The Mac is not lacking in word processing apps, and many aim to serve a specific niche. Nonetheless, we feel Mac OS X's TextEdit is your best option thanks to its focused and helpful feature set, good document format support, and free price tag.
Note: If we were including web apps, Google Docs would likely be the winner. It has the simplicity and straightforward operation that we like with TextEdit, but offers fantastic collaboration and sharing features. If you don't mind working in the browser, or even prefer it, be sure to consider Google Docs among your options as well.
- Compact and simple interface
- Great toolset for text formatting
- Supports opening and saving many document formats, such as Microsoft Word, RTF/D, ODT, Plain Text, HTML and more
- Supports documents with images
- Attach files to your documents
- Easily author PDFs
- Automatically saves your work (requires Mac OS X 10.6 or higher)
- Saves multiple versions of documents to make it easy to revert to an older copy if you want (requires Mac OS X 10.7 or higher)
- Remembers where you left off when you last closed the application (requires Mac OS X 10.7 or higher)
- Integrated spellcheck
- Supports hypertext linking
TextEdit is a great little word processing app that's often overlooked. It's perfectly capable for typing up just about any document, whether it's an office memo, a school paper, you're novel, or whatever. By default it saves documents in the rich text format (RTF), which is open and widely-supported by many word processing apps. It can also save anything out as a PDF if you prefer to send your work that way. It's just a really solid, simple app that gets the job done.
What really makes TextEdit shine, however, is that it has a few features that make your life a bit easier. Since Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), it automatically saves your documents so you don't lose any work in the event of a crash. In 10.7 (Lion) it takes that all a step further and saves multiple versions of your documents so you can revert to older versions. Also, if you quit TextEdit it'll remember all your work from last time so you don't have to reopen everything. It lets you focus on your writing and not worry too much about the rest.
TextEdit does have its downsides, of course. If you need to make notes on a document, collaborate, perform more complex layout functions (e.g. tables, text-wrapping around an image, graphs, etc.), and other functions you might expect out of a full office suite of apps, it's not going to work for you. It's definitely not Microsoft Word. It's simply a basic word processor.
For the most part, TextEdit's downsides are simply a matter of preference. While it would be nice if it could handle a few more complex operations, it doesn't aim to be a feature rich app. If you consider this a downside, you're looking for the wrong kind of app. If that's the case, check out the competition section below for a variety of other options.
There are many takes on what a word processing app can or should be, so while TextEdit gets the job done in many ways it may not be the right fit for what you need. While we always include the competition in our app directory posts, it's especially relevant here.
Bean (Free) is very similar to TextEdit in the sense that its goal is to be a simple, no-frills, free word processing app. While we're pretty fond of Bean, TextEdit is just a little more ahead of the game with a few handy things like autosaving and document versioning.
Microsoft Word ($209 or more, depending on the version you choose) is the obvious big boy in the word processing circle. Some consider it feature-rich, others consider it bloated. Nonetheless, it's what most people use these days to handle their document creation so it's definitely worth considering even if it might be a little more than you need.
Pages ($20.99) is Apple's word processing app in its office suite iWork. Strangely, TextEdit feels more like a word processing app than Pages as Pages really excels when it comes to layout. If you're going to be doing more complex documents with lots of images and styles, Pages is a really great choice. If you're just typing, it often feels like overkill.
NeoOffice (Free) is an open-source office suite that provides an app called Writer for word processing purposes. It's a pretty straightforward text editor of which I've never been much of a fan, but a lot of people like NeoOffice and it definitely has the cheapest price tag amongst office suites.
FocusWriter (Free) offers full-screen word processing that's designed to be very simple and distraction-free. It's goal is to provide you with nothing but the ability to write. While it's one of our favourites, there are many more word processing apps with the same goal. If you're looking to ignore everything but the page and your words, this is the kind of word processing app you want to use.
There are far too many word processing options to list here, and we've probably missed some good ones. If you've got a favourite we didn't mention, be sure to post it in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.