Word processor

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A word processor is a piece of software used to write, format, edit and print documents. Word processing is one of the earliest applications for office productivity and the personal computer. Although early word processors used tag-based markup for document formatting, most modern word processors take advantage of a graphical user interface to provide WYSIWYG editing, possibly as a front-end to a tag-based system.

The 'word processing' typically refers to text manipulation functions such as automatic generation of

  • batch mailing using a form letter template and an address database (aka mail merging),
  • index of keywords and their page numbers,
  • table of contents with section titles and their page numbers,
  • table of figures with caption titles and their page numbers,
  • 'see also' cross referencing with page numbers.

Page number information is extremely hard to maintain without a word processor because addition or deleting of text can affect pagination i.e. page numbers can change in each edition. Other word processing functions include spelling and grammar checking.

Word processors can be distinguished from several other, related forms of software. Text editor programs were the precursors of word processors. While offering facilities for composing and editing text, they do not offer direct support for document formatting, but batch document processing systems such as LaTeX and programs that implement the paged-media extensions to HTML and CSS fill this gap. Text editors are now used mainly by programmers and web site designers for creating and modifying computer programs. Desktop publishing programs, meanwhile, were specifically designed to allow elaborate layout for publication, but offer only limited support for editing. Typically, desktop publishing programs allow users to import text that they have written using a text editor or word processor.

The word processor has become a central component of the office applications suite and are increasingly only available in this form, rather than as a standalone program.

Word processing programs

Historically important programs

IBM DisplayWrite
Xerox Document Editor

Programs still manufactured and in use

Microsoft Word
OpenOffice.org Writer
Adobe FrameMaker (so versatile that it is also considered desktop publishing software)