Microsoft Word? No Thanks, BILL, I'm a Writer...

A lean, power-packed Russian word processor beats Microsoft Word hands-down and should be every writer's No.1 text tool, writes Jimmy Lee Shreeve.

You can't get away from Microsoft Word. It's seemingly on everyone's desktop computer - well, apart from those running Linux or Apple Macintosh systems (saying that there's even a version of Word for Mac). But it's not on my PC. Why? Because I don't consider MS Word to be writer or journalist friendly.

Don't get me wrong, MS Word is a very powerful documentation tool - great for writing complex technical manuals (for airliners and cars, for example) or for rustling up colourful brochures or corporate newsletters. In other words, it's great for the business world.

But most of the tools available in the program are not well targeted to the professional writer. These days, for example, most writers have a web page. Many, like me, build and maintain their site themselves. But saving a document as a web page using Word is a disaster. It inserts a mass of unnecessary code and the web pages it generates usually don't work well in alternative browsers like Firefox, Netscape Navigator or Opera - only in Microsoft's own Internet Explorer (so you lose a percentage of your potential online audience).

To be fair, if you publish an ezine in plain "ascii" text, MS Word can help. But it's like running a Formula One racing car just to go to Sainsburys.

Lastly, being so chock full of features (most of which you will never need), makes MS Word sluggish and unresponsive, especially if you just want to flick through a few files in succession for a quick glance, or to grab short sections of text for use in another document. I'd long been dissatisfied with MS Word - pretty much since I bought my first PC. So I set out on a long quest to test out all the other top name word processors, including WordPerfect, Lotus and the free OpenOffice (commercially available from Sun Microsystems as "StarOffice"). Not one met my requirements as an author and journalist, who also operates a popular website - although I do now run OpenOffice to meet my more heavy duty requirements, it's by far the best office system and is free (see: www.openoffice.org).

I thought I'd never find the perfect tool for my writing needs. But a couple of years back a programmer friend of mine - Kenny who runs the free software site www.xtort.net - called me saying: "Check out this "WP, it could be just what you need."

The program was called PolyEdit (www.polyedit.com) and I duly downloaded an evaluation copy. Even though I respected Kenny's judgement, I wasn't expecting miracles. After all, I'd been through so many word processors and found them all wanting.

But within minutes of test driving PolyEdit my jaw dropped. I was awe-struck. At long last, I'd found what I was looking for and knew I could use PolyEdit for all my work - be it writing articles for newspapers, books, general correspondence, publishing ezines and building and maintaining my web pages. What's more, a single-user license costs $27.95, and at just over 1 meg PolyEdit is incredibly compact compared to the big name, lumbering dinosaur word processors. Plus it will seamlessly import Word, Excel, Lotus and WordPerfect documents and will export to Word, WordPerfect, HTML (web pages), Macintosh and Unix files.

PolyEdit also offers major advantages to ezine publishers (something all writers should consider getting into). For one, you can split lines at the click of a button. This means you can wrap the copy of plain text e-mails at between 50 and 75 characters, which stops it running across the width of the monitor screen, making your ezine easier to read. You can also rejoin lines, which is handy if you need to re-use copy for a web page or in a word processing document.

PolyEdit is developed by a team of programmers based in the Russian Federation, headed by Ilya Ulyanov. I got in touch with him and asked what led them to build PolyEdit? "In the beginning we created a program called CryptEdit. It was a simple text editor with advanced cryptology features built for internal needs. This turned into a multi-purpose, extensible word processor. So we changed the name to PolyEdit," he explained.

If PolyEdit is anything to go by, Bill Gates might be forced to roll over and make way for a new wave of user-centric programs from Russia (ironically America's old Cold War adversary). In the meantime, PolyEdit is catching on by word-of-mouth. Carson Fire of fantasy fiction website ElfLife.com (www.elflife.com), for example, is a confirmed convert. "ElfLife is now written with PolyEdit and [I] will not rest until all other word processors are so much rubble beneath our feet," he declares.

My sentiments too!

Lastly, I should make clear that I'm not getting anything out of recommending this program. I'm just genuinely enthusiastic! Check out PolyEdit at: www.polyedit.com.

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Jimmy Lee Shreeve

Jimmy Lee Shreeve is a bestselling cult author and journalist. His books include "How To Be Famous" (Orion), the cult classic "Doktor Snake’s Voodoo Spellbook" (St Martin’s Press), "Cannibals" (John Blake), "Blood Rites" (Random House), and "Human Sacrifice" (Barricade).Jimmy’s ...More about Jimmy Lee Shreeve