MS not the final word

In the current computing world, there is a window of opportunity for alternative word processing programs. Most people use Microsoft Word. That’s not going to change anytime soon. Anyone who expects to interact with others must be able to work with Word files. But Word is no longer a single standard.

Word 95 was the first dominant word processing program running on Windows. It was a real advance over pervious programs. “Everyone” began to use Word 95. Files had to conform to the standard set by Word 95. Then came Word 97, followed by Word 2000, soon to be followed by Word XP.

A funny thing happened. Some people upgraded to Word 97, but many stayed with Word 95. Then some people upgraded to Word 2000, but many stayed with Word 95 or Word 97. There is no longer a single standard for word processing files, defined by a single dominant word processing program.

All of the serious word processing programs know how to read and write Word 97/2000 files. The conversion can’t be perfect, … just as it isn’t when converting between Word 95 and Word 2000. But available conversions are good enough for most people, and for most purposes.

I examined two free alternatives to Word. 602Pro PC Suite ( provides programs for word processing, spreadsheets, and graphics. The standard version is free, but you must register. There are extensions for which you must pay, but the basic programs are free.

The word processing program, 602Text, is surprisingly powerful. It will read and write files in its own native format, and in Word 97/2000, Word 6.0/95, text, and HTML format. I found that 602Text could cope with reasonably sophisticated Word 97/2000 features. It will meet all of the basic needs of most writers.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sun’s StarOffice ( StarOffice runs on multiple operating systems. It does word processing, spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, databases, email, newsgroups, scheduling, and Internet browsing. It will read and write files in all Microsoft Office formats.

StarOffice is a full office application suite. I spent some time getting acquainted with its word processing. I could find few word processing features that I wanted which were not supported in StarOffice. It does it all, and in a well organized, complete office package.

But neither program is right for me. Software602 doesn’t automatically begin sentences with capitals. It doesn’t automatically insert typographer’s quotation marks. It doesn’t offer an easy way to print envelops. I could live with it, but it would not be my first choice.

StarOffice has few feature deficiencies. Sun wants the world to have an alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s impressive. It’s a large program, and it is free. But I have serious concerns about the StarOffice architecture. It makes the assumption that you will never leave StarOffice. It wants control. Problem is, I refuse to give up control.

In future columns, I will look at WordPerfect Office 2002 and Microsoft Office XP. My quest for the perfect word processing program continues …

Fabian is an established Canadian management and system consultant (, who has always been fascinated by technology.