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

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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.

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                            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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                            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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                            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

                            How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

                            Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

                            When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

                            Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

                            What Makes People Poor Listeners?

                            Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

                            1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

                            Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

                            Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

                            It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

                            2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

                            This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

                            Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

                            3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

                            It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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                            I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

                            If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

                            4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

                            While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

                            To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

                            My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

                            Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

                            Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

                            How To Be a Better Listener

                            For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

                            1. Pay Attention

                            A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

                            According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

                            As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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                            I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

                            2. Use Positive Body Language

                            You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

                            A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

                            People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

                            But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

                            According to Alan Gurney,[2]

                            “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

                            Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

                            3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

                            I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

                            Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

                            Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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                            Be polite and wait your turn!

                            4. Ask Questions

                            Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

                            5. Just Listen

                            This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

                            I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

                            I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

                            6. Remember and Follow Up

                            Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

                            For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

                            According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

                            It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

                            7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

                            If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

                            Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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                            Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

                            Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

                            NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

                            1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
                            2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

                            8. Maintain Eye Contact

                            When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

                            Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

                            By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

                            Final Thoughts

                            Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

                            You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

                            And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

                            More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

                            Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

                            Reference

                            [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
                            [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
                            [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
                            [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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