The case for using TextEdit as your word processor, Part 1

We have a new client. He bought a new iMac and somehow, the person who helped him install his new computer managed not to move any of his files or old applications such as AppleWorks.

That technician should be drawn and quartered! There are always things that need to be moved to a new computer and leaving a client without his "past" is cruel and heartless!

One of the things this gentleman is missing are his templates as they were called in AppleWorks or his stationary pads, as they are called in Mac OS X.

Are you still using AppleWorks? It will run in Mac OS X Leopard, but it is so ancient that it is probably past time to put it out to pasture. It must be run in Rosetta these days, and that makes your newer computer work much harder. Newer products take advantage of the features built into Mac OS X such as the ability to search a document using Spotlight and to view a document in the finder without opening the application itself. Applications that run natively in Mac OS X use common interface elements such as FontBook and the ColorPicker as well as Inspectors which make it much simpler to use advanced commands and features.
We have a new client. He bought a new iMac and somehow, the person who helped him install his new computer managed not to move any of his files or old applications such as AppleWorks.

That technician should be drawn and quartered! There are always things that need to be moved to a new computer and leaving a client without his "past" is cruel and heartless!

One of the things this gentleman is missing are his templates as they were called in AppleWorks or his stationary pads, as they are called in Mac OS X.

Are you still using AppleWorks? It will run in Mac OS X Leopard, but it is so ancient that it is probably past time to put it out to pasture. It must be run in Rosetta these days, and that makes your newer computer work much harder. Newer products take advantage of the features built into Mac OS X such as the ability to search a document using Spotlight and to view a document in the finder without opening the application itself. Applications that run natively in Mac OS X use common interface elements such as FontBook and the ColorPicker as well as Inspectors which make it much simpler to use advanced commands and features.

So, just what do you use to replace it?

Being a computer consultant, I have a whole shelf full of word processing applications to consider. However, after helping clients migrate their old files to new applications, I have grown very fond of simplicity! I am also a bit leery of file formats that may make it difficult to read old documents in ten or twenty years. I have learned that formats such as .txt, .rtf, and .rtfd will make it far easier to open old documents in future years.

Don't count on being able to open documents that were written in Microsoft Word 1, 2, or perhaps even 3 with the current version of Word. If you were using Microsoft Works, things are even worse! Even Microsoft Word X would not open those documents. Apple’s Pages will open old AppleWorks files, but all bets will be off in five or ten years. If your application of choice was WordPerfect – good luck and I hope you have money to spend to get those translated to current file formats.

Actually, we do have a program, MacLinkPlus Deluxe that makes it pretty simple to translate earlier word processing formats, but at a price of $79.99 and with yearly updates, translating old files can get very expensive.

I have realized that my own word processing needs are pretty simple. Much of what I write will never be printed out. It ends up in emails, and blogs. Or it is information that I am saving for my knowledge base or sending to associates or clients, so I want to make sure they can open it easily.

So, for most of what I write, TextEdit is my application of choice. If you have never considered it as your word processor, it is time for a fresh look at an almost forgotten but very powerful application that comes on every Macintosh sold. It is a full, working copy.

When you use TextEdit without changing any preferences, it looks like this:



I will agree that it is pretty uninspiring. It doesn't look like a word processor, it doesn't even look like a piece of paper!

However, a quick trip to the Preferences window and one check can transform it to this:



Okay, now we are getting somewhere! But just how did I do it? Go to the TextEdit Preferences menu and choose Preferences…



The you will see this window:



Put a check in the Wrap to Page box. Close the Preferences window and your Text Edit window will look like mine.

So now you are looking at a pretty standard word processing window:



So what is TextEdit missing?

There is no way to make two columns on a page. There is no way to add a footnote, much less a header or foooter (but it will automatically number your pages – take another trip to the Preferences). How often do you need those features? Are those missing features a deal-breaker?

Even though a few niceties are missing, just look at what is hidden is just a few short menus.

In the Edit menu:



The first five commands are standard in most applications, so I will skip them.

Paste and Match Style – This is a useful feature if you are adding text from the web or a previous document that uses a different font and font style. All of the previous formatting choices can be brought into the current document

Complete – This allows you to begin typing a word, then use the built in dictionary to complete the word. This is wonderful for those long, seldom-used words.



  • Insert – Here are your Line, Paragraph, and Page Breaks




Find – The selections here are the standard ones, however the way that results show up is different than in many earlier applications. They start out as a yellow box, then switch to your normal highlight color. It certainly makes seeing the result easier! The commands “Use Selection for Find” and “Jump to Selection are new (or relatively new). Begin by highlighting a word, the use these command to begin a find without having to type anything into the Find dialog box. I will be giving these a try, now that I have found them.




Spelling and Grammar – Again, while the basics of this command have not changed, note that in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, the ability to check both spelling and grammar has been added. While this option was not particularly strong in 10.5, now that we are up to 10.5.3, I am noticing that the grammar engine is improving. The last two commands only work if there is a checkbox beside them. To add or remove a checkbox, select the command in the menu. If there is no check one will be added. If a check is present, selecting it will remove the check. Remember, there must be a check in the command if you want automatic checking enabled.



Substitutions – This menu covers a whole lot of ground and to have the features enabled, you will need to add the check in the menu by selecting it.

Smart Copy/Paste determines if the spaces before and after a selection are inserted (or deleted) when you copy (or paste) text. Once again, this is one of those new Leopard features. Having the extra space “automatically appear (or disappear) can be very helpful, but it may take some adjustment in the way you work.



This feature can also be activated in the TextEdit-Preferences-Preferences box.



Smart Quotes – These are often also called “curly” quotes. They are deemed to look more professional and are therefore used in books and documents. TextEdit will automatically make curly quotes if they are selected in the Edit - Substitutions menu or in the Preferences dialog box.

Smart Links – Since many documents may never be printed and many contain web or email addresses, having the ability to make web and email addresses ‘clickable’ is a very useful feature of TextEdit. The program will turn the text into links automatically.

In the Format Menu


This is one full menu! There are so many options in this small space, it is difficult to be aware of all of them! Let’s start out with the Format - Font menu.



The commands Show Fonts, Bold, Italic, Underline and Outline are very standard. However, I have noticed that most Mac users have not even begun to explore the concept of Styles. If you like consistency in your documents, it is a real timesaver and the understanding and use of Styles marks you as an advanced user in word processing and desktop publishing. I will plan a future segment on Styles.



The Bigger and Smaller commands are very useful when you have completed a document and then find that you need to adjust the text to make it more visually pleasing. Use the Smaller command to squeeze a document to eliminate a page with just a little bit of text on it. The Bigger command can also be used to make a page more visually pleasing by slightly enlarging the text when there is just a line or two of blank space on the last page. Select the entire document and then use Bigger command to slightly expand the text.

The Kern command is used to add or remove space between characters within text. I use kerning to tighten up a title or spread it out to make it more visually attractive.






Sometimes, when letters are printed, they are joined together to make some of the letters “flow” together. The Ligature command it used to get this effect. The command works on script fonts.







Sometimes it is necessary to raise or lower a letter or number in the text we write.



The Baseline menu is used to write text like…



There are many extra characters in some of the the fonts included in Mac OS X. In fact, there can be thousands of extra characters. The Edit - Special Characters menu is used to add these. To remove that formatting you youe the Format - Font - Character Shape - Traditonal Form menu.



The next menu command in the list is the Show Colors command. Selecting it will bring up the Color palette. The palette that appears will depend on which one was last used. Probably the easiest to use is the crayon palette. If another one is visible, just click on the box of crayons to see this palette. I could – and should do a blog entry on the Color Palette, but that will be for another day.



The last two commands in this menu are some of the most useful! For example, I have made a special title. I have chosen a font and size. I have applied a style such as Bold or Italic. I have even chosen a specific color. Now it is time to make another title. I can go back through that whole process, or I can select the title and then use the Copy Style command to have the computer remember all of those selections. Then I can go to the next title, select it and use the Paste Style command to apply all of that to the next title. This command is a real time-saver!

Although I have not finished this blog entry on TextEdit, it is time to get something posted! I did a guest appearance on the MyMac.com podcast earlier this evening, and I want to make sure there is some new content for their listeners. So I will post this much as TextEdit, Part One and immediately continue with part two,

If you found MacMousecalls by listening to the MyMac podcast, welcome! I have been a loyal listener and reader for many years. You have excellent taste in your listening and reading habits!

– Pat

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