my second-favorite online word processor is one whose name I’d never heard: iNetWord. In fact, if Buzzword hadn’t just come out, iNetWord would be at the top of my list. This is a full-featured, complete word processor, with support for backgrounds, borders, page-numbering, tables, images, the works. It comes with several built-in templates — for both web tasks like page design and blog posting, and business tasks like faxes and letters — and is incredibly responsive. It’s tabbed interface is a nice touch, allowing you to open and work on several documents at the same time. And it’s still in beta!

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      The Big Three: Google Docs, Zoho Writer, and ThinkFree

      Up until now, my “go to” web-based word processor has been Google Docs. I’ve also used Zoho Writer quite a bit; ThinkFree I’ve stayed away from, not because it isn’t well-done but because it uses Java, and I’ve never had much luck with Java-based apps. These three are the “big dogs” of online word processing, and are integrated into online office suites — with spreadsheets, presentation editors, project managers, contact managers, notebooks, and other goodies — that make them very compelling.

      • googledocs

          Google Docs: Formerly Writely, Google Docs was the first online word processor I used to any significant degree. Like all things Google, it’s interface is clean — maybe too clean — and it generally just works. Basic formatting is easy, storage space is generous (though documents are limited in size), and sharing and version control are easy. Because the underlying code is plain HTML, though, some things are awkward, like multiple indenting. Still, I’ve created dozens of documents on Google Docs, and have no real complaints.
        • zoho

            Zoho Writer: Even though I use Google Docs much more often, I like Zoho Writer more. (Go figure out people, huh?) Zoho offers a great interface, and almost every feature a writer could ask for — page numbering, footnotes, templates, sharing, publishing to web, export as pdf. They’re also integrating with Box.net, which means I’ll be able to open, edit, and save documents from and to my Box.net account, which I like.I use Zoho for big documents, and Google Docs for “quickies” — but I have a lot more of the latter than the former.
          • thinkfree

              ThinkFree: Java-based ThinkFree is a great editor — once it starts running. The “quick edit” function, with a limited toolset, is pretty snappy; the “power edit” function (pictured above) can take a minute or longer to load. Once loaded, though, it’s essentially Word 2003 , with autocorrect, tables, styles, word count, insert fields, export to pdf — everything but, as far as I can tell, headers and footers. It picks up the fonts from the PC it’s running on, which means you get a nice selection; unfortunately text looks pretty crummy, I assume because it’s running in Java.

            All the Rest

            Here are the rest of the online word processors I’ve tried out, in alphabetical order. Some of these are quite good, some have highly specialized uses, and some are not quite ready for full-time use. Taken together, though, they show the incredible possibility of online applications, and hopefully provide each other with some healthy competition and incentive to realize that possibility. Maybe next year one of these will have replaced Buzzword as my new online word processor of choice– or even as my daily use word processor!

            • ajaxwrite

                ajaxWrite: With it’s simple interface and clean workspace, you’d think ajaxWrite would be ideal for quick writing without distractions, and I’d like to think it is.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to save when running it in FireFox. Other people swear by ajax13’s apps, though, so I’m assuming it’s just a conflicting extension or something. 
              • docly

                  docly: As a word processor, docly is passable — similar in functionality to KB Docs and GreenDoc, below.  What sets docly apart, though, is its focus on copyright management, with the ability to assign a work a Creative Commons license or a traditional “All Rights Reserved” license. Documents can be shared and published, as in most of the other online services covered here, or they can be offered for sale and accessed through their search engine.
                • goffice

                    gOffice: Although gOffice’s main product is a paid suite, and thus excluded from this round-up, for now at least their iPhone-compatible word processor is available free. Not the most useful application, as it adds an ad for gOffice when you save, but a unique test-of-concept, and one I imagine will lead to more useful iPhone applications in the future.
                  • greendoc

                      GreenDoc: Basically an online web-page editor, GreenDoc allows you to start writing and save directly to the web without logging in. Documents stay online for 90 days, or you can create an account for more permanent storage. The toolset is a standard range of formatting options, good for basic, no-frills editing.
                    • kbdocs

                        KB Docs:Another no-frills editor, even more basic than GreenDocs. Distinguished by it’s easy sign-up — just pick a username and password, hit enter, and you’re editing.
                      • peepel

                          Peepel: Part of a full-fledged webtop system, Peepel’s word processor has a pretty good set of basic options, with some nice templates. The user interface is weird — maybe “quirky” is a better word: click on the site’s logo to open the menu.
                        • writeboard

                            WriteBoard: Created by the good folks at 37Signals, WriteBoard is a bare-bones, wiki-style editor intended more for collaboration than authoring. Technically I guess this isn’t a “word processor”, but it’s a decent, bare-bones editor — especially if you’re already comfortable with wiki formatting codes.
                          • writer

                              Writer: This one is also not technically a word processor. Writer is a stripped-down writing environment intended for writers. It offers no formatting, no spell-checking, no fonts — nothing but green text on a black screen (recalling those TRS-80 days of yore…) and a word count, so you can write write write until you hit your goal.

                            The Rookie: Ulteo Offers OpenOffice.org Online

                            The Next Big Thing might well be Ulteo, which promises the entire OpenOffice.org suite online, accessible through any browser. I’ve signed up for the beta test, but so far I haven’t been able to try it out. Being able to access OpenOffice.org anywhere would be a big step — and might just push Microsoft to finally make it’s Office apps available online. (Or is that not the idea I’m supposed to get out of their “Microsoft Live Office” product’s name?) The ultimate dream is to be able to do anything online I can do with computer-based software — and Ulteo, if it works, is a huge step in that direction.

                            Last Words

                            As a writer, a good, solid word processor is my most important tool; as someone who often finds himself away from home and wanting (or needing) to write, the quality of some of these word processors is greatly appreciated. I was surprised that my two favorites were brand new to me — I’m looking forward to giving Buzzword and iNetWord a thorough working-out over the next few months.

                            Do you find these applications useful? What online word processor do you use, and why? Have I missed anything — and, especially, have I missed anything that would replace Buzzword as my new favorite? (I’m fickle like that — if something else comes along, I’ll move on in a heartbeat!)

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                            Last Updated on September 18, 2019

                            How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

                            How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

                            Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

                            I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

                            One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

                            Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

                            The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

                            And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

                            What to Write Down

                            Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

                            Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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                            Dates of Events

                            Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

                            For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

                            Names of People

                            Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

                            Theories or Frameworks

                            Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

                            Definitions

                            Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

                            Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

                            Arguments and Debates

                            Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

                            This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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                            Images

                            Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

                            Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

                            Other Stuff

                            Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

                            I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

                            Your Own Questions

                            Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

                            3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

                            You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

                            1. Outlining

                            Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

                            Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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                            For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

                            2. Mind-Mapping

                            For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

                            Here’s the idea:

                            In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

                            The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

                            If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

                            You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

                            3. The Cornell System

                            The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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                            About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

                            You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

                            In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

                            You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

                            The Bottom Line

                            I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

                            I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

                            More About Note-Taking

                            Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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