Just a quick disclaimer before we begin this article: this WON’T be about the likes of Open/Libre/Kingsoft Office or Google Drive/Docs. That subject has pretty much been beaten to death, so I’m focusing on the 2015 apps that could replace Microsoft Word, at least for Content Creators and Digital Marketers.
I’ve been disappointed with Microsoft Word for a long time. It’s a great tool to get work done. And I think this is where the trouble starts – it’s not exactly fun. The menu/ribbon system is the devil. There, I’ve said it. It’s reliable to ruin formatting from one computer to another. It’s crazy enough to import Excel tables, but format them as Word tables, taking the editing madness to a new level.
Word is a tool that’s uninspiring, dull, needlessly complicated for the modern writer, content marketer or digital marketer. We use it because it came with the machine or because our clients use it, so we don’t want to look weird by having something else.
And I do plan to go full nuclear on this issue – I’m working on an entire campaign that declares war on Word. More on that soon, on this blog.
Now on to the list!
1. Back to the basics – Typewrite
A minimal writing window, with calm grey background.
“The tools you write with should never get in your way” is the text you’re greeted with, when you load up the website. It’s a deceptively simple web writing tool, with features like Markdown Formatting, Real-time Editing, Versions and Dropbox Sync (coming soon).
Once you’re in a blank document, that’s pretty much all you see, except the logo, the burger menu and a faint footer counting your words, mentioning the version number and the save status.
Typewrite is oriented towards the basics of writing – not thinking about editing, quoting, adding links or images (although the burger menu and shortcuts allow you to do all of those). Once you hit that F11 in Chrome, you’re fullscreen starting at a blank page. I’m a fan of that – I’m a strong believer that you don’t need more time to get things done, you just need more/better focus.
2. The Advanced Online Writing Experience – Draft
This is by far the most feature-packed entry on this list. I mean just look at the entire list of features (and it’s growing constantly). It’s overwhelming at first, but I found that works for me is to just focus on my work. Other tools and features are there if I need them, but the blank canvas is good for now.
The interface really draws you in, with big buttons and large text. You can also customize pretty much anything about it – the colors, the font family and size.
There’s Dropbox and Google Docs integration, which makes it easy to jump from a file someone sent you to editing within Draft. You can also use Box and Evernote, if you’re into that.
The fun doesn’t end there – the Chrome Bookmarklet and integrated support for most blogging platforms allow you to use the Draft editor to write and publish pretty much anywhere. Think of Ghost, WordPress, Blogger, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit. And also Gmail, MailChimp, IDoneThis and many many more. It’s quite astonishing.
When you just want to write, you can do just that. Activate Hemingway mode and you can only write, you can’t edit. This isn’t like the Hemingway App (#5 on this list), it takes after the famous writer who said you should write first and edit later, not mix the two.
However, if you do want the prose editing features of the Hemingway App, those are here in the form of the Simplify feature and the Draft Robot. He comes along as a collaborator on your document and suggests things you can improve in terms of language.
Overall, Draft is pretty awesome. It’s also pretty free, but you can pay $3.99/month for access to a members-only network, discounts on related products and services. I’m just afraid that all of these features (did I mention you can also use it for transcriptions and basic presentations?) fill up the app, but aren’t that cohesive right now. I wished these were separate apps or products and just connect to each other. I wish Transcription was a page within Draft, not just a feature you can turn on or off. That might make it more powerful and entice me to use it more often.
If you’re not scared of Markdown and going a bit deeper into word editing, Draft is an excellent choice.
3. Write In Peace – OmmWriter Dana II
Relaxing music + calming background make you want to write
I was skeptical this would be a good idea until I actually tried it. It’s a combination between FocusAtWill and Typewrite. You have a fullscreen writing experience, combined with peaceful music, relaxing backgrounds and typewriter key sounds.
But all of these are just elements, they’re options you can turn off. Is OmmWriter still useful/powerful if you disable them? Surprisingly, yes. Very much so. Because it’s an web you install, you’re not inclined to be in another Chrome tab watching YouTube. The app side of things helps you be a writer by not procrastinating so hard.
The second thing I absolutely adore (and of the reason I bought this) is the combination of visuals and audio. I’m one of those people who thinks and writes better/faster when he’s listening to calming music. But in this case, this mixture provides a writing experience unlike any other. It puts you in the mood to write.
By no means is it magical and the few relaxing tracks it does use will get repetitive after a while. But the experiment in itself is well worth the money and I can say I’ve enjoyed my time with it. I’ve enjoyed writing – when’s the last time you could confidently say that?
4. Reliable And Easy – Write!
Tabbed documents help you keep track of multiple files easily
Another app that has 2 versions – Beta 8.5/Lite and 1.0/Pro. The first one is free, the last one is $4.99/month. I can’t comment on the Pro version, as I haven’t used it yet (although there are features that would make me switch to it), so I’ll only discuss the free version of the app.
The Write! app opens in under a second and you’re treated to the same fullscreen writing/editing environment you’ve seen may times before. This time there are tabs and a rather standard windows-y menu pops up at the top when you hover on that area.
Editing is done via right-click and the editing menu allows you to set styles for a word (bold, italics, etc.) and for paragraphs (heading, title, quote, bulleted list, etc.). What I did not enjoy were the color options, which I didn’t understand what they were doing in a writing app.
A few neat additions are the Document Navigator on the right of the screen. Developers will be right at home, as it’s a feature built in coding apps like CodeLobster. With larger articles/books, I can imagine using this as a nice visual overview on the entire document. There are no zoom effects or cool animations when using the Document Navigator. You either click on an area, click and drag or just scroll to get to where you want to go in your file.
The footer is actionable. You can set writing limits (a maximum of 1 hour or 1.000 words/day, for example) and check your overall statistics. This also includes your characters per minute and words per day.
This area is filled with 7 tips for writing a certain amount – maximum 140 symbols for Twitter, 200 words for email and all the way up to 40.000 for a book.
Saving was fast, editing words and paragraphs worked beautifully and I never had it crash on me. The only thing I could say about it overall is that it’s a well coded app with good design. But that’s not enough to make it stand out and I’ve never written a full article in Write!
5. Write Better – Hemingway App
A very bold and colorful approach, with the objective of writing better
This is a web-based text editor, with a desktop app component (free web-app, $9.99 desktop app Mac OSX and Windows). What it focuses on is grammar and spellchecking. But not just that, it also gives suggestions regarding your prose.
It’s, according to its creators, “like a spellchecker, but for style”. Your users should focus on the overall message, on the tonality and paragraph objectives, not worry about word meanings or sentence length. And from that perspective, it’s spectacular.
You can both write and edit in the app and it gives you instant suggestions like: “Replace this difficult word with one that’s easier to understand” or “This paragraph is too long, make it shorter and easier to digest”. It counts pretty much everything (letters, characters, words, sentences, paragraphs) and it estimates Reading Time for your text.
The final element I’m in love with is Readability. This is an indicator of how complex and dense or simple and easy to understand your text is. It’s measured in Grades, but a 15th Grade isn’t better than a 6th Grade. Nor is a 1st Grade better than a 6th. You want to aim somewhere in the middle so your post or article can reach the widest audience it deserves.
6. Don’t Be Alone – Poetica
This web app was built on the basis of collaboration in 2015. With multiple writers and editors you also get a lot of chaos, versions and files. Poetica makes it easy to share files, collaborate on a single document (be it in its own editor or within WordPress via a plugin).
You can switch between edit and suggest modes, there are useful keyboard shortcuts, a character and word counter and you can download your file as HTML, OpenDocument, Microsoft Word, Plain Text or Markdown.
The most useful feature of Poetica to me is Activity. Sitting at the top left corner of the app, it allows you to see what changes have been made or suggested in that specific document. When dealing with multiple people handling a larger piece of content, it’s essential to be able to know right away what needs to stay and what needs to go.
Overall, it’s a clean design with a playful tone. That alone sets it apart from its competitors and I can see myself using this on a daily basis. Especially since it’s totally free right now and new features are coming all the time.
7. The Browser Is Your Friend – Hermit
This was a total surprise to me. I found it online by accident, while I was looking for some new Chrome apps. Hermit is a writing app with the end goal of helping you write your (first) book.
It’s a very slick web app, with very limited editing options. You get to make your words Bold, Italics or Underlined. And that’s pretty much it. Even though you’re writing on the web, the thinking behind Hermit is that you’ll be publishing your work as a finished product (Kindle or printed book). So there’s no real need for fancy fonts, drop caps, pullquotes. The writing should be enough to draw the reader in.
What it kept reminding me of was Medium. You start off with a book name, a chapter name and away you go. There aren’t any subheadings or special formatting options for titles. You should be focus on writing and crafting a world for the reader. Then you create another chapter and before you know it, your book is done.
And once that happens you can share it with the Hermit community (called the Library) or publish it on Amazon (once you upgrade to a Supporter account for $5/month).
One feature I’m still testing is Penpals. You set your preferred language and your country and you’re matched with another person in the community who shares those features. To emulate the old penpal writing experience, you have to wait 12 hours before your message gets to that person and another 12 to get a reply.
Out of these 7, this is frankly the one I’m most excited about, as it lays the very basic foundation to help you finally write a book, without telling everyone about it first on social-media.